Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns

And there was the comment translated in the CNN version:

Your security is not in the hands of [Democratic presidential nominee John] Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.

Each of these excerpts is couched in an analogical, symmetrical format, but it was the first one that really rang a bell for me — that phrase “just as you lay waste to our Nation, so shall we lay waste to yours” reminded me very strongly of one verse from the Qur’an, which contains the phrase, “And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you” — the whole verse, Qur’an 2.194, has also been translated thus:

For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

**

Okay, I’d read three versions of bin Laden’s text, and made a mental leap to a Quranic verse — and then I finally ran across ABC’s transcript, which opens with the very verse from the Quran my mind had leaped to.

Here’s where you can find the entire text, which ABC describes as “an unedited government translation of the Osama bin Laden videotape” – presumably from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (then the FBIS, now the Open Source Center). It is certainly the most complete version I’ve seen:

Full Transcript of Bin Laden Video: ABC News Obtains Complete Text of Bin Laden’s Oct. 29 Video.

I don’t know for sure whether bin Laden used that verse himself (although I’d bet on it), or whether it was “framing matter” added by in the studio by Al-Jazeera (I very much doubt it) — either way, it confirmed my association, and reading the whole speech as a sermonette on that scriptural text gives it, in my view, notable added coherence.

**

Here’s what I wrote after I read the ABC transcript:

I’m particularly interested to note that bin Laden “opens” with the Qur’anic verse which says “for the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves” [Baqara 194].

That’s the central statement of the Islamic view of symmetrical morality in warfare, and prior to reading your full text, I thought I’d detected echoes of it in the OBL text in question — my own analytic process leans heavily on analogy and symmetry — and specifically in the passages I’ve quoted above…

The analogical, symmetrical format is present in each of these excerpts, and indicates how deeply the Qur’anic process runs in bin Laden, even here in a speech which attempts to present that very Qur’anic insight in secular terms to a western audience — explaining the first of the four excerpts above, for instance, with these following words:

No one except a dumb thief plays with the security of others and then makes himself believe he will be secure whereas thinking people when disaster strikes make it their priority to look for its causes in order to prevent it happening again.

and saying again, towards the end of the speech:

you may recall that for every action, there is a reaction.

We do indeed recall that phrase: in its complete form, as given in Isaac Newton‘s memorable Third Law of Motion:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

**

For what it’s worth, the Qur’anic verse in question is not present in either Ibrahim’s Al Qaeda Reader, nor in Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World: the Statements of Osama bin Laden. Ibrahim opens his version with the words, “Praise be to Allah, who created the worlds for his worship…” and Lawrence with, “Peace be upon those who are rightly guided. People of America…”

But no mention of Qur’an 2.194. It has just vanished. Gone. It has been ignored.

Isn’t that pretty much the definition of ignorance?

Words fail me.

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17 comments on this post.
  1. Cheryl Rofer:

    I keep wondering if something like this is going on with the reporting of the Iranian Supreme Leader’s words, including the fatwas.

  2. Steve Engel:

    Jesus instructs, in Matthew, “Stop storing up your treasures on earth, where moths and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal, but seek your reward in heaven–for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Some other stuff in those teachings about forgiving others who sin against you and turning the other cheek.
     
    Interesting that bin Laden acknowledged he should have issued an invitation to convert before he attacked. It’s too late to ask him where he believes this never-ending retaliation for the death of innocents will lead. But, yes, Charles, it improves the discussion to have more of bin Laden’s rationale available. It still amounts to nothing more than explaining, explaining, explaining–and he isn’t the only one who resorts to that kind of arms-length self-justification. His “side” isn’t the only side that excuses its wrongs with self-justifications.

  3. Justin Boland:

    This was an unusually great slice of analysis. Thank you for expanding my cracker horizons, Charles.

  4. Charles Cameron:

    Thanks, all.  I’ve been on the road for two days, with one more to go — hope to respond in more detail after that.

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  13. larrydunbar:

    After reading your post I had to re-read the fairy tale I wrote in 2006 along similar lines: http://larrydunbar.newsvine.com/_news/2006/12/24/494668-osama-bin-laden-is-dead-a-christmas-story

    Thanks. 

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  15. Mr. Orange:

    Nice piece! The leaving of Islamic references or poetry in translations is indeed a great problem. Concerning the verse you mention: It is standard practice with the jihâdî media groups to begin their video productions with one or a number of verses that fit the content that follows. I will DM you a link to the video to see for yourself.

  16. Charles Cameron:

    Many thanks.  
    .
    Do you suppose these texts are supplied by the editor or by the speaker? I guess the question’s a bit like the one about headlines on articles in the western press…

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