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A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 09/03/2006
Osama Bin Laden, Part 2: The Only Certainty

Fight them [the unbelievers], and God will punish them at your hands! He will humiliate them and sustain you against them. He will heal the feelings of the believers and remove the rage from their hearts. -- Qur'an, 9:14

In this particular Qur'anic verse quoted by bin Laden in Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden -- a compilation of the warlord's polemic -- we glimpse a distressingly tolerable motivation for this killer's actions. Pain.

Messages to the World

Bin Laden will feel healed of his suffering and rage if he fights "them," the unbelievers--which is to say us. Is this not one of the most common and disastrous misconceptions of mankind? The desire to blame forces outside of ourselves for our misfortune, followed by the desire to extinguish this fabricated cause?

Of course, everyone can sympathize with pain. Anyone not living in the lap of luxury (and, more to the point, even those who do) has experienced it in spades. The illusion of inequality enters when we forget that each of our minds acclimates itself to our conditions. Every mind devours itself with hunger for some lack, whatever that lack may be. Is the pain of a Kobe Bryant who never surpasses Michael Jordan less than that of a starving man? Ironically, one cannot honestly say yes without first having sincerely answered no.

Each man experiences the fulfillment of his needs as fundamental to his existence. Each man seeks to validate his life perspective. For the poor man, to believe himself is pitiful by comparison, using material possessions as a barometer, would seem to justify his self-pity.

...And, the devouring mind whispers, any action you believe necessary to alleviate your anguish.

Is the poor man within his right? By contrast, the affluent man may forestall hopelessness as he compares his material possessions to those of other men. He must believe his possessions make him a better man, because really, what else does he have? The rich man has spent the whole of his life either accumulating wealth or squandering it. That belief then, that confidence of his superiority, however misguided, is all that separates him from the poor man.

Is he within his right? To understand instead the more plausible reality that one man's pain is the exact equivalent of every man's, of any man's, is to experience the profoundest rejoice and the most detrimental despair. Freedom from all imagined limitations becomes his, at only the expense of all meaning itself.

Like the rich man, like the poor man, rather than acknowledge the justness or universality of his pain, bin Laden has chosen to rail against it.

Whether in the U.S. or the Middle East, we choose to live a certain way and according to self-imposed rules. So long as we choose to do so, the burden of each of our miseries is ours and no one else's. This is the only certainty worth instilling, no matter how artificial.

It is very strange for Americans and other educated people to talk about the killing of innocent civilians. I mean, who said that our children and civilians are not innocent, and that the shedding of their blood is permissible? Whenever we kill their civilians, the whole world yells at us from east to west, and America starts putting pressure on its allies and puppets. Who said that our blood isn't blood and that their blood is blood? -- Osama bin Laden, Al-Jazeera interview, October 2001

- Abel

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