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Osama bin Laden's wasted life


'Osama's wasted life' by Chris JohnstonAnd what could anyone add to the ocean of comment and opinion and conclusion and musing and snarling and vengeful remarks published and shouted about the recent death of Mr O. bin Laden, late of Abbottabad, Pakistan, shot to death in his bedroom, perhaps with his television remote in his hand, perhaps moments after he finished coloring his beard black again for a video production scheduled for the morning?

Not much, especially in my case, after nearly ten years of quiet rage that he murdered three of my friends on September 11, cackling over their deaths, a cackle I will never forget as long as I live.

And yet, I find myself thinking how very sad; not his death, in which the bullets he had so often assigned to others found him at last, but his life, wasted on a foolish and murderous idea, causing such epic wreckage, and perhaps in the end doing far more damage to his beloved religion than anyone else in its long and often admirable history.

I say this as a Catholic man, well aware that my religion tried bin Laden's idea, and found it a roaring failure, responsible for uncountable deaths of innocent souls; we call our collective terrorism campaign the Crusades, and even the most rabid among Catholics today cannot say with a straight face that our attacks on the infidel succeeded in anything except gaining the Church a well-deserved reputation for militant murder; and from those bloody years the Church sensibly retreated back mostly to a business model, spending the next 700 years as one of the largest, richest, most influential, riveting, and troubled corporations in human history.

Catholic nations continued to send agents to murder and rob the pagans of the New World, certainly, but rather than murder other established religions we sought to outpopulate them, ignore them, negotiate complex truces, or, as we did recently with the Anglicans, offer them readmission to the mother ship from which years ago they embarked, in their case because of the sexual politics of kings, one of the great human spectator sports.

In a real sense, after the Crusades finally petered to their ignominious end, we matured as a religion, we realised that the sword was the worst of persuasive devices, and we turned to other hinges of history, some brilliant, like the public relations geniuses Mother Teresa of India, Karol Wojtyla of Poland, Mary MacKillop of Australia, and the elementary school system on which much of modern Catholicism was built.

Today, long centuries after we waged holy war against people who called God other names than we did, there are a billion Catholics, and two billion followers of the devout Jew Yesuah ben Joseph.

It was the fervent dream of the late Mr bin Laden that an epic war arise between the nearly two billion followers of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, blessed be his name, and the followers of Yesuah ben Joseph, blessed be his name, and this fiery dream, born in 1998 with the murder of Kenyan and Tanzanian innocents, consumed 20 years of what must have been a very bright intellect, an often-attested-to personal charisma, and a mountainous personal fortune, and again I find myself thinking how sad this was, how misguided, how twisted.

What a waste of gifts given to that man by the Creator!

Imagine, for a moment, the same man alert to humour, perhaps the greatest weapon of all. Imagine the same man infused by the holy merriment of a John XXIII, a Dalai Lama, a Desmond Tutu. Imagine that same poor soul, consumed day and night by smouldering hate and worries about rehearsing his lines for his video performances, alert instead to the power of mercy, apology, simplicity, conversation, common ground.

Imagine what he might have done for the religion he loved, had he bent his capacious talents to witty connection rather than wanton destruction. Imagine, for a moment, that he might have become a great man, rather than the preening thug he was, wrapped in a shawl, obsessed with himself, hiding in a dark room, waiting for the explosive death he must have known would someday be his fate.

What a waste. 

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. 

Topic tags: Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Islam, Muslim, Crusades.September 11, World Trade Center, New York, Afghanistan



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Existing comments

Bin Laden was only doing what the Koran tells him to do.

Clarence | 16 May 2011  

In the same way the bible tells every jew or christian to kill all those that aren't jews or christians?

Frankie D. | 17 May 2011  

Not so. The Koran nowhere demands or requires the slaughter of innocents. It allows for defense against attack -- as does the Catholic Church's concept of just war. Michael Berdine, a Muslim who runs Cambridge Muslum College in England, has written about bin Laden's terrible misreading and misuse of this idea.

Brian Doyle | 17 May 2011  

Beautifully said, Brian.

Michael | 17 May 2011  

This is the most intelligent comment I have yet read on the whole bin Laden saga.

Richard Olive | 17 May 2011  

Give us a break Brian. I love your writing but this episode 'smacks' of deception by known deceivers.

Russell | 17 May 2011  

Thank you Brian for your getting so close to the mind of God

Ray O'Donoghue | 17 May 2011  

Brian, many thanks for your lucid comments. mores the pity Pres. Obama and our own PM didn`t echo your sentiments; you have absolutely nailed it. Keep up the good work.

W Justin Halpin | 17 May 2011  

I agree with the comments of Richard Olive above. Brian's article is the best one I have read on bin Laden's death. A wasted life given the talent and the resources, there is no doubt. Also a salient reminder for all of us to take up the challenge in John 10:10 of living our lives to the full.

Tom Cranitch | 17 May 2011  

Thank you for the compassion in this article - i too wonder how he became what he became and the sadness of it all. And i have a friend who last Saturday, was physically attacked after Mass by a fundamentalist catholic because he is not such...............

hilary | 17 May 2011  

History tells us that people in high positions often become blinded by their own power. Imagine our Pope Benedict with a changed attitude towards himself and this world, imagine if he changed the way he thinks about his relationship to God's people? Brian, I like the way you use words: imagine our pope if he listened to the wonderful and inspiring legacy of John XXIII, a Dalai Lama, or a Desmond Tutu. What would it take for the pope put aside his dogmatic policies and inherited institutional wealth and be "alert instead to the power of mercy, apology, simplicity, conversation, common ground?"

Trish Martin | 17 May 2011  

Thank you for this article. It should awaken in all of us respect for other religions - as Brian pointed out, we are not lily white when it comes to past violence against those who do not share our faith. We can only pray that there can be the same turn around in Islam that Christianity did over the centuries - that the good in Islam can overcome the evil of those who (falsely) claim their terrorist actions have been ordained by Mohammed.

pat | 17 May 2011  

I fully agree with Brian Doyle's sentiment and that of Trish and Pat. Leaving me to add the comparison between a bin Laden and a Bill Gates. Two moneyed persons. One gives to charity - the other to war. I could stamp my foot or dance. What brings me to my choice? Who has influenced me? And why do I care?

Joyce | 17 May 2011  

Brian, this reflection provokes much thought and a graced disquiet. I think that one of the most useful exercises we can engage in is the 'what if'. What if the victorious powers at Versailles had not been so vindictive, bloody minded and hell bent on preserving their spheres of interest? What if Woodrow Wilson in 1919 had received and listened to the concerns of a then non Marxist young nationalist Ho Chi Minh? Ideology seems always to construct its pantheons of false deities. Bin Laden was no different. Your are right that the Koran didn't make him do it but a related dogmatic brand of Islamic fundamentalism did drive him. The Wabhabist sect was founded on a rejection of any authority or interpretation after the mid 10th Cent. It totally rejected modernity, secularism even Shia attempts at scrutinising the Tradition. It seems that bin Laden became even more radically Wahhabi than the sons of Saud and their religious acolytes. I think bin Laden's first and lasting hatred was directed at the pragmatically western oriented Saudi regime and this hatred spilled over into his destructive campaign against the corrupting Infidels. As always with these raging ideologues, he became what he hated the most.

David Timbs | 17 May 2011  

"Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." Koran 9.29

Whether you like it or not Mr Doyle, and whatever Michael Berdine has written, Muslims from the time of Mohammed up to the present have used this verse from the Koran to wage war against unbelievers, or to subject Jews and Christians into the second class status of dhimis.

You characterise the Crusades as incontrovertible proof of Christianity's militant streak. I have read schlars who beg to differ. They see the Crusades as primarily a Christian response to the aggressive expansion of Islam throughout the Middle East.

Did you ever stop to ask yourself how it was the Islam spread throughout and beyond the Arabian peninsula? The answer lies on the flag of Saudi Arabia, the sword.

Bin Laden was simply following the example of Mohammed, a highly successful warlord, who saw all non-Muslims as the enemy. He led aggressive campaigns. He oversaw the slaughter of prisoners, the taking of female slaves and other booty.

John Ryan | 17 May 2011  

Brian Doyle should check his evaluation of Islam against that of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

The Ayatollah Khomeini taught, "Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for Holy Warriors! These are hundreds of other [Koranic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim." quoted from Ibn Warraq Why I am Not A Muslim Prometheus Books 1995 p.11-12.

It is beyond me how anyone can speak of peace and Mohammed in the same breath. His life and his message were the very antithesis of Jesus' life and message. Yet you would equae one with the other.

Too many of the posters above are guilty of wishful thinking. They want to believe that all religions are equal. This is manifestly not the case. Of all religions I have studied, Islam is the only one that mandates death for those who leave it. Ponder that.

Nguyen Duy | 17 May 2011  

Mr Doyle, as a Catholic I beg to differ from your comments. Bin Laden's power was initiated by Christian literalists in the White House. Without wishing to diminish the loss of life in the twin towers event, if the West had not invaded a Muslim country it is likely never to have happened. What has always amazed me, prior to that event, is that the leaders in the United States always arrogantly assumed that expensive, high technology weapons would deter any retaliation. Suicide bombing is not sinful to the Muslims because they are fighting in a war not of their choosing and they have only their own bodies to use as weapons. Christianity does not own God and we should never assume that we do.

Maureen Strazzari | 17 May 2011  

I like much of this.

I disagree with the historical narrative.

Is it wrong for Australia's aboriginals to fight for the protection of their sacred sites?

If not, why was it wrong to call for the protection of Christianity's sacred sites?

And do you seriously think Pope Urban II would have achieved a better outcome if he'd sat down in a bean bag and dialogued with the Moslems?

HH | 17 May 2011  

Maureen Strazzari, which country are you saying that the West invaded, thereby provoking the attack on the twin towers?

patrick james | 17 May 2011  

Further to my earlier post, I cite the following hadith from Sahih Muslim. It shows that Bin Laden in no way misrepresented the notion of jihad. He was merely continuing what Mohammed himself instituted.

Wikipedia states that, "Sahih Muslim is one of the Six major collections of the hadith in Sunni Islam, oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. ... and is highly acclaimed by Sunni Muslims. It was collected by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, also known as Imam Muslim. Sahih translates as authentic or correct."

Here is the relevant hadith.

"It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah." (http://theonlyquran.com/hadith/Sahih-Muslim/?volume=1&chapter=9)

The hadith carry only slightly less weight than the Koran. They are Mohommed's own words. There is no doubt that he is not talking about defensive warfare. It is "Believe in my religion, or we are at war."

John Ryan | 18 May 2011  

You mentioned the crusades. A sad holy war 900 years ago. That conflict produced its own heroes one of which was the great warrior king Saladin. He killed far more christians than Osama But he earned the respest of all for he faced his enemies and fought with honour something very lacking in terrorists.

Ben Weston | 18 May 2011  

To Patrick James: I am referring to Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Many people, including me, demonstrated against Australian involvement.

This war and the way it was fought initiated or perhaps heightened hatred towards the West, because of the false propaganda put out by the USA which had hired a promotional company to do so, because of the use of bombs tipped with depleted uranium, baecause great USA tanks rolled over Iraqi soldiers, burying them in the sand, because the USA bombed a milk factory which had been turned into a bomb shelter, killing many women and children.

The USA was trying out new superior weaponry; it worked very well and there was no thought that people who had no weaponry to speak of could retaliate. And, of course, good (God?) was on our side.

Maureen Strazzari | 19 May 2011  

two billion followers of the devout Jew Yesuah ben Joseph? How can they claim to follow a devout Jew and at the same time reject his Jewish religion? I can't understand it.

David Fisher | 20 May 2011  

The Western world's reception of Bin Laden's death displays little, if any, difference between the attitudes of those whom we demonise as enemies and our values. The way to defeat what we all see as evil, is to pursue our collective wish for peace to all humankind. We are still filled with vengeance, hatred and abhorrence of anything, or anybody, whose beliefs differ from ours. Are we really different from those whom we perceive as our enemies?

Alex Njoo | 22 May 2011  

One last note, because I find this so articulate on a matter about which I, and so very many of us in the west, know zero. Michael Berdine, head of the Muslim College in England: "I wish to say bluntly and clearly and loudly that Islam is not the twisted creed of the malefactors who perpetrated heinous crimes on September 11, the thugs who have distorted the true meaning and teachings of Islam ever since. The root of the word Islam is silm and salam, which mean peace, and Islam is about living in peace with the Creator, with yourself, with other people, and with all the creation that we have been granted by the One. Nowhere in the Qur’an (which Muslims believe to be the exact word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad), or in the hadith (the teachings of the Prophet himself), do we read that the ends justify the means. Nowhere.

Moreover, if we mistake our motivation and values, attributing false righteousness to ourselves, we will have lost our cause and, perhaps, our souls. So to those who claim to speak for Islam, who claim that terrorism and the murder of innocents is a right path, I say: you do not speak for the faith, and you should beware the loss of your holy soul.

The cold fact of the matter when we talk about “Islamic” terrorism is that the murderers, for that is what they are, are not true Muslims. They are mere actors. They commit crimes for effect, to make an impression. They seek to gain their objectives through the manipulation of an audience. But these actors use real bombs, assassinations, murders, rapes, and mayhem to manipulate others to their will. Their agenda is political change, and no matter how assiduously they insist that their motives are religious, they are not the motives of Islam. Do not grant them that which is not theirs to claim." That pretty much hammers that question, for me at least.

Brian Doyle | 24 May 2011  

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