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A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 08/27/2006
Osama Bin Laden, Part 1: The War of Faith

It's an attempt to distort by the Americans, and praise be to God that He has thwarted their conspiracy. Every Muslim, from the moment they realize the distinction [between truth and distortion] in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews, and hates Christians. This is a part of our belief and religion. For as long as I can remember, I have felt tormented and at war, and have felt hatred and animosity for Americans. -- Osama bin Laden, Al-Jazeera interview, December 1998

It took a while, but I finally finished reading Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden.

Edited and introduced by Duke University Professor of Religion Bruce Lawrence, the 292-page book is a competent and fascinating collection of twenty-four translated interviews, speeches and essays by Osama bin Laden. Basically, there's more bin Laden here than any Westerner could ever want. I mean that literally, for too much of it is intelligible and rational.

Messages to the World

The Statements of Osama Bin Laden is not the sophistry of Mein Kampf. This is because bin Laden's aim is not to defend Islamic belief--the religion's infallibility is taken as given. Rather, bin Laden is so nauseatingly relevant to the intelligent classes because his assault on American foreign policy is thoroughly educated. Bin Laden is not a maven of rhetoric; his difficulty in grasping the fundamentality of hypocrisy to human affairs is largely the problem. Instead, he is a person with an enviable capacity for spotting contradictions and making them easy for others to see as well. As such, bin Laden's arguments punch holes in our democratic system easier than Ivan Drago's fists through Apollo Creed.

Of course, what gives bin Laden's his blistering poignancy is also the most obvious indication of his unreliability. I'm referring to his unfortunate subscription to unconditional certainty, i.e. the violence of his religious devotion. This does clarify things, however. Like many wild-eyed Christian extremists, single-minded entrepreneurs, and homicides, there is a single, rational, biological cause that incites individuals to embracing certainty, any certainty, with fanaticism. It is because they have suffered and do suffer greatly... their happiness depends on it. Bin Laden, come of age on turf recurringly assaulted by war and festering with hatred, has allowed his grief to overwhelm him.

"I tell you that these events have split the entire world into two camps," bin Laden said in October of 2001, "one of faith, with no hypocrites, and one of unbelief--may God protect us from it."

We are indeed embroiled in a war of faith, but it's even more fundamental than a clash of religions. It's about the nature of belief itself. As modernity drives us to the zenith of logic, we are forced to accept the relativity of truth and all its benefits and drawbacks. Thus while we've created a culture of tolerance, we've also not only sabotaged every scapegoat for justifying our feelings of inadequacy and desolation, but also the means by which to at least delude ourselves that we are not responsible for our own desolation. Without rock-solid, viable justifications driving our actions, we become objects of pure will and recoil at the horrifying knowledge that the awesome weight of accountability, the crushing architecture of reality, is solely on each of our shoulders. And we shudder at the visions of our self-destruction should we falter. The repercussions for the average person are too nightmarish to acknowledge.

Too much for the tormented murderer bin Laden.


- Abel

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