Baylor University Resources on Death of Osama bin Laden

May 2, 2011

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Baylor University has experts in terrorism, national security, ethics and religion available to comment on the death of Osama bin Laden:

Effect of Arab Democracy on al-Qaida

Dr. Mark Long*, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst and director of Middle East studies at Baylor University. Long's current research focuses on the ideology of al-Qaida and the formation of a national security strategy to confront it:

    On Arab democracy as bad news for al-Qaida: "Al-Qaida has long called for the overthrow of corrupt Arab leaders, to include President Saleh of Yemen, 'Brother Leader' Muammar al-Qadhafi of Libya, and President Mubarak of Egypt. In each case, al-Qaida looked to the day that their view of an idealized Islamic republic might be put in place instead. But what is tentatively unfolding is a revolution of another sort, one in which Arabs choose their own leaders rather than having them imposed by secular powers or a religious fundamentalist. One leading al-Qaida ideologue, abu Yahya al-Libi, said that if democracy were to take root in the Middle East, it would be 'catastrophic,' destroying their plans 'at the foundation.'

    On Osama's ironic lesson before dying: "Osama bin Laden's last days must have been nightmarish, for his couriers would have brought news from the wide world beyond his fortress-like compound. He couldn't have known that he was in the bore-sight of Western intelligence agencies and U.S. special forces. But he would have heard the news about Tahrir Square in Cairo. He would have learned, for instance, that young Egyptian women, modestly dressed and wearing hijab, held placards aloft that called for an end to tyranny and an openness to democracy. That was bad news for Mubarak. It was far worse news for Osama bin Laden, an ironic lesson before dying for the maximum jihadist."

*Dr. Mark Long was in northern Iraq with a group of Baylor professors on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003, the day Saddam Hussein was taken into custody. Watching the jubilation of Iraqi citizens on that day, Long said he was "fascinated by the disparity between Saddam's public persona and the way he was captured. During the first Gulf War, Saddam said he would die before he was disgraced by the Americans, but when they found him, he meekly surrendered without a fight."

Contacts: Dr. Mark Long, (254) 710-2463 or or Lori Fogleman, Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-6275 or

Impact of bin Laden's killing

Dr. Brad Thayer, professor of political science at Baylor University, who has briefed the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, as well as other components of the Department of Defense, and served as a consultant to the Rand Corporation, on the impact of bin Laden's killing:

    "Osama bin Laden's death has a large symbolic impact, because he was a huge figurehead, the soul of al-Qaida. This is a great victory for the U.S. But practically speaking, after 9/11, his time was past. Although he still had the ability to inform targets and attacks, al-Qaida has gotten used to operating independently, so this is a modest practical blow."

    He said Islamic terrorists will be angered by United States celebrations of bin Laden's death, but nevertheless, "it's right and proper that the American people celebrate. However, we should recognize this is a long struggle, and there are many battles to come in this war on Islamic terrorists."

Contacts: Dr. Brad Thayer, or Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321 or

Just War and morality of celebration

Dr. Jonathan Tran, assistant professor of religion at Baylor University who specializes in theological ethics, on the morality of celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden.

    "The Just War Tradition, which is the only accepted theological (i.e., Christian) allowance for war, views war as sometimes necessary but never good and certainly not something to be celebrated. We can be thankful that this perpetrator of heinous crimes can do so no longer, but to celebrate in the streets his death is illicit on Just War terms. Rather, we ought to mourn that we are at war, and view any casualty of war with sobriety and lament."

Contacts: Dr. Jonathan Tran, or Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321 or

bin Laden's at-sea burial

Dr. Christian van Gorder, associate professor of religion at Baylor University who teaches world religions, on the controversy over Osama bin Laden's at-sea burial and whether it violated Muslim burial tradition:

    "An important tradition is that if it is likely that an enemy may try to dig up the grave or destroy the grave site, then it would be acceptable to bury the body in an unmarked grave - which might allow for a burial at sea. If a person drowns, there should be an effort made to seek the person's body and to bury it in the ground. Leaving aside all other religious considerations, it is my opinion that bin Laden's burial at sea was designed to prevent his grave from becoming a holy site for terrorist sympathizers. The speed of the burial also saved money and diminished possible security threats related to such a controversial person."

    Dr. van Gorder says traditions vary from region to region; the Quran itself does not specify how to perform a burial. Within the Arabian context (bin Laden is of Arabian descent), a burial may be performed at sea if the individual died at sea and is such a distance from land that he cannot be buried there within the guidelines of burial within 24 hours of death and before the first sundown following death. Because bin Laden was not killed on a ship, his at-sea burial would not be acceptable by strict Muslim standards. However, Muslims are confident God is capable of preserving and then raising a body from the bottom of the sea for the day of final judgment.

Contacts: Dr. Chris van Gorder, (254) 723-5627 or or Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321 or

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