Bin Laden’s "New" Message and Reasons for Hope

Monday, January 23, 2006 — Usama bin Laden is alive. Far from a new message, this is what we learned this past week from the emergence of the latest piece of hate mail that was broadcast irresponsibly, I should add — by Al Jazeera television. Hopeful rumors had been swirling in Washington and whispered on the airwaves suggesting that the prolonged silence of the moral leader of Al Qaeda International was just too long to be strategic. "He may be dead. Yes, he may be dead."

But he’s not. And despite the misread by many newspaper headlines and television commentators, there is no new news in what he said. With illogical and incomplete arguments for a “truce” in Iraq and Afghanistan that deserve neither attention nor retort, bin Laden’s message went on to announce that he and his gang would be shifting their gaze toward America. No new news here, and that’s what’s terrifying about the war against hateful fundamentalism — there is never any new news. The gaze of radical Islam (of RADICAL Islam) is fixed, and will be forever fixed on America and any country who loves and protects freedom, especially freedom of religion.

But, friends, there are reasons to hold out hope. Isn’t that nice to hear? It’s even nice to type, because I think that what I say is true. Senselessness, hate, and despair — principle ingredients of this radical ideology — are not natural ingredients of the soul. They are the evil consequences of a vacuum of love and truth, and the search for which is not just a Christian or Western thing. If there is a monopoly on the desire for truth and love, it is one that belongs to the human family, in which every single person is intimately involved, even terrorists who have perverted their hearts and minds to such a degree that they find repulsive the very things that could make them happy.

Make them happy? Yep, make them happy. Senselessness, hate, and despair are not fun to live with, even for the harshest of ideologues — and that’s the good news. The vast majority of the billion-plus Muslims scattered throughout the world have found sufficient traces of truth and love in their own lives and religion, so that the vacuum I talked about above — a vacuum that we all experience to some degree — has no tragic effect. Do you remember those frightening images of the woman in Jordan with the explosive belt neatly wrapped around her waist? She may have bought into the senseless (remember that word?) promise of an “eternal reward” for her evil, but what kind of hate and despair must have been present for her to have fallen so low?

The responsibility to fill the vacuum in the lives of radical Islamic youth belongs first and foremost to their parents. How simplistic, Fr. Jonathan! Yes, it’s simplistic. As simplistic as the fatal decision of the young London bombers who found solace and identity in the arms, not of their parents, but of their radical Imams. The same Imams who would later lead them to their senseless, hateful, and desperate actions. Did their families see any worrisome signs? Probably not — and that’s the problem.

The second responsibility falls on the shoulders of Muslim leaders — religious, political, and cultural — to win the battle of ideas. The fight for the identity of Islam is the forgotten battle in the war on terror, a battle where the continued presence of Usama bin Laden is both dangerous and sad. While his video messages get more TV minutes, there are others who are pushing just as hard, but silently and in the right direction. And they are making modest strides. Because there is nothing simplistic about this second challenge, I want to refer you to an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe, that explains better than I could, the good news on this front of the battle of ideas. See?! Even more good news:

Defeating Islamist Extremism

That’s all for now. I’ll try to write and post one last entry about our trip to Venezuela. You will want to hear what a few courageous men and women have to say about their future, especially a major opposition leader whom I interviewed named Maria Corina Machado, who took center stage during the infamous and failed referendum to remove, through democratic process, President Hugo Chavez.

Oh, yeah, and I haven’t forgotten about posting pictures from that trip!

Look forward to hearing what you think about Usama bin Laden’s latest, no-news message and our reasons for hope.

God bless, Fr. Jonathan

Write to Father Jonathan Morris at