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Bin Laden's Burial at Sea: Are We Undermining 'Moderate' Muslims?

Ever since 9/11, so-called moderates in the Muslim world have been telling us that the murderous behavior of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not justified by the Quran. The Saudi-funded Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has taken great pains to make this point (while allying itself with terrorist “charities”). They claim that they, not the terrorists, represent Islam, which is a religion of peace. Such people have reportedly rejoiced in the death of Osama bin Laden, as a man who has murdered tens of thousands of Muslims and created a huge rift between Muslims and Westerners.

Others have claimed, with significant justification, that historically, it is the bin Ladens and Ahmadinejads of the Muslim world who truly represent the religion and the dictates of Mohammed’s supposedly holy revelations. This question, still unresolved, is crucial to understanding the way forward in this war. If a “moderate” Islam exists — one that does not, despite its history, wish to establish a world-wide caliphate in which women and unbelievers are subjugated — then encouraging its growth is the least violent way to win.

If, on the other hand, those supporting bin Laden or the radical Shias of Iran are correct, the only ultimate victory for the West will be as bloody, or more bloody, than that over Nazism and Japanese imperialism. This would be a tragic end,  killing millions of its adherents and completely discrediting the belief system, which is as much, or more, political ideology than religion. Thus it is in our interest to make every effort possible to nurture those who want to reform a religion badly in need of a Reformation, and to weaken the claims of those who hold a more traditional violent view.

As a point of contrast, let us consider a religion that did go through a successful reformation. During the Middle Ages the Christian church had a violent history. Even ignoring the Crusades, which can be viewed as a response to Muslim aggression in the Holy Land, the persecution of the Jews and others such as Huguenots (and particularly, the Inquisition), the numerous inter-faith wars in Europe, and the enslavement and forced conversion of the Native-Americans that the Spaniards found in the New World were acts that most modern Christians would have trouble defending. As James Lileks noted years ago, if he were sitting in a Lutheran Church in Minnesota, and the pastor started to call for beheadings of the infidels, most congregants would sit up, startled, and think, “Well, that was certainly different.”

Imagine that a man today had murdered thousands in the name of Christ (and lest anyone ignorantly cite Timothy McVeigh, he was an avowed agnostic). Would any significant number of Christians defend his actions? More to the point, would most Christians demand, or even think it proper that, after his unrepentant execution, he be given Christian service and burial? Would that not be viewed by many as an insult to Christianity itself?

In that light, we may not only have squandered an opportunity this past weekend, but significantly undermined the reformers.

It has been reported that after Osama bin Laden was dispatched yesterday, he was given a burial at sea, in the “Islamic practice”:

In accordance with Islamic practice, bin Laden was washed and wrapped in a white sheet before buried at sea at 2 a.m. local time, senior U.S. military and intelligence officials said.

This was presumably done in the interest of impressing the “moderate” Muslims of the world with our respect for their religion, but if anything, it does just the opposite. What we were unwittingly implying by that politically correct act was that we agree with those who claim that Osama was a true Muslim, and that we don’t accept the account of the reformers that he was an apostate. What are the latter to make of it? And how does this in any way discourage his supporters, knowing that when we dispatch them to get their virgins (or raisins, or whatever) we will take pains to ensure their safe arrival in heaven?

Consider other possibilities. There is a tale, possibly apocryphal, of General “Black Jack” Pershing shooting Muslim terrorist prisoners with bullets soaked in lard during the Philippines uprising a century ago, presumably in the interest of dissuading them from acts that would result in their failure to get to their promised hereafter. While feeding Osama to the hogs might be viewed as too barbaric (though for many of the people who make war on us, barbarism is all they understand), it wasn’t helpful to our cause to bend over so backwards in respect for what he claimed to be his own violent religion. We should have forthrightly stated that we agreed with CAIR, and others, that he was not a true Muslim, and not granted him any such privileges, even in death. Particularly since it did nothing to please the Muslims anyway:

Muslim clerics said Monday that Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea was a violation of Islamic tradition that may further provoke militant calls for revenge attacks against American targets.

…“The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don’t think this is in the interest of the U.S. administration,” said Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical cleric in Lebanon.

When will we learn that there is no pleasing these people, regardless of the number of presidential bows and scrapes and apologies? We might as well have brought him back to New York, and buried him in an anonymous grave, after filming video of the body being wrapped in pigskin. It wouldn’t assuage anyone overseas, but neither did what we did, and it would at least make most Americans feel better.

It is long past time for us to stop spending so much time worrying about incurring the wrath of those who make war on us. We need to spend a lot more time working on ways to get them to fear our own wrath.