In Dante’s classical work, Divine Comedy, Hell has nine circles. As you proceed from the first towards the successive ones, the torments increase. While the last one, the ninth circle, is reserved for those who practised treachery in their life on the earth, the preceding one, the eighth circle, is for people who perpetrate frauds upon others. Corrupt politicians, false prophets, hypocrites, flatterers and others like them who mislead people will land in that circle after death, according to Dante.
Osama bin Laden too will be consigned to the eighth circle in Dante’s Hell. Misleading others is one of the most vicious crimes, according to Dante, lesser only to treachery. Osama’s crime is precisely that. He perverted people’s minds, their religion, their affections, their sentiments. This was his most heinous crime, much more heinous than killing a few thousand people through terrorist attacks. While killing is a physical act which has finite connotations, perverting people’s hearts and minds is an act whose connotations are infinite. The impact of such perversions can be far-reaching, going beyond a generation, beyond national boundaries, beyond linguistic barriers.
Osama, with his perverse notion of jihad, became the prophet of the 20th century for many people. Even engineers and pilots, doctors and computer professionals, left their careers and dreams in order to mount the juggernaut rolled out by a prophet who wanted to destroy all that was presumed to be anti-Islamic. Osama succeeded with the ease of the Pied Piper in enchanting a large number of followers many of whom were highly intelligent. And that legacy is not dead. That perverted legacy is the biggest crime perpetrated on human civilisation by Osama.
It was a legacy based on total misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the concept of jihad. While jihad meant fighting the sinfulness in one’s own character or conscience or soul, or defending one’s faith against attackers, Osama misinterpreted it to mean attacking even innocent people for the sake of defeating some perceived enemy. America was his biggest enemy. America was his biggest friend once upon a time!
Was Osama really defending a religious conviction or was he avenging the betrayal of an erstwhile friend? Treachery is the most wicked crime in Dante’s conception. America’s place in Dante’s Hell is the innermost circle. Osama will be a next-door neighbour.