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A lover of the liberal arts, especially antiquity in its diverse forms, I am nonetheless wholly devoted to, utterly transformed by divine revelation. I seek to know the thought of the past, articulate my deepest longings aroused by the wise, and understand the uneasy relationship between reason and revelation; all for the sake of proper action and contemplation, both now and in the future.


Winter Break!!

I am very excited. Winter break is here! My train leaves tomorrow at 1345 (probably 1400) and I will, God willing, be home the evening of the 22nd of December. This semester has gone by so quickly I blink and it's gone. Just yesterday it seems as though I was attending Convocation! But when I look back upon the semester, it seems as though it has taken forever. It is a strange dichotomy, St. John's. But it is a fun dichotomy.

Collegium was last night and it was a blast. Naturally I wore my tux with coattails and played the allegro from Beethoven's sonata and my Christmas carol. It was a lot of fun and my growing skill is appreciated. My piano repertoire is growing and when I am physically relaxed and play music not too difficult for me, it works. Yes, it was fun. Yes I hope I can do it again, especially during Spring Collegium, and have the whole sonata done.

I am heading to Lamy tomorrow around 1030 with Keith and Kate; Keith ever so kindly is dropping us off at the station so we can catch our respective trains. The trip from Lamy to St. John's will be a bit more dificult to figure out, but I am sure I will think of something.

Christmas is going to be a ball. All 12 of us will be home, from Dad to Rebecca to Abby, so our house will be full and noisy. Awesome. I'll get to see old friends and family and relax for four weeks. Then it's onwards, onwards to 2008 and the termination of my freshman year at St. John's! Hallelujah!

What a crazy year it's been. What a crazy, blessed, awesome, inspiring, and rediculous year. Ooh rah.


17 Days Till Break.

Just think: 17/18 days till the semester is over! I'd say "By the Dog!" in Greek only I do not know how.

It has been a good semester. I have finally recovered (mostly) from my October paralysis, so homework comes easier to me now and I do not struggle so much. I am able to practice again, and my adoration of Beethoven's music has never been higher.

But the semester is so close to being over! It is crazy. In exactly three weeks I will be sitting in my room at home doing who knows what. It's mindblowing. The end of the year and Christmas itself are also approaching but I don't let myself think about those yet - of far more importance to me right now is the five page Heraclitus paper I have to write in nine days.

I am very happy here. I could not have imagined such a perfect school for me. I love my freshman class, I think my tutors are awesome, and my courses are beyond fabulous. Thank you God.

It's going to be crazy, going home. A lot of things are going to be different. Many things will stay the same, however. My faith will remain constant. My God will remain constant. And love will remain constant.

Speaking of love, I should write an entry about Miyazaki's anime movies because almost every single one I have seen is about love in one form or another. He is a master because he shows love, and love being more than sex. We've got sex to a T in modern movies. But this old guy from 50's Japan shows us what love is like. It is beautiful and it is inspiring. Who could have thought that an animated movie could do that in such superiority to 'live-action' films? I certainly did not.

I apologize. Reading this post is like driving a manual transmission at high speeds with poor use of the clutch. I will break off and collect my thoughts in order to write more when I have more time.



Don Rag!

No, there was nothing to worry about. It was fine. In fact, it was more than fine. It was great and it was a real encouragement and a motivation.

I went to the PSC Senior Common Room at 1120 on Tuesday morning and therein saw Mr. Zeitlin, Mr. Harrison, Mr. Pagano, Mr. Carey, and Ms. Ames. They all went around and said how I have been doing:

I won't repeat it all because I did it already in my journal (which is more fun than a weblog anyway) but I wanted to try and figure out how I am going to apply it.

Maybe not. Let's just say I've got it mostly figured out and now I can enjoy this Thanksgiving Weekend with lots of sleep (10 hours last night!) and lots of Greek (must must must catch up!)

I must say, I really enjoy fragmented posts. Let's abandon this one with the full hope of a weekend filled with potential! We'll see how much I actually get done....


End Of The Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?,13319,156111,00.html?

The drawdown is beginning and it is fairly clear that very soon, America's role in Iraq will be negligible. It has been a very long haul indeed, and one fraught with doubt and worry, but it will soon be all over.

I have always thought that this war represented a new gamble regarding the Middle East. It's one thing to pound Hussein to the dust - it's quite another to create an entirely new regime from the ground up. Socrates might call it folly. Heh, most Americans (not to mention Europe) call it folly. But the war in Iraq is complicated and there are many facets to it - layers that the media and the armchair warriors usually ignore. Michael Totten's journalism efforts are remarkable and everyone should check them out. You do not get the whole picture from TIME, CNN, Fox, or the New York Times. The media focuses on Iraq burning. Totten and other independant journalists show us a bigger picture, one that is not necessarily dominated by a corporate agenda. (to claim that TIME, NY Times, FOX, or BBC do not have an agenda is to claim ignorance) But to return to the gamble.

Can a people who have known nothing but tribal factions and totalitarian oppression knowingly and willingly embrace a sort of liberty? (to call the Iraqi constitution republican democracy is foolhardy) I am not sure. I do believe it was the right thing to do. Hussein was a loose cannon, rolling around the MidEast and it was time for him to go. Iraq was being violently oppressed. Whatever violent assertions we may make about government lies, misleading, and war crimes (torture now has a new definition; apparently anything causing a prisoner discomfort is torture), it can safely be said that the President did not orchestrate the war for oil and that he does in fact believe very much in this endeavor, however mistaken it may be.

I am rambling. My position on this war is very confusing. If I were placed in the position as Commander in Chief in 2003, would I have gone into Iraq? There are good reasons to do so and good reasons to refrain. I am honestly not sure what I would have done.

To tie this into the beginning though, I do believe that the war needs to end. I don't think anyone expected it to last this long (how many times we have said that!) I certainly did not expect it to last this long. It is coming to an end. President Bush leaves office next year in January (January of 2009). He has to make some sort of drawdown to save face and give the impression that he is doing all he can to bring the conflict to an end. Whoever next takes office (please, God, let it be Ron Paul) will have a big challenge on their hands, because this stage of the war is every bit as important as Day I. As we have seen in Vietnam, if we abandon our ally, the war will be for naught. I don't want that to happen. 3,000 American deaths were the indirect cause of this war, and 3900 deaths of professional soldiers have been the result, not to mention the trillions of dollars spent and respent.

Can the war in Iraq succeed? At the moment, I think it can. But due to the Republic, I think it will not last long before it turns into tyranny again. And that is the most frightening and saddening thing about this whole 5 year war.


I Love The Weekend

As to why, you may probably guess with relative accuracy. My work for the week is done and I have just gotten off B&G and won't see them again until Tuesday.

Classes are improving slightly. I no longer will make a fool of myself in math class because I will actually do the propositions assigned for next week. Similarly, I will do my lab and seminar readings, and study Greek until my eyeballs drop out.

It is tough, getting back into the grind after lazing off - but I have to do it. Last year at this time I got hopelessly behind in my work (especially Latin) and it sucked. I dreaded school. I don't want to dread class and it is worth studying really hard. I just need to motivate myself better than I have been.

It all starts tonight: Dinner is in 20 minutes so right after dinner I will either go read some more of the Republic or study Greek. Since my seminar paper is not due on Monday I will not have to revise it and let it eat up my weekend. It will be a challenge definitely; but a challenge that I have to be up to.

Maybe I will get lucky and will find Steve this evening and be able to borrow some awesome anime - Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle come to mind. Maybe it will be a sign that I am on the right track. Or maybe it will not work out and be a sign that I need to prove myself first. Either way, I win.

Pascal's Wager.


I Love This Place

St. John's College is the perfect place for me. Everything we do here is awesome. Let me demonstrate: we have the Ark Party. We have the Faust Party. We have impromptu seminars. We celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with wine and a thorough watching of V for Vendetta. We don't burn effigies of him, of course. We recognize he fought in the name of freedom and liberty! We know that liberty and justice are not just words, they are perspectives. And we also sense the rhetoric V uses upon us and know it is easily refuted, but we enjoy it anyway. I was sitting by the fishpond a little while ago and all of a sudden a couple tutors and students got together and played acoustic dance music on a banjo, guitar, violin, and harp. I was studying Euclid and sat against my rock and listened. Pogoni Dios I love this place. How awesome is it to be in a school where the liberal arts are so highly esteemed? Tonight there is a piano and violin concert in the Great Hall, Mr. Pesic is performing the complete piano works of Brahms with the complete piano works of Schoenberg, and the Barbershop Mafia is giving a performance later this month. All of this is volunteer; we just love the arts. I do not see how life could be any better. I have my theology, the Great Books, music, and people just as passionate about these ideas as I am. What more could I want? Thank God I am here.


Epiphany! (misspelled!)

So I have been searching for the answer to a nagging question: What is Christian fundamentalism? I have heard many different interpretations of this question but now have found the True Answer. First to note: Christian Fundamentalists have become something to be shunned; fundamentalism is considered a pejorative term and certainly not used for self-identification. It deserves a closer look than most of us are willing to give it, and this is precisely what I am going to do. Fundamentalism is the belief in five "fundamentals" of the Christian faith in general and Protestant faith in particular. In many ways it was an attempt to solidify and unify Christian beliefs so that the Protestant faith would not merely be blown about like the wind. (Roman Catholics have never needed this because of their emphasis on the magisterium.) The five fundamentals are:
  • The inerrancy of the Bible
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • Christ's substitutionary atonement
  • Christ's bodily resurrection
  • The authenticity of Christ's miracles.
We will examine these one by one and how they line up with ancient Christian thought. First, to examine the "inerrancy of the Bible". This is a huge distinction for Protestants. Because they had severed themselves from Catholic authority, they needed a substitute. So the Bible, in essence, became the paper pope of Protestantism. (nice alliteration there, Mr. Davis!)
Lest this sound like heresy to the uninitiated, let me distinguish inerrancy from infallibility. Inerrancy refers to a quality of complete and total accuracy - everything the Bible says is true, whether it is concerning doctrine, science, or details. Infallibility refers to the moral and doctrinal teachings of Scripture as being totally accurate - everything Jesus said, everything the New Testament writers said about faith, what the Prophets said about faith and God is perfectly true.
We can instantly see how these are in conflict with each other. Infallibility acknowledges the possibility for scribal errors, grammatical mistakes, and slight scientific errors in the text, and certainly in translation. Inerrancy does not allow for this save for the last item, translation errors. Some have evaded the problem by claiming the King James Version of the Bible was divinely inspired and therefore inerrant.
The inerrency of Scripture is not in alignment with ancient Christian thought.
The Virgin Birth of Christ has been believed by Christians since antiquity. It is in alignment with historic Christian thought.
The Atonement teaches (as far as I can understand) that Christ's Passion enables us to be reconciled with God and attain heaven. if this is true, than it is in alignment with historic Christian thought.
The last two, the Resurrection and reality of Christ's miracles are also in alignment with Christian thought. The latter, however, is not "fundamental" in my opinion. It certainly follows, and the Church has believed it, but it is not necessary for Christian life. Why you would want to believe that Christ reconciles us to God and deny He ever performed miracles is beyond me, but that is another story.
So Fundamentalists line up pretty well with ancient Christian practice, dogma, and belief. The biggest difference lies in the understanding of the Bible. I knew there was more to Fundamentalism than met they eye. I have heard that believing that Jesus literally rose from the dead makes one a Fundamentalist. If that is true, I am a part of it, along with all true Christians. Denying the Resurrection and Passion of Jesus makes one...a Gentile. (Gentile refers to non-Christian according to St. Thomas Aquinas)
So I have slightly distanced myself from the Fundamentalist beliefs but still share quite a majority. I believe in the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, (put a question mark on this one - I'm not sure what the Church teaches and how this lines up with what Protestants believe) the reality of Christ's miracles, and His Resurrection.
It is sad that Protestants have had to do this. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox rely on the magisterium of the Church (I am not completely sure about the Orthodox - don't quote me!) to guard and defend the faith. When you strip that protection away ("Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it") the results are there for anyone to sadly gaze upon.


What a cute bunny!

So I came across a picture of a ridiculously cute bunny. Wanna see? Well, you're reading my blog, so I assume you do.

I think it's pretty cute.

So this past week has been rough (I did more relaxing that I should have during Long Weekend) but I think I have finally learnt my lesson - I don't care how antisocial I get, work comes before play. I came to St. John's to read and such, and by George that is what I am going to do.

First of all I am going to work on Euclid till my eyes drop out. I am sick to death of not knowing these propositions. I have not been called upon to demonstrate them often but regardless - I am a better student than this and I will prove it. So there. My dander is up, as Jay Berry would say in Summer of the Monkeys. And speaking of which, that is a GREAT book. You should read it in addition to the other GREAT books we read here.

I cannot wait until the weekend. I will listen to Beethoven's Sixth, watch Princess Mononoke and Castle in the Sky, do my Greek homework, lab homework, math homework, and rewrite my paper. It will be a good weekend.

There you have it; my weekend itinerary. So I do not do all the work I should over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, tear my heart out and sacrifice it to Kali.


What Assholes

I am very very pissed off.

IMSLP has helped me with sheet music scores for the past year. Its method of scanning and publishing public domain music helps to spread the art that is music to people who cannot afford expensive public editions.

Universal Edition's actions are shameful. They reinforce my opinion that copyright law should not exist, or that it should be extremely short term - one year, for example.

The service IMSLP provides is one that spreads musical art and voluntary cooperation. It would not encroach upon publisher's profits in the least - there are always going to be significant numbers of people willing to pay for quality music. IMSLP is not always Weiner Urtext and people realize that. But it helps out broke musicians who can't necessarily pay $100 for the Beethoven Sonatas.

What assholes. May their publishing houses burn to the ground.


Work, quick note.

So working B & G is pretty fun. Nothing worth mentioning on the whole but I got trained on the tractor and fulfilled my long dream of driving big machinery. Yeah. Pretty much every five year old boy loves big trucks and machines.

I came across a cool communist propoganda poster the other day. More specifically, it's a Soviet propoganda poster during World War II. Want to see? Well, you're reading this blog so I assume you do (obscure V for Vendetta reference):


Tribute To Now-Defunct Blogs.

In order they are:




All of these, in one form or another, have abandoned blogging. Well Ramblings continues on Myspace but I suppose that doesn't count.

What really helped my blogs get going was the interaction between 09,22, and myself. Junior and Senior year....what memories.

Now I alone am left. But that is alright. I am secure here and do not mind that these three blogs are vacant save myself. Granted there is the TribeDavis and ClayReview, but those posting there do not come here. And that is fine with me.

I supose I am melancholy (haha! What a funny word!) and that is the reason I ramble to this degree. I miss them, one could say.

But here I remain, last of the Blogging Elite. I have changed locations, but I stay.

Requiem aeternem est!

Seminar Paper Due 5 November.

I think that's really funny, actually - having my paper due on November 5. "Remember, remember, the fifth of November...."

Yeah. I saw V for Vendetta. I thought I was going to hate it, but guess what? I adored it. It was the coolest thing ever. Yeah, people are going to hate me for that, just like they did with Constantine and Equilibrium, two other movies that are awesome. But so what? I don't care what they think.

So life here is pretty cool. I am part of the Anime Club, the Economics Study Group, taking piano lessons from Mr. Pesic, and helping out Ms. Johnson with Chorus. I actually don't know about that part, since we talked about it right before the concert, but whatever! If I can help, great. If not, oh well.

I think I want my paper to be on The Iliad - the character and redemption of Achilleus. How will I do this? I will contrast the character of Achilleus with that of Priam - I am convinced that after his meeting with Priam, Achilleus is a changed dude. As I have said before, it is not as complete as I would like - Achaia, after all, was still a dark world - Christ was not to be born for a thousand years.

Even so, Achilleus is an Achaian gentlemen. And that exites me about The Iliad. I will talk about that theme with Ms. Ames or Mr. Carey or Mr. Pagano.

Life is good. I am so priviliged to be here. I have absolutely no idea what I will do when I graduate but God does. I'll ask Him from time to time.



Dean's Lecture 31 August

My lecture tonight addresses directly a young person who goes on a journey. This is likely the first extended journey that he has taken away from home on his own. In setting out, he probably can’t fully anticipate what he will discover, for in the course of his journey he will encounter people who are new to him and places that are foreign. Furthermore, he will not approach his journey merely as an onlooker, for his journey is motivated by a deep desire to learn something, and he means to engage others in conversation to fulfill his purpose. Though his desire for conversation is strong, it is apparently an activity that is new to him, so that he is still vulnerable as to his place in it and the meaning that it will acquire for him. This young man is very much a beginner on a journey that promises to transform him.

My lecture indirectly addresses our freshmen, who are also on an extended journey away from home. It is to these young men and women, who are likely not so far apart in age and in experience from the young man I just mentioned, to whom I dedicate tonight’s lecture. I suppose that the Dean’s Lecture must always in some sense be dedicated to the freshmen, for it is the lecture that is concerned with beginnings—the beginning of the new school year, the beginning of an opportunity to engage the arts that liberate us toward a deeper humanity. As quintessential beginners, the freshmen surely deserve our dedication, and I hope that this entire community will join me in taking special interest in helping them during this first leg of their journey into life at St. John’s. Their desire to begin this journey into an education that promises to transform them from children into free men and women is a noble one, and its fulfillment depends on each one of us inside the classroom and out of it.

But a journey is never wholly defined by its beginning. As our freshmen will soon discover, and as all of us already along our way know, we are transformed by our journey even as our journey is transformed by who we become over its course. For as many students as there are in this hall tonight, there will have been as many different journeys taken at St. John’s by the time this year comes to an end. Yet the journeys taken by each of us will certainly have features in common. A shared program of instruction is one such feature. Together we will explore one program comprised of a variety of worlds—the world of philosophical thought; fictional worlds; the world of magnitudes and multitudes; the worlds created by different languages; the natural world; the world as it comes down to us in history and in the political theories that shape it; the world of poetry, and its close cousin, music. And though the worlds we will explore vary according to whether we are doing the undergraduate program, the Masters program in Liberal Arts, or the Eastern Classics program, our journeys will have something else in common: conversation will be the vehicle by which our journeys take place.

What might it mean to say that conversation is the vehicle by which a journey takes place? In some sense, I suppose it means that conversation makes possible the kind of serious exploration that we are about to undertake. As such, conversation is more than “idle talk.” It is surely more than what has come to pass for conversation in the all pervasive talk shows and chat rooms that promise real contact between people, only to deliver diversion or perhaps even genuine entertainment. Rather, conversation is the very means by which we are moved toward a greater understanding of the worlds we inhabit and our place within them. As such, conversation is in its essence an action that is no less important than the other actions through which we go about making a place for ourselves among others in a variety of settings.

In coming to St. John’s, all of us commit to finding our place at the tables around which we engage in conversation. But conversation doesn’t just happen; like any vehicle, conversation must be driven if it is to move us. We must desire to be in conversation. Or to put it another way, we must ardently want to find our place among others in the give and take of speaking and listening through which we explore the unknown, the vaguely familiar, and even what we believe we know intimately. This isn’t simply a matter of the ubiquitous problem of “class dynamic,” which our students so love to discuss. It is, rather, a matter of the much deeper problem of making a place for ourselves in relation to others. As such, it may just be a matter of learning to be at home in the world.

Homer’s Odyssey is very much a book about finding a way to be at home. Specifically it is a book about King Odysseus who, after nine years fighting on the battle fields of Troy, spends another ten years trying to get himself and his crew home to the land for which he longs. The first passage reads as follows:

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns/ driven time and again off course, once he had plundered/ the hallowed heights of Troy./ Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,/ many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,/fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home./ But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—/ the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,/ the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun/ and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return./ Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,/ start from where you will—sing for our time too.

Now this first passage would suggest that the Odyssey will take up the story of Odysseus immediately. But it begins neither with Troy nor with Odysseus’ journey. In fact, except in passing, it is not until Book V that we even find out where Odysseus is in real time, and not until Book IX that we hear from him the story of his travels since leaving Troy. It is worth pausing with this fact, for there is divine intention operating here. The Muse has been prompted by the poet to tell the story he wishes to hear, the story of Odysseus’ journey, filled as it has been with adventure and the trouble it can bring. But after so prompting her, the poet shows special deference to divine inspiration. Instead of telling the Muse where to begin the story of Odysseus, he invokes her to begin where she will.

And so, the Muse does begin where she will. She begins with the journey of Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, the young man I mentioned at the outset of my lecture. At first, it looks like the journey of the son could not be more different from the journey of the father. Odysseus’ journey will, according to his telling, be comprised of one harrowing adventure after another, each an extravagant expression of appetite that keeps Odysseus from reaching home: Odysseus attacking and plundering the first city he comes upon after just having sacked Troy, and the thirst for revenge that he encounters there; hosts who cannibalize their unwitting guests; people who lure their guests with drugs to numb their desire for hearth and home; monsters that snatch men from their ships not with one mouth, but with six; monsters that are but one giant gulping and vomiting mouth big enough to ingest and expel the sea and its contents.

Comparatively, Telemachus’ journey involves no real adventures to speak of. In fact, his journey is essentially comprised of a series of conversations—conversations which are somewhat one-sided to boot, with Telemachus acting often as listener, for these conversations are the product of Telemachus’ appetite for one thing and one thing only: news of his father.
Different though it may be in its details, however, Telemachus’ journey, like his father’s, is a journey toward being at home. In Telemachus’ case, the conversations that comprise his journey are the vehicles through which he comes of age; they are the means by which Telemachus comes to find his place in the world. This will have important implications for Odysseus’ homecoming, so that the Muse isn’t just toying with the poet whose desire it is to hear the Odyssey rather than the Telemacheia. But for tonight, I propose to dwell with the conversations through which Telemachus finds his place in the world, through which he comes to be at home. Attention to these conversations will surely tell us something about Telemachus, a character in the Odyssey who seems unfairly destined to pale against the enormity and color of his father and mother. What’s more, these conversations, and especially their effect on Telemachus, might just help us to understand better the supreme importance that conversation has in this place called St. John’s, which our freshmen will call home beginning this year.

If the first four books of the Odyssey are about Telemachus coming to find his place in the world, coming to be at home, where has he been up to now? When we meet the young prince, he is in fact sitting awkwardly in his own halls, though he is clearly not at home. He appears lost among a throng of suitors for his mother’s hand in marriage—suitors who are making out to be guests while actually eating him out of house and home, their appetites unchecked in an act of war. As they revel in the feast his estate unwillingly provides, Telemachus grieves for his father. And like the child that he has been, Telemachus is lost in a daydream rather than in any thought about what he might do about his plight.

In addition to what we observe of Telemachus, we also learn a few things about him indirectly through Athena. Speaking to her father on Odysseus’ behalf, proposing that Zeus dispatch Hermes to Calypso’s island to pronounce that Odysseus’ exile must end and his return home commence, she offers herself to “go down to Ithaca/ rouse his son/ to a braver pitch, inspire his heart with courage/ to summon the flowing-haired Achaeans to full assembly,/ speak his mind to all those suitors, slaughtering on and on/ his droves of sheep and shambling longhorn cattle.” Telemachus, then, is not only a young man lost in the daydreams of a child; he is a young man whose courage is lacking. This lack is especially apparent in his failure to speak his mind among those who have invaded his home. It is Athena’s role to awaken in him the courage first to speak up against the suitors, and then to act on his deep desire for news “about his long-lost father” by journeying to meet with those who knew his father at Troy. In essence, Athena means to inspire Telemachus to find his voice, to speak up to the suitors and to ask questions of his father’s comrades.

And so it is no surprise that Athena’s inspiration, which comes in many forms during the course of this epic including dreams and visions, for Telemachus comes through a conversation. Welcoming his guest Athena, who is disguised as Odysseus’ old friend Mentes, Telemachus brings Mentes into the dining hall to eat before the suitors arrive. Arrive they do, and we are told by Homer that after putting “aside the desire for food and drink/ the suitors set their minds on other pleasures, song and dancing, all that crowns a feast.” 5 But Telemachus, once he has fulfilled his desire for food and drink, hungers for something more profound than entertainment. Presumably like us in this room, he hungers for conversation. Leaning close in to his guest, he first shares his plight, and then checks his manners, essentially for having talked too much about himself:

Dear stranger, would you be shocked by what I say?/ Look at them over there. Not a care in the world,/ just lyres and tunes! It’s easy for them, all right,/ they feed on another’s goods and go scot-free—/ a man whose white bones lie strewn in the rain somewhere, / rotting away on land or rolling down the ocean’s salty swells./ But that man—if they caught sight of him home in Ithaca,/ by god, they’d all pray to be faster on their feet/ than richer in bars of gold and heavy robes./ But now, no use, he’s died a wretched death. No comfort’s left for us…not even if/ someone, somewhere, says he’s coming home./ The day of his return will never dawn./ Enough./ Tell me about yourself now, clearly, and point by point./ Who are you? where are you from? your city? your parents?/What sort of vessel brought you? Why did the sailors/ land you here in Ithaca? Who did they say they are?/ I hardly think you came this way on foot!/ And tell me this for a fact—I need to know—/ is this your first time here? Or are you a friend of father’s,/ a guest from the old days?

Young though he is, Telemachus knows that to host a guest is to attend to him. Overwhelmed by his plight, he briefly forgets his manners and talks too much about his own situation—in essence breaking the rules of hospitality twice over, once by failing to attend first and foremost to his guest and twice by slighting the suitors, who are at least apparently guests in his home. Checking himself, he goes on to ask after his visitor. Yet he cannot help revealing his desire to know something about his father, and so his questions about his guest become questions about his father. Though he is perhaps coy in expressing this, fishing as he does for news of his father while overtly asserting that he knows his father is dead, his desire sets in motion one of the most moving conversations in the poem. It is a conversation characterized by the kind of give and take, by the kind of responsiveness each to the other, which makes possible genuine intimacy and familiarity in the exchange of thoughts and words. Of course the conversation is predicated on a deception, and a divine one at that! But Telemachus makes the most of his conversation with the disguised Athena by listening carefully and by being genuine in his responses. In the course of this conversation, we learn about Telemachus’ special difficulties in finding his place.

The transition from childhood into adulthood is difficult enough, entailing as it does acknowledgment of what our parents have given us as well as the need to distinguish ourselves from those very things. For Telemachus, finding his place is especially difficult. His father has been nothing to him but an absence, so much so that he suggests openly that he doesn’t really know if he is his father’s son. “Mother has always told me I’m his son, it’s true,/ but I am not so certain. Who, on his own,/ has ever really known who gave him life?” 7 Even more than a slight on his mother, which I think it is, this seems to be Telemachus’ way of saying that he doesn’t know who he is because he doesn’t know who his father is. Indeed, Telemachus is deeply disturbed at being the son of a “nobody”, one who neither died at Troy nor came home to be surrounded by his loved ones in death. He tells Mentes openly “I would never have grieved so much about his death/ if he’d gone down with comrades off in Troy/ or died in the arms of loved ones,/ once he had wound down the long coil of war…”

Telemachus is perhaps in an even more difficult position with regard to his mother. Odysseus’ absence has meant that Penelope must rule her home and her son. The unkind suggestion regarding her fidelity is only one example of Telemachus’ resentment toward her. He complains to Mentes that his mother “neither rejects a marriage that she despises/ nor can she bear to bring the courting to an end”, with the result that Telemachus’ estate is being bled to death. Athena as Mentes responds with questions, with encouragement, with advice—all meant to rouse in Telemachus the courage to act. He is urged by Athena to think how to drive the suitors out of his halls, to sail in quest of news of his father, to stop clinging to his boyhood, and to see as a model Orestes, who won glory throughout the world by avenging his father’s treacherous homecoming. Through their conversation, Telemachus comes to resolve the need for his own journey. “Oh stranger,” he concludes his conversation with Athena as Mentes, “…You’ve counseled me with so much kindness now,/ like a father to a son. I won’t forget a word.”

Telemachus knows that he has had an encounter with the divine in his conversation with Mentes, the stranger who has managed to mentor him with words that go directly to Telemachus’ deepest concerns. The immediate effect is not that he becomes more passive for his respectful listening, but that he begins to find his voice. First, he challenges his mother’s authority, interestingly by chiding her for the same sort of self-pity that he has been indulging with regard to Odysseus’ fate. He commands that she leave the bard to sing what he will of the Achaeans’ hardships following the Trojan War, and suggests that she tend instead to the tasks appropriate to her, leaving him to rule the house in his father’s place. While his words may be harsh, or worse have the tone of an ungrateful brat, it is important to his own development that he speak up as he does, and Penelope is a good enough mother to see this. She is astonished by his words, suggesting that this courage to speak up is new for her maturing son; rather than bristle, she reflects on his good sense, and takes his words to heart.

The suitors do not receive Telemachus’ newfound words with such graciousness. But Telemachus bravely speaks his mind, putting the suitors on notice that they are no longer dealing with a boy who will simply sit by as they bleed him white. He makes clear that their behavior is unacceptable and that he means to be lord of his own house even if not king of Ithaca. While what he says expresses real understanding of the situation that he faces, what he does not say expresses even more in this regard. He does not share the news that Athena has given him with regard to his father’s return; in fact he hides it, claiming that his “father’s journey home is lost forever.” Telemachus has found his voice, and he is beginning to discover when and how to use it. He has also replaced his daydreams with careful thought, weighing all night long “in his mind the course Athena charted.” He has begun to find his place at home, in relation to his mother and to the suitors, through what is apparently the first meaningful adult conversation he has had. Now he must leave home to locate himself, and his father, in other conversations.

Telemachus’ ability to enter into meaningful conversation continues throughout his journey. His success has as much to do with his open desire as it has to do with his developing sense of how and when to express it—a lesson for all of us as we gather around the seminar table in the afternoons and evenings to come! Approaching Nestor at home in Pylos, Athena accompanies Telemachus now explicitly as his Mentor. She urges Telemachus on:

Telemachus, no more shyness/ this is not the time!/ We sailed the seas for this, for news of your father—/ where does he lie buried? what fate did he meet?/ So go right up to Nestor, breaker of horses./ We’ll make him yield the secrets in his heart./ Press him yourself to tell the whole truth: he’ll never lie—the man is far too wise.

Telemachus’ answer for Athena comes in the form of a question, which we are told by Homer makes the prince “wise in his own way too”. “How can I greet him, Mentor, even approach the king? I’m hardly adept at subtle conversation./ Someone my age might feel shy, what’s more,/ interrogating an older man.” Now as I have suggested, I read this as a sort of discretion on Telemachus’ part. His question is precisely concerned with figuring out his place in a world that is foreign to him and more than a little intimidating. That he poses a question, rather than worrying quietly, suggests more growth still in the direction of adulthood.

Telemachus’ mentor, however, doesn’t leave to chance the possibility that Telemachus’ discretion will get in the way of his continuing to learn how to express himself in words. On the contrary, Athena suggests to him that the words inside of him make him what he is, and that this is his connection to the divine. She tells him, “Some of the words you’ll find within yourself,/the rest some power will inspire you to say./You least of all—I know—/ were born and reared without the gods’ good will.” Apparently, Telemachus’ desire for conversation is true to what is inside of him. And it is true to the good will of the gods on his behalf. Indeed the words that make conversation possible, that are both inside of Telemachus and forthcoming from the inspiring power of the gods, are often referred to in the Odyssey as “winged”, an adjective used throughout the epic to describe the very movement of the gods themselves. Words will wing Telemachus along on his journey, and as we shall see, his journey will be as fruitful as it is safe. His desire for conversation continues to put him in touch with the divine, as well as with men who, unlike his father, have found a way to be at home.

Telemachus’ worry about what he will say to Nestor ends up being largely unfounded, for the old war hero exhibits a rather too generous inclination to talk! Nevertheless Telemachus grows through this conversation. He learns to satisfy his need for answers indirectly, through his insight into his companions in conversation. Overtly addressing Nestor, who has just suggested that Telemachus might really rout the suitors if only Athena will favor him as she has favored his father, Telemachus seems to feel out the truth of this suggestion by baiting Athena, who continues to stand by him as Mentor. “‘Never your majesty,’/ Telemachus countered gravely, ‘that will never/ come to pass, I know. What you say dumbfounds me,/ staggers imagination! Hope, hope as I will,/ that day will never dawn…not even if the gods should will it so.” 21 Athena takes the bait, telling Telemachus what his young and fearful heart needs to know. “‘Telemachus!’/ Pallas Athena broke in sharply, her eyes afire—/ ‘What’s this nonsense slipping through your teeth?/ It’s light work for a willing god to save a mortal/ even half the world away.’”

If I am right that Telemachus is baiting Athena here, seeking reassurance that he indeed has the full support of the goddess, then his next question for Nestor regarding Agamemnon makes perfect sense. Telemachus needs to know what went wrongwith Agamemnon’s homecoming. He needs to know what he needs to do in order to make the most of Athena’s help in the event that his own father comes home to find not one treacherous suitor, but dozens. And so he asks Nestor to tell the story of how King Agamemnon met his death. And he asks something more. He asks where Menelaus was at the time of Aegisthus’ treachery, a question he might just as well have kept for Menelaus himself, if not for the delicacy involved.

Through discretion and indirection, then, Telemachus gets the answers to his questions. He has begun to understand that conversation is more than what people say: it is how they are in relation to one another, which comprehends both what is said and unsaid, both what is said directly and what is said indirectly. By listening openly and respectfully, Telemachus gets even more, for Nestor reminds him not to stay away from home too long. His journey will come to nothing if his wealth at home is carved away and devoured in his absence. Such was the fate of Agamemnon, and such is the danger that Odysseus faces in coming home. Telemachus, by having listened and by having measured his words carefully in conversation, all the while asking questions about what most matters to him, may be in the best position to find his way home unscathed despite the plots of the suitors against him.

But if Telemachus acquires information from his conversation with Nestor, as well as greater subtlety in finding out what he desires to know, he gets something perhaps even more valuable from his visit to Pylos. He gets what is arguably the most precious gift that conversation has to offer: his imagination is awakened, and in this case, fed by the possibility of home that he witnesses. For conversation in Nestor’s home isn’t some artificial activity apart from the simple rituals and activities that give domestic life its shape: conversation there occurs as part of a larger set of relations that bind Nestor and his people. Sacrificing to the gods; sharing meals; sharing a bed with his spouse, who arranges it night after night; making requests of his grown children and being responded to respectfully and with genuine affection—the rhythm of domestic life is of a piece with the words that pass between Nestor and those with whom he is at home. It is in this setting that Telemachus finds a friend his own age, Pisistratus, who will accompany him on his journey to the home of Menelaus and Helen in Sparta.

Upon arriving at the home of Menelaus and Helen, Telemachus and Pisistratus find that a double wedding-feast is underway for Menelaus’ two children, Hermione and Megapenthes. The scene is touching for the intimacy in conversation that Telemachus expresses with his new friend, marveling quietly with Pisistratus about the remarkable wealth of Menelaus and his beautiful wife. It is a moment in which Telemachus shows the power that words have to express wonder, especially to a trusted friend with whom one can share one’s thoughts openly.

The beauty of this power is that it makes possible a fresh look at people and at situations, and Telemachus’ ability in this regard will reveal a great deal to him in Sparta. But for those of us with a few more years than Telemachus behind us, Menelaus’ wealth is not what causes us to wonder. Rather, we find ourselves wondering at the fact that Menelaus and Helen have found a way to share a home at all after having had their marital difficulties played out for nine years on the battle fields of Troy! In the home of Menelaus and Helen, Telemachus comes face to face with the sort of conversation which is not what it seems. The veneer of conjugal harmony only thinly disguises tension so thick it would take more than Odysseus’ strong bow and arrows to pierce it!

In one of the most deliciously difficult conversations rounding out Telemachus’ journey, Menelaus and Helen each give an account of Odysseus’ role in the ending to the Trojan War. The stories are different, and there is tension between wife and husband that has clearly not been resolved. The differences in their stories hinge on the depiction of Odysseus, who in Helen’s story makes his first appearance as a beggar but who in Menelaus’ story is all hero. As most of you know, and as our freshmen will find out soon enough, this motif of Odysseus appearing as a beggar becomes very important as the Odyssey unfolds. For tonight, though, I want to focus on how this image captures the imagination of Telemachus, who in his wonder at the King and Queen of Sparta, manages to find truths in the conversation that seem to elude them precisely because they have long since ceased to wonder at one another, coming armed as they do with knowledge each of the other that limits their ability to speak and to listen openly. This will be as delicate and telling a conversation as any Telemachus has yet encountered.
Helen’s image of Odysseus appearing as a beggar is striking, for our experience with Odysseus in the Iliad is of a hero who more than any other is never at a loss—never at a loss for words, never at a loss for strategies, never at a loss for strength in action that will make good on his words and strategies and secure his place among the army’s best. Helen’s account of how Odysseus infiltrates Troy, however, is focused on his appearing totally reduced from his heroic stature to the cowering status of a beggar who is out of place and extremely vulnerable. It is also focused on Helen’s recognition of Odysseus even—or perhaps especially?—in that state of displacement and vulnerability. Helen, the woman who found herself a world away from home, and who regrets the trouble she has caused, offers this story to Telemachus:

So come, let’s sit back in the palace now,/ dine and warm our hearts with the old stories./ I will tell something perfect for the occasion./ Surely I can’t describe or even list them all, the exploits crowding fearless Odysseus’ record,/ but what a feat that hero dared and carried off/ in the land of Troy where you Achaeans suffered!/ Scarring his own body with mortifying strokes,/ throwing filthy rags on his back like any slave,/ he slipped into the enemy’s city, roamed its streets—/ all disguised, a totally different man, a beggar,/ hardly the figure he cut among Achaea’s ships./That’s how Odysseus infiltrated Troy,/ and no one knew him at all…/ I alone, I spotted him for the man he was,/ kept questioning him—the crafty one kept dodging./ But after I’d bathed him, rubbed him down with oil,/ given him clothes to wear and sworn a binding oath/ not to reveal him as Odysseus to the Trojans, not/ till he was back at his swift ships and shelters,/ then at last he revealed to me, step by step,/ the whole Achaean strategy.

By Helen’s account, Odysseus infiltrates Troy by appearing as someone wholly out of place and in need, the consummate opposite of the war hero whose standing is secured by taking what he wants. Presumably, in so appearing, Odysseus is manifesting the need for reconnaissance that will make it possible to deliver the final blow to Troy. If he is successful, he will secure his place in history as the hero whose strategy puts an end to the nine year war. Helen’s story emphasizes that it is she who manages to get Odysseus to tell her what the Achaean army is up to. All it takes is a bath, a little oil, some warm clothes, and a conversation in which Helen is the master whose questions cut through the wily Odysseus’ defenses.

This image of Odysseus transformed by Helen’s ministrations is of course meant to make Helen look far better than she has been, for her marital infidelity has caused great suffering to the fighting force that has risked its finest warriors to bring her home. But even the drugs that Helen provides in order to help her story along aren’t enough to compromise Menelaus’ memory. He refuses her attempt to vindicate herself in words, and what’s more, he will disclose another little secret between them: that Helen was in fact a traitor up until the very end, someone who truly took her place on the side of the enemy—in Menelaus’ account, Prince Deiophobus, Helen’s second husband at Troy. Also in this account, Odysseus couldn’t be farther from the image of the beggar that Helen has portrayed. Odysseus, even in his position hidden deep in the belly of the Trojan Horse, stands firm against Helen’s own seductive calls. Menelaus’ story is about Odysseus the hero, and he is even willing to emphasize Odysseus’ heroic stature at the expense of his own. He refers to himself as “crouching”, a position associated with one who begs. He is also forthright about his yearning to call out in answer to Helen’s seductive calls. But Odysseus seems to be in a position to hold Menelaus and all of the others back. Any intimation of Odysseus’ vulnerability in Helen’s account is blotted out in Menelaus’ quick reply, which is seamlessly complimentary and dismissive at the same time.

There was a tale, my lady. So well told./ Now then, I have studied, in my time,/ the plans and minds of great ones by the score./ And I have traveled over a good part of the world/ but never once have I laid eyes on a man like him—what a heart that fearless Odysseus had inside him!/ What a piece of work the hero dared and carried off/ in the wooden horse where all our best encamped, our champions armed with bloody death for Troy…/ when along you came, Helen—roused, no doubt,/ by a dark power bent on giving Troy some glory,/ and dashing Prince Deiphobus squired your every step./ Three times you sauntered round our hollow ambush,/ feeling, stroking its flanks,/ challenging all our fighters, calling each by name—/ yours was the voice of all our long-lost wives!/ And Diomedes and I, crouched tight in the midst/ with great Odysseus, hearing you singing out,/ were both keen to spring up and sally forth/ or give you a sudden answer from inside,/ but Odysseus damped our ardor, reined us back./ Then all the rest of the troops kept stock-still,/ all but Anticlus. He was hot to salute you now/ but Odysseus clamped his great hands on the man’s mouth/ and shut it, brutally—yes, he saved us all, /holding on grim-set till Pallas Athena lured you off at last.

Now Telemachus is surely out of his league in this conversation, for he hasn’t had the opportunity to be privy to the layers of meaning that come to characterize the conversations of those who have been together for a very long time, and this marriage has layers to which most children wouldn’t want to be privy! Yet Telemachus’ response is deliberate and surprising in the imagination it exhibits against the dominant view that Menelaus has expressed: He refuses outright the correction that Menelaus has insisted upon at his wife’s expense, and in so doing, he refuses the image of the hero pure and simple, one who can conquer all not only without the help of others, but in spite of them and their weaknesses. Telemachus ventures, “Son of Atreus, King Menelaus, captain of armies,/ so much the worse, for not one bit of that/ saved him from grisly death/ not even a heart of iron could have helped.”

Telemachus, the son of Odysseus who sojourns to satisfy his pressing appetite for news about his father, who does so by recognizing the intervention of the divine on his behalf, and who begins to find his voice and gain his footing for doing so, understands that there are powers greater than a strong heart determining a man’s journey. The place a man occupies, no matter how heroic or strong hearted he is, is determined as much by what is inside of him that he cannot control as it is by external vicissitudes. Telemachus’ journey has apparently put him in a position to recognize something true in Helen’s depiction of Odysseus as a beggar. He is in a position to see deeply what his father’s absence has meant for his father: that he has been displaced, that he has somehow failed to find a way to be at home. This displacement and the vulnerability it entails, as manifested in the image of the beggar, positions Telemachus to recognize that his father will need him should he manage to reach Ithaca’s shores alive. Telemachus’ ability to listen has strengthened his ability to see.

It is with this newfound insight that Telemachus hears from Menelaus that his father is, indeed, alive. In fact the last image of his father that Telemachus takes from Menelaus has Odysseus “weeping live warm tears/ in the nymph Calypso’s house” where he is held against his will. Helen’s image of Odysseus in a position of vulnerability seems to win the day, and so she has indeed managed to tell something “perfect for the occasion”. But this is a function neither of Helen’s motives nor of the social lubricant she has furtively provided. In fact it is in spite of Helen’s intentions, and yet through his conversation with her, that Telemachus has managed to discern his father’s vulnerability, and therefore the risk that he himself will have to take should his father reach home at last. That Telemachus has managed to see this is a testament to an obvious fact about conversation, though it is easily overlooked: what we get out of a conversation is not just a matter of what others say. It is a matter of what we are prepared to hear. Telemachus’ journey has apparently prepared him well.

The conversations that Telemachus has had on his journey have put him in touch with what is inside himself, which may be another way of saying that they have put him in a position of self-knowledge, the beginning of adulthood and the beginning of actions that will be deliberately his own. Telemachus, the boy with a voracious appetite for news of his father, recognizes that he has heard enough and that it is time to go home. Once he no longer has need of the words that will inform him about his father, he is clear with Menelaus that his words, though wonderful, can no longer suffice for keeping Telemachus in Sparta. “Please, Menelaus, don’t keep me quite so long./ True, I’d gladly sit beside you one whole year/ without a twinge of longing for home or parents./ It’s wonderful how you tell your stories, all you say—/ I delight to listen! Yes, but now, I’m afraid, my comrades must be restless in sacred Pylos….” Telemachus, tactfully but firmly, makes clear that it is time for him to gather his men and to return home.

It is in Book XVI that father and son reunite at last, their journeys coming together. Odysseus appears the beggar, and Telemachus the captain of his own ship, arriving home with crew intact and guest gifts to add to his family’s wealth. Even as it began, Telemachus’ journey ends with a conversation between himself and a guest whom he cannot host properly for the presence of the suitors. But whereas before, with Mentes, Telemachus lamented that his father wasn’t there to put the suitors in their place, daydreaming about what would happen if he were, Telemachus now looks only to himself and acknowledges simultaneously the vulnerable position that he is in and the challenges that he faces. Requested by Eumaeus, the loyal swineherd, to give the beggar before them shelter, the newly returned Telemachus replies, Shelter? Oh Eumaeus…that word of yours, it cuts me to the quick!/ How can I lend the stranger refuge in my house?/ I’m young myself. I can hardly trust my hands/ to fight off any man who rises up against me….I can’t let him go down and join the suitors./ They’re far too abusive, reckless, know no limits:/ they’ll make a mockery of him—that would break my heart./ It’s hard for a man to win his way against a mob,/ even a man of iron. They are much too strong.

It is in this new position of self-awareness, from which he has faced his plight head on rather than from the safety of a day dream about being rescued, that Telemachus enters the conversation with his father disguised as a beggar.

Telemachus is a different young man for the journey he has taken. His differences show immediately in his conversation with his father, in which a number of the very same topics arise as did with Athena disguised as Mentes. To begin, he no longer has doubts about who he is, answering firmly Odysseus’ question about his paternity, even as he approaches the question now empathically from Odysseus’ viewpoint rather than from the viewpoint of his own self-pity. “…I am Odysseus’ only son. He fathered me,/ he left me behind at home, and from me he got no joy.” And when he speaks of his mother, repeating verbatim what he said to Mentes about her failure to put the courting to an end one way or another, he follows up with a mature and warm act of consideration for the very mother he has apparently criticized twice, asking Eumaeus to “…go, quickly, to wise Penelope” to tell her that he has arrived from Pylos safe and sound.

He has also learned to look to himself for his best judgments, even when confronted with the father figure he so desperately desires. Whereas earlier he stated openly that he wouldn’t forget a single word that Mentes has told him, for his words were like those of a father to a son, Telemachus now openly rejects Eumaeus’ suggestion that he stop to tell Laertes that Telemachus is home before going to Penelope. Yet the embrace of Telemachus by Eumaeus has just been characterized as that of a father, “brimming with love” for his son.

It is after Telemachus has already revealed this greater sense of his place in the world that Athena transforms Odysseus from a beggar into a king. Likely associating his father’s transformation with the experience he has had of Athena as Mentes and Mentor, Telemachus thinks that Odysseus must be a god. But Odysseus’ response holds the image of the vulnerable beggar firmly before Telemachus, his transformation notwithstanding. He speaks honestly to his recognition of the vulnerability that Telemachus has shared so openly, even as he speaks to the need that he has to be recognized in all of his mortal weakness by his son.
“No I am not a god,”/ the long-enduring, great Odysseus returned./ “Why confuse me with one who never dies?/ No, I am your father—/ the Odysseus you wept for all your days,/ you bore a world of pain, the cruel abuse of men.”/ And with those words Odysseus kissed his son/ and the tears streamed down his cheeks and wet the ground,/ though before he’d always reined his emotions back.”

It is in this conversation, comprised as it is of mutually-expressed vulnerability, that Telemachus comes to recognize his father. When the two embrace, neither one is standing. Both men are “filled with compassion, eyes streaming tears”.

It is this spirit of compassion that seems to reveal the true nature of conversation as action. As Odysseus and Telemachus plot the destruction of the suitors, each takes his place with respect to the other and with respect to this most important topic of conversation between them. The place that each takes, however, is not defined simply by the relation of father and son. Rather, the conversation somehow cuts through Odysseus’ authority over Telemachus, so that Telemachus’ newfound manhood has a proper place to express itself. For example, Telemachus expresses skepticism that he and his father can take on the suitors alone, but Odysseus reminds him that Athena and Zeus will be on their side. Odysseus goes on to give orders, which Telemachus promises he has the courage to obey, yet Telemachus also checks his father’s plan, offering his own good sense about how and when they ought to go about questioning the field hands and the serving women. Both Odysseus and Telemachus are able to speak freely to one another, and to hear one another in the generous spirit of a shared purpose. They are, through their conversation, poised for the action that will finally allow them to defeat the suitors.

Telemachus’ journey through conversation probably ends in Book XVI. And though Odysseus, with the help of Athena, is the primary force behind the restoration of order in his house that allows him to be at home again and that rounds out the rest of the Odyssey—save book XXIV when Odysseus himself confronts his father in a mutually-expressed moment of vulnerability—there are two moments toward the end of the epic that are worth noting as we round out our account of Telemachus’ coming of age. Both highlight the courage and the discretion that Telemachus has gained during his journey through the most important conversations of his young life; both demonstrate that he has found his voice and learned how and when to use it.

The first moment is when Telemachus, upon his fourth try, is about to string his father’s bow. This is, of course, a moment of great excitement for him, holding out the potential to establish his fame across the land. But a quiet gesture from his father stops him, and Telemachus’ words express his understanding that the larger strategy and action at hand is more important than his own personal satisfaction. He lulls the suitors into thinking that they surely have the upper hand in the situation, exclaiming with real inspiration “God help me.../ must I be a weakling, a failure all my life?/ Unless I’m just too young to trust my hands/ to fight off any man who rises up against me./ Come, my betters, so much stronger than I am—/ try the bow and finish off the contest.”

While Telemachus hasn’t lied outright in what he has said, he has chosen his words and tempered them for the occasion. But he has also learned through his conversations when words must be as direct as the thrust of a sword. The slaughter of the suitors is nearly complete, and Telemachus hears the bard who has been forced to play night after night for the suitors begging Odysseus for mercy just after Odysseus has lopped off the head of another so pleading for his own life. We are told by Homer, “The inspired Prince Telemachus heard his pleas/ and quickly said to his father close beside him,/ ‘Stop, don’t cut him down! This one’s innocent./ So is the herald Medon—the one who always/ tended me in the house when I was little—/ spare him too’.” Telemachus has learned the power of words to determine life and death. Like his heroic father, who has wielded power through bloody arms, Telemachus has had his own heroic moment. If his hands weren’t skilled enough to string the bow on his first try, his voice was strong enough to determine the fates of two innocent men on his first try. His voice is powerful enough to check his father’s bloody rampage, and Odysseus acknowledges to both men that the “prince has pulled [them] through.”

Now perhaps I have exaggerated a bit the importance of Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. And perhaps some of the more experienced readers of the Odyssey suspect that I’ve made up the importance of conversation in Homer’s epic. But even if it is true that I have exaggerated for my own purposes tonight, I wouldn’t be in such bad company. Our freshmen may soon find themselves in conversation about the stories told by Odysseus, exaggerations surely if not outright lies. But there is always some truth in the words that Odysseus speaks, even as I hope there has been some truth in the words I have shared with you tonight. If an hour hasn’t afforded me the time to develop fully the significance of Telemachus’ journey through conversation for the purpose of understanding Homer’s Odyssey, it has afforded me the opportunity to suggest directly the role of conversation in Telemachus’ transformation as well as to suggest indirectly the deep significance that conversation has for all of us as we enter into the important work of our classes at St. John’s.

Telemachus’ sense that conversation matters; his sense that there are things that should be said and that should be left unsaid; his care in listening, and in responding; his gracious recognition that his interests are being addressed at every turn in the conversation, whether by a Nestor who is talking too much, or a Helen who is defending herself, or a Menelaus who is licking his wounds to the detriment of the conversation; his openness to wonder and to imagination; his deliberate desire to know the truth, even when it is not what he might have wanted to hear; his healthy mixture of skepticism and openness to what others are saying; his willingness to take ownership of his words in action—all of these lessons learned in the act of conversation help Telemachus to find his place among others, to be at home in the world, so that when he is called to the most important actions of his life, he is ready for them.

I am certain that if we give ourselves fully to conversation as Telemachus did, refusing the ease of idle talk in favor of satisfying the deeply human desire to be truly in relation with others, and if we allow the image of the beggar to capture our imaginations so that we see that it is not so terrible that those relations may very well expose our vulnerability even as they expose the vulnerabilities of others, we too will find ourselves on a journey toward being at home, in the world and among others, but perhaps most importantly, with ourselves.


The Obstacles To Capturing Osama ben Laden

Al Qaeda's As-Sahab media arm released a video Sept. 11 to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Although the 47-minute video features a voice-over introduction by Osama bin Laden, the bulk of it is of Abu Musab Waleed al-Shehri, one of the suicide bombers who crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center's north tower. That recording was made prior to al-Shehri's travel to the United States in the spring of 2001.

There is nothing in bin Laden's audio segment to indicate it was recorded recently. The production does include a still photograph of him -- one taken from what appears to be a real ben Laden video released Sept. 7 (in which he sports a dyed beard), but bin Laden's comments about the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi suggest they were recorded during al Qaeda's 2006 media blitz.The release of two successive bin Laden messages, however, has again focused attention on bin Laden, who before last week had not been seen on video since late October 2004. This increased attention has once again caused people to question why the United States has failed to find bin Laden -- and to wonder whether it ever will.

While the feds generally get their man in the movies or on television, it is very difficult in real life to find a single person who does not want to be found. It is even harder when that person is hiding in an extremely rugged, isolated and lawless area and is sheltered by a heavily armed local population. The United States and Pakistan have not launched a major military operation to envelop and systematically search the entire region where bin Laden likely is hiding -- an operation that would require tens of thousands of troops and likely result in heavy combat with the tribes residing in the area. Moreover, this is not the kind of operation they will take on in the future. The United States, therefore, will continue intelligence and covert special operations forces efforts, but if it is going to catch bin Laden, it will have to wait patiently for one of those operations to produce a lucky break -- or for bin Laden to make a fatal operational security blunder.

Needle in a Haystack

Finding a single man in a large area with rugged terrain is a daunting task, even when a large number of searchers and a vast array of the latest high-tech surveillance equipment are involved. This principle was demonstrated by the manhunt for so-called "Olympic Bomber"Eric Rudolph, who was able to avoid one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history by hiding in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. The task force looking for Rudolph at times had hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers assigned to it, while some of its search operations involved thousands of law enforcement and volunteer searchers. The government also employed high-tech surveillance and sensor equipment and even offered a $1 million reward for information leading to Rudolph's capture. However, Rudolph's capture in May 2003, more than five years after he was listed on the FBI's most-wanted list, was not the result of the organized search for him. Rather, he was caught by a rookie police officer on a routine patrol who found Rudolph rummaging for food in a dumpster behind a grocery store. The officer did not even realize he had captured Rudolph until he had taken him to the police station for booking.

Hostile Terrain

The terrain in the Smoky Mountains is tough and remote, but it is nothing compared to the terrain in the soaring, craggy Safed Koh range that runs along the Pakistani-Afghan border or in the Hindu Kush to the north. Some of the peaks in the Safed Koh range, including Mount Sikaram, are well over twice as high as any peak in the Smokies, while the Hindu Kush contains some of the highest peaks in the world. But it is not only the terrain that is hostile. In the Great Smokies, there are some people who are not happy to see "revenuers" and other government agents -- or other strangers, for that matter -- but at least the area is under the federal government's control. The same cannot be said of the lawless areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border -- the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The presence of Pakistani military forces is resented in these areas, and troops are regularly attacked by the heavily armed tribesmen living there.

This is not a new phenomenon by any means, though. The Pashtun tribes in the rugged area along the Durand Line (the line set to demarcate the border between the British Raj and Afghanistan, which later became the Afghan-Pakistani border) have always been difficult to control. Even before the establishment of Pakistan, the inhabitants of the area gave the British colonial authorities fits for more than a century. The Britons were never able to gain full control over the region, so they instead granted extensive power to tribal elders, called maliks. Under the deal, the maliks retained their autonomy in exchange for maintaining peace between the tribesmen and the British Raj -- thus allowing commerce to continue unabated. However, some dramatic flare-ups of violence occurred against the Britons during their time in the region. One of the last of them began in 1936 when a religious leader known as the Faqir of Ipi encouraged his followers to wage jihad on British forces. (Jihad against invading forces is a centuries-old tradition in the region.) The faqir and his followers fought an extended insurgency against the British forces that only ended when they left Pakistan. The United Kingdom attempted to crush the faqir and his followers, but the outmanned and outgunned insurgents used the rugged terrain and the support of the local tribes to their advantage. Efforts to use spies to locate or assassinate the faqir also failed. Although the British and colonial troops pursuing the faqir reportedly numbered more than 40,000 at one point, the faqir was never captured or killed. He died a natural death in 1960.

A Modern Faqir?

Under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military entered the FATA in force in March 2004 to pursue foreign militants -- for the first time since the country's creation -- but the operation resulted in heavy casualties for the Pakistani army, demonstrating how difficult it is for the Pakistani military to fight people so well integrated in the Pashtun tribal badlands. Following that failed operation, the Pakistani government reverted to the British model of negotiating with the maliks in an effort to combat the influence of the Taliban and foreign jihadists -- and has been harshly criticized because of it. Nowadays, jihadist insurgents are attacking Pakistani security and intelligence forces in the Pashtun areas in the Northwest.

The parallels between the hunt for the Faqir of Ipi and bin Laden are obvious -- though it must be noted that bin Laden is a Saudi and not a native-born Pashtun. However, many of the challenges that the United Kingdom faced in that operation are also being faced by the United States today.Aside from the terrain -- a formidable obstacle in and of itself -- U.S. forces are hampered by the strong, conservative Islamic conviction of the people in the region. This conviction extends beyond the tribes to include some members of the Pakistani military and Pakistan's intelligence agencies -- especially those at the operational level in the region. It must be remembered that prior to 9/11 the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency and military openly supported the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. In addition to the relationships formed between bin Laden and the so-called "Afghan Arabs" (foreign jihadists) during the war against the Soviets, Pakistani troops also trained and fought alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda in their battles against the Northern Alliance and other foes. Because of these deep and historic ties, there are some in the Pakistani government (specifically within the security apparatus) who remain sympathetic, if not outright loyal, to their friends in the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Additionally, and perhaps just as important, many in the Pakistani government and military do not want to kill their own people -- the Pashtuns, for example -- in order to destroy the much smaller subset of Pakistani and foreign militants. The challenge is to eliminate the militants while causing very little collateral damage to the rest of the population -- and some in the Pakistani government say the airstrikes in places such as Chingai and Damadola have not accomplished this goal. In August, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri told television channel AAJ that Pakistan had done all it can in the war on terrorism and that, "No one should expect anything more from Islamabad."

In an operation such as the manhunt for bin Laden, intelligence is critical. However, the Taliban and al Qaeda so far have used their home-field advantage to establish better intelligence networks in the area than the Americans. According to U.S. counterterrorism sources, U.S. intelligence had gathered some very good leads in the early days of the hunt for bin Laden and other high-value al Qaeda targets, and they shared this intelligence with their counterparts in the Pakistani security apparatus to try to organize operations to act on the intelligence. During this process, people within the intelligence apparatus passed information back to al Qaeda, thus compromising the sources and methods being used to collect the information. These double agents inside the Pakistani government did grave damage to the U.S. human intelligence network.

Double agents within the Pakistani government are not the only problem, however. Following 9/11, there was a rapid increase in the number of case officers assigned to collect information pertaining to al Qaeda and bin Laden, and the CIA was assigned to be the lead agency in the hunt. One big problem with this, according to sources, was that most of these case officers were young, inexperienced and ill-suited to the mission. The CIA really needed people who were more like Rudyard Kipling's character Kim -- savvy case officers who understand the region's culture, issues and actors, and who can move imperceptibly within the local milieu to recruit valuable intelligence sources. Unfortunately for the CIA, it has been unable to find a real-life Kim. This lack of seasoned, savvy and gritty case officers is complicated by the fact that, operationally, al Qaeda practices better security than do the Americans.

First, there are few people permitted to see bin Laden and the other senior leaders, and most of those who are granted access are known and trusted friends and relatives. Someone else who wants to see bin Laden or other senior al Qaeda leaders must wait while a message is first passed via a number of couriers to the organization. If a meeting is granted, the person is picked up at a time of al Qaeda's choosing and taken blindfolded via a circuitous route to a location where he is stripped and searched for bugs, beacons and other tracking devices. The person then reportedly is polygraphed to verify that his story is true. Only then will he be taken -- blindfolded and via a circuitous route -- to another site for the meeting.

These types of measures make it very difficult for U.S. intelligence officers to get any of their sources close to the al Qaeda leaders, much less determine where they are hiding out. The areas where bin Laden likely is hiding are remote and insular. Visitors to the area are quickly recognized and identified -- especially if they happen to be blond guys named Skip. Moreover, residents who spend too much time talking to such outsiders often are labeled as spies and killed. These conditions have served to ensure that the jihadists maintain a superior human intelligence (and counterintelligence) network in the area. It is a network that also stretches deep into the heart of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Islamabad's twin city and home to the Pakistani army's general headquarters.

The Price of Security

Although al Qaeda's operational security and the jihadist intelligence network have been able to keep bin Laden alive thus far, they have lost a number of other senior operatives, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Mohammed Atef, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Faraj al-Libi and others. Most of these have been al Qaeda operational managers, people who, by the very nature of their jobs, need to establish and maintain communications with militant cells. This drive to recruit new jihadists to the cause and to help continue operational activity is what led to the lucky break that resulted in the 1995 arrest of Abdel Basit, the operational planner and bombmaker responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Basit had tried to recruit a foreign student to assist him in one of the attempts to conduct "Operation Bojinka," a plan to bomb multiple U.S. airliners. Having gotten cold feet, the student revealed the plot, thus allowing Diplomatic Security special agents the opportunity to coordinate an operation to arrest Basit.

Al Qaeda has learned from the mistakes made by the men it has lost and has better secured the methods it uses to communicate with the outside world. This increased security, however, has resulted in increased insulation, which has adversely affected not only communications but also financial transfers and recruiting. Combined with U.S. efforts against al Qaeda, this has resulted in a reduction in operational ability and effectiveness. The tension between operations and security poses a significant problem for an organization that seeks to maintain and manage a global militant network. By opting to err on the side of security, bin Laden and the others could escape capture indefinitely, though they would remain operationally ineffective. However, should they attempt to become more operationally active and effective -- and decrease their security measures to do so -- they will provide the United States with more opportunities to get the one break it needs to find bin Laden.


September 11, 2007

I was going to write a short article about the day, etc. But then I saw Osama ben Laden's video and decided to produce the transcript:

All praise is due to Allah, who built the heavens and earth in justice, and created man as a favor and grace for Him.

And from His ways is that the days rotate between the people, and from His law is retaliation in kind: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed.

And all praise is due to Allah, who awakened His slaves' desire for the Garden, and all of them will enter it except those who refuse. And whoever obeys Him alone in all of his affairs will enter the Garden, and whoever disobeys Him will have refused.

As for what comes after:
Peace be upon he who follows the Guidance.

People of America:
I shall be speaking to you on important topics which concern you, so lend me your ears.
I begin by discussing the war which is between us and some of its repercussions for us and you.
To preface, I say: despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well; and despite it spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies; and despite it being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the injust right of veto; despite all of this, 19 young men were able -by the grace of Allah, the Most High- to change the direction of its compass. And in fact, the subject of the Mujahedeen has become an inseparable part of the speech of your leader, and the effects and signs of that are not hidden.

Since the 11th, many of America's policies have come under the influence of the Mujahideen, and that is by the grace of Allah, the Most High. And as a result, the people discovered the truth about it, its reputation worsened, its prestige was broken globally and it was bled dry economically, even if our interests overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives, despite the differing intentions. And your information media, during the first years of the war, lost its credibility and manifested itself as a tool of the colonialist empires, and its condition has often been worse than the condition of the media of the dictatorial regimes which march in the caravan of the single leader. Then Bush talks about his working with al-Maliki and his government to spread freedom in Iraq, but he in fact is working with the leaders of one sect against another sect, in the belief that this will quickly decide the war in his favor. And thus, what is called the civil war came into being and matters worsened at his hands before getting out of his control and him becoming like the one who plows and sows the sea: he harvests nothing but failure.

So these are some of the results of the freedom about whose spreading he is talking to you. And then the backtracking of Bush on his insistence on not giving the United Nations expanded juridiction in Iraq is an implicit admission of his loss and defeat there. And among the most important items contained in Bush's speeches since the events of the 11th is that the Americans have no option but to continue the war. This tone is in fact an echoing of the words of neoconservatives like Cheney , Rumsfeld and Richard pearle, the latter having said previously that the Americans have no choice in front of them other than to continue the war or face a holocaust.

I say, refuting this unjust statement, that the morality and culture of the holocaust is your culture, not our culture. In fact, burning living beings is forbidden in our religion, even if they be small like the ant, so what of man?! The holocaust of the Jews was carried out by your brethren in the middle of Europe, but had it been closer to our countries, most of the Jews would have been saved by taking refuge with us. And my proof for that is in what your brothers, the Spanish, did when they set up the horrible courts of the Inquisition to try Muslims and Jews, when the Jews only found safe shelter by taking refuge in our countries. And that is why the Jewish community in Morocco today is one of the largest communities in the world. They are alive with us and we have not incinerated them, but we are a people who don't sleep under oppression and reject humiliation and disgrace, and we take revenge on the people of tyranny and agression, and the blood of the Muslims will not be spilled with impunity, and the morrow is nigh for he who awaits.

Also, your Christian brothers have been living among us for 14 centuries: in Egypt alone, there are millions of Christians whom we have not incinerated and shall not incinerate. But the fact is, there is a continuing and biased campaign being waged against us for a long time now by your politicians and many of your writers by way of your media, especially Hollywood, for the purpose of misrepresenting Islam and its adherents to drive you away from the true religion. The genocide of peoples and their holocausts took place at your hands: only a few specimens of Red Indians were spared, and just a few days ago, the Japanese observed the 62nd anniversary of the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by your nuclear weapons.

And among the things which catch the eye of the one who considers the repercussions of your unjust war against Iraq is the failure of your democratic system, desipte its raising of the slogans of justice, liberty, equality and humanitarianism. It has not only failed to achieve these things, it has actually destroyed these and other concepts with its weapons -especially in Iraq and Afghanistan- in a brazen fashion, to replace them with fear, destruction, killing, hunger, illness, displacement and more than a million orphans in Baghdad alone, not to mention hundreds of thousands of widows. American statistics speak of the killing of more than 650,000 of the people of Iraq as a result of the war and its repercussions.

People of America:
The world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of the tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there, which has led to the vast majority of you being afflicted with disappointment. And here is the gist of the matter, so one should pause, think and reflect: why have the Democrats failed to stop this war, despite them being the majority? I will come back to reply to this question after raising another question, which is: why are the leaders of the White House keen to start wars and wage them around the world, and make use of every possible opportunity through which they can reach this purpose, occasionally even creating justifications based on deception and blatant lies, as you saw in Iraq?

In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Rumsfeld and his aides murdered two millions villagers, and when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed, and al-Qaida wasn't present at that time, but rather, those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing. And the war continued after that for approximately one decade. But after it became clear to you that it was an unjust and unnecessary war, you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, Rumsfeld.

And even more incredible than that is that Bush picked him as secretary of defense in his first term after picking Cheney as his vice-president, Powell as secretary of state and Armitage as Powell's deputy, despite their horrific and bloody history of murdering humans. So that was a clear signal that this administration -the administartion of the generals- didn't have as its main concern the serving of humanity, but rather, was intersted in bringing about news massacres. Yet in spite of that, you permitted Bush to complete his first term, and stranger still, chose him for a second term, which gave him a clear mandate from you -with your full knowledge and consent- to continue to murder our people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then you claim to be innocent! This innocense of yours is like my innocence of the blood of your sons on the 11th -were I to claim such a thing. But it is impossible for me to humor many of you in the arrogance and indifference you show for the lives of humans outside America, or for me to humor your leaders in their lying, as the entire world knows they have the lion's share of that. These morals aren't our morals.

What I want to emphasize here is that not taking past war criminals to account led to them repeating that crime of killing humanity without right and waging this unjust war in Mesopotamia, and as a result, here are the oppressed ones today continuing to take their right from you. This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn't like those who give advice.

The entire world came out in unprecedented demonstrations to warn against waging the war and describe its true nature in eloquent terms like "no to spilling red blood for black oil", yet he paid them no heed. It is time for humankind to know that talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them. So in answer to the question about causes of the Democrats' failure to stop the war, I say: they are the same reasons which led to the failure of former president Kennedy to stop Vietnam War. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn't be any cause for astonishment -and there isn't any- in the Democrats' failure to stop the war.

And you're the ones who have the saying which goes, "Money talks". And I tell you: after the failure of your representatives in the Democratic Party to implement your desire to stop the war, you can still carry anti-war placards and spread out in the streets of major cities, then go back to your homes, but that will be of no use and will lead to the prolonging of the war. However, there are two solutions for stopping it. The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you. This is our duty, and our brothers are carrying it out, and I ask Allah to grant them resolve and victory. And the second solution is from your side. It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interests of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations. And with that, it has become clear to all that they are real tyrannical terrorists.

In fact, the life of all of mankind is in danger because of the global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations, yet despite that, the representative of these corporations in the White House insists on not observing the Kyoto accord, with the knowledge that the statistic speaks of the death and displacement of millions of human beings because of that, especially in Africa. This greatest of plagues and most dangerous of threats to the lives of humans is taking place in an accelerating fashion as the world is being dominated by the democratic system, which confirms its massive failure to protect humans and their interests from the greed and avarice of the major corporations and their representatives. And despite this brazen attack on the people, the leaders of the West -especially Bush, Blair, Sarkozy and Brown- still talk about freedom and human rights with a flagrant disregard for the intellects of human beings. So is there a form of terrorism stronger, clearer and more dangerous than this?

This is why I tell you: as you liberated yourselves before from the slavery of monks, kings and feudalism, you should today liberate yourselves from the deception, shackles and attrition of the capitalist system. If you were to ponder it well, you would find that in the end, it is a system harsher and fiercer than your systems in the Middle Ages. The capitalist system seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of "globalization" in order to protect democracy. And Iraq and Afghanistan and their tragedies; the reeling of many of you under the burden of interests-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes; and the abject poverty and tragic hunger in Africa: all of this is but one side of the grim face of this global system. So it is imperative that you free yourselves from all of that and search for an alternative, upright methodology in which it is not the business of any class of humanity to lay down its own laws to its own advantage at the expense of the other classes as is the case with you, since the essence of man-made positive laws is that they serve the interests of those with the capital and thus make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

The infallible methodology is the methodology of Allah, the Most High, who created the heavens and earth and created the Creation and is the Most Kind and All-Informed and the Knower of the souls of His slaves and the methodology that best suits them. You believe with absolute certainty that you believe in Allah, and you are full of conviction of this belief, so much so that you have written this belief of yours on your dollar. But the truth is that you are mistake in this belief of yours. The impartial judge knows that belief in Allah requires straightness in the following of His methodology, and accordingly, total obedience must be to the orders and prohibitions of Allah Alone in all aspects of life. So how about you when you associate others with Him in your beliefs and separate state from religion, then claim that you are believers?! What you have done is clear loss and manifest polytheism. And I will give you a parable of polytheism, as parables summarize and clarify speech. I tell you: its parable is the parable of a man who owns a shop and hires a worker and tells him, "Sell and give me the money," but he makes sales and give the money to someone other than the owner. So who of you would approve of that? You believe that Allah is your Lord and your Creator and the Creator of this earth and that it is His property, then you work on His earth and property without His orders and without obeying Him, and you legislate in contradiction to His Law and methodology.

This work of yours is the greatest form of polytheism and is rebellion against obedience to Allah with which the believer becomes an unbeliever, even if he obeys Allah in some of His other orders. Allah, the Most High, sent down His orders in His Sacred Books like the Torah and Evangel and sent with them the Messengers (Allah's prayers and peace be upon them) as bearers of good news to the people. And everyone who believes in them and complies with them is a believer from the people of the Garden. Then when the men of knowledge altered the words of Allah, the Most High, and sold them for a paltry price, as the rabbis did with the Torah and the monks with the Evangel, Allah sent down His final Book, the magnificent Quran, and safeguarded it from being added to or subtracted from by the hands of men, and in it is a complete methodology for the lives of all people. And our holding firm to this magnificient Book is the secret of our strength and winning of the war against you despite the fewness of our numbers and materiel. And if you would like to get to know some of the reasons for your losing of your war against us, then read the book of Michael Scheuer in this regard. Don't be turned away from Islam by the terrible situation of the Muslims today, for our rulers in general abandoned Islam many decades ago, but our forefathers were the leaders and pioneers of the world for many centuries, when they held firmly to Islam.

And before concluding, I tell you: there has been an increase in the thinkers who study events and happenings, and on the basis of their study, they have declared the approach of the collapse of the American Empire. Among them is the European thinker who anticipated the fall of the Soviet Union, which indeed fell. And it would benefit you to read what he wrote about what comes after the empire in regard to the United States of America. I also want to bring to your attention that among the greatest reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union was their being afflicted with their leader Brezhnev, who was overtaken by pride and arrogance and refused to look at the facts on the ground. From the first year of the Afghanistan invasion, reports indicated that the Russians were losing the war, but he refused to acknowledge this, lest it go down in his personal history as a defeat, even though refusal to acknowledge defeat not only doesn't do anything to change the facts for thinking people, but also exacerbates the problem and increases the losses. And how similar is your position today to their position approximately two decades ago. The mistakes of Brezhnev are being repeated by Bush, who -when asked about the date of his withdrawing of forces from Iraq- said in effect that the withdrawal will not be during his reign, but rather, during the reign of the one who succeeds him. And the significance of these words is not hidden.

And here I say: it would benefit you to listen to the poignant messages of your soldiers in Iraq who are paying- with their blood, nerves and scattered limbs- the price for these sorts of irresponsible statements. Among them is the eloquent message of Joshua which he sent by way of the media, in which he wipes the tears from his eyes and describes American politicians in harsh terms and invites them to join him there for a few days. Perhaps his message will find in you an attentive ear so you can rescue him and more than 150,000 of your sons there who are tasting the two bitterest things: if they leave their barracks, the mines devour them, and if they refuse to leave, rulings are passed against them. Thus, the only options left in front of them are to commit suicide or cry, both of which are from the severest of afflictions. So is there anything more men can do after crying and killing themselves to make you respond to them? They are doing that out of the severity of the humiliation, fear and terror which they are suffering. It is severer than what the slaves used to suffer at your hands centuries ago, and it is as if some of them have gone from one slavery to another slavery more severe and harmful, even if it be in the fancy dress of the Defense Department's financial enticements.

So do you feel the greatness of their suffering?

To conclude, I invite you to embrace Islam, for the greatest mistake one can make in this world and one which is uncorrectable is to die while not surrendering to Allah, the Most High, in all aspects of one's life -i.e., to die outside of Islam. And Islam means gain for you in this first life and the next, final life. The true religion is a mercy for people in their lives, filling their hearts with serenity and calm. There is a lesson for you in the Mujahideen: the entire world is in pursuit of them, yet their hearts, by the grace of Allah, are satisfied and tranquil. The true religion also puts peoples' lives in order with its laws; protects their needs and interests; refines their morals; protects them from evils; and guarantees for them entrance into Paradise in the hereater through their obedience to Allah and sincere worship of Him Alone. And it will also achieve your desire to stop the war as a consequence, because as soon as the warmongering owners of the major corporations realize that you have lost confidence in your democratic system and begun to search for an alternative, and that this alternative is Islam, they will run after you to please you and achieve what you want to steer you away from Islam.
So your true compliance with Islam will deprive them of the opportunity to defraud the peoples and take their money under numerous pretexts, like arms deals and so on. There are no taxes in Islam, but rather, there is a limited Zakaat [alms] totaling only 2.5% . So beware of the deception of those with the capital. And with your earnest reading about Islam from its pristine sources, you will arrive at an important truth, which is that the religion of all of the Prophets (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them) is one, and that its essence is submission to the orders of Allah Alone in all aspects of life, even if their Shari'ahs [Laws] differ. And did you know that the name of the Prophet of Allah Jesus and his mother (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both) are mentioned in the Noble Quran dozens of times, and that in the Quran there is a chapter whose name is "Maryam", i.e. Mary, daughter of Imran and mother of Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both)? It tells the story of her becoming pregnant with the Prophet of Allah Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both), and in it is confirmation of her chastity and purity, in contrast to the fabrications of the Jews against her.

Whoever wishes to find that out for himself must listen to the verses of this magnificent chapter: one of the just kings of the Christians -the Negus- listened to some of its verses and his eyes welled up with tears and he said something which should be reflected on for a long time by those sincere in their search for the truth. He said, "Verily, this and what Jesus brought come from one lantern": i.e., that the magnificent Quran and the Evangel are both from Allah, the Most High; and every just and intelligent one of you who reflects on the Quran will definitely arrive at this truth. It also must be noted that Allah has preserved the Quran from the alterations of men. And reading in order to become acquainted with Islam only requires a little effort, and those of you who are guided will profit greatly.

And peace be upon he who follows the Guidance.