by H. Millard (c) 2001

When Americans see pictures of Osama bin Laden sitting at the mouth of a cave, they may dismiss this as nothing more than a cowardly rat running to hide in the functional equivalent of a sewer. At least that's what the U.S. PR machine fighting bin Laden wants American citizens to believe.

In the Islamic world, however, the cave and its symbolism has far greater significance than as a rat hole. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah and the human instrument through which Allah founded Islam, received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel while Muhammad was in a cave on Mt. Hira. It was while in this cave that the supposedly illiterate Muhammad was commanded by Gabriel to "write." Muhammad then, according to tradition, essentially took dictation from Gabriel. This was the start of the Koran. To Muslims, every single word in the Koran is the literal word of Allah. Later, when Muhammad's much more powerful enemies tried to kill him, and were hot on his tail, Muhammad evaded them by entering a cave. Tradition says that when Muhammad's enemies came to the mouth of the cave, they saw that it was completely covered by an elaborate spider web. Assuming that no human being could have entered the cave without disturbing the spider web, and knowing that no spider could weave such a web in the short time that was available to it before they came to the cave mouth, Muhammad's enemies did not enter the cave, and Muhammad remained alive and well.

Other close calls and miraculous events, often involving Muhammad and small groups of believers vanquishing much larger forces arrayed against them, are part of the myths of the Muslim world. In the person of Muhammad, we see the joining together of various hero myths in a way that is largely absent from the West. Muhammad was a warrior, a religious leader, a political leader, an administrator, a judge, a man of the people, and the savior of the people. It is strong imagery. And, in the Islamic belief system, all of it was made possible because Muhammad received the call, heeded it, and put his total, unqualified and unwavering faith in Allah.

The many myths surrounding Muhammad are important to the present situation, because if Osama bin Laden is able to escape the most powerful nation on Earth, he may emerge as more than just a political leader. In fact, in a worst case scenario for the U.S., he may emerge as something of a lesser prophet and he may stand right behind Muhammad in Islam. In this regard, it should be noted that in Islam there is no separation between church and state as we desire between our religions and our governments in the West. In fact, strict Muslims want and expect their religion and the government to be merged into one. The religious leaders are also the political leaders.

Muhammad never claimed any divinity, and none has been attributed to him. Indeed, Muhammad took great pains to keep the focus of Islam on Allah. Notwithstanding this, however, Muhammad's place as the Messenger of God is so strong in Islam that there would be little likelihood that bin Laden would ever be on the same level as Muhammad. However, one can speculate that if bin Laden eludes the U.S.--especially in caves--and continues his holy war, that he will, as did Muhammad, be able to unite many diverse and presently fighting and squabbling factions as a result of the myths and prestige that grow from his being able to outsmart a much more powerful enemy. On the other hand, if he is killed, there's a good likelihood that he will become a major martyr that many Muslim children will emulate. In other words, the U.S. has entered something that it had better think through very carefully, and the U.S. had better take the right actions and say the right things or this business of chasing "terrorists," into rat holes has the potential of setting off a state of permanent war for the entire planet.

Now, as to the oft repeated PR line coming out of Washington--clearly aimed at convincing so called moderate Muslims that the U.S. really likes them--that Islam is a religion of peace and that bin Laden is doing something against Islam; this is not totally accurate. "Peace" to us in the West conjures up images that are somewhat different than the peace of Islam. The practical definition of the peace of the West often means that we accept everyone and everything in order to avoid conflict. In Islam; if I may be excused for giving a simplistic and over broad definition here, true and stable peace seems to be more the state that exists when the precepts and rules that have naturally flowed from the Koran, are in effect. To understand a little about this, one needs to refer back to Muhammad, once again. Muhammad had little success in peacefully converting people to Islam until he personally took up the sword and conquered various tribes and gave them the choice of converting or leaving their towns. Peace existed once people became believers and submitted to Allah and Allah's laws, as written down by his Messenger, Muhammad.

Another bit of information about the traditions and psychology of Islam is important to know in this. In Islam, most religious leaders do not receive election or appointment to their positions of authority and influence via a hierarchical organization, as is the case, by way of example, of the Catholic church where a Pope is elected by Cardinals. Religious leaders in Islam, bubble up from the people. Those who can develop a following receive various titles of respect and become important because people choose to follow them. To get this respect, they must stand out and then rise above the crowd through their own efforts. If they can't do this, or if, as in what the U.S. hopes will happen with bin Laden, they are killed off, then that is Allah's will. Even if a leader does emerge and does overcome the odds, he will never become the equivalent of the Pope. This is so, because the structure of Islam is such that most of the Mosques and religious institutions are autonomous and independent. Believers and leaders are joined by a common faith and by the Koran, not by a corporate or military style organization. There are no priests who stand between Allah and the people in Islam as is seen in Christianity. The relationship between each believer and Allah is personal. Thus, even if a leader is killed off, all that happens is that the leader no longer exists and no longer has followers. Others quickly step into the void and start the process all over again.

Many of the leaders in Islam are what we might characterize as academics. Most are also ascetics and care little for worldly goods. This intellectual and non-materialistic psychology of popular leaders in the Islamic world often drives leaders of Western nations nuts. We saw this when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah in Iran. The Shah, his family and his supporters seemed to like all the ostentation and badges of power and wealth that Western money and support allowed them to have. Khomeini, on the other hand, was happy to sit on a prayer rug in a bare room studying the Koran. U.S. dollar diplomacy didn't work on him and this led to the PR campaign back then that tried to convince the world that Kohemini was crazy (because we couldn't buy him). The PR campaign didn't appear to work in Iran or the rest of the Islamic world at all, and only seemed to have been scarfed up in the West by those incapable of critical thinking.

Note that much of the PR coming from those trying to demonize bin Laden and his supporters and the Taliban, relies heavily on the word "evil" to describe them. This is not an accident. "Evil doers," is a common expression among Muslims and this, no doubt, is why President Bush uses the word evil in almost every paragraph these days. Unfortunately, many in the Islamic world look on America as an evil nation that is something along the lines of a Sodom and Gomorra, and which is incapable of being saved and must be destroyed.

How would they form that opinion of our nation? To answer this question, it's helpful to get inside the heads of fundamentalist Muslims as best we can. Many of us lack proper Islamic referents to be able to do this properly, so it is helpful Sodom and Gomorrato analogize from the Bible. Consider the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorra. Understand, again, however, that Sodom and Gomorra are Biblical not Koranic tales, and these are being interjected here in an attempt to try to give a sense to how America could be viewed as evil by many in the Muslim world. As you probably know, the Bible says that the cities of Sodom and Gomorra were destroyed because they were evil. Now, both of these cities, if they existed, must have had fairly large populations for that age, and these populations must have have had many ordinary men, women and children as do the present cities of America. Does anyone think that all the men, women and children of those cities considered themselves evil? Of course not. They were probably people like most of us. They got up in the morning and went to work. They bought food. They educated their children. So, how could those cities be so evil that they had to be destroyed? How could it be that the Angels sent by the Lord, if the Bible is to be believed, only found a few good people in these cities? How could entire cities or entire nations, for that matter, be evil?

Now imagine that the Angels God was said to have sent to Sodom and Gomorra came to modern America. What might they think of a society where instead of the women being covered from head to foot in chadors and veils, they wore string bikinis? What might they think of a society where drugs and alcohol flowed freely? What might they think of a society where violent crime is rampant? What about abortions on demand? What would they think of a society where homosexuality is openly practiced? Actually we have a clue to this last question because, remember, that our word sodomy comes from the Biblical Sodom, and that the men of Sodom wanted to "know" (have sex with) the Angels, or to engage in sodomy.

Now suppose that you're a fundamentalist Muslim and that your world view and your mores are similar to what to us would seem Biblical. How would you view modern day America. You, like the Angels from the Bible, would probably see a land that is evil.

When President Bush says that bin Laden and the Taliban are evil and that we're going to wipe them out, and in essence replace them with other leaders, it is not too far fetched to believe that many in the Islamic world actually hear something along these lines: "America is going to bomb good, decent Muslims and force the Muslims to dress their women in bikinis, trick the people to drink alcohol, and take drugs, practice homosexuality, have frequent abortions, make them slaves to Israel and sell out their values for a few dollars."

We need to understand these things if we are to stop future attacks on the American people and if we are to make intelligent decisions about bringing those responsible for the events of September 11 to justice.

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