Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Islam and the War on Terror

I meant to add this link to the last post but forgot to. It's to an excellent column by Timothy Garton-Ash on the way the west views Islam. The column is balanced and instructive and, in it, Garton-Ash examines 6 possible relationships between Islam and terrorism.

Very briefly, his possible explanations of the relationship are that:

1. The fundamental problem is not just Islam but religion itself.
2. The fundamental problem is not religion itself, but the particular religion of Islam.
3. The problem is not Islam but Islamism.
4. The nub of the problem is not religion, Islam or even Islamism, but a specific history of the Arabs.
5. We [the west] not they, are the root of the problem.
6. Whatever your view of the relative merits of the west and Islam, the most acute tension comes at the edges where they meet. It arises, in particular, from the direct, personal encounter of young, first- or second-generation Muslim immigrants with western, and especially European, secular modernity.

For what its worth (and I this is only my ‘working opinion’ – I’m no expert on the topic) I would argue that current tensions between the west and the Muslim world (and their manifestation in terrorism and the War on Terror) are a combination of points 1,3,4,5 & 6.

Or, in other words: much of the problem stems from the - unjust - way that the west has intervened (since the beginning of the colonial epoch) in Muslim lands and, in particular, in Arab (and Persian) Muslim lands. Too often we have supported reactionary forces at the expense of progressive forces (see for example our support of the Shah of Iran at the expense of Mossadech - spelt wrong sorry). Too often have we backed unjust dictators (see Saddam) and unjust actions (the repression of the Palestinian people). In doing so we have contributed to (but are not the only cause of) the dysfunctional politics of the Middle East. This has provided social space (and recruiting tools) for the reactionary elements of Whabbist Islam.

Radical Islamism itself is certainly part of the problem too: it is a vicious, reactionary and repressive movement. It is also one that has spread in the vacuum created by the failure of the state (and the repression of progressive segments of civil society) in much of the Muslim World.

While the ugliness and violence of radical Islam is - in the most part a product - of the repressive world that it has grown in, part of its nature is a also product of religion itself. After all, all (or almost all) religions have their own violent and repressive sects. Something which, in my mind, is a product of two things:

Firstly, the fact that - throughout history - religions have played a role as a tool of social control.

And, secondly, the fact that religions - through their appeal to the greater good - also provide an excuse for human evil. (Or, in other words, it's ok to harm another human being because you are acting on behalf of something that is greater than humans and human suffering). In saying this I am not arguing against religion. Although I'm agnostic (or a Pantheist on a good day) I believe that religion has the potential to be a motivating force for much good. Unfortunately, it also provides an excuse for much harm too.

To summarise then: Islamic terrorism, in my view, is a product of a repressive take on religion that has formed amongst a repressive part of the world. A part of the world where much injustice has been committed - some of which is the West's fault.

None of this, however, explains the terrorism committed by young (often educated and middle class) Muslim men living in the west. This is where Reason 6 comes in. People alienated in the manner described by Garton-Ash in Reason 6 - when provided with evidence of injustice and also the seduction of simple explanations (and solutions) to the problems they see and the discontent they feel - are prime recruits to a murderous cause. In this case a cause where murder is justified by an appeal to a 'higher' being.

Ok that’s enough for now. Although I would like to end with a disclaimer: explaining the causes of terrorism is not intended in any way as an attempt to excuse the phenomenon – there is no excuse for it. However, by trying to understand where terrorism comes from we – hopefully – give ourselves a better chance of vanquishing it.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Terence said...

hhhmmmmm....I am loath to remove any comments from this message board (seeing as it receives so few); however - anonomous - your comment was A) meaningless B) prejudiced and C) lacking in reason. So - three strikes and you are out. I'm happy to leave up comments that are in disagreement with me (and in this case comments that are critical of Islam); however, the need to be reasoned and free of prejudice.

And before you complain to me about free speach: I support free speach and would oppose legislation to curtail it; however, my own blog doesn't have to become a platform for nut jobs...

Terence said...

hhhmmmmm....I am loath to remove any comments from this message board (seeing as it receives so few); however - anonomous - your comment was A) meaningless B) prejudiced and C) lacking in reason. So - three strikes and you are out. I'm happy to leave up comments that are in disagreement with me (and in this case comments that are critical of Islam); however, the need to be reasoned and free of prejudice.

And before you complain to me about free speach: I support free speach and would oppose legislation to curtail it; however, my own blog doesn't have to become a platform for nut jobs...

Neal said...

Hi Terrence,

Here goes....

1. The fundamental problem is not just Islam but religion itself.

Well, religion can be said to be a problem as religion has caused a lot of mischief in the world. But, to note: it is not right wing American Christians who are looking to fly planes into buildings and justifying that horror on Christianity. Which is to say, the noted truism about religion does not address the issue of Jihadis. They are not a problem of religion per se as their acts are the acts of people who believe in a particular religion, Islam.

I accordingly take point 1 to be the position of people who do not bother to think.

2. The fundamental problem is not religion itself, but the particular religion of Islam.

I would say that the problem arises from a particular interpretation of Islam. Whether that is the entire issue is a different question but to deny that Islam is a problem - and, to note, you do not so deny - is to ignore what the Jihadists themselves say.

Now, the issue for Islam is that it is not a simple phenomena. Classical Jihad doctrine involved group activity under the command of the caliph. Which is to say, the classical Jihad doctrine involved armies, not NGO type actors - although there are important qualifications to this point (about which, more later). On the other hand, the Islam of the Prophet and his early sucessors, long before the classical Jihad doctrine existed, did involve the acts of individual terror. I have quoted this before (and you may have read it elsewhere) but it is worth reading - as the warriors described below are the real inspiration for today's Jihadis -:

"No one could have foreseen this staggering degree of military success, because for 300 years Arab armies were hardly armies at all. The early followers of Mohammed were desert tribes and clans called to the banner of the faith who fought in no organized formations. The idea of individual glory drove warriors to feats of great bravery, but at the same time made them impossible to organize as fighting units. For more than a century Arab soldiers fought with primitive weapons -- the personal sword, dagger, lance -- and wore no defensive armor or helmets. These conquering forces had no staff organization, no siegecraft capabilities, and no logistics trains. Tactics were almost nonexistent as these armies relied upon small hit-and-run raids, the razzias, and ambushes as their primary tactical maneuvers. Mobility was limited as most of the army moved on foot and fought as infantry accompanied by small contingents of camel cavalry. Even their size was small. The force that attacked and subdued Egypt (640-642) numbered no more than 4,000 men. But such corps of armed men could and did count on their numbers growing into the thousands as converts flocked to their cause along the line of march."

Later, during the period in which the classical doctrine of Islam was set down on paper - (i.e. the doctrine requiring war to subdue the entire world under Muslim rule in accordance with Islamic law) - some of the above continued. Which is to say, raids into enemy territory were a regular feature of life in which Muslim Jihadist would enter, for example, from Andulusia into the remaining Christian regions of Spain and even up into France on a regular (i.e. multiple times a year) basis. Tactics included terror type tactics such as burning down churches, taking hostages, committing massacres, etc.

So, while today's Jihadis, often followers of salafist Islam (and hence conscious of the early warrior stage of Islam), are reminiscent of the early Muslim conquerors, their tactics are rather similar to those who raided Europe in the Middle Ages and beyond - continuing to do so until the Muslims were pushed back and could no longer do so.

Clearly, Islam does having something to do with what is going on.

3. The problem is not Islam but Islamism.

Yes and no. This is more a definitional than a real point. Islamism is classical Islam but conscious of the early legacy of Islam to the extent of using that legacy for purposes of reviving Islamic power in the world.

4. The nub of the problem is not religion, Islam or even Islamism, but a specific history of the Arabs.

Well, the specific history of the Arabs is certainly important. That is certainly true. But it is not true to the negation of Islam as causal. Moreover, there are a very great many non-Arabs involved in the Jihad and the Jihad is directed against even the regime in Thailand. So, clearly, point 4 does not add much.

5. We [the west] not they, are the root of the problem.

This point is the point of secular people who sound much like OT prophets (who blamed ancient Israel's ups and downs on their own moral behavior).

It is certainly true that the West conquered the Muslim regions. But the West also conquered India and China. The conquest of the Muslim regions was less thorough in character than the conquest of either India or China. So, I think this point is not all that important.

People who adopt this argument tend to focus on Israel's creation. Well, it is certainly true that Arabs have an in for Israel. But, so do Europeans. I take this analysis as nonsense although there are, in fact, actual disputes involving the Muslims and non-Muslims.

6. Whatever your view of the relative merits of the west and Islam, the most acute tension comes at the edges where they meet. It arises, in particular, from the direct, personal encounter of young, first- or second-generation Muslim immigrants with western, and especially European, secular modernity.

This point is half true. The same problem arises in places where Muslims do not meet anyone but Muslims. Which is to say, the same problem is occurring wherever there are Muslims.

Terence said...

Neal,

Thanks for your comment. As always your perspective is well-informed. As almost always (wait for it) I profoundly disagree with you.

Here (briefly) is why:
(and I've used the numbering from Garton-Ash and yourself)

1. You wrote "it is not right wing American Christians who are looking to fly planes into buildings and justifying that horror on Christianity" Hang on a minute here. Do you have any recollection of Timothy McVeigh or, for that matter, those people in the USA who conduct acts of terror against abortion clinics. They use religion to justify their actions and their religion ain't Islam. True their are fewer of these Christianity inspired acts at present (and they kill fewer people) but at the same time the world's sole superpower is headed by a professed Christian and I would suggest that they are less-inspired to attack a system that is ruled by one of their own.

2. I've heard you say all this before and I am not convinced. It is true that Islam had its origin in times of conquest, but the religion of the past does not have to be the religion of the present. Look at the history of Christianity: Christians no longer stone people for wearing cloths made from two types of fabric, nor for growing two different crops in the same field. Nor do they prohibit anymore the making of money from money. Religions can and do move on. As is witnessed by the vast majority of Muslims who are not Jihadis. As is witnessed, I might add, by the Israeli Arabs, who live in the heart of the "Caliphate" and yet don't commit acts of terrorism. Instead they work hard and play an active part in the democratic process. I'm sure that you are able to give me examples of exceptions to this, but that is beside the point. My point is that the majority of these people live in peace.

3. No real quibbles here except that the same could be said for a lot of religions.

4. You make a reasonable point here. I'm still not sure that I agree entirely, but I will mull it over.

5. The west never conquered China. It subjugated it after a fashion for a while. As for India, Great Britain withdrew from India at the end of WW2 about the period where our intervention in the Middle East hotted up. As of today, the west is in no way as actively involved in the rule of India and China as it is in the rule of several key middle eastern states. I do agree with you on one thing though. People who focus this point entirely on Israel are misguided. The west's intervention in the Middle East is much broader and concerns much other than the survival of the state of Israel (the existence of which I obviously support). Most importantly it concerns oil.

6. You are totally wrong here. Name me one country where Muslims do not, in some way, come into significant contact with western culture. In Europe this means contact with Europeans but in many other cultures it simply means contact with those aspects of western culture appropriated by their elites.

Ok enough from me. Feel free to offer a rejoinder; however, I may not have time to reply.

Cheers

Terence

Neal said...

Terence,

More later. For now, a country where Muslims do not come in contact with the West in any serious way is Yemen. Also Saudi Arabia.

Neal

Neal said...

You write: Do you have any recollection of Timothy McVeigh...

The McVeigh bombing was, in fact, a terrorist incident that rivals Jihadi violence so it is worth considering. Where I disagree with you is when you assert "They use religion to justify their actions..." I am not so sure that is correct. Without regurgitating everything written about the subject, I note the following points first, with respect to him and then, second, with respect to how such acts fit into the scheme of Western society, as in the US.

First, I note the article about McVeigh that appears in Wikipedia. While I do not take that source as definitive, I note that it manages to discuss him and his motives without suggesting a Christian motive. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_McVeigh ). Another article in Wikipedia, which discusses the bombing itself says, in pertinent part ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma_City_bombing ):

At McVeigh's trial, the United States Government asserted that the motivation for the attack was to avenge the deaths of Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, who he believed had been murdered by agents of the federal government. McVeigh called the casualties in the bombing "collateral damage" and compared the bombing to actions he had taken during the Gulf War. The attack was staged on the second anniversary of the Waco incident. McVeigh is thought to have modeled the bombing on a similar event described in The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist novel that was found with McVeigh when he was arrested. Some have suggested that the date was purposely chosen in these instances as it coincides with the beginning of the American Revolutionary War and hence represents a date for bold action.

What is stated above is consistent with what appears in newspaper articles that I read at the time. While those involved no doubt have and had (in the case of McVeigh) beliefs of some sort, it is not clear that religion was much involved and, more particularly, groups of the type that McVeigh belonged to really are not, by their own view, Christian in belief. In fact, they generally have disdain for Christianity.

I note that the Turner Diaries were, evidently, of some importance to McVeigh. Such materials came from the National Alliance, an anti-Christian group. I would highly recommend that you read this article about the National Alliance, the source of the Turner Diaries, so that you better appreciate why what you write really is incorrect. (http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/N_Alliance.asp?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America&xpicked=3&item=na ). I note this from the article:

NA members believe that people can control their destiny within the laws of nature, and they spurn religious doctrine involving divine transcendence - including Christianity, in whose churches most of its members were raised. "We are obliged...to oppose the Christian churches and to speak out against their doctrines," the group's handbook states. "It is not an Aryan religion...like the other Semitic religions [it] is irredeemably primitive."

Now, your point about anti-abortionists is interesting but trivial. Their violence does have religious overtones and avowedly so. But, you might also note that, all told, there has been rather little violence - at least compared to violence by supremacist groups and other such lunatics - or, more particularly, compared to Islamists (who have killed millions of people already). Mostly, anti-abortionists protest by harassing people and the clinics themselves. But you are certainly correct that their motivation is found in Christianity.

My second broad point, as promised above, is a comparison between Islamists and the lunatics like McVeigh.

You will note that, for example but not only in Saudi Arabia, leading clerics (i.e. official clerics) have stated their support for violent Jihad against the West. Such clerics have, moreover, given their blessing - as, in issued fatwa - providing religious cover for the use of nuclear weapons against civilians in the US. The sources who issued these fatwas are not marginal - as would be the case were McVeigh, in fact, involved in Christian terror - but respected clerics (i.e. people of high standing in society).

Which is to say, the sort of violence being advocated has mainstream support and, moreover, is not out of the ordinary in the Islamic regions. It is, in short, a very different phenomena than what is involved with McVeigh and the National Alliance and the various groups on the lunatic fringe of American society.

You note lastly, with respect to this point, that the President of the US is an avowed Christian. That is certainly true. You will note that every person who has ever served as President of the US has been an avowed Christian. Jimmy Carter professed the same sorts of beliefs, pretty much, as Mr. Bush. In fact, Carter claimed to be "born again." But, you will also note that the prime minister of Britain, Mr. Blair, is a believing Christian as well although, if I recall, he is Catholic. In most European countries, there is an established religion (Catholic or one or another form of Protestantism).

Now, it is certainly true that the US is more openly religious than Europe. And it is certainly true that there has been terrorism in the US. But it is certainly not true that there has been much terror in the name of the almighty in the US.

Next topic...

You write: "It is true that Islam had its origin in times of conquest, but the religion of the past does not have to be the religion of the present."

I have not said anything different. Islam does not have to be different. However, it is different as Muslims mostly believe and believe deeply. According to MJ Akbar (pages 191 - 192 of Shade of Sword):

Some conceptual misunderstanding arises from a word that has become shorthand for all problems: fundamentalism. To most in the West, fundamentalism is some repository of all evil. If however, by fundamentalism you imply conviction in the basic tenets of the faith, then more than ninety per cent of the Muslim population is fundamentalist. Any other term - say, Islamist - appears equally prone to misinterpretation. The better solution might be to use 'fundamentalism', but explain what it does not imply.

Most Christians might shrug if asked whether they really believed that Jesus turned water into wine, or raised Lazarus from the dead. Muslims by contrast do not doubt that Allah's angels helped the Prophet at the battle of Badr. Allah is a living god to them, as palpable and meaningful as an ideal parent might be. Muslims do not understand the implicit equation between faith and terrorism that is so often made by Christians whose own faith seems to have lapsed.

Maybe you disagree with Akbar. I think he is correct. I think the reason why the use of language is so prevalent in the terror coming from people of Muslim background is that belief plays a major role. And, the most apparent point about the Jihadis is that they claim to be religious and to commit violence to honor Allah (Jihad fi sabil Allah literally, "striving in the path of Allah," the terminology traditionally associated with violent war to spread Muslim rule).

Now, the Islam of the origins of Islam does not need to be the Islam of today. That, in logic terms, states a possibility. The issue here, and this is a question of investigation, not logic, is to understand what today’s Muslims believe.

I read an interesting book about Islam by a quasi-apologist. The book received stellar reviews in the New York Times, among other places. The title is No God But God and the author is Reza Aslan. Regarding violence and Islam, Aslan dedicates good portions of the book to dispel the notion that the two are linked.

He notes that (a) during the early years of Islam, all religions were religions of the sword, (b) that the formalization of the requirement to make war was a reaction to the Crusades (which, in fact, is wrong as the formalization existed as early as the 9th Century), (c) that in the 19th Century new doctrines appeared (e.g. in India) where violent Jihad was reserved solely to circumstances where Muslims were not allowed to practice their religion (which is true, particularly in India, but was not a doctrine that gained anything but a relatively small following) but (d) that in the 20th Century, the Wahhabist doctrine has spread widely and such has resulted in cutting off the true, peaceful Islam (i.e. the doctrine which appeared for the first time in the 19th Century) and taken the religion to a state of violence. Removing the fluff from Aslan’s argument, he is saying that (a) Islam began violently, (b) made use of violence for offensive purposes into a theology but (c) with the exception of a few thinkers in the 19th Century, is still violent in its core teachings.

I note that Goldhizer, also almost an apologist for Islam but one who is careful to stay true to facts, admits in his very famous work Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law that Islamic theology calls for eternal war to bring the entire world under Muslim rule and Islamic law.

I guess I really do not understand your argument that the Islam of the entire history of Islam is not the Islam that exists today. I think, beyond doubt, Islam has reformed less than any of the other monotheistic religion. That is, in fact, the point as classical Islamic doctrine requires the making of war for the reasons addressed.

My suggestion is that you investigate this point. It is not really a contentious issue except for people interested in advancing a political agenda. I note, in particular, that Goldhizer lived in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and that his agenda was to present Islam in the most positive light possible. He was the very first Westerner allowed to attend al-Azhar, the great Islamic university. He was a real friend of Islam and even he notes that war, theologically speaking, is rather central to Islam.

There is a hadith (i.e. saying or tales of the Prophet) which reads something like: "there is no monasticism in Islam; the monasticism of Islam is the holy war [Jihad fi sabil Allah]." Jihad, as war, is a major component of Islam. Muslims, who want to follow in the shoes of Allah’s Prophet, have the Prophet as their main guide. His life was, by any standards, dominated by war. That, unlike either Christianity or Judaism (for whom the major guides are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses), creates unique issues for Islam.

Terence said...

Neal,

I might try and offer a fuller response over the weekend but, for now, from the same wikipedia article that you linked to - on Mcveigh:

McVeigh was born in Western New York State in Pendleton (near Buffalo) to an Irish-American Catholic family, which was riven by divorce. McVeigh and his siblings lived with their father, a devout Catholic who often attended Daily Mass. Timothy McVeigh's religious beliefs seem to have been shaken somewhat, but not lost entirely, as he was visited by a chaplain while he was in federal prison in Indiana, and never renounced his faith.

Terence said...

Neal,

One more thing...The Branch Davidians were a splinter of the Seventh Day Adventist church, which is (and you can quiblle here if you like) an evangelical Christian church. So while it is ture that Christianity as such may not have been McVeigh's primary motive, he was a Christian angered about the attack on a Christian Sect. So I think it's fair to say that Christianity played a role here.

As for mainstream Saudi preachers expressing support of Jihad...do you want me to start quoting Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwel to you?????

And, one last thing, Saudi Arabia is most certainly a place where western culture and Islam come into contact. I'm willing to concede Yemen for now although simply because I need to stop googeling and start getting some work done :) .

Cheers

Terence

Neal said...

Terence,

You write: As for mainstream Saudi preachers expressing support of Jihad...do you want me to start quoting Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwel to you?????

Has either Robertson or Falwell issued a detailed religious ruling - not a mere off the cuff comment - that it is ok to use nuclear weapons on anyone? Answer: No. Have either of them said idiotic, bigotted things? Answer: Yes and very often.

Has any mainstream Saudi preacher issued a detailed religious ruling (i.e. a fatwa), - not a mere statement - that it is ok to use nuclear weapons on anyone? Answer: Yes. Have any of them said idiotic, bigotted things? Answer: Yes and very often.

You confuse people's ramblings with studied analysis, based on religious texts (e.g. Qu'ran and ahaditha), giving religious blessing for the use of nuclear weapons, etc. I might add: if you investigate Islamic culture a bit - and it is well worth your time as there is positive along with the negative -, you will find that obtaining a fatwa is a necessary prerequisite to a heinous war tactic. Historically, Muslims use to bring clerics with them in order to gain blessing - or have it denied - for barbaric acts such as the commission of a massacre.

Neal said...

Correction:

In the above post, I wrote: "Has either Robertson or Falwell issued a detailed religious ruling - not a mere off the cuff comment - that it is ok to use nuclear weapons on anyone? Answer: No. Have either of them said idiotic, bigotted things? Answer: Yes and very often."

I should not have stated "very often." It would have been more accurate to say "occasionally."

Neal said...

Terence,

You write: One more thing...The Branch Davidians were a splinter of the Seventh Day Adventist church, which is (and you can quiblle here if you like) an evangelical Christian church. So while it is ture that Christianity as such may not have been McVeigh's primary motive, he was a Christian angered about the attack on a Christian Sect. So I think it's fair to say that Christianity played a role here.

The assumption you make is that McVeigh was angered because the Branch Davidian sect was "Christian." That is not a reasonable assumption at all. Large segments of the US, including both Democrats and Republicans, were outraged by what occured at Waco. So far as I know, the government's action was relatively - albeit not entirely - unprecedented and difficult to understand. Quite a number of people died and many, on the very, very far right fringe of the very, very far right wing of the political spectrum took the view that the government had demonstrated itself to be a tyranny. Hence, they declared war on the government.

These people are lunatics. But, you are grasping at straws to turn the matter into something it is not, namely, terrorism inspired by religious faith. That view is not supported by the record.

By the way, the word verification form is a pain in the neck. For what reason are you using it?

Anonymous said...

Before making my comment, Terence, let me state how thrilled I am to have discovered this blog of yours. We lost contact (probably to your relief) after the odious Mr Hari shut down his comments, but I found this link at Harry's place, on the thread where you speculated I might turn up (which leads me to observe that a Hari Refugees forum would not be a bad idea). Let me also note that I am generally pleased with the scare the latest election has given Helen Clark, and I am especially pleased that over 80% of the electorate voted with one of the two major parties, suggesting that the habit of first-past-the-post has been retained: ie, when it really matters, you generally don't vote for a minor party. May the uncertainty of the result portend the scrapping of MMP, an abject failure by any standard.

Anyway, on to my main point:
You claim that 'religions have played a role as a tool of social control'. However, that is certainly not the case with certain branches of Christianity. For Popery, yes: clearly, the Pope, in an effort to cover up the fact that he is a spiritually empty person devoid of all ecclesiastical power except perhaps that of Bishop of Rome, has, for at least a thousand years, abused his temporal authority to bring ruin upon his wretched subjects. Witness the bravely defiant ex-Papists his minions burned in Spain in the 15th Century. Witness the terrible rapes and pillages he commanded against a steadfastly independent Constantinople, culminating with its sack in 1204. Finally, witness the fact that the people of Protestant Ulster, loyal subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, are among most learned, the most cultured, the most elevated on the entire island of Ireland, while the miserable folk who inhabit the potato Republic to the south are kept in abject poverty and ignorance by a Pope determined to retain control over them.
However, obligatory anti-Papist diatribe ended, let us now turn our attention to one Church that is in no sense used as a tool of social control: the Anglican Church, at which, it is true, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, of Great Britain, Ireland, and Her Dominions Beyond the Sea (including New Zealand) proudly stands as Supreme Governor--but without even exercising this power outside of England. Furthermore, the common people themselves have a substantial role in financing parishes, selecting priests, selecting the paths the Church will take--both directly, at the local level, and indirectly, through their representatives in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which has quite a bit of control over the Church (for instance, it is the First Lord of the Treasury, Anthony Blair, who has taken upon himself the power of suggesting to his Sovereign whom to appoint as the Church's chief minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury). Outside England, as I'm sure you've seen in New Zealand, the Church is even less controlled by politicians, but rather serves as a way to guide good souls toward a righteous life worthy of salvation by the Lord.

Also, you are wrong in suggesting that Christianity (as opposed to Islam, and excluding Popery here), 'provide[s] an excuse for human evil'. Given the fact that God Himself established the Church as His earthly domain, and given that God is all-good, how could His servants use His institution to perpetrate evil? Of course, they could be guilty of perverting His word, but, if one acts strictly within the word of God, one is incapable of evil. Hence, I'd love to hear an example of non-Papist Christian evil, committed by using a proper interpretation of Christianity as its justification, because I certainly can't think of any.

Hmm...you do have the power to delete my comments... Anyway, I hope that was a good return to form, and I hope to be back soon.

Later,
Chris

Neal said...

Chris,

You write:

Of course, they could be guilty of perverting His word, but, if one acts strictly within the word of God, one is incapable of evil.

How do you know what the correct interpretation of the word of God is? Did he visit you and say, for example, "Your church got the measure just right, except for this passage in Luke"? Or, do you just think you know the correct interpretation?

Chris said...

Neal: I think you're dealing a bit too much in abstractions here. After all, most of the Bible is descriptive, not prescriptive: it describes events that took place and that shall take place, and records verses, proverbs, and the like--none of this is material that one can act on. For the parts of the Bible that are prescriptive, such as the Ten Commandments, there can't be too much dissension once an agreed-upon translation is found. So, for instance, Exodus 20:13 really means 'Thou shalt not murder'. If you can cite an example of a murder--as opposed to a justified killing--committed by one acting in the name of Christ, I would like to see it.
And no, God doesn't talk when He visits us.
Chris

Terence said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Neal said...

Chris,

If you are referring to my earlier comments, you are quite mistaken. Large numbers of Muslims are, at present, acting precisely on the precepts of their religion. Evangelicalism - as in spreading the faith by increasing the portion of the world governed by Muslims and Islamic law - is central to Islam and, moreover, violence in connection with such evangelicalism is considered acceptable and, to some extent, desirable.

Chris said...

Neal,
Perhaps I did not make myself sufficiently clear, but by non-violent religions I was referring solely to non-Catholic Christians. I agree entirely with your assertion that spreading Islam has a strong component of violence associated with it, and that that violence is condoned both by Islamic 'holy' texts and by Muslim religious authorities.

Neal said...

Chris,

Ok. I see. Referring back to the comment your that you likely had in mind (i.e. "If you can cite an example of a murder--as opposed to a justified killing--committed by one acting in the name of Christ, I would like to see it.), I think your version plays games with words.

Who distinguishes what is justified from what is merely murder. The Christian Testament surely does not. Nor does the Jewish Testament. The distinctions all come from interpretation. In the case, for example, of the Jewish tradition, the rabbis made the distinctions based on the Torah and its interpretations by the Talmud and Midrash. Hence, to Jews, most of the Torah serves to create prescriptive rules, not merely the Ten Commandments. Christianity, of course, adopted a less prescriptive approach but, nonetheless, makes distinctions rather similar to those made by Jews.

Consider, for example, the case of the story of Adam and Eve. To Christians, the story has seminal signficance. To Jews, the story does not. Christians see original sin with reference to the story. Jews view the story as suggesting that life is a struggle, not a time in the Garden of Eden.

One can always take the position that any killing committed in the name of Christ is "justified" as it is a question of interpretation. That, after all, is what lawyers attempt to do when they have a client plead "self defense."

One must know the criteria employed to distinguish murder from justified killing. Was Moses justified when he killed? Or, does scripture take the view that he was not. I would take it that scripture condemns him since he is denied his entry into the promised land. But, he was allowed to live and lead his people despite his moral flaws. So, who knows?

Let us take the Crusades. Were the massacres of Jews committed by the Crusaders on their way to fight the Muslims (or the Eastern Christians) "justified" or were they examples of mass "murder" or were they not committed in the name of Christ? Those involved evidently thought they were doing Christ's will.

Terence said...

Sigh,

Chris it's nice to see that your zealotry is unabated. Particularly as you help me prove a point....

Neal, having read Chris's posts, tell me again do you really think that Christianity is wholly benign?

Now Chris back to you...good to hear that you got so much glee from Labour’s reduced majority in New Zealand’s last election. Although, I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t half as much joy as I got from the fact that National didn’t win. Not even with one of the best election campaigns ever run in our country’s history; not even with race bating and tax abating demagoguery; not with Lynton Crosby; not even with the help of the Exclusive Brethren. And, next time you, Wiki-up NZ’s election results make sure that you check out the miniscule proportion of the population who voted for the following parties: Destiny New Zealand, Christian Heritage, Libertarianz. They’re you’re kind of parties and, guess what, they got nowhere. Indeed the Libertarianz managed to poll a mighty 946 votes - performing the spectacular feet of campaigning on a platform of 1% tax and actually managing to get a final percentage of votes that was twenty-times smaller than this. Surely a unique political achievement.

Terence said...

Neal,

One last time - a practicing Christian is enraged by the government's attack on a Christian Church and commits an act of terrorism. Are you really trying to tell me that Christianity had nothing to do with this?

And as for the abortion clinic bombers. I am amazed that you can dismiss this as trivia. Hardly trivial for those who died! Are you also telling me that Al Qaeda's first attack on the World Trade Centre was a trivial event because only a few people died?

If religion (when it is not Islam) has nothing to do with terrorism, can you explain to me what caused the terrorism in Northern Ireland? Can you explain to me what motivated Guy Fawkes and his gunpowder plot? Can you explain to me why a Buddhist state (Sri Lanka) commits acts of terrorism against the Hindu minority there. Can you explain to me why this minority (the Tamils) stage terrorist attacks on the Hindu majority in this country? Can you explain to me why a Sikh assassinated the Hindu Indian prime minister and why then the Hindu majority of this country then when on a killing spree terrorising innocent Sikhs. Can you explain to me the recent murder of Muslims in Gujarat by Hindus. Can you explain to me the actions of Jewish terrorists (such as Baruch Goldstein and the chap who murdered Rabin. Can you explain all of this to me without religion being involved?

Terence said...

Neal,

I will, however, concede one point. Something that I think you argued very lucidly. The word verification in this comments page is a nuisence. I shall turn it off.

Neal said...

Terence,

I do not think Christianity is in any way superior to Islam. I think Islam is different and causes problems for different reasons than Christianity. I did not say that there is no terrorism associated with Christianity. I noted, in particular, that the terror committed by McVeigh was not motivated by Christianity. I do not think that point contraversial. On the other hand, I recall saying that abortion clinics were attacked by Christians and based on their understanding of God's will.

I think that the issue with the abortion clinic is instructive so let's deal with it and compare it with Islamic Jihadism. Christian violence against abortion clinics, as I understand it, is based on their interpretation of the book of Genenis, namely, the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, and, mixed therewith, the decalogue commandment not to kill. In other words, there is no general drive to commit terror. There is a particular state of affairs deemed wrong which some lunatics use as inspiration to harrass people and, in a very few incidents, kill people.

Compare that with Islamic Jihadism. What follows can safely be said to be the religious justification for Jihad. What follows was written by the world's leading expert, probably ever, on Islam, Ignaz Goldhizer. He was enamored of Islam and believed the religion rather tolerant compared to Christianity. Which is to say, he is and, in his day, was considered a great friend of Islam to the extent that he was the very first Westerner ever permitted to attend the al-Azhar University (i.e. the great university of Sunni Islam). This passage explains, rather succinctly, the meaning of Jihad to Muslims:

In addition to the religious duties imposed upon each individual professing Islam, the collective duty of the "jihad" (= "fighting against infidels") is imposed on the community, as represented by the commander of the faithful. Mohammed claimed for his religion that it was to be the common property of all mankind, just as he himself, who at first appeared as a prophet of the Arabs, ended by proclaiming himself the prophet of a universal religion, the messenger of God to all humanity, or, as tradition has it, "ila al-aḥmar wal-aswad" (to the red and the black). For this reason unbelief must be fought with the force of weapons, in order that "God's word may be raised to the highest place." Through the refusal to accept Islam, idolaters have forfeited their lives. Those "who possess Scriptures" ("ahl al-kitab"), in which category are included Jews, Christians, Magians, and Sabians, may be tolerated on their paying tribute ("jizyah") and recognizing the political supremacy of Islam (sura ix. 29). The state law of Islam has accordingly divided the world into two categories: the territory of Islam ("dar al-Islam") and the territory of war. ("dar al-ḥarb"), i.e., territory against which it is the duty of the commander of the faithful ("amir al-mu'minin") to lead the community in the jihad.

There is nothing like this doctrine in Christianity. Nothing at all. Christians kill and are evangelical and do all the bad things that Muslims do. Still, there is no doctrine anything like the above. And the above doctrine is, in fact, that which the Jihadis rely upon to make war - it is their moral justification for war -. Which is to say, war has a moral justification in Islam that is rather unique. War is morally mandatory so long as part of the world is ruled by infidel. The collective duty of Muslims is to spread the faith, by war, as necessary.

Which is to say, the attacks against the West, whatever, if any, non-religious motivation there may be, receive both motivation and a moral rationale from Islam which goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Muslim. That is quite a different thing from those attacking abortion clinics because abortions are believed to violate God's law regarding procreation and not killing. In Islam, it is, to those who follow the classical form of the faith, sufficient justification - in fact, it is the moral duty of Muslims - to make war if the war is made against infidels.

Again, I am not saying that Islam is worse than Christianity. Rather, the two religions are different. Christianity has managed, over the years, to inspire much that is rather heinous. Ask any non-Christian about Christian "love" and you will get a big laugh. Examine how Christians treated non-Christians living within Christiandom and you will find conditions often worse than what the Muslims forced onto non-Muslims they conquered.

Terence said...

Hi Neal,

Just quickly - and my last post on the topic.

What matters to me is not doctrine, but what people do with it. In which case, any totalising doctrine - any doctrine that gives a rationale for over riding human rights - has the potential for violent repression. If Islam were the problem per se than the only violators of human rights would be Muslims. Clearly this is not the case. Indeed, the vast majority of the world's Muslims live in peace. While on the other hand almost every religion (and quite a few secular beliefs) have their violent sects. Clearly the problem is not Islam but totalising belief + violence.

By the way, within 5 minutes of switching off word verification this blog started being spammed. So the verification is back on.

Have a good weekend.

Terence

Neal said...

Terence,

Your point is fairly taken. Yes, it matters what people do with their faith.

On the other hand, Islam has a rather unique history. Basically, from day one, violence has been involved. The original leaders of the religion conquered, within 100 years, what was, at the time, the largest empire the world had ever known. War continued, as a constant, until the empire was defeated militarily. There were splits and the above picture is a slight simplification, of course. But, within a short period, a new, violent group, entered the picture and, once again, war and conquest resumed.

Which is to say, historically, Muslims have taken the above quoted explanation rather seriously.

Now, the issue here is not, as I see it, to explain terrorism. The issue is to explain the terrorism directed against us. The terror against us comes from Islamic theology, beyond all doubt.

Now, the proof that terrorism cannot be explained merely by the fact that religion is involved is the fact that non-religious people also commit terrorism. Think about the Soviet revolution and the terror associated with it. Ditto the anarchists.

Again, the terror against the West comes from the Islamic theological precept which calls for war. It is a unique precept which, historically, the Muslims have resorted except during periods when the Muslim regions were conquered.

Enjoy the weekend.

Chris said...

Seems that didn't go through;

Ah, yes, Neal, the question 'Who decides?' is ever a conundrum. You're right, it can be quite unclear, as the Bible isn't specific enough for all contexts. But, since you did specify an actual situation, the Crusades, I have this to say about them: I excepted the Catholic Church from my criteria above, given my dislike for it and its known history of violence. Also, you are incorrect in saying that 'Christians' as a whole view the Adam and Eve episode as the source of original sin. Catholics and some Protestants do, but other Protestants, along with Orthodox, do not. The Orthodox, for instance, see sin as a condition to which man is generally prone given the fallen state of the universe, but do not see it as an inherited condition. Otherwise, why was the Virgin Mary exempt? Was she not human?--she was, but it was through her own goodness that she managed never to sin.

Terence:
Indeed, I'm sure your glee was greater, but 2008 is just around the corner, you know, unless, of course, Madame Clark manages to destroy the country before then--a distinct possibility.
race bating and tax abating demagoguery
No: the Maori seats must go. Justice for all, and equal rights too! And taxes are way too high. They're always too high (except in Somalia). That's not demagoguery, it's social justice.

You're right, 'we' (so to speak), gave it our all, and we still lost, but you know why? Because Clark stole and co-opted OUR positions. That's when white New Zealanders who voted for Labour in droves in 2002 and 1999 felt safe voting for Labour once again. Otherwise, National would have likely have cruised to a majority. But I'm glad to see that rural areas, where genuine New Zealanders live (not the urban socialists of Wellington), went overwhelmingly for National.

And you're also right that Libertarianz fared poorly (to say the least): they should have called for 0% tax! Also, you're right that my kind of party (ideally, a Libertarianz-Christian Heritage blend) was not too hot on election night, but if you gave us Stewart Island for a few years to test our policy there, people would come around. Furthermore, it's called incrementalism: National is really Libertarianz/Christian Heritage dressed up in presentable, moderate garb. But after a couple of terms of National rule, coupled with parties we can do business with (NZ First, ACT, United Future--all of which did win seats, though at a reduced rate, due to the tight contest), the mask will start to slip, and gloriously unfettered capitalism, coupled with racial justice and a reinvigorated Christianity, will once again have a relentlessly tight grip on New Zealand. And with a 0% tax rate.

Chris said...

And you know why Libertarianz did so badly? Because they support a Republic. Outside of Wellington, New Zealanders love their Sovereign, and open Republicanism just doesn't fly electorally in NZ today. Republicanism by stealth, yes, given Clark's relentless efforts to gut the majesty and prestige of the Monarchy by a thousand petty injustices, but openly advocating the overthrow of the Crown is a losing proposition.

Terence said...

well argued Chris. And I am forced to concede a point: if New Zealand had a 0% tax system then we probably would end up like Somalia. Speaking of utopias - why haven't you moved there yet. I mean, sure, it's a muslim country but think of all the potential converts. Of course with no state to protect your minority status things might be a little edgey for a while, but I'm sure you'd find a way around this.