This morning’s report about Osama Bin Ladin visiting William Shakespeare’s birth place in and around Stratford on Avon seems typical: A 13 year old boy sees the village and makes notes in his diary. (I do not remember the birth house. I remember Anne Hathaway’s house where Shakespeare lived after he returned from London in 1607 and died in 1616.)
By sixteenth century standards the house is nice but not big; it is not a palace. It was likely not much changed from the time Shakespeare left Stratford and went to London. (Artists, writers and musicians did not make much money at that time, but each could use their talent.) Hathaway was older and the more prosperous of the two. I do not know how much Shakespeare, himself, contributed to the estate in Stratford. However, William Shakespeare was like many other men, marrying a richer older woman and living in her house. Men have married well like that for millennia – equally so women.
Could Bin Laden’s disgust and turning away form Shakespeare and the Western World for surfacey reasons be true? For a 13 year-old boy they could. Shakespeare had gained nothing from his work. He was living in a shack; he was the same peon as he was when he left Stratford; he died poor. But Bin Laden was simply ignorant and unknowledgeable. Arabs like Russians praise their languages for their poetic aspects. Shakespeare wrote poetry. Do Arabs dislike stories about human beings and issues each character has and must overcome or handle, as is seen in plays? (I would suspect that after 700 A.D. the Arabs were familiar with Greek plays and liked them.)
Bin Laden’s youthful rejection was directed to the mountain range of learning, the foundations and foothills supplied and supported by Islam, its rulers and societies from 700 to 1258, the fall of Baghdad – later in Spain. Islamic culture was destroyed by invaders from Central and East Asia. The Mamluk Turks of Egypt who stopped the Mongol invasion were foreign to Arabic culture. The Crusaders from Western Europe beginning in the Twelfth Century were mostly unsuccessful militarily, but greatly enhanced communication East and West and increased learning.
Bin Laden rejected this learning about men, societies and religion. Almost every Muslim today will say, Islam is a religion of peace, or Islam means peace. The Holy Koran is not a militant manifesto. Bin Ladin did not take this road, but one alluring to the righteousness of youth. For him Islam became a propaganda tool to use on his way to establish dominance and political power and material wealth over all human beings on earth.