With a bizarre little column last Friday, the National Review did what Barack Obama would not, and thoroughly and nastily “spiked the football,” not against jihadism, but against Islam itself. The aggressive closing assertion — “the Mahdi is not coming” — caps a confused essay that attempts to leverage Bin Laden’s death to assert our superiority not over the ragtag murderous band known as al Qaeda, but over the Islamic world.
That’s precisely the wrong tone to take. Casting Bin Laden’s death as a victory over Islam allows him to do in death what he could not in life: it makes him our equal, and validates Bin Laden’s dream of a holy war, of Islam versus the west. The war on terror is no such thing. As the President noted on a week ago Sunday, Bin Laden was a killer of men — Muslims, Christians, and Jews — and an avatar of chaos, rather than one of some opposing order. He was not heir to Suleiman the Magnificent (whose siege of Vienna was only broken by winter — not, as our author apparently thinks, by European ingenuity) or any caliphate. He was a madman in a mansion, and no more a speaker for Islam than Fred Phelps for Christianity. Why we should choose this occasion to celebrate our technological superiority over an entire region of the world is, well, beyond me.
More, our author doesn’t seem to understand much of Islam. Temporal victory over a Sunni terrorist leader doesn’t really reflect on the arrival of the Mahdi — the eschatalogical figure whose arrival, in all Islamic traditions, foreshadows the end of the world, but whose role as the vindicator of the oppressed matters only to Shi’ites. I expect better from a blog that, on other pages, purports to tell Muslims how to read their holy texts.