Is Middle Eastern (or more accurately, Near-Eastern) peace even possible? Neo-Ottoman Turkey has a leadership that is revanchist and desires regional dominance. Shi’ite Iran’s militant fundamentalism has created fear in its Sunni rivals and a strategic need for a secure Shiite Crescent that protects the areas Shias. Arab politics, according to Lee Smith, is defined by an addiction to passion that is of necessity, irrational, maximalist and millenarian while Arab nationalism, is no more than an ‘elevated tribal covenant’ with Islam as its engine, unable to confront its failures because of its unstoppable successes over a thousand-year period. (Lee Smith “The Strong Horse).
In a region in which corruption and totalitarianism is the norm, can ethnic competition ever make way for peaceful co-existence? To paraphrase Lee, “Fundamentalism is not drawn from the extremist fringe but represents the political and social norm”.”
It has been quite an interesting couple of weeks for the Jews. There were the Israeli elections that saw a prime minister who may soon be indicted on corruption charges re-elected for an unprecedented fifth term. Then only a couple of days ago it was revealed that probable, near-future British Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sang the praises of a century old book on Imperialism. Written in 1902 when the European political classes celebrated bigotry as an act of ethnic cultural and racial superiority over every-one else, this book reflected the ubiquity of that prejudice. That this translated into a book that is replete with antisemitic references as well as bigotry against people of colour should have made any normal 21st Century human being, at the very least uncomfortable. Jeremy Corbyn’s review ran to eight-pages in which he thought not once to comment on the book’s unsavoury associations. An article in a newspaper was headlined “Siren call of a Fourth Reich is spreading, warns Nazi Germany expert”. The leader of the Palestinian Authority took the opportunity of Holocaust Memorial Day to blame the Jews for the Shoah and finally, in Gaza, 690 missiles were fired at Southern Israel in an attempt to blackmail the Israeli government into making concessions that the Gaza militants would never dream to reciprocate.
You may ask, what is going on? I am sometimes asked, and it is often queried in chat forums, why the Jews? What is it about us that creates so much animosity? I could explain this in terms of religious triumphalism, but all religions can be guilty of that, so it needs a bit more detail.
I can only talk about fundamentalism within the three main monotheistic faiths and how extremists relate to the existence of what is best summarised as, “those who do not follow the one faith”:
Fundamentalism is a means through which the believer returns to the source of his or her faith in the belief that in the unity of one homogenized system, all will be uncomplicated, and the believer will be rewarded.
The problem arises that like all ‘isms’, unless there is growth, ‘it’ atrophies and inevitably expires. A fundamentalist system will thrive in a totalitarian society. But the presence of non-followers represents an ongoing denial of the superiority of the fundamentalist vision.
Islam is considered a way of life because it has a code for dealing with every part of human existence. So, spiritual, personal and commercial relationships are all governed by the Islamic faith. At the same time, a secular, Muslim state is an oxymoron. There can be no room for minority rights in a Muslim polity; equality is inconceivable. And ridicule is an essential conduit to the one-upmanship that is an indispensable tool in any religion-based competition. Dehumanising an opponent is a crucial aspect of that abusive relationship. Hence, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority is incapable of respect, on any level, when dealing with ‘the Jews’.
Modern Sunni triumphalism is at least 250 years old. As theologies go, it is a relatively recent event, but its basic premise is simple. The spiritual and temporal corruption of contemporary Muslim society can only be properly addressed when all theological accretions are stripped away.
The missionary impulse of fundamentalism is as logical as it is inevitable. Violence must have its justification. Increased numbers are the only proof of validity of concept.
With Christianity, that proof of concept led to the Atlantic slave trade, genocide in the Belgian Congo and the extermination camps of Europe. [Note: Serfdom was a form of slavery that existed for at least 400 years before the advent of the European, Atlantic Slave Trade.]
It will hardly come as a surprise that well-meaning Evangelical Christians may continue to harbour a desire for all Jews to convert to the Christian faith even as they no longer actively support such a course of action. But so-called Progressives are the new Christian fundamentalists. The contradictions in their belief system are so strong that it is only through prejudice they can justify their narrative. Progressive Christians can be at one with a system of revolutionary change that abnegates – renounces their own present and future. So, announcing that Jesus is a Palestinian implies he was a hater, a murderer of innocents and a conqueror of nations (by the sword). This re-writing of history usually runs concurrently with the view that Judaism has run its course and should simply expire. At its source it is a radical Left idea that associates Judaism with Capitalism. Progressives have reversed the historical reality that understands Zionism to be the realisation of Jewish peoplehood in its historic homeland. The embodiment of Jewish anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism in the Near-East has been met, head on, by a regional colonialist and imperialistic Inter-Islamic conflict. In taking sides, so called Progressive Christians justify a pro-Palestinian stance that in the light of Arab historical, actual and theological prejudice should be impossible to support. Islam actively practices a value system that contradicts every modern Christian ethic.
Pascal Bruchner stated (in a talk at the British parliament in 2019) that in Democracy, by exhibiting our faults we examine, publicly, our vices. Democracy is disappointing. As its consumers we are impatient. Activism means a childish whim to change everything instantly. This impetus for instantaneous solutions to intractable problems creates a totalitarian impulse that can often be used against us If we do not safeguard democracy; even at the expense of some of our freedoms. We are often too indulgent of radical attitudes or culturally divergent behaviour that isolates and oppresses. The progressive’s counterfactual musings, often based on prejudiced data, don’t provide any realistic realisable solutions. It may explain current Progressive Christian attitudes in terms of trends within society, overall, but as an intellectual impulse it is morally and ethically unintelligible.
Judaism is not a missionary religion so enslaving others or killing the non-believer in order to save their soul has no resonance. And yes, we would like the world to be more Jewish. In the second verse of the concluding prayer of the Sabbath morning service (The Aleinu), we pray “Soon let us witness the glory of Your power; when the worship of material things shall pass away from the earth, and prejudice and superstition shall at last be cut off…all shall accept the duty of building your kingdom…” The traditional interpretation views all people turning to Israel’s god. But for over 2,500 years Judaism has officially discouraged missionizing activity against non-believers. The difference between Jewish fundamentalism and other forms of fundamentalism, is that Jewish fundamentalism usually only targets other Jews. That does not mean we don’t have our fair share of foul-mouthed bigots and racists. The poet, Alexander Pope said, “To err is human…” to that we could add that to be prejudiced is also, a natural human failing. We are comfortable with that with which we are familiar because it is non-threatening. Missionaries tend to be single-minded to the point of being blind to their own hateful behaviour. And today we have missionaries of not just religious faith but also, of political faith, and the latter are as dangerous as the former. Perhaps, it is this fear of intolerance and blind hatred (that) has prevented Jews from wanting to engage in missionary activity even though it would bolster support for Jewish self-determination while fighting off the bigots of other faith communities!
Islam has never had to come to terms with the evil that has been committed in the name of its prophet and its god. As a missionary faith, that evil included control over the two main slave trades (Atlantic and Arab). Without Arab Islamic tribes to raid communities across Africa, Europe and elsewhere there could have been no Christian (Atlantic) slave trade. The Islamic slave trade is estimated to have had an 80% mortality rate. That means, from raiding villages to the point where the slave stood on the market dais, ready to be sold, only one in 5 potentials ‘made it onto the dais’. That amounts to a genocide that the Moslem world has never had to acknowledge, nor, to atone for. But the faithful readily blame Jews and Christians for this trade because any other reality is an impediment to the victimhood that they have created as part of the political narrative that forgives them, every atrocity committed by their followers today.
Islam’s outrageously false narrative of global victim-hood provides critical protection from an existential examination of their egregiously flawed history.
The evil that both Christianity and Judaism condemns today, is sanctioned under the Moslem faith and demanded by its prophet. Slavery is the reward the faithful are entitled to practice, if justification is needed, as a demonstration of the inequality of the faiths, and the prize of belonging to Islam. Conquest is a religious obligation and its material benefit, everything that is the property of the non-believer. When al Qaeda boss, Osama bin Laden wanted to proclaim his agenda for Europe he ordered his followers to bomb a train bound for Madrid and the ensuing atrocity killed 200 people and wounded another 1,000. He then informed Europe that it could protect itself from further Muslim wrath if the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) were returned to Islam. The theology behind this is that once land has been conquered for the Muslim Ummah (the global community), everything within it, is the eternal property of the Muslim faithful. That would today include Greece, Israel, Hungary, Parts of Poland and Austria!
When Ottoman Turkey committed genocide against the Assyrians, the Armenians and Turkey’s Greek populace, all they were doing was making Lebensraum (room) for the Muslim faithful. It was a useful lesson for the Nazis who took note that the world mostly, kept silent (as it did on further occasions up to the start of World War 2). Osama bin Laden was an historian of fundamentalist Islamic grievance. One irony of bin Laden’s knowledge deficit – whether deliberate or not is that the final defeat of the Ottoman Empire in ‘Christian’ Europe, in 1699, was accomplished with the assistance of Muslim Tatars (who fought both with and against the Turks).
For the fundamentalist living amongst us, the choices must be clear and without any unnecessary emotional or cultural baggage. We, in Western societies, are used to possessing multiple layers of interlocking identities. According to Shiraz Maher ‘IS has consistently pursued a strategy of shock in order to destroy the “grey zone” – the name it gives to the phenomenon of hybrid and hyphenated identities within modern society. For IS, the world must exist in binary terms: a stark division between devout Muslims and everyone else.’
It does not mean that al Qaeda won’t commit the same atrocities as Islamic State. 911 and the Madrid bombing cannot be described in genteel terms, nor can the hundreds of other atrocities carried out by al Qaeda during the last three decades.
As the fundamentalist camp fractures into increasingly divided groups, they will be forced to compete for loyalty and funding. Every Islamist presents his or her own version of Islamic purity and that means there is a need to be ever more innovative, creative and devastating. Terrorist outrages sell air-time, attract new followers and help to retain acolytes. The nihilistic nature of the terrorist environment becomes ritualistic, monotonous and usually, more oppressive, even to followers, unless the momentum of successful advance and destruction is constantly being reborn.
The Algerian civil war from 1991 to 1997 killed anything from 40,000 to 200,000 people – nearly all the victims were murdered by fellow Muslims. Eventually, it was competing fundamentalists annihilating each other, that provided the opening for Algerian military forces to ‘complete the job.’ The opposing sides exhausted each other in acts of mutual blood-letting. Then, the army destroyed any fundamentalist supporters that still survived.
For now, the elimination of the physical territorial base of Islamic state is of no consequence for the faithful followers of the ideology. In fact, the threat to the non-Muslim world and the threat to competing Islamic religious sects is even greater than when IS retained territory. With the fall of Baghuz, on the border between Syria and Iraq, in March 2019, the tangible, territorial proof of the Islamist vision is defeated. The follower can only understand this defeat if it is not a rout but a test that it is incumbent on the faithful to pass, by demonstrating their adaptability. International terrorism that savagely strikes out at the non-believer demonstrates that success is iterative and not tied to a physical home. It is a powerful message to enemies and friends alike.
Despair and the fear of uncertainty encourage appeasement.
So, Islamic State’s defeat at Baghuz ends its territorial rule. Al Qaeda fully exploited its territorial base in Afghanistan, and it did not go away with the US invasion subsequent to 911. IS eclipsed al Qaeda and one day another Islamist movement will diminish IS. Movements evolve or they recede. But, for as long as they exist, they remain a threat to us all.
The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that killed 253 people and wounded 500 more occurred in coordinated attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels in three distant, geographically dispersed cities. This was a crime against humanity and the Western press tried to excuse it by labelling this as no more than retaliation for the attack on two Mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 worshippers. But the suggestion that it was a tit-for-tat retaliation is almost certainly wrong. The coordinated attacks in dispersed locations would have taken months, not weeks, to plan.
As a declaration of power, an attack of this sophistication and magnitude demonstrated that Islamic State is bowed but not beaten. And we should expect more of the same.
To the radical Sunni, Shi’ite Muslims are viewed as worse than infidel – they are idolaters and apostates. And Iran, has a giant chip on its shoulder – as the most powerful Shia nation it has regional and global ambitions as well as a long memory of Sunni hatred and persecution. Creating a Shia wedge between Sunni countries is understood to provide protection and the means for long term infiltration and dominance over their Sunni rivals.
There are many people in the West who truly believe that Zionism (the Jews) are the reason for Islamic State and all its previous iterations. Ignorance, simplicity and superficiality are wonderful attributes for the simple-minded bigot. The problem with this racist interpretation is that it assumes Jewish original sin, which is, the theological lifeblood of missionary faith. If you cannot blame someone else for the evil you commit, then you cease to be a victim and must take responsibility for the evil that you do. If you are unable to blame your enemies for your failures, you must have a workable set of policies and a history of successful leadership to attract votes. But if we live in an era of populism, then conspiracy theories, charismatic personalities and the exploitation of prejudice will be an effective replacement for well thought out policies.
People always ask why it is that Jews are persecuted throughout history. It is not Israel that is at fault. Missionary faith cannot exist without living proof of superiority over an inferior or superseded group (hence Supersessionism), in this case Jews who are replaced by the new Chosen people. In Replacement Theology one group is replaced by a newer, better version, “chosen by God”. To expel an unwelcome rival, you must first have an excuse, or that is the way that Christianity operated until the Second World War showed the ethical deficit inherent in this kind of theology. Hitler wanted to eradicate Christianity also. Islam has never had any need to make excuses for persecuting anyone who was different. The theological justification of replacing the previous faith with the final revelation of God (Islam) was always enough.
It was reported that during the day that Israel (and most Jewish communities across the world) commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day, President Abbas ridiculed Jewish victimhood during the Shoah. The democratically elected Leader for Life of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas is a former Holocaust denier who swings between accepting that the Shoah happened and blaming its Jewish victims for the crime. There is nothing inconsistent in Mahmoud’s behaviour. He is a racist and a religious bigot who has been brought up within a religious and ethnic tradition which has a simple message for us all, and that is: Only people of his ethnicity and religious affiliation have rights. For those of us not fortunate to have been born Arab, Sunni Muslim and male, a conditional right to exist is always dependent on our good behaviour. The existence of the State of Israel is an affront to Arab imperialism. As can be seen from the global violence against Christians and other subject peoples (such as the Yazidis and the Kurds), protection can be withdrawn at any time.
President Abbas’s latest insult to the Jewish people can be understood by referencing a Muslim conquest theology that can never forgive our rejection of that subject status. A similarly flawed attitude was behind the latest flareup of violence in Gaza. Violent confrontation serves to put us in our place (unless we choose not, to appease). That Palestine chose to assault us, once again during a period of special significance to the Jewish community, demonstrates a mindset that ridicules humanities participation in a shared and equal existence.
It serves as a useful reminder to the international community that the nature of the beast is unchanged, even while Abbas and his cronies call for protection for his people from us ‘bad’ Israelis.