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Breaking News: Experts on effects of bin Laden’s death

With President Obama confirming the death of Osama bin Laden last night, Lehigh University faculty weigh in on how this development may affect the war on terror, the Obama presidency and global financial markets. Others express fascination about how communication has changed in just the 10 years since the attacks of 9-11. And a political scientist ponders whether to explain the events to his child, recalling how he learned to love politics at an early age.

Is this the end of al-Qaida?
Henri Barkey, professor of international relations, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
 
“Osama bin Laden's death will have a tremendous psychological impact on al-Qaida. Bin Laden was the poster child for the organization, a nearly mystical figure. This said, al-Qaida is like a big conglomerate with lots of semi-autonomous affiliates which will continue to strike. Al-Qaida in the Maghreb or Arabian Peninsula have their own raison d'etres.  But this is the beginning of the end. The end though may be still be five years away.”
 
Bin Laden’s death unlikely to affect worldwide security
Ziad Munson, associate professor of sociology, who studies social movements and terror cells: 
 
"The death of Osama bin Laden is unlikely to have significant security implications or implications for international terrorism more broadly.  Bin Laden has long been a marginalized figure in the planning of terrorist attacks. And his value as a mobilizing symbol is generally grossly overstated."  
 
Countering Islamaphobia
Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies and Director of the Center for Dialogue, Ethics and Spirituality at Lehigh University:
 
"President Obama went out of his way to remind Americans that Osama bin Laden was an extremist who counted many Muslims among his victims. Bin Laden was no more a mainstream Muslim than Hitler was a mainstream Catholic. The President used the occasion of the announcement of bin Laden’s  death to counter the Islamophobia which began to permeate American culture in the wake of 9-11. All people of good will must commend the President for this effort—it expresses the need for civility in American religious life and upholds the integrity of the American experiment in religious pluralism and democracy." 
 
Social media and the news of bin Laden’s death
Jeremy Littau, associate professor of journalism and social media expert:

"From the blogger in Pakistan who inadvertently live-tweeted the attack to the way word of the speech moved through social networks, what happened yesterday is a stark reminder of how the world has changed since 9-11, not just in our approach to terrorism but also the way we get our news and information.

"When the planes hit the towers, the first thing we did was run to the television, much as we had done for 40 years when big news happened. On Sunday night, we found out through Twitter and many tuned in to a live stream via the White House Facebook page. And we didn't just passively consume; we were part of a human conversation on social networking sites.

"Imagine how much different 9-11 would have felt had we had social networks to find people when we needed to reach out and talk about what is going through our minds. Short version: This is Web-network and Web-local social capital (variable from my research) at work. Online weak ties that benefit offline relationships, a key benefit we see from social media where information that spreads virally online has an impact offline."
 
Afghanistan and Pakistan: Ripple effects in the region
Nandini Deo, assistant professor of political science who researches the intersection of religion and politics:

"In the West, the reaction to bin Laden’s death is mostly celebratory. In Pakistan and Afghanistan this death will have major consequences.  It is unlikely that any extremists will lay down their arms in response to bin Laden's killing.  So why will it matter?

"In Pakistan, the discovery of bin Laden in Abbotabad suggests a split in the military-intelligence establishment. Some very senior military officials surely knew he was there and protected him, while other generals and their regiments lost men in battles against Pakistani extremists. In Afghanistan, this will heighten anxieties about a precipitous American withdrawal from the region. With the primary focus of anti-terror activities eliminated, the fear will be that Americans will pull out faster and more completely than previously anticipated. This could destabilize the Karzai government and complicate the ‘Kabul peace process’ which seeks to bring together ‘moderate’ Taliban and Northern Alliance leaders in a sustainable peace deal."

The global economic impact and the ‘feel good’ factor
NandKukar Nayar, professor of international finance:
 
"We can look forward to more confidence in our United States. The very fact that the U.S. could not bring bin Laden to justice was held up as a shining example in the Middle East and the rest of the world that the U.S. was ineffective against terrorism. It encouraged other terrorist organizations to also begin their nefarious activities. With the killing of bin Laden, the Middle East and other countries now know that the United States is not the toothless tiger that many people have perceived it to be.
 
"This [represents] a moral victory for the U.S. and demonstrates to the world that we follow through on our initiatives. Perhaps other terrorist organizations will now think twice before they proceed, even if they have the support of rogue forces within the government of certain nations (as was the case in Pakistan). This also has a halo effect for us economically--Middle Eastern countries and other nations now know that we mean what we say. If terrorism abates because of the moral high ground we have established, the confidence it will engender will be good for the financial markets. The U.S. dollar will once again be respected. I suspect that oil prices will also come down as oil producing countries now know that terrorism can be combated and the 'risk premium' in oil prices will decline. Also, the ‘feel good’ factor can induce more spending and the return of the American consumer will boost markets."
 
How I learned, told my kid and fear it will never end

Brian Pinaire, associate professor of political science
 
"How I found out: I heard the chants of U-S-A, U-S-A on a nationally televised baseball game, saw the New York Times alert on my Blackberry, then turned back to the television broadcast. The camera panned the stadium … thousands of people looking at smart phones, reading the stories, and even holding up website homepages on their screens so the cameras could zoom in … with each passing minute the chants grew louder and the message spread from fan-to-fan and from outside-to-inside the stadium via satellite with texts, tweets, and calls. Even on Sept. 11, 2001 that was not the case to this degree.  

"Talking to children: I have a 3 year old and a 6 year old.  This morning while fixing their breakfast I was listening to NPR.  The younger one never listens to anything anyways, but the older one is very earnest and observant.  He heard part of the report and asked about it. When his little brother left the table, I decided to explain it to him as best I could. I usually resist such dichotomies with regard to political events/individuals, but this time I made it very simple. I thought perhaps I should have dodged the question, but then thought better of it. I was 6 years old when the hostages were returned from the Iranians in 1981 and I remember watching it on TV and having my parents explain it. It resonated with me and created an interest in politics at a very early age.

"When will this phase in American history end? Clearly this is not the end of the war on terror. What if al-Qaeda is eradicated from the world? Won't another group swoop in to take their place? Which means that, by this measure, the recalibrated balance of power between the Executive and Congress will never 'revert' to what it was on Sept. 10, 2001 and for the prior 200 years.  Are we on elevated alert for perpetuity? These aren't new questions--indeed, I have been asking them of Constitutional law students for the last eight years, but they are now more punctuated because the face of the group that perpetrated the event that got this ball rolling is now deceased."

What this means for Obama
Saladin Ambar, assistant professor of political science and Africana studies.
 
"By authorizing the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, President Obama has done two important things. First, he has demonstrated in action what he had previously only offered in speech at Oslo: namely that the progressive quest for peace can and sometimes must be squared with acts of war. For some on the right it will not suffice to make Obama ‘strong.’  For some on the left, it will be another example of the President's descent into Bush-like unilateralism.  For the majority of the American people however, it will be understood as an example of justice delayed, but ultimately fulfilled.

"Finally, by targeting and killing bin Laden, the President has entrenched himself in a political moment of national gratification, perhaps only last seen by President Truman's presiding over V-E Day.  While it does not ensure Obama's reelection in 2012, it turns him into a far more formidable foe, and becomes part of the first paragraph of his presidential biography whether he is reelected or not."
 
Contact: Jordan Reese, jor310@lehigh.edu or 267-934-9573

Posted on Monday, May 02, 2011

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