Tuesday panel of professors covers death’s impact
Politics professor Robert George moderated a panel titled “The Killing of bin Laden: What Does It Mean for America and the World?” before a large audience in Dodds Auditorium on Tuesday.
Panelists included Near Eastern studies professor emeritus Bernard Lewis, Near Eastern studies professor Michael Reynolds GS ’03, City College of New York and City University of New York professor Darren Staloff, and Jennifer Bryson, the director of The Witherspoon Institute’s research project on Islam and civil society.
Each panelist presented a statement describing his or her perspective on the death of Osama bin Laden. Lewis spoke first, providing a summary of the religious and political conditions in the Middle East that allowed bin Laden to rise to influence.
Bryson then discussed the impact of the assassination on the United States, emphasizing the need for the American government to learn “to relate to the rest of the world [and] to have an understanding of what populations think and [of] populations at large.”
There is a need for greater effort in U.S. foreign diplomacy, she said, brought to the forefront by the struggle with bin Laden.
Reynolds said he held a more reserved view of the importance of bin Laden’s death. “The killing of bin Laden does not mean the end of America’s involvement in the Middle East,” he said. “[It] does not mean the end of jihadism.”
Staloff noted that there was another lesson to be gained from the event, as bin Laden’s death was the result of a successful, united effort by the United States.
“Administrations come and go, but American government, American leadership, remains,” he said.
During the discussion that followed, the panelists addressed the effect of bin Laden’s death on global politics.
“The significance of this event, of killing bin Laden, was mainly symbolic,” George said, with several panelists agreeing that bin Laden was more important as an inspirational leader for jihadism than as a military leader of al-Qaida.
“The idea is that the world is one that is not restricted to matters of al-Qaida, and you will find world views that are similar to those espoused by al-Qaida [in other places],” Reynolds explained.
Bryson added that the significance of bin Laden’s death was undermined by his absence as a media figure after the United States removed him from the spotlight, as the younger generation is consequently “less influenced by bin Laden and also less influenced by his death.”
The panelists were divided on the topic of interrogation techniques. Bryson said that the most effective techniques were relational and psychological, while Staloff cited one interrogated source who claimed that “waterboarding liberated information in his mind.”
During the question-and-answer session that followed, one audience member asked how the panelists viewed the reactions of American citizens to the news of bin Laden’s death, particularly the celebrations that followed.
Staloff said that he was pleased by the celebrations and considered them patriotic, similar to those that occurred following U.S. victories in Europe and Japan during World War II, while Reynolds said he “wouldn’t read too much into college students celebrating.”
However, other panelists were more critical of the country’s reaction. Bryson said she felt a “bit uncomfortable with the tone of the celebrations because human death is not to be celebrated.”
Lewis warned that, while a success, bin Laden’s death did not equal peace in the Middle East.
“To celebrate victory is OK, but I don’t feel like we’ve achieved a victory,” he said.
The panel was sponsored by the James Madison Program.