If only Abraham had known! If only his would-be sacrifice had centered on love instead of obedience, half of the people on earth right now might be striving to achieve harmony with the other half to make this a better world. Unfortunately, through his intended sacrifice of Isaac and the rest of his patriarchal drama, philosophies have emerged dressed as religions which maintain the feud of one man against another. And, although Isaac’s blood wasn’t spilled, as man’s worst instincts took over negating tolerance and brotherhood, there would be countless millions needlessly slain throughout the centuries in the name of Yahweh, God and Allah.
Now, we in the West have added a new name to the theistic rank of those three: Terror. We claim that uncalled-for sacrifices are being made of places and people in the name of Terror, and dab those who perform such sacrifices as terrorists. To those who live in the United States and much of Western Europe, Christians as well as culture-Christians – non-believers who share a self-interest alliance with Christians – terrorism is being perpetrated exclusively by Muslims, the assertion sometimes politically-coated as “fundamentalist Muslims.” It’s just that simple!
Westerners refuse to acknowledge their own sacrifice-offering as they shed blood and create misery for millions in the Middle East and Central Asia via invasion of their lands, boycotts, embargoes, and other types of criminally overt and covert operations which they feel righteous to dispense as a form of punishment; as enforcers of some divine will.
No Muslim in modern times has taken up the cause against foreign infringement on their Islamic lands and mores with more fervor, ferocity and radicalism than the founder of al-Qaeda: Osama bin Laden. A criminal terrorist by Western accounts… and a hero-martyr by a portion of Islam – only history will eventually tell us how big or how small that portion is; and one guesses most Muslims, at least for the time being, prefer to keep their sentiments private and personal.
There was nothing heroic or climactic in watching Powerful America execute its will from the White House “situation room” as America’s own brand of terrorists performed their duty killing a man who for more than a decade had eluded the might of the greatest empire to date. This was a pyrrhic execution of a man who will enter the annals of history with no greater criminality in his curriculum vitae than many honored Western leaders, including all modern US presidents from Ronald Reagan to the present dweller of the White House.
The day after bin Laden had been killed, an acquaintance who is Associate Pastor for a large Christian congregation in the community where I live, confided in me his approval of how the government had handled the “disposal” of Osama’s body while still being respectful of the Islamic tradition. “We certainly don’t want this criminal to become a martyr and have his body interred in a mausoleum where crowds can gather to plot against America,” was the gist of his words. He obviously had no clue as to the concept of martyrdom in Islam, nor any idea of how to judge what our president had done.
One cannot understand the concept of shahada (martyrdom) in Islam unless one also understands two other concepts, jihad (Holy Struggle as different from Holy War) and tawhid (divine source of righteousness, truth and goodness). For many Muslims, Osama bin Laden was already a living martyr – you don’t have to die in battle to become one – because he was seen as carrying on the struggle in the cause of the truth; he was to them both a mujahid while alive (becoming a martyr if/when he dies or is killed for it) and a shahid (role model). [Martyr and model are derived from the same Arabic root.]
Whether we in the West like it or not, Osama bin Laden is not just a martyr for Islam but possibly an Islamic messenger as well, and his missing body won’t stop those who saw in him a very powerful role model from paying homage to him. We may be looking in the future to an addendum to present holy shrines of Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Karbala; this time, at the outskirts of Islamabad where Americans exacted retribution on a man who some are convinced went straight to hell while others honor him in sainthood: Osama bin Laden. Barack Obama may have helped create another historical event for Islam: “The Event of Islamabad.”
There may be very little Americans can do to contain the lionization, in this case the saladinization, of a man who put part of his fortune, his brains and his heart, to fight an America that to him was intrusive to Islam, materialistic and satanic. And the results he obtained could not prove more conclusive as to his overwhelming success, even discounting his yet likely to be realizable dividends.
A tally of what bin Laden may have cost America could easily topple the three-trillion dollar mark, plus untold billions of hours wasted by Americans to secure a questionable measure of safety. And, of course, the immeasurable cost to the nation’s psyche brought by fear. Overall, Osama may not have invested more than $30 million of his own wealth in his warring with the US; the largest cost, just under one-half million dollars in the planning and execution of the attack on 9/11. One could hardly argue with this man’s financial prowess – militant frugality – when he obtained a return on his money of 100,000 to 1… or a 10 million percent!
Muslim history purists probably prefer that bin Laden not be compared to their 12th Century hero, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty and known in the West as Saladin. They will tell you about the respect Saladin received from his Christian enemies in those chivalrous times. But that is precisely the catch; Muslims and Christians were then fighting in a level battlefield, and did not have the disparity in weapons and technology which now exist. So one could easily conclude, if totally unprejudiced by loyalties one might possess, that Osama bin Laden is a strategist for his time, one who found the way to level the battlefield when trying to take on a formidable empire.
At the end of the day heroes and villains are defined by the groups they represent, and the time and context in which their deeds are measured. A very symbolic, some might say ironic, thing coming out of this American operation to kill Osama bin Laden, is the identification given to Osama… that of Geronimo, the celebrated Apache hero-warrior who fought the US and died as its prisoner. There’s very little Washington can do right, domestically or internationally… the verdict still needs to be rendered on the life-taking of the figure that many Muslims are starting to consider as the new age Saladin.