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A new audio recording with a message from Usama bin Laden was posted late yesterday on an Islamic Web site. The Al Qaeda leader threatens the European Union with grave punishment for the numerous re-publications of cartoons mocking Islam’s Prophet Mohammed in European newspapers. “You are testing Muslims,” he said, “the answer will be what you shall see not what you hear.”

Couched between so much cryptic ranting and raving, many analysts are missing what I consider the most important new data in bin Laden’s newest message. It is a not-so-subtle cue to his Islamist followers: stay away from Pope Benedict XVI!

In his five minute recording, bin Laden characterizes the publication of the drawings as “part of a new crusade in which the Pope of the Vatican had a significant role.”

Today you likely will hear most reporters and pundits suggest the reference to Benedict is mere mindless babble from a paranoid cave dweller. After all, Pope Benedict XVI himself criticized the publication of the cartoons as an irresponsible provocation of Muslim sensibilities. The Pope explained at the time that the universal right of freedom of expression does not free us from personal responsibility to express ourselves in a respectful way.

But contrary to the mindless babble theory, I think bin Laden’s cave has a very good antenna and he has become a shrewd decipherer of its signals. In his last two public messages, bin Laden has gone out of his way — way out of his way — to say this pope in particular is an enemy of Islam. Why? Note that in yesterday’s message, bin Laden does not accuse Pope Benedict of involvement in the cartoons. No. He is placing the cartoon flap within the broad context of a “new Crusade” against Islam, in which, according to bin Laden, the pope has played a “large and lengthy role.”

Bin Laden’s papal fixation has something to do with Benedict’s now infamous Regensburg address that caused so much stir among some Muslim youth. But that’s not the whole story. Bin Laden knows Benedict’s crusade neither started nor ended in Regensburg. He also knows and fears this crusade is of a certain type which he and his pales don’t know how to fight, and thus considers it the ultimate threat to his power base, thousands of times more powerful than the backhanded slaps against Mohammed, as were the cartoons.

Bin Laden even knows the crusade is not against Islam.

Benedict’s crusade can be likened to a quiet pilgrimage in the pursuit of rescuing human reason from the clutches of fundamentalism. It aims to restore reason as the great cultural meeting point for people of every race and creed.

While Benedict sees rationality as the only suitable launching pad of all true faith, bin Laden sees it as the great obstacle to his manipulation of the masses. While Benedict sees faith and reason as mutually enriching sources of truth, bin Laden sees the former as incompatible with the later. And while Benedict claims God can never command us to do evil because the first universal moral dictate of reason —“do good and avoid evil”— reflects his loving voice, bin Laden on the other hand claims Allah can do whatever he pleases, evil included.

The good news Benedict is preaching is that truth and goodness are of universal attraction. The more Pope Benedict whispers about universals, the more Muslims will listen. And they already are. Earlier this month the Vatican announced 225 Muslim leaders have asked to enter into official dialogue with Christians to proclaim the need for peace and mutual respect. Last week the Muslim country of Qatar inaugurated its first official Christian church. After the historic and first ever visit of a Saudi King to the Vatican last year, the two states are now in negotiations to allow the construction of Christian churches in the Kingdom, the holy ground of Mecca and Medina.

These are small, but incredibly significant signs that Muslims too are signing up to fight the crusade.

In other words, bin Laden has every reason to be afraid.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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P.S. Here is a link to an interview I did about the new Christian churches in Qatar and Saudi Arabia

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