‘How are we to read this book?’

In the current issue of The Boston Review, Khaled Abou El Fadl reviews Messages to the World: Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited by Bruce Lawrence, and translated by James Howarth.

But how are we to read this book? On one level, reading bin Laden is like reading the writings of a criminal who aims to rationalize his acts by explaining the circumstances of political and social oppression that forced him into criminality. At another level, reading bin Laden is not materially different from reading the tracts of a committed revolutionary who is struggling to liberate his people from foreign domination. But bin Laden himself insists that he be read neither as a criminal blaming the system nor simply as a radical defending its overthrow. He fancies himself a theologian and jurist who, besides acting to defend Muslim lands, is struggling to educate and exhort Muslims to act according to the dictates of their faith.

So who is bin Laden? Is he a criminal, a revolutionary, a theologian, or perhaps a historically unique and significant blend of all three—one who, like a medieval Crusader (perhaps a Bernard of Clairvaux), is armed with a righteous sense of aggression and feels compelled to preach violence while crying out, “Deus lo volt!” (“God wills it!”)?

I am not quite finished reading the essay, but it’s so interesting I wanted to bookmark it and post it here.