Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bangladesh: Bush Bin Laden



Osama’s philosophy of containment of the enemies of Islam by following the literal dictates of the Quran which is all too radical and anachronistic in its application can only result in violence and counter-violence with no sign of ending anytime soon. Osama’s advantage is being ‘invisible’. His strategy is to brainwash the young Muslim minds into Islamic radicalism, his interpretation of the Quran mesmerises many into believing in his mission, and for many Muslims, the prospect of dying as a martyr and going to heaven is not an illusion but a reality. By the same token, Bush’s mission of eradicating the forces of evil on mere ‘suspicion’ at times can only foment anti-Christian feelings in the Muslim world since it appears that the focus [which is actually out-of-focus and myopic] of his evil is all aimed at Muslims. Statistically, Bush’s declaration of war against terrorism after the incident of 9/11 has increased the number of terror attacks all over the world, and according to experts in terrorism, the number will increase further.

God’s charioteers: Bush and Laden

Fundamentalism, whether it is Christian or Islamic, Jewish or Hindu, is essentially anachronistic and dangerous. Simply defined, religious fundamentalism is an extremely militant form of piety. Religious fundamentalists are usually ‘literalists’ who believe that the words of God are infallible and must be followed to the letter.

What really brought these two people at this critical juncture where both believe that a ‘just war’, or a ‘jihad’ must be waged against one another, one representing the Judeo-Christian values, the other, the true Islamic values based on a literal interpretation of Quran and the Sunna.

To understand Bush as the ‘defender of the faith’, one has to go back to Bush’s earlier life before he became the Governor of Texas. Bush’s was anything but spectacular, especially if one compares him to his father’s background. Bush until the age of 40 was a failure. Moreover, he had a problem with alcohol. Ironically, this problem changed his life and by his own admission, had he not been able to overcome this problem, he would still be sitting in a bar today instead of becoming the president. The incident, as recalled by his wife, Laura Bush that transformed George, was when he saw his own face in the mirror plastered with his own caked vomit the morning after a drinking spree the night before. He fell on his knees and asked God for forgiveness, for strength. From then on, George Bush was a different man. Billy Graham, the famous Evangelist and the vanguard of the ‘born again’ Christian movement, was a friend of the family who came in aid of Bush’s rehabilitation. Tony Evans, another Texan spiritual advisor sparked the latent fire in Bush’s heart. He said, ‘The lessons in Bible were a reason for his decision to run for president.’ Bush echoed equally in a messianic way, ‘We need spiritual renewal in America.’ Billy Graham later said, ‘Bush will fulfil a divine order…Christian families are calling for a crusader against Islam.’ Immediate verbal reaction of Bush after the 9/11 tragedy was his injudicious remark that the country was on a ‘crusade’ against ‘evil’; an obvious reference to the Crusades against the Muslims.

Every cabinet meeting in the White House begins with a prayer. Biblical study groups meet at the White House regularly; tabs are kept as to who attends and who doesn’t. Bush is convinced that God has put him in the Oval Office. It is the ‘manifest destiny’ of the United States to bring peace to the world through war. So intense is his religious fervour that aides confide that he is often seen deeply in prayer at his Oval Office. The war against Iraq is an extension of his faith, his conviction that he was destined to save the world from the forces of evil. In many ways, Bush’s views are endorsed by a large number of Americans who believe in his Texan gung-ho approach coupled with the ‘born again’ Christian devoutness.

One has to understand the American psyche to fathom their contradictions. The country was founded by the pilgrims who fled the persecutions back home in England; and in turn, they started persecuting people who were against their puritanical views. ‘Witches’ were hunted down and burned. They coerced the native population into believing what the puritans believed in. Enslaving human beings, if they were non- whites, had no religious or human compunction for them even though in the Leviticus of the Old Testament, Chapter 25, verse 44 says, ’slaves are only permitted from neighbouring people…’ If the ‘moral majority’ in America ever succeeds in establishing a theocracy, Canadians and Mexicans would have reason to be afraid. Americans are very religious people [95% believe in Christianity]. Most of them go to church at least once a week. Segregation in church is not complained about by the Afro-Americans because they also pray separately, sans whites. Unite States has more churches, synagogues, temples and mosques per capita than anywhere in the world! US Constitution and the Bill of Rights are two admirable instruments of governance, but…The Constitution was written by the whites for the whites only. There was nothing in the Constitution that acknowledged the presence of Negroes in the Union, voting rights came much later, civil rights came in the 20th century. Emancipation of the slaves did not happen until after the end of the Civil War. ‘Equal but separate’ is the best the whites could offer the Negroes and the American Indians. It is no wonder that poor Americans isolated themselves from the rest of the real world and ended up with a tunnel vision. Americans join hands with Jews to use them against the Muslims, yet Christian America has a terrible history of persecuting the Jews.

What about the ‘moral majority’ bejewelled by the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Frank Graham, James Baker? Frank Graham, the son of Billy G refers to Islam as ‘an exceptionally evil and reprehensible religion.’ His colleague, Jerry Vine is even more vitriolic when he says about Islam, ‘Christianity was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God borne by a virgin. In contrast, Islam was established by Mohammad, a paedophile who was possessed by demons and had 12 wives, and the last one was a nine-year old girl.’ He does not acknowledge the Mormons in Utah, USA who take any number of wives often sisters and still remain good Mormons [Christians]! What can be expected from America by the rest of the world who believe in Christianity as well as a few other major faiths? How patriotic are they when they do not believe in their own Constitution? They would like to see the First Amendment repealed, the Equal Rights Amendment quashed, Civil Rights Act annulled, the Right of Choice trashed? The Southern Baptist Convention is a hard-core Christian Fundamentalist organization. Its membership runs into close to 16 million devotees who are scattered all over the country in nearly 42,000 churches! Richard Land, the leader of the SBC has endorsed the war on Iraq. ‘Waging a just war is an act of Christian compassion…Evil must be punished and good must be rewarded,’ was the essence of his endorsement. He forgets Christ’s ‘turn the other cheek’ conveniently. Christian piety, love, forgiveness for which Jesus Christ gave his life has no significance. Richard Land reminds us of Dostoyevsky’s character in War and Peace. During a session of inquisition, Jesus Christ appears. On seeing Jesus, the grand Inquisitor bemoans, “Why did you have to come at a time like this!’

If anyone feels that the previous three paragraphs are irrelevant to what the original intent of this essay was, a justification is in order. It is no secret that President George Bush is very intimate with these stalwarts of the moral majority, and their thought and views are likely to be considered by a president who himself is a confessed ‘born again’ Christian. If we in Bangladesh were to know that the leader of the country frequently meets with the Islamic spiritual leaders for advice, we would be sceptical too. This paragraph of the essay ends with the hackneyed Shakespearean quote, ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

The perception that George Bush is influenced in making his political decisions on the basis of his Christian faith is not far fetched. Listen to what the Watergate fame writer Bob Woodard has to say in his book, Bush at War, ‘The President was casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God’s Master Plan.’ ‘We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defence of the country and rid the world of evil,’ says Bush which resembles the rallying cry of prophet Job of the Old Testament, ‘…forge swords out of your ploughshares and lances out of vintner’s knives…’.Michael Ortiz in his book describes Bush as ‘delusional…apocalyptic in belief and intent.’ The French Le Monde ‘is convinced he is inspired by God, and he is dangerous.’ Incidentally and ironically, the apocalyptic view of Christians and Muslims is the same!

Osama bin Laden was born of a wealthy Saudi family, and like most well-to-do Saudis had a good family life as he grew up. His father was a religious and devout person. He kept all his children under his control, teaching them to be religious, devout and generous. He was a Yemeni immigrant and started his life as a porter in the Jeddah port. Hard work and honesty soon changed his fortune and within years, he became a reputed builder and contractor. His work linked him with the royal family of Saud and soon he became friend and confidant of the royal family. During the annual pilgrimage of Hajj, the father invited the pilgrims to stay at his place. Among these pilgrims were some of the best Sunni Islamic scholars who regularly held discourses about Islam. Osama was among those who attended these and raptly listened to them. It seems their influence left a permanent impression on the young mind. Soon, he began to see that what Islam teaches about the way of life and what the royal family practices are not the same. He began to hold a series of meetings where he discussed about Islam and how the royal family were transgressing them. The Saudi government soon found out these activities and were alarmed, but because of Osama’s connection with the royal family, there was no drastic action taken at the time. During the years from 1986 to 1990, he travelled frequently to Afghanistan and helped the Mujaheedeens in their fight against the Soviets. In 1986, he got personally involved in the war and actively fought major battles. However, on Osama’s return to Saudi Arabia from Afghanistan after Soviet withdrawal in 1989, he was banned from travelling and was virtually under house arrest. During the first Gulf War in 1991, Osama alerted the Saudi government about Saddam’s intent on attacking Saudi Arabia after he finished his occupation of Kuwait. There is not any question of Osama’s loyalty or his patriotism to Saudi Arabia. What changed all these was, according to Osama himself’ was the deployment and stationing of US troops in the ‘holy land.’ This is something he could not accept. In the meantime, living in Saudi Arabia was increasingly becoming dangerous for Osama. He eventually fled with help of his brothers and some sympathetic members of the royal family. 1991 was a very crucial year in the life of Osama. He was first given ‘asylum’ in Sudan in 1991, and then from there, he had to leave and take shelter in Somalia and Yemen.

In 1996, Osama had his first declaration of ‘jihad’ against the American forces ‘occupying’ the holy lands of Islam. Subsequently, Osama declared, ‘For more than seven years, the US is occupying the land of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, threatening its neighbours, using its base in the peninsula to strike at other Muslim states…’ This ‘decree’ in 1998 also vowed to strike Americans and its allies, civil and military installations by any means and anywhere in the world.

In an interview with ABC news in 1998, when he was asked whether he was a terrorist or not, Osama said that terrorism can be both ‘reprehensible’ and ‘commendable. In today’s world, there are no morals.’ He further added, ‘… and dare we utter a single word of protest against injustice, we are called terrorists.’ On Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, he said, ‘…the myth of superpower was destroyed not only in my mind but also in the minds of all Muslims.’ When USS Cole, the US destroyer was crippled in Yemen with heavy American causalities by a tiny boat laden with explosives, that myth was again destroyed.

Osama’s philosophy of containment of the enemies of Islam by following the literal dictates of the Quran which is all too radical and anachronistic in its application can only result in violence and counter-violence with no sign of ending anytime soon. Osama’s advantage is being ‘invisible’. His strategy is to brainwash the young Muslim minds into Islamic radicalism, his interpretation of the Quran mesmerises many into believing in his mission, and for many Muslims, the prospect of dying as a martyr and going to heaven is not an illusion but a reality. By the same token, Bush’s mission of eradicating the forces of evil on mere ‘suspicion’ at times can only foment anti-Christian feelings in the Muslim world since it appears that the focus [which is actually out-of-focus and myopic] of his evil is all aimed at Muslims. Statistically, Bush’s declaration of war against terrorism after the incident of 9/11 has increased the number of terror attacks all over the world, and according to experts in terrorism, the number will increase further.

In the meantime, the Christian ‘moral majority’ in the US are having a ball. They have the president of the United States on their side who will further their cause. Soon, they hope to have all the Supreme Court Justices in their favour too and changing the Constitution will be no problem. Both Houses of the Congress and most State Legislators are partners of the ‘moral majority.’

Perhaps, this world scenario of US being the only superpower turned into a Christian superpower will also come to an end with the sad realization that extreme views coupled with total intolerance could eventually lead to the decline of an empire. We have proofs in history; and those who ignore history, are likely to repeat it! This is true of both Christian fundamentalism and radical Islamism.

The essay would be incomplete without quoting Karen Armstrong, a renowned Islamic scholar. In her essay, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam” she writes, “…Muslims are ordered by God to ‘slay [enemies] wherever you find them’. Extremists like Osama bin Laden, like to quote this but they do not include the exhortations to peace. ‘Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them’. ‘Muslims may not begin hostilities. The Koran, like the Gospels, suggests that it is meritorious to forgo revenge in a spirit of charity [5:45]…. jihad is not one of its ‘pillars’ of Islam. Islam did not impose itself by the sword. ‘There must be no coercion in matters of faith.’ [2:256] Islam respects Jews and Christians, the “People of the Book,” In his last sermon, the prophet of Islam says, “We have formed you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another” [49:13] not to conquer, convert, subjugate, revile or slaughter but to reach out towards others with intelligence and understanding…It would be a grave mistake to see Osama bin Laden as an authentic representative of Islam.

The writer is associate editor, New Age

New Age 30/10/2004