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What Would Jesus Do
About Bin Laden?
Not to mention, Buddah, Moses and Machiavelli  

    Dec. 22 —  I’m not a religious man, but with Christmas upon us and the capture of Osama bin Laden increasingly imminent, I started hearing that old phrase “What would Jesus do?” rattling around in my head.  

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  Indeed, President Bush often talks about how, when confronted with difficult decisions, he asks himself, “What would Jesus do?” So it struck me: What would Jesus do if American troops catch Osama bin Laden?
        And the answer is: Forgive him. No, seriously. I checked with priests, ministers, deacons and other assorted leaders of the Catholic Church. As long as Osama repents what he has done, he gets a free pass to Heaven.
        “If he has true repentance, Jesus will forgive him,” said Dana Corsello of St. James’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.
        Of course, if bin Laden does not repent—and given his performance in that videotape last week, repentance does not appear to be at the top of his agenda—Jesus would have no problem casting him into “everlasting fire,” according to Matthew, chapter 25, verse 41.
img: perspectives 2001

       “But he can still save himself by repenting — and he can do it at any time,” Corsello added.
        Now, I don’t know about you, but there was something unsettling about this particular “What would Jesus do?” scenario. After all, a person shouldn’t be allowed to massacre 3,000 people in a single day of terror and then get a pass to Heaven if he says “I’m sorry about that.”
        So, I started wondering how other deities would handle the Osama question:
       Of course, I am speaking of the principle lawgiver of the Jewish faith, not Robert Moses, who once wielded dictatorial power over New York City’s infrastructure (besides, we all know what that Moses would do: he’d route a highway through Kabul’s minority neighborhoods).
        But the real Moses—if he were president—would push for the death penalty, said Rabbi Marc Schneier of The Hampton Synagogue. “He might ask Osama to confess or atone, but the act of repentance in now way exonerates him from human punishment,” Schneier said. “Judaism is clear on this: If he is guilty, he must be killed.”
       As in the Jewish tradition, murderers are condemned to death under Islamic law.
        “If it is deliberate murder and the victims’ families do not forgive the murderer, then the murder must be killed,” said Imam Omar Abu-Namous of the Islamic Center of New York. “The traditional method, going back to the days of the prophet, is to be beheaded with a sword.”

       I considered that a nice touch. But then Abu-Namous told me about a loophole If the families forgive the murderer, he will be off the hook as long as he pays what is called “diya,” or blood money, to the victims’ families.
        The amount, Abu-Nambos said, “depends on the circumstances.” When pressed, he refused to speculate on how much diya bin Laden would have to come up with. “It is more than it would have been many years ago,” he said, suggesting that inflation is a factor in determining how easy it will be for bin Laden to buy repentance.
       If Siddhartha Gautama—a.k.a. the Buddha—were our president, Osama would be sent to the nearest library for re-education, said Franz Metcalf, a Buddhist scholar and author of “What Would Buddha Do: 101 Answers to Life’s Daily Dilemmas.”
        “The amitayur dhyana, a Buddhist scripture, says that compassion must be the guiding force in the Buddhist mind,” Metcalf said. “So capital punishment is definitely out. Buddha would lock up this guy and give him a chance to read some good books, like the Dhammapada, which is a short overview of how we should live.”
        Those of us who want to open a can of whoop-ass all over Osama bin Laden will find the Buddhist solution less than satisfying. After all, Buddhism doesn’t even believe that we are individuals.
        “There are, in essence, no people, only action,” Metcalf said. “So there is no Osama bin Laden, only the actions of Osama bin Laden. And you can’t punish actions; they’re already done. We are all redeemable if we develop our Buddha mind. We all have it. You just have to live compassionately and wisely.”
        I suggested to Metcalf that a life of compassion and wisdom is tough, especially for a guy like bin Laden.
        “You’re right,” he said. “But we all have many lifetimes to work it out.”
       It’s an absurd question because Niccolo Machiavelli, the great 15-century political theorist, would never be president, preferring his behind-the-scenes, Karl Rove-type role. But if Machiavelli were pulling President Bush’s strings, he’d advise a swift execution, said Stanley Bing, author of “What Would Machiavelli Do,” a primer on how to get through life through cunning and duplicity.
        “It would be done efficiently, without emotion and without sentiment,” Bing said. “He was interested only in maintaining the power of the state—and bin Laden represents a danger to that power. Machiavelli’s work is filled with rationales for killing enemies.”
        Of course, in these days of suicide bombers, that could create even more enemies. Naturally, Machiavelli offers advice on that, too, Bing said.
        “Think about The Marshall Plan,” Bing said. “That was essentially Machiavellian. We were trying to buy the affection of people in countries that we had conquered. Being ‘Machiavellian’ doesn’t necessarily mean being negative. It’s Machiavellian to buy someone you don’t like a Christmas present if you think it will get that person to like you.”
       Unsatisfied with Jesus, I called a genius instead, someone with an IQ in the 140s, but was just as unimpressed. “We have to give Osama bin Laden a fair trial,” said Cookie Bakke, an actual genius and member of the Mensa Society.
        “We must avoid the quick emotional response and remember that we have a historical responsibility to absolute fairness,” she said. “There are those who want to chain him to a pole at Ground Zero and let people cut him up for souvenirs, but we really have to avoid that. The whole world is watching.”
        That’s fine, but what’s with that last name, Cookie?
        “OK, so that’s the one stupid thing I did in my life, marry a man named Bakke when my name is Cookie. Everyone mispronounces it so they think I’m named ‘Cookie Bake.’”
       I called the French Embassy in Washington and was told that a Mr. Delattre would get back to me, but he never did. But the French silence speaks, how you say, volumes. We know what they’d do: Refuse to extradite bin Laden to stand trial in the United States and name him an honorary citizen of Lyon.
       I called radical lawyer Ron Kuby—former partner of the late William Kunstler—and expected him to say that he’d want to defend bin Laden, just as he has defended other unpopular criminals.
        “No, that’s not for me,” Kuby said. “See, I’m also a Communist, so I have hated these right-wing religious homophobic fundamentalist patriarchs well before it became fashionable here. I’m glad to see the rest of the country is appalled by such faith-based initiatives as September 11.”
        So, having heard all the rhetoric from religious leaders, geniuses, lawyers and even the French, I still wasn’t sure what should be done if we ever capture bin Laden. So I went back to Jesus.
        “What should we do with bin Laden?” asked Jesus Ayala of Brooklyn when I approached him the other day. “We should kill him and cut his b—-s off. Not necessarily in that order.”
        Now that’s a Jesus most of us can live with.

Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post. His website is at http://www.gersh.tv/
       © 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
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