The Sept. 11 tragedy has been described as nothing short of apocalyptic, but some scholars view the term less figuratively in describing the motives of Osama bin Laden and terrorists associated with him.
At the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) in Columbus, Ohio, Catherine Wessinger of Loyola University said Sept. 11 fits into the pattern of revolutionary millennialism — “the most dangerous kind of millennialism… and the most difficult to stop.” While many analysts do not view bin Laden as having a goal other than warfare against the U.S., Wessinger said that it is clear from the terrorist leader’s writings and speeches that he views his actions as bringing about a unified Islamic nation ruled by sharia, or Muslim law.
Like other revolutionary millennialists, bin Laden and other terrorists see themselves and the Islamic nation as persecuted by America, as they call for supporters to strike out against the persecutor.
The millennial and apocalyptic views of bin Laden and his associates are brought out even stronger by Richard Landes in an article on the web site of the Center for Millennial Studies (http://www.mille.org). Landes writes that bin Laden views the war with Israel and the West as “the ultimate struggle.” Bin Laden shares with other apocalyptic terrorists the view that “the current sociopolitical world [are] great tectonic plates in immense tension, and if the agent of apolcalyptic destruction can only set off an explosion at the very site where that tension is the greatest, they can free the fault line to completely realign the world.” Bin Laden’s apocalyptic reading of Islam dates back to 1979 when Khoumeini took over Iran with plans to launch a perfect theocracy.
It has since passed from Shi’ite to Sunni Muslim hands, taking on Western apocalyptic elements in the process, including biblical themes and sophisticated communication technologies. Such popular Muslim books as Saudi theologian Sifr al Halawi’s “The Day of Wrath,” (http://www.azzam.com/htm/dayofwrath.htm) demonstrate that at the approach of the year 2000, the “Christian year became increasingly significant for Muslim apocalyptic writers, who mixed conspiracy theory, UFO’s, and classic Muslim and Christian apocalyptic to target Israel, and especially their control of the Temple Mount as the center of the cosmic battle.”
Landes concludes that “A Zionist coalition of Christians and Jews, led by al Dajjal (Islam’s `Antichrist’ figure), would trample Al Haram al Sharif in Jeusalem, triggering the final battle. The `Al Aqsa’ intifada, started in the year 2000 in reaction to the desecrating visit of [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, set in motion the attack of Muslim forces against the apocalyptic enemy of Israel.
The attack on the U.S. strikes at the other `twin tower’ of Western evil.”