Feature

Assassinating Awlaki

The Arab world's reaction to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki shows that President Obama has “given himself the power to murder U.S. citizens without any due process,” said the Karachi, Pakistan, Express Tribune in an editorial. The U.S. government claims Awlaki was a top operational al Qaida leader in Yemen, but it has been unable to back up that claim with actual proof. His assassination surely sets a dangerous precedent for a country “that has always valued its fealty to its constitution.” Even worse, it required the U.S. to ally itself with Yemen’s ruthless President Ali Abdullah Saleh, “a leader who has made killing his own citizens into a sport.” Now we know that Obama has failed to heed the main lesson of the Bush presidency: that “terrorism is best fought with brains, not brawn.”

Targeting Awlaki was “perfectly legitimate,” said the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Arab News. Obama’s primary duty is to protect U.S. citizens, and Awlaki urged his followers to kill Americans “without hesitation.” It is “morally vacuous” for Obama’s critics to claim otherwise; such people “care more about legalities, not about saving lives.” Obama’s decision will be pardoned by millions of people across the Muslim world who recognize that Awlaki “preached al Qaida’s message of hatred and death—a message that has done more to damage the image of Islam and its message of peace than anything in living memory.”

I’m not sure the people of Yemen will be so forgiving, said Abdel Bari Atwan in the London Al-Quds Al-Arabi. Many of them have come to see Awlaki as one of their own, and they will surely resent this murderous intrusion into their country. Most worrisome, his death could be used as a recruitment tool among disaffected Yemeni youth. Not likely, said Jeb Boone in the London Guardian. Awlaki’s death “means little, if anything,” to most Yemenis. After all, what will it really change? Rival military factions will still roam the streets of the capital, pro-democracy protesters will still be gunned down, and most Yemenis will still face an “endless struggle to feed their families in the midst of sustained violence.” The biggest consequence will be that President Saleh, who likes to claim he’s the only thing preventing extremism from exploding across Yemen, will brag that he helped bag one of America’s biggest counterterrorism trophies. That will make it harder for U.S. officials to pressure him to end his 33-year reign.

If we’re honest, Awlaki’s death probably means little even to al Qaida, said Leah Farrall in the Sydney Australian. He was not part of the group’s operational inner circle, whose members did not trust him and considered him an inexperienced outsider. Awlaki owes his status as a militant largely to his “lionization at the hands of U.S. and Western governments.” Claiming his death as a big victory “is an ominous sign of how precious little progress has been made in the war on terror.”

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