Olavo de Carvalho
Época, October 20, 2001

For Bin Laden, the Koran was always a pretext

On September 24, Osama Bin Laden said that American forces were entering Afghanistan under the “flag of the Cross.” Two days later, he called George W. Bush the “leader of the unfaithful.” This should be enough to show that his allegation of “holy war” was never more than a smokescreen, an ideological disguise.

According to the Koran, no one can be Christian and unfaithful at the same time. Christians and Jews are clearly included in the Koranic category of “people of the Book” (ahl al-kitab), recognized as a type of Muslim avant la lettre. Their salvation is assured, in unequivocal terms in Sura V:69: “Those who believe [in the Koran], those who follow Jewish scripture, and the Christians – and those who believe in God and on Judgment Day – should fear nothing, for they will not be harmed.”

A conscious Muslim can say that the message received from God by the “people of the Book” is incomplete, that they don’t follow it correctly, but not that they’re “unfaithful” or “idolaters.”

In truth, Islam is accused of strict sectarianism but is the most ecumenical of religions: the succession of prophets, from Adam to Mohammed, includes and legitimizes all monotheistic religions conceived as historical peaks of a single revelation culminating in “Laylat-al-Qadr,” the “Night of Power,” when the archangel Gabriel began to dictate the verses of the Koran to Mohammed. “Unfaithful,” strictly speaking, applies only to atheists, polytheists, and monotheists who in bad faith extort the differences between their respective doctrines and the Koranic message to denigrate the Koran instead of cherishing the mystery of unity in diversity.

In calling Bush one time a Christian and the other unfaithful, Bin Laden showed himself incapable of speaking as a serious religious person, instead as someone trying to speak against his adversary and who, enraged, chooses, any old thing, which shows a clear contradiction.

Is anything else necessary to show that this man’s opposition to the West was never based on valid Koranic justification, rather something else, which employed Koranic propaganda to ornament his rhetoric and cover up an evil political ambition in religious semblance?

At the same time, these considerations discredit historian Paul Johnson’s anti-Muslim tirade which gave involuntary support both to enemies of Islam as those of Israel and the West. In trying to show the radical hostility of Islam against other religions, especially Christianity, Johnson cited Sura IX:5: “Kill the idolaters wherever they are found, and capture them, and surround them, and use traps against them.” Even in the most general sense, the term “idolaters” does not apply to monotheistic cultures. This passage especially refers to the polytheists of Mecca mentioned in the earlier verse who “signed a pact with you [Mohammed] and later failed to respect it.” These are the ones Mohammed should pursue, capture, and kill, as he did according to historical record. But, even the use of force was not unlimited in this case, because Mohammed immediately halted any persecution of his enemies when he entered Mecca, condemning to death only the five key figures and forgiving all others – certainly the lightest war reparation of all time. So, one of them has misinterpreted the verse: Mohammed or Paul Johnson. It’s true that a reading similar to Johnson’s was used by Muslim chiefs to incite violence against Christians, but obviously they were far from the Prophet’s interpretation and, since the acts and words of the Prophet are the highest source of authority in Koranic code, clearly these men, like Bin Laden, were not very orthodox Muslims.