A Common Doom

An Imaginary Conversation Between Osama Bin Laden and Richard Dawkins

Suicide bombers wreaked havoc in New York, Madrid and London, as well as Jerusalem, Baghdad and Mumbai. Abortion clinic doctors in the US are gunned down. Cultists released sarin gas in Japanese subways.

Since the dawn of humanity, and all the more so in recent times, we have been asking ourselves this question: Why are people driven to acts of vile cruelty by their religious zeal?

The answers that have been forwarded are perplexing and contradictory.

At one extreme, there are fanatics who uphold their own religious tenets as more correct, more morally authoritative and compelling, than all other beliefs and world-views. These zealots feel obliged, with uncompromising harshness, to impose their faith upon whom they deem as infidels, so as to seek salvation for themselves and their victims.

At one other extreme, there are atheists who regard religion itself as the pretext of cruelty, in an age where the truths are discovered through science, and ethics are formulations of how orderly people compete over limited resources for their ways of life. Humans always possess the propensity to be cruel in their relentless fight for what they want. Religion, like race, class or statehood, conveniently sorts out the different camps of combatants in their seemingly natural struggle.

Who can better represent the former position than the most notorious Jihadist of them all, Osama Bin Laden? And who can better represent the latter than Professor Richard Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion decried the role religion played in history?

Imagine a private and amicable meeting between them, in a casual discussion on how to attain world peace.

Bin Laden: We will have world peace, once the West submits to the infinite wisdom of Allah, may He be ever praised. Allow His faithful to live free of the corrupt influences and demands of Western wealth. Let those in Asia, Africa and the Middle East enjoy their own nations and governments that abide by His will.

Dawkins: If that were in my power, I'd be more than happy to grant you such demands. But I do not have the means to redress the imperial avarice of my country against your people for the past three centuries. You'll have to convince Bush, Blair and their imminent successors, and I don't think telling them to submit to your God will do the job.

There are atheists who regard religion itself as the pretext of cruelty, in an age where truths are discovered through science, and ethics are formulations of how orderly people compete over limited resources for their ways of life.


Bin Laden: Why not? I heard your prime minister and the American president, as evil as their misdirected aggression has been, are both devout, God-fearing Christians. You Christians and we Muslims are all descendents of Ibrahim, believing in the same God. If I can just make them see that we can all submit to the will of Allah and tread the path to redemption and righteousness…

Dawkins: Let me first say that, as a geneticist, I find the myth of all humanity originating from specific biblical figures rather quaint. But, returning to your point, I doubt the leaders of America and Britain would agree that theirs is the same God who reserved seventy-six – is it seventy-six? – virgins in paradise for each of those mass-murderers you sent to New York and London. Let's just recognise what you want, shall we? 

Bin Laden: Is it not world peace, for my people and for yours? As I said, once the West submits to the wisdom of Allah, the ever-merciful...

Dawkins: What you want for your people is political autonomy from, and economic parity with, the West. Now unlike you, who once commanded a private clandestine army, I am merely a humble professor at Oxford, so there is only so much political influence I can wield, other than writing books outside my field like my colleague and good friend Noam Chomsky at MIT. If President Hugo Chavez, who tells everyone he is a Roman Catholic, would only promote MY book at the UN General Assembly...

Bin Laden: You cannot understand, because you are not even a believer. I believe I understand Blair and Bush. We fight a Holy War, just as my forefather Saladin and yours, your Richard the Lion-Hearted, have done over Jerusalem – and we both know who prevailed in the end. Your outgoing prime minister and I both believe we are acting according to the will of our God. And that, as improbable as it may seem, is our common ground.

Dawkins: It is your common doom.

-- CW, 25 September 2006


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