Sunday, December 24, 2006

A New Messiah

For all our media savvy, we don't seem to grasp a simple truth: the great masses of people in the world are poor. They are searching for delivery from their misery and for compassion. The serfs may, out of coercion or necessity, respect their privileged leader, and even fight for and defend that overlord. But it is out of fear, or because they cannot imagine another life, and their resentment is not far beneath the surface.

But given something more exalted, something which can rouse their passion along with their fealty--a messiah--the people will reward him with their lives. They now have a cause and a champion, redeemer and savior.

In modern times, while we may lack for an actual messiah, we do have leaders "of the people," proto-messiahs. Leaders who don't put on airs; who mimic the appearance of the man or woman in the street. Mohandas and Indira Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the military despots who do not vary their simple uniform, like Quadaffi, Fidel Castro, Kim Jung Il, Mao Zedong, Hitler and Chiang Kai-Shek. It does not matter the extreme wealth these people have, or might have come from. They present a figure of solidarity with the people. It is "leader branding," par excellence.

The current U.S. President attempts that through his various costuming, such as the the flight suit of the Navy pilot, or the boots and brass buckle of the farmhand. But mostly, he comes across as weekend warrior sort of average guy, merely playacting the part.

Osama bin Laden, though a millionaire many times over, has forsaken the worldly life and adopted that of the desert nomad. He is a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia. And he is crusading against most things you hold dear. What's more, those things mean nothing to his loyal following, or worse, are anathema to them. Osama stands for the purification of the defiled Arab lands. They are backward-looking people, yes, but in an obvious statement, that is their choice. Freedom means the freedom to choose; freedom does not equal Western-style democracy. Who are we to foist modernity on a culture which has remained apart for well over 1,000 years?

So as we celebrate this Christmas, and worship the berobed, simple man who lived in the desert 2000 years ago, be mindful of another, newer messiah whose followers worship him equally well. And who brings a message to drive out the infidel, and tells the enslaved that they will find reward for their martyrdom. Nothing is really new under the sun.

--by Lisa


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