I took the weekend to skip off to New York to visit my little girl, and for the ride, I picked up a little light reading.
Crossposted to The Suicidal Cactus Hour
Reza Aslan’s How To Win A Cosmic War asks fundamental questions on not just our own War on Terror, but at the success of globalization over secularism and nationalism, and the somewhat bitter fruit it has borne.
In particular, he traces the rise of Jihadists and compares their rise to the Christian Fundamentalists, Christian Nationalists, and Zionists. How Jihadism grew from fairly liberal religious nationalists in Egypt, and its eventual radicalization and exportation across the globe to a new transnationalist agenda. In part, because globalization has shown folks that even if they fail in effecting local change, that they can still have a great cause, and by framing it the context of Jihad, it is a grand site easier than the actual nitty gritty of running a state, and movement based on actually looking at issues that are often difficult, but lack the panache of tilting at the windmills of the West.
Out of an intellectual and political movement, Jihadists–and likewise Christian Fundamentalists–have learned to cut to the chase, and get to an easy to digest framework as a movement. Duty to God over nation.
Out of an intellectual movement based on effecting local change, the Jihadists–and others like our Christian Fundamentalists–frame perceived injustice with a great degree of sophistication. First identifying situations of injustice, assigning blame for those “responsible”, and then connecting that injustice to a larger framework. Likewise, we see the deployment of aligning that framework to create “In” groups and “Out” groups to help identify their enemy, and then work to make bystanders sympathetic or antagonistic to these groups, compelling them to take sides, and thus open the doors not just for collective identity, but for collective action.
Convenient is that the rhetoric is similar and compatible for discussion across the globe, when you compare Jihadists, Christian Fundamentalists, and Zionists. America, we are not so oddly drawn into this, not just in our foreign policy, but by our own roots as a form of America as seen as a brand of Christian Zionism. Our own history is replete with imagery of an Exodus to the New World. From Reverend Edwards’ “New Caanan” to Melville’s “Israel of our time.” And today, carried further by the likes of RJ Rushdoony’s own visions of a Messianic America. We are, as Reza Aslan puts it, in the midst of “Patriotism as religious devotion. Flag as totem.” And we have those who see the Constitution, not as the basis of our law and nation, but as Covenant with God and his new Chosen People.
Modern Evangelicsm, and its kissing cousin and paternal Fundamentalism came from a place where faith was under fire. From Darwin. Feminism. Scientific revolution. Literary criticism of the Bible itself, and the rise of a Christian liberalism that sought to reconcile tradition with social and scientific process, and the rise as well of modernization and growing secularism. The virulent Fundamentalism that grew from a backlash of these “threats” to God’s America was toned down by folks like Billy Graham, whose brand of Evangelicism was far more inclusive and much less fiery, but still defined by a population that saw itself as under siege. And a trait that it shares with many Jihadists.
Evangelicals and Jihadists can trace their journey, and often prejudices, and feed one another. Many Evangelicals don’t recognize Mormons or Catholics as Christians. Jihadists make declarations of takfir to declare other Muslims who disagree with them as infidels. Their own actions feed one another–with the infiltration during the last Administration of Evangelicals into the Air Force Academy, and US troops proselytizing in the course of their duties to a population under US guns, both the Jihadist and Evangelical agendas are advanced, and the feedback between the two–America and God under fire, as well as yet another Western Crusade against Islam.
Added into the mix, you have the Zionists who began their quest for a state late in the 19th Century. Sadly, there were people already living in that land, but that didn’t stop a campaign to de-emphasize the ties to the land by many, and aggressive campaigns in both intellectual circles, and politically, to foment the idea of a paired religious nationalist movement to “recapture” the Holy Land. A vision that was both glorious as it was inventive, and based entirely on the idea of expropriating the natives from their property and land–and de-emphasizing the ties of nationhood of the Palestinian people. While Aslan attributes much credit to Theodor Herzl for the intellectual groundwork for the state, David Ben-Gurion cut to the chase in a letter to his son in 1937: “The Arabs will have to go.”
Jewish nationalists began to frame their narrative. Palestinians weren’t a distinct nationality nor people. Not a national identity, but part of a larger “Arab nation” and thus had no claim to the land.
The problem is, that this rhetoric has been a two edged sword. Not only have the Palestinians congealed now into a cohesive people, but it likewise has framed the conflict beyond just the confines of borders. And it likewise prompted an evolution of thought on the very nature of such conflicts, and paved the way for the transnationalist movements that now plague not just Israel, Afghanistan, Dubai, Chechnya and others, but also spurred nationalist movements of their own. Israel in many ways created a Palestinian identity in the face of denial of its very existence.
Further, it has become an emblem and totem for a new breed of Islamist, in the face of an enemy that cannot be easily defeated. Conflict now with not just Israel, but the US who backs her, and the fears of what globalization will mean to religion and states as the West’s influence grows.
The radicalization has not just claimed lives in America or Europe, or Israel, but has killed far more Muslims as well. One tactic that the Jihadists have perfected not just a refutation of the admonitions against suicide in the Koran, as well as exhortations to not kill women, children, the elderly, or other Muslims. The practice of takfir–declaration of Muslims as infidels–has become a the best way to justify taking lives of their neighbors. They weren’t really Muslims, so killing them is just.
Never mind that over 170 Imams and religious scholars declared a Fatwa denouncing the practice, and denying its validity. No Muslim can declare another apostate has been the finding, and oddly enough, Jihadist instantly declared all 170 of these clerics and religious scholars immediately infidels and in the pocket of the West…
Consider, that Bin Laden had no formal training as an Imam, or law or theology for that matter. The global Jihad is not just anti-intellectual but anti-institutional, and unable to compete intellectually, it finds it far easier to undercut and deny the authority of those who stand against them. In much the same fashion that many Christian Fundamentalists and Evanglicals deny the authority of a government, or fetishsize those in government who agree with their Messianic message.
And meanwhile, religious Zionists seek to use the strife that they, in part, helped to cause, to further call for more stripping of those from their lands–and use the very acts of defiance against their own actions as justification and the whole mess continues round and round, and round, and round, and round again. It isn’t too far from the rise of nationalist movements in Britain as a reaction to a growing Muslim population in Europe and Great Britain. Cracking down on the Muslims only begets more strife, which feeds both the Jihadists from the rich ground of European born and bred Muslims, and their actions only feed these nationalists who wear their xenophobia as proud badges. The system gains energy from both sides egging one another on.
And that is really the question that Aslan raises: who do you fight a Cosmic War? How can you combat the rise of these groups who tangle not just with the secular governments that they are rejecting, but one another and see both as their enemy, and count on push back to feed their cycle and narrative?
The best way, is to not feed the cycle. Not to play the game…