A recent article from Abdel Bari Atwan on the CNN website explores Why Bin Laden was Radicalized. It was very interesting for me to learn that Bin Laden was not always as radical as the world has come to know him. It was also intriguing to follow Atwan’s arguments about what it is that actually caused Bin Laden to take the life direction that would lead to the death’s of thousands under his leadership.
The first event in Bin Laden’s life that seems to have led him to hate America was the death of his father. His father was not killed at the hands of Americans, but rather in a plane crash flown by an American pilot. Bin Laden was then targeted by the CIA for assassination as a possible radical leader after the Afghan ward with Russian. It was, however, the decision of his home country, Saudi Arabia that drove Bin Laden over the edge. When America was called upon in the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi control, Atwan reports,
In Osama’s eyes, this was sacrilege: Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s two most sacred sites, Mecca and Medina, where the presence of non-Muslims is explicitly forbidden in the Koran. Osama described this moment to me as “the most shocking,” in his life. Deeply angered and embittered, he made plans to secretly leave the land of his birth and by December 1991 had found refuge in Khartoum whence he orchestrated attacks on Saudi-based U.S. targets.
Oddly here, though Bin Laden would eventually leave the country of his birth, his anger was directed specifcially at America and Americans and not at Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden made it his goal to destroy America, but not Saudi Arabia. Why? Because his ethic and worldview were built upon his own religious perception. For Bin Laden, not only was he a Muslim, he was a Muslim according to his understanding of Islam. As a Muslim, it was acceptable to hate and even kill the unbeliever, but not the fellow brother. As a result, his anger was directed specifically toward the infidel and away from Muslims.
The orthodox Christian way of life calls us to be different than the radicalized Muslim way of life. First, the Christian life is a life of sacrifice and forgiveness. Radical Islam encourages grudge-holding and revenge, orthodox Christianity emphasizes grace and love. Further, where Islam allows for the death and extermination of infidels whom it views as enemies, those outside of the Christian faith on the other hand are invited in to become part of Christ’s family.
Concerning for me, however, is that Christians, if not careful, could find themselves similarly radicalized. The reformed tradition emphasizes the community of believers in interpretation of the Scriptures. Interpretation, discipleship, and living in community protects Christian believers from radicalization in their beliefs. For protestants, the church is built on the Word of God and understanding of the word is protected through communal discernment. The community of believers serves as a defense against radicalization and misinterpretation and should steer us always toward bringing others into the community of Christ rather than seeking revenge upon the enemies of the gospel.