taking the words of Jesus seriously

Osama bin Laden, organizer, crusader, defender, soldier, terrorist, son, husband, and father has died last night at the young age of fifty-four.  He was assassinated by the US military at a compound in Pakistan after being on the most wanted list for some twelve years.  He will be remembered primarily for his attack on the World Trade Center and US Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Born to a multi-millionaire businessman in 1957, he soon thereafter became the son of a divorced and remarried mother.  She had been one of twenty-two wives of Osama’s father.  Osama’s father not had only many wives, but multiple wives.  He would divorce the older ones and marry younger ones.  This man later died in a plane crash when Osama was ten.

Osama, having been born into the wealth of his family, found himself to also be a multi-millionaire at a young age.  But he was more attracted to religion and poetry.  He traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s where he would become a leader in the struggle against the invasion of the Soviet Union.  With his connections to money in Saudi Arabia, he became a leader and an organizer in the rebellion against the Soviet invasion.  He would later work with the US government, receiving economic and military assistance to defend the Afghan people against the Soviets.

Osama bin Laden believed firmly that his religion, Islam, demanded not merely a personal religion, but  an entire way of life.  This included religious/political law, commonly known as Sharia law.  He continued his efforts to extend the influence of Sharia law to Muslim people groups and nations.  He believed, like so many millions around him, that the Muslim world should be able to practice self-determination and not be subjugated to either a Communist worldview or a Western capitalist worldview.  The Islamic system, he believed, was a system from God that guarded against secularism, Communism, and a free-enterprise system that incorporated usury and economic exploitation of the poor.  While supporting what can be called traditional family values, it did away with alcohol, drugs, pornography, abortion, and the like.  Sharia law, to Osama, offered a world of hope in God, a world where God is lifted up and praised, where banks and businesses would not make money off the backs of the poor, and where families could live safely with honest work and pay, able to praise and follow God according to the Holy Scriptures.

With his emphasis, therefore, in Muslim self-determination, he would also campaign against Western influence on the Muslim world.  Eventually, this would lead to his creation of Al-Qaeda, a group whose goal was to establish Islamic governments in the Muslim world and, therefore, to drive out the influence of US and other Western forces who had successfully established a presence there.  In a similar fashion to the conjecture of the Western nations, Al-Qaeda believed in the use of force to conquer its objectives.

Paralleling the ambition of American heroes like Samuel Adams (The Sons of Liberty) John Brown (The Raid on Harper’s Ferry), and Robert McNamara (The Firestorms on Japan, The Vietnam War), bin Laden and Al-Qaeda propagated both the belief and practice that terrorism is justified, even when it includes women and children.  This is his legacy.  Amongst Al-Qaeda’s actions to bring about this self-determination were the 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the US Pentagon, a day that needs no explanation to any US reader.

Over 3000 people were violently killed on that day.  These numbers included women, children, janitors, mail carriers, and the like, people Jesus Christ would refer to as “the least of these.”  Ten years later, he would fall to his own death, served to him by those that agreed, in practice, with his methods, but not when used against them.

I have mixed feelings regarding the death of bin Laden. He was my enemy whom I love. I cried while watching the President’s disclosure and the subsequent dancing in the streets.  It was not a cry of joy, but of sorrow and complexity.  Early today, I was reminded of a Bible verse: “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble” (Proverbs 24:17).

I have spent major portions of my life battling against much of what bin Laden did and what he stood for.

Each summer for the last five years, I have lived in Al-Khalil (or Hebron in Hebrew), a major Arab and Muslim city in Palestine.  T-shirts with bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, while not popular, were available for purchase at the clothing market around the corner from my apartment.  When elections were last held in that city, the political party Hamas won the majority of the votes.

Both Hamas and Al-Qaeda share a common birth from the Islamic Revival of the 1970s, a movement promoting the idea that Islam is the answer for all of life’s issues, from dress to food to Sharia law.  The Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian movement, provided the foundational philosophy for both Al-Qaeda and Hamas.  The results of these movements include caring for the poor, providing a quality education for all, a more conservative approach to lifestyle, clothing, and marriage, a political system based on the Holy Scriptures, and militant Jihad, or Holy War, against the infidels.

Al-Khalil is a place of great despair and war.  It has great poverty.  I watch often as the small children go to the local Muslim charity to gather soup for their families.  As a human rights worker there with Christian Peacemaker Teams, I often intervene when local Jewish settlers ransack their homes, when Israeli military detain their fathers, and when men in sheets attack them on their way to school.  And I am always lovingly invited to the local mosque by my barber Jamal.

One day, a young boy, maybe six years old, followed me through the marketplace as I returned home.  He said, “Do you have a father?  What is your father’s name?”  I responded, “My father’s name is Paul.”   After a continued conversation about our families, he would say, “We both have families.  We both have fathers and brothers and sisters.  Are you a Muslim?”  He knew I wasn’t.  “I would like you to come to the mosque with me and learn about God.  God is a good God that takes care of us.  Don’t you want to become a Muslim?”

If this sweet boy’s family is the average local family, they would have cast their vote for Hamas in the last election.  And if this child was from the section of town in which I live, there is a good chance that he and his family receive assistance from local Muslim charities.  There is a good chance that his relatives have been killed as a result of the ongoing war with the Israelis.

Al-Khalil, due to the social, economic and political circumstances, is a place where suicide bombers are created.  I don’t promote it; I understand it.  It is a result of the cries of the poor and oppressed.  The influences of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, while providing a great beginning for freedom, self-determination, and dignity, also mislead “the least of these” into bearing the sword.

I often think of this young boy.  I pray for his family and his community.  I pray that his people, like the Israelis on the other side of the Green Line, can have self-determination.  I dream of the day when all God’s children can live in both peace and prosperity.  This, I believe, is God’s plan from the dawn of creation.

I also pray that he can live in a democratic society where his civil rights and civil liberties are guaranteed.  While people like Osama bin Laden have brought great courage and respect to many Muslims seeking self-determination, they have brought along with it the subjugation of women, the denial of basic rights for political and religious dissidents, and a very narrow view of what it means to have a Muslim society.  And to their detriment, they bring the idea that killing women and children is justified to put God’s plan into action.

Sounds like Herod the Great who killed all the infants after the birth of Jesus.  Sounds like the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On 9-1-1, the Western media showed video footage of street celebration in Palestine.  We were disgusted.  (It is a wonder that we repeated their actions last night.)

The day after 9-1-1, Hillary Clinton got on CNN and told America that they hate us because of our freedoms.  Ask any Arab why we are hated by so many.  They will tell you that we are hated for our foreign policy in the Islamic world.

I wish to this day that I could bring Hillary to Al-Khalil to meet the little boy that sought to lovingly convert me to Islam, to see what the war of Israeli imperialism has brought to his family and community, and for her to tell him that the United States, under the direction of her husband as well as her current boss, donates two billion dollars a year, mostly in weapons, to the Israeli government.  Hillary forever lost my vote that day, as she became a self-appointed leader in the disinformation campaign, just like Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.  Why do people like Ron Paul and Ralph Nader get this while Rudolf Giuliani and the rest of us remain, along with Hillary, ignorant and in denial?

So today, we remember Osama bin Laden, born into a broken and dysfunctional home.  Born into a wealth created by the bottom line of a free market economy.  Born into a region crying out for self-determination and common decency.  Born into a time when those in his own religion were providing simple answers to complex situations, solutions that included anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.  Born into a world that, in many ways, denies the face of God in the poor, the dispossessed, and the abused.  We pray for his wives and his children.

We also remember the victims of the 9-1-1 bombings, and for their spouses and their children.

We remember all of us born into corrupted wealth and broken homes.

We pray for those of us who rejoice when our enemies fall.

And we pray for a world where there is authentic self-determination, where all live in both peace and prosperity, according to the desire of God our Creator.  We pray for a miracle of God that can make all things right.

John Harris is an evangelical Christian, educator, and international activist. He gives tours of charismatic Christianity in Palestine with the group Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice, and works in Palestine each summer with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

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