Commentary: Muslim world also finds solace in Bin Laden's death

Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez
Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez MCT

Sept. 11, 2001 — The Taliban came for Faieq Zarif, an Afghan native.

Or so it seemed to Zarif, who received political asylum and is now living in Kansas City.

On that horrendous day, one of his brothers was in Kabul. Another was working for the United Nations in New York. And yet another worked at a bank near the Pentagon.

Zarif was living in San Diego, teaching philosophy and critical thinking at San Diego City College.

And then, the planes hit. The world, he said, “was like one place.”

“I felt like the Taliban were following me all the way to the United States,” he said. “The line between good and bad wasn’t geographic.”

An agitated Zarif called my cell phone Monday morning. He’d been listening to the commentary on the death of Osama bin Laden.

Something was missing amidst the jubilation.

“Yes, we got him,” he said. “But the U.S. is a part of the larger world. His first victims were Afghans. Someone should speak for those victims, too.”

This space is yours, my friend.

Zarif and I fortuitously met a few months ago, in the lobby of a Westport condo where a real estate agent friend of mine lives. Zarif landed the perfect condo for himself and his wife. I gained an informed and passionate source.

Lest anyone be confused; let’s clarify a central point: “Most Afghans share with the American people the joy of Bin Laden’s death,” Zarif said.

Zarif certainly does. He favors the terms “medieval,” “stone-age” and “enemy of humanity” for bin Laden and his ilk.

But he also sees Sept. 11 through a distinctly personal pain. It was from Zarif’s homeland that bin Laden planned the attack.

“Besides the American people, no other nation has suffered more at the hands of al-Qaida and its leader bin Laden than the people of Afghanistan.”

Bin Laden came to Afghanistan in the mid-1980s as the country battled the Soviets. He quickly infused the nation with his form of thought, providing funding and training to extremists, turning the nation backward.

“He set up bases inside the country and hijacked — with the help of Afghan warlords — the cause of anti-Soviet struggle into the destruction of an Islamic country and the Islamic nation of Afghanistan.”

Like the rest of his family, Zarif was forced to abandon Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. He had gone to Germany to study and by the time he finished, his country was no longer his home.

The youngest of 12, all of Zarif’s living siblings have resettled outside of Afghanistan. Several brothers and sisters have worked with U.S. military, helping our special forces and other units with cultural and language understanding.

Like them, Zarif is knowledgeable and rightfully bitter about the destruction bin Laden caused to Afghanistan, years before he’d plot the carnage of the Twin Towers.

Bin Laden’s death though raises another concern; the seeming complicity of Pakistan.

“Bin Laden provided the needed ideological guidance and the funds necessary to finance the Taliban campaign. In return, he enjoyed absolute freedom of movement and action, and was so able to build his deadly terror network of networks.”

It’s an old story. Governments sidling too close to evil.

“They played along with the fire of supporting and tolerating extremist groups in the hope of using them as proxies in the process they lost total control over the monster they helped create.”

He acknowledges the many Pakistani people who also were victimized. But he noted what other analysts did on Monday, too. Bin Laden’s lair was comfortably close to Pakistani military.

“He was not hiding in the “lawless” tribal belt on the Pakistani side of the “Durrand” lane separating Afghanistan from Pakistan but was openly “hiding” in a mansion with multiple security barriers around it, not too far from a Pakistani military academy.”

Finally, to find a deeper meaning in bin Laden’s death, a cue can be taken from Zarif.

Bin Laden is fish bait. But what he represented will continue to decline, if we’re lucky.

Zarif looks to the events in Egypt and elsewhere, as educated young adults demand reforms and topple long-standing leaders.

The dangers of bin Laden’s legacy will shrink each time his twisted view of Islam, his hatred of the West, is countered.

“That shows the failure of his ideology,” Zarif said.

He’s right. And it’s more productive long-term to cheer emerging democracy, than to dance at the death of one monster.

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