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Originally published Friday, May 13, 2011 at 4:02 PM

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Guest columnist

Bin Laden's death significant for Turks, too

The death of Osama bin Laden was also significant for Turks, writes visiting Turkish journalist Fulya Ozerkan. Her nation viewed bin Laden not just as an enemy of the U.S., but of the whole world.

Special to The Times

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I was having dinner with a friend when a colleague from The Seattle Times phoned me with the news: Osama bin Laden had been killed.

My friend said, "Oh yes, I know NATO killed his son."

I replied, "No, no. He is Gadhafi. The news is about bin Laden, who is responsible for 9/11."

The news of bin Laden's killing was even unexpected for many Americans. While the entire world, including Turkey, my country, has been glued to the Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, bin Laden had almost been forgotten.

It was a historic occasion for many Americans, who had come to believe the search to find bin Laden was like looking for a needle in a football stadium.

The death of bin Laden was also significant for Turkey, which viewed him as not just an enemy of the U.S., but of the world.

The havoc wreaked by al-Qaida was not much different from that of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, an organization that took up arms for self-rule in Turkey's southeast. Turkey paid a heavy price, spending nearly $300 billion to counter PKK terrorism since the 1980s.

The U.S. bill to combat terrorism was even higher, skyrocketing to $3 trillion in 10 years.

"The most expensive death," read the headline of the Turkish daily Radikal, referring to bin Laden.

Financial costs aside, efforts to eradicate terrorism have had deeper consequences that go beyond national boundaries. The continuing threat of the PKK, which used its bases in northern Iraq for attacks in Turkey, have cast a shadow on Turkish relations with its neighbor.

And anti-terrorism efforts brought Turkey to the brink of war with another neighbor, Syria, in the 1990s, with Ankara threatening military action if Damascus continued to shelter Abdullah Ocalan, the now imprisoned leader of the PKK.

And as the U.S. launched successive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, public-opinion polls showed growing anti-American sentiment in Turkey. In some of those polls, as many as 70 to 80 percent of the Turkish public expressed anti-Bush and anti-American feelings.

At the same time, Turks have been alarmed by what they perceive as rising Islamophobia in the U.S. and Europe in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. Turks have watched warily as a U.S. pastor held an international Burn the Quran Day and as far-right politicians across Europe achieve domestic political gains by attacking Islam.

In the Netherlands, home to nearly 1 million Muslims, politician Geert Wilders, a vocal critic of Islam who leads the Party for Freedom, stirred up controversy when he argued that Islam was tantamount to fascism and compared the Quran to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf."

The situation was similar in Germany, where about 2.5 million Muslim Turks live. Most of the Turkish community leaders in Germany complained the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks marked a turn for the worse for Muslim immigrants in Germany, with their religion suddenly seen as a threat.

So it's no surprise that many Turks welcomed the demise of bin Laden.

Islamophobia was sparked largely by the actions of bin Laden and his terrorist network al-Qaida, according to Turkish officials. And the Turkish cell of al-Qaida conducted bombings in Istanbul in 2003 that killed more than 50 people, mostly Muslim Turks.

The day after bin Laden's death, Turkey's Foreign Ministry talked of the "unacceptable attempts" of bin Laden and al-Qaida to abuse Islam in order to legitimize their terrorist acts.

Maybe, that was the same reason why President Obama made a similar distinction when he said the U.S. was not at war with Islam but terrorism.

Snapshots of the past 10 years went through my mind as I watched the cheerful crowds gathered in front of the White House, shouting "USA, USA" following the news of bin Laden's death.

It reminded of the day when millions of Turks rushed to the streets after the movie-like capture of Ocalan, the PKK leader who had been on the run for years.

Terrorists exact the same costs everywhere. The names this time are different, but the residue of their actions remains alive and is even harder to destroy.

Fulya Ozerkan is a Turkish journalist who spent three weeks with The Seattle Times as part of a program organized by the International Center for Journalists.

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