Last night, the world watched with rapt attention as President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed in a house in Abbotabad, Pakistan. While much of the commentary will focus on the geopolitics of this event, what does it mean for ordinary Muslim men and women around the world?
The death of Bin Laden is symbolic for women because of the effect of his ideology on women’s worlds in countries stretching from Indonesia to the U.S. Under the tutelage of Bin Laden, an otherwise diverse set of gender relations in Afghanistan was reduced to a homogenizing, authoritarian social policing that by and large inflicted its pain on women through unequal enforcement of harsh punishments for allegations of adultery or acid attacks on girls trying to attend school. Good Muslim men in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Yemen have shed many tears watching the women around them be subjected to violence in the name of their faith.
Muslim men worldwide have been antagonized because of a relation by religious label and not spirit to Osama Bin Laden. Men in the West who wished to follow prophetic tradition by growing beards or wearing long robes were singled out in particular for scrutiny by the transportation and law enforcement authorities; thanks to the fear-mongering wrought by Bin Laden, young Muslims started using the phrase “flying while Muslim.” While American Muslim men were profiled, men in Iraq and Afghanistan were needlessly killed by on all sides, and saw their neighborhoods ripped apart by sectarianism.
Muslim parents were holding their children last night as an epochal moment took place Sunday night. Osama Bin Laden will continue to haunt the lives of Muslims through the wars of weapons and ideas that have escalated since 9/11. Nevertheless, the weight of the last decade’s events on Muslims seemed lighter, if only for a night.
Abbas Jaffer is a Contributing Editor to Altmuslimah.