How to understand Bin Laden

By Tao Yanghua (
Updated: 2011-05-03 14:49
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At a time when we were forgetting the name Bin Laden, we receive the official news that he is killed by American troops. What makes the name Bin Laden so disturbing is not just that he is a ruthless killer but that we lack available conceptual frameworks to understand people such as Bin Laden. And it is such a conceptual framework this article tries to offer.

The lack of conceptual framework in understanding terrorists such as Bin Laden is a result of the language we use in order to understand them—a totally secularized one-- while terrorism in its essence is a religious phenomenon, which can best be handled by a theological language.

How to understand Bin Laden
Newspaper front pages and United States flags left by visitors are seen at a temporary memorial on a hillside above the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site from the 9/11 attacks in Shanksville, Pennsylvania May 2, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

But, anyway, what is a religious phenomenon? In order to avoid great controversy, it is necessary to make a basic distinction, that is, between true religious phenomenon and false religious phenomenon, the latter we could also call a heretical movement. And I say terrorism is in its essence a heretical movement. Two general features can be identified in a heretical movement:

First, it is almost impossible to argue with heresy. They are in such a state of fantasy that they leave no room for a rational conversation; second, heresies have a morality of their own, that is to say, they invent a language of their own and are locked in this language. It is this language which they invent themselves that provides safety and meaning for their existence, they'd rather lose their lives than give up this language. As a result, they totally lose touch with reality and in some sense their behavior is dream-like.

Then, what is the cause of a heretical movement? There is no sense in arguing that these people are by nature evil, and that they become a heresy. According to the Holy Bible, even Satan, before his betrayal of God, was an angel. And we should remember that Bin Laden was once regarded as a hero in fighting against the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Satan chooses to betray God as a result of his pride. Satan refuses to acknowledge anything beyond him, he is totally lost in the corruption of the crime, which we call egocentric. And I say it is the same mentality, the same pride, the same ecocentricity, underlying Bin Laden's method of self-destruction. Bin Laden's tragic life is a demonstration of how the crime of being an egocentric gradually penetrates and corrupts his existence and finally leads him nowhere.

Tao Yanghua is a Ph.D. student with School of International Studies at Renmin University. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the China Daily website.