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What Osama bin Laden's Signature Tells Us About Evil

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A spate of recent murders leave us grappling to understand. So much ink is spilled as pundits and experts alike try to explain the unexplainable. A different type of ink trail can also inform our understanding of evil, a topic that surely defies an answer from any one source.

The field of graphology, or handwriting analysis, asserts that handwriting, in general, and signatures, specifically, relay information about the identity of the writer. The signature -- chosen as the writer's representative on the page -- often embeds symbols that may tell us about the writer's identifications.

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For example, we find an important symbol in the signature of Jane Russell, a sex symbol who rose to fame in the 1940s. She built a career around her buxom figure and even embedded a symbol of that attribute in the first letter of her surname (a name which, graphologically speaking, provides information about the writer's professional or public self). Even once she retired from films, Russell appeared in TV commercials, modeling brassieres.

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Compare her graphic symbol with that of filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, famous for his contribution to the genre of horror films. In his signature, we see a centrally placed sharp implement which stabs into the lower zone of the handwriting. Perhaps the underscore resembles a weapon of aggression, looking somewhat like a sword with a handle.

Looking at these signatures, we can note that their respective symbols do not dramatically distort the writings so as to render either signature completely illegible. In Russell's case, the symbol integrates comfortably into the handwriting, whereas the signature of Hitchcock only slightly distorts the 'd' and 'H' in his name. Still, in neither case is the signature - read 'the identity of the writer' - overwhelmed by a preoccupation that is so bloated that legibility is lost.

I present these two samples so that they can be compared to the final sample, an Arabic signature of Osama bin Laden. Take a close look at that signature before you read on. Look for symbols that would reveal important identifications.

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In their book, Sex, Lies, and Handwriting Dresbold and Kwalwasser point out that this signature is rife with symbols of violence. Starting at the right, we find a machine gun. In the middle, we see an image of a grenade with a pin, ready to be detonated. To the left, see a dead body with blood oozing out of the head. How does an identity become so completely saturated by violence?

My hunch tells me that when an identity becomes completely subsumed in this way, we are seeing not the mark of nature, not that of nurture, surely the influence of both. Beyond that, though, I suggest that the pronounced affinity for violence, to the extent that individuality is surrendered to an all consuming preoccupation, is forged by a lifetime of choices.

There is a parable told by a Native American shaman in the 2003 film, The Missing. It goes something like this: there are two dogs that live in the heart. One is good and one is bad. Which one rules? Whichever one you feed. Sometimes the accumulation of choices is so powerful -- and indelible -- that it saturates not just a life, but even leaves its bloody imprint in the handwriting.