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Bin Laden death won't keep America safe, warns Middle East expert

Terrorism will remain as long as Western foreign policy toward the Middle East is unchanged, says UBC's Hani Faris.

Screenshot of Osama bin Laden from YouTube.

Celebrations swept the streets of New York and Washington, D.C., when news of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's assassination broke Sunday night.

Thousands of Americans rejoiced that the mastermind behind the 9-11 terror attacks was finally gone. 

But not everyone is convinced that his death has made the world a "safer place", as U.S. President Barack Obama told the nation. 

Hani Faris, University of B.C. professor and president of the U.S.-based Trans-Arab Research Institute, warns that while bin Laden's death is an important boost for the U.S., it's largely a symbolic and figurative one that contributes little to American security.

Faris said that terrorism will remain a major feature of our age as long as Western foreign policy toward the Middle East is unchanged.

"The death of bin Laden is a major victory for the United States, though it has no practical implications," he said. "For many years now, bin Laden has not been involved in operational matters in the organization he founded due to health and security concerns."

"For a parallel, one needs to ask, what was the effect of the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein on developments in Iraq? Actually, resistance to the American presence in Iraq multiplied after Saddam's death, and it led in time to the withdrawal of U.S. forces," Faris argued, noting that the U.S. pullout is expected to complete this year and that America essentially lost footage in Iraq. 

"Regarding the repercussions, al-Qaida did not stop trying to attack Western targets in general, American targets specifically. So nothing changes there. It's simply whether they will succeed or not, and that depends on the security arrangements in place and whether they can preempt these (terrorist) activities or not."

Faris notes the sharp contrast in reactions Sunday night between Western nations and those in the Muslim and Arab worlds. Reactions in bin Laden's birth country, Saudi Arabia, were muted, while Afghan Prime minister Hamid Karzai simply described the assassination as "important news". 

"You will notice that Western leaders without exception are celebrating the death of bin Laden. In the Arab and Muslim worlds, there is generally a silence on the matter," he said. "There is no love lost for bin Laden in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Most people feel that he adopted tactics and policies that are relatively abhorrent."

Faris said that the one issue on which they supported bin Laden was on his resistance to the Western military presence in their territories -- for example, Afghanistan, Iraq and countries in the GCC Gulf area, such as Bahrain and Kuwait. 

"That issue has not been resolved and has not been addressed, so antagonism toward the West does not die with the death of bin Laden."

Faris said that the issue is less about the leader of al-Qaida and more to do with what policies Western countries will adopt on issues of major concern to the Arab and Islamic worlds.

He said that bin Laden's death may have one positive effect, however, in redirecting attention to issues rather than to the person of bin Laden. 

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