Few American journalists are as steeped in the Middle East as Neil MacFarquhar (pictured), currently The New York Times' United Nations bureau chief. A fluent Arab speaker who has spent 25 years in the region, MacFarquhar will talk to a local audience next Monday about the significance of Osama bin Laden's death and the obstacles facing today's democratic revolutions in the Arab world.
Those mass movements had “put a dent in his ideology” well before bin Laden met his end at the hands of U.S. Special Forces, MacFarquhar said in a recent telephone interview. “He'd been saying change could only come through jihad, and the Arab world now sees that isn't so.”
The outcome of young Muslims' peaceful push for freedom, from Tunisia to Yemen, will do more to determine the viability of Al Qaeda than will the death of its leader, MacFarquhar suggests. The terror network was previously able to recruit members by “appealing to their frustrations with the claim that the only way to get change is by violence,” MacFarquhar observes. “If the regimes do manage to stay in power, that will again frustrate the young, and you could still see recruitment to Al Qaeda.”
Photo credit: Shawn Bailey
Bin Laden's death may also prove to have a limited impact on Islamist militancy because its practitioners are dispersed throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, the Timesman adds. U.S. counterterrorism experts have long viewed Al Qaeda as a decentralized organization whose franchises operate autonomously.
The separate issue of whether the United States should have intervened militarily in Libya is “a tricky one to negotiate,” MacFarquhar says. But he points to the principle that “you can't just have left civilians there to be slaughtered.”
MacFarquhar, who is in his early 50s, knows quite a bit about Libya, having lived there for much of his youth. He moved to Libya at age three because his father got a job in the country's oil industry. MacFarquhar began his education at the Esso Elementary School.
After earning a degree in international relations at Stanford University, MacFarquhar returned to the Middle East as a reporter for the Associated Press, living over the course of seven years in Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus. He then moved to the Times, serving for five years as the paper's Cairo bureau chief. MacFarquhar traveled widely and frequently in the Middle East from 2001 to 2006, reporting from Syria, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
He's also got a base in Burlington. Madi MacFarquhar, Neil's mother, lives in the city's South End. Her involvement in Elder Education Enrichment is what led this local lifelong learning group to invite Madi's son to address its annual meeting on May 9. His talk, which is open to all and free of charge, is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Faith United Methodist Church at 899 Dorset St. in South Burlington.