al queda, assassination, Beatification, Canonization, catholicism, EWTN, faith, islam, jews, john paul II, Karol Wojtyla, Koran, Muslims, osama bin laden, Pope John Paul II, Religion, Rome, sayyid qutb, terrorism, Vatican
Hardly had the words settled in my ears that Osama Bin Laden had been shot to death on the day Pope John Paul II was beatified, did it occur to me that our generation was confronted by two theistic personalities of this century with highly contrasting paradigms. One believed that violence and terrorism in any form profane the name of God while the other espoused violence or armed jihad against non-Muslims and apostates, also in the name of God.
The 54 year old, 6 feet, 6 inches, olive-complexioned leader of the feared and notorious Al Queda, called for the end to the Anglo-Saxon influence on Muslim countries, especially from the Americans. In contrast, the itinerant Polish evangelist with a smile that lit up his face, always proclaimed the truth to the victims of failed false ideologies that had ravaged the people of the twentieth century. While the head of over a billion Catholics professed the unchanging Christian message, the mild-mannered Muslim extremist summoned the restoration of Shari’a law in the Muslim world and consistently dwelt on the need for violent jihad to right what he believed were injustices perpetrated by the United States and its allies against the Muslims.
But who is this man, Osama Bin Laden? Why was he the most feared living soul in this planet? Was he a product of a misunderstood culture or a handiwork of radical Arab politics? Thanks to him, terrorist spectacles have grown repetitious, even common place. Osama’s ideology which includes women and children as legitimate targets of jihads so appalled the world that everyone speculated there was no safe place to hide. But as the world slowly absorbed in dealing with Al Queda’s sinister enterprises: assassination attempts, skyjackings, long hostage melodrama, suicide bombings that level airports and embassies, the consequence of that reality was one of resigned tolerance – a sign that the world was no longer overwhelmed by the horrors of terrorism and accepted it as a way of life.
When Pope John Paul was shot by a Turkish terrorist in May of 1982, nearly everyone asked the question that the wounded Pope himself had asked: “Why did they do it?” To shoot at politicians may have become lamentably unremarkable, but, as Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau said: “One must wonder whether our world has become so barbaric that it is incapable of respecting the lives of God’s own messengers of peace.” It was not the first time it happened, of course. After a militant Hindu nationalist shot down Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, George Bernard Shaw commented: “It shows how dangerous it is to be too good.”
Yet, there was something tragically melodramatic in Osama Bin Laden’s choice of target. A strike of such serpentine magnitude against one of the world’s busiest money centers was pure terrorist logic: “the act should produce a profound moral dislocation, shattering not only state law but also human sensibility. The terrorist seizes what people value most and crucifies it upside down; he aims to induce a paralysis of foreboding.” wrote Lance Morrow a veteran TIME correspondent who covered the Pope’s assassination in 1982.
Osama was foremost anti-Semitic. New York is the major center of the Jewish population in the world since Columbus discovered America and brought some Jews to the West. It is the gateway where the bulk of American imports and exports are taxed, and where practically all businesses done in America pay tribute to the masters of money. The very land of the city is the holdings of the Jews. Osama delivered warnings against the “enemies of Islam” and the alleged Jewish conspiracies: “These Jews are masters of usury and leaders in treachery. They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next.” he said.
At the aftermath of the September 11 attack in New York, the Pontiff condemned the act as an affront to human dignity that he strongly reiterated “the ways of violence will never lead to genuine solutions to humanity’s problems.” As the U.S. and Great Britain launched one of the most massive manhunts in modern history, peace efforts in improving relations between Catholicism and Islam were initiated by the Pope as a Kennedian rejoinder “that man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty or all forms of human lives. ” When Osama made it to the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List, Pope John Paul II became the first Catholic pontiff to enter and pray in an Islamic mosque. Respectfully removing his shoes, he entered the Umayyad Mosque, a former Byzantine era Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist, the Naptosr (who is believed to be interred there) in Damascus and gave a speech including the statement: “For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness.” He kissed the Qur’an in Syria, an act which made him popular amongst Muslims but which disturbed many Catholics.
From rogues of loose bands of jihadists to the upper Islamic echelons, the threat by the militant Muslims against “Western nations” rose notches higher in the political playing field all because of Osama’s rising popularity among the Arabs. No less than Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened that Iran had developed a strategic “war preparation plan” for what it called the “destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization,” the escalation of violence. Even the unknown Lebanese student Hisham Sham’as became an overnight sensation when he openly called his fellow Muslim brothers to rally the fight against the Jews and burn them like Hitler did. It was all too familiar an urging made by Osama Bin Laden in his 1998 edict (fatwah) that exhorts every Muslim to kill the Americans and their allies, especially the Jews. Although Bin Laden had no formal training in Islamic jurisprudence he was criticized by Islamic scholars as having no standing to issue religious opinions (fatwa) even though he was considered to be well versed in the classical scriptures and tradition of Islam.
The escalation of violence by the Muslims was consistently being fueled by the impassioned speeches of Islamic extremists like Osama Bin Laden in the media. Not a month went by without an individual or group demanding global jihad violence against the innocents. Three Christian high school girls were beheaded as a Ramadan “trophy” by Indonesian militant. The girls’ severed heads were dumped in plastic bags in their village in Indonesia’s strife-torn Central Sulawesi province, along with a handwritten note threatening more such attacks. Moreover, Islamic website offers tips on killing foreigners in Saudi Arabia… “In order to carry out the mission when the time comes you must possess a weapon (a handgun or a submachine gun), or a good knife, if you’re interested in butchering the infidel…”
Osama Bin Laden’s childhood was an insignificant one. The senior Mohammed Awad Bin Laden divorced his wife soon after Osama was born in March 10, 1957. Although Osama lived with his mother, his father ensured that he received good education. He grew up in Saudi Arabia, acquired Quranic education like any average boys his age, attended the most prestigious Al-Thager Model School at 11, his introduction into Islamic politics influenced by the Egyptian and Syrian teachers, who had been involved in dissident Islamic organizations in their home countries. At the age of 22, he earned a degree in civil engineering but his main interest was religion, where he was involved in both in “interpreting the Quran and jihad”. But no one had so much affected Osama’s generation than the charismatic Sayyid Qutb himself, author of Ma’alim fi-l-Tariq, or Milestones, one of the most influential tracts on the importance of jihad against all that is un-Islamic in the world. Together with Abdallah Azzam, another Islamic scholar from Palestine, they were instrumental in building pan-Islamic enthusiasm for jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and in drawing Muslims (like bin Laden) from all over the Middle East to fight there.
Osama was described by University friend Jamal Khalifa as extremely religious. Neither man watched movies nor listened to music, because they believed such activities went against the teachings of the Qur’an. During his University career Osama witnessed the two milestone events in 1979 that shook the Arab world: the successful overthrow of Iran’s Western supported government by Ayatollah Khomieni and the installation of an Islamic state; and the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by radicals in Saudi Arabia. It was not until the French special forces came in that the Saudi government was able to regain control of Mecca’s holiest site. Bin Laden, disgusted with his government’s lack of ability to protect the sacred city, began to see the royal family more and more as corrupt. Finally, by the late 1979, disgruntled, Osama left Saudi Arabia and joined the Muslim cause to fight off the invading Soviets in Afghanistan.
The rage of violence against civilization is nothing new. The first thousand years of Islamic jihad took far more lives than the 9/11 attacks and spread far greater terror. Early Muslims systematically killed huge portions of their non-Islamic neighbors, and their jihadi warriors pushed far north in an attempt to convert or eradicate much of Europe. Jihad was then, as it is now, primarily a product of Islamic theology – not a reaction against American policies and western decadence, or anything else. The West may have its share of vice and shortcomings, but it was centuries of Islamic jihad that provoked that violent defensive thrust from Europe referred to as the First Crusade.
Despite the death of Osama Bin Laden, it is said that violent jihad and its proponents will continuously threaten the West. How many of those threats are credible and how many are empty bravado is anyone’s guess, but some fraction are real. Islamic jihad is killing people around the world – a toll that is being added to every week.
Just a year before his demise in 2005, the ill and weary Pope hosted the “Papal Concert of Reconciliation,” which brought together leaders of Islam with leaders of the Jewish community and of the Catholic Church at the Vatican for a concert by the Kraków Philharmonic Choir from Poland, the London Philharmonic Choir from the United Kingdom, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from the United States, and the Ankara State Polyphonic Choir of Turkey. The Vatican wrote: “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
It is noteworthy to recall that both the Bible and Qur’an agree that Judgment day is a requirement for salvation and on that day God will pass judgment on the works of people, forgiving or condemning them. The Qur’an claims that “People of the Book will believe in him (Jesus) before his death.” (Qur’an 4:159). Many Islamic authors take this passage to mean that Jesus has not died, but instead was raised to Heaven and will return before the day of judgment to establish the Kingdom of God. In the context of the Qur’an and the Bible, Pope John Paul II strives for a new understanding between peoples where dialogue, tolerance, and cooperation will replace anathemas, persecution, and rivalry. By bowing and kissing the Koran as a sign of respect, his gesture did not run totally against the grain of the crusades and past condemnations nor in the capitulation of our Christian faith, but in the recognition that the followers of Jesus and those who cherish Mohammed should not be engaged in name-calling, or worse, killing each other. The Pope appreciated the suffering of the Iraqi people, particularly the women and children. It showed he did not look down upon them but had a genuine respect for them within the brotherhood of man.
In his book, The Measure of Man, Sidney Poitier said that as a young boy “daydreams whetted my appetite for the wellsprings of possibilities,” and, “every hard, grueling, exhaustive work necessary in the conversion from promises made to dreams fulfilled was the sole responsibility of the dreamer.” To the young Karol Wojtyla that fulfillment was tragically curtailed with the death of his father in 1941. The senior Wojtyla implored his son Karol to enter priesthood. However, 4 years before his ordination, he died leaving his son the sole surviving member of his immediate family. “I was not at my mother’s death, I was not at my brother’s death, I was not at my father’s death,” he said, reflecting on these times of his life, nearly forty years later, “At twenty, I had already lost all the people I loved.”
To the young Osama, who grew up with a sense of destiny, his dreams were simple: “love for God and country.” At some point in his growing years, after his introduction to Islamic teachings, Bin Laden visualized his destiny as being the agent for violent activism, growing to become an Orwellian Emmanuel Goldstein, architect of fear in this new century. To recapture the essence of that profound period of his childhood in Jeddah, we cannot but think of him as a visionary – the dragon-slayer of vicious corporate America. Extolled by his followers as the knight in all the splendor of shining armor, his real nemesis in fact, like a mirage in the sand bars of the Sahara, was the shadow of his ruthless self.