A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim
It has, of late, become impossible to compare or contrast the Abrahamic religions without encountering the theatrics of fear-mongering Islamophobes. Coherent dialogue rapidly becomes a phantom as emotional pleas propel themselves up slippery slopes, launching into nationalistic tirades. The greatest trick of the labyrinth lay in the abstractly, yet inextricably bound concepts of religion, culture, and government.
The enemies are as elusive as the various deities, who are, ironically, one. Each of the Abrahamic religions can be blamed for, as well as declared a victim of, some historic atrocity. Devotees of each chapter of the Abrahamic trilogy have killed, or been killed by, devotees of both other chapters. Many nations have state religions, or at least religions alleged to be at their foundation, but none of them rely on their god for protection; they turn, in his stead, to the weapons of man.
For most of the life of this writer, the balance of religious violence has been confined to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Having been cognizant of this conflict and observing, at times, daily reports on the violence, political contexts, ideologies, and grievances for over 30 years while also having read over a dozen books on the subject, one thing is clear: religion no longer has anything to do with it. Jesus Christ could appear in the Hubble Telescope tomorrow, zooming in faster than light to take his throne in Jerusalem and the Israelis and Palestinians would both start shooting at him, each declaring him to be a fraud perpetrated by the other.
Even if the entire Jewish population of Israel converted to Islam tomorrow, Palestinians would still hate them and want to kill them; so too would it be vice versa. The erasure of religion altogether would not erase the hatred of groups identified as murderers, racially defined boundaries, or the lust of politicians for garnering station and status. Failing all else, cultures would be redefined by ideologies as arbitrary as opening boiled eggs from the big or small end.
For the rest of us, this Jewish/Muslim conflict spilled out onto the world stage on the 11th of September, in the year of the Christian lord, two thousand and one. The images of the horror were burned into the Western mind in a televised holocaust. The broadcasts repeatedly informed viewers that 50,000 people worked at the World Trade Center. As the towers collapsed, many viewers, including this writer, fell to their knees and were reminded yet again that 50,000 people worked in those towers.
Before the estimates of fatalities had dropped below ten thousand, the face and name of Osama Bin Laden were branded into the Western psyche. He was an Arab, and a known Islamic terrorist who was at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list: a prime suspect. As the estimates of fatalities continued to drop, the hatred of al-Qaeda, Islam, and Arabs in general, escalated – and the proverbial finger of blame began to swing wildly.
A Democratic President had rocketed al-Qaeda training camps but had failed to capture the Islamic terrorist who had openly declared war on the U.S. over 3 years earlier. The Republican Commander in Chief at the time of the attacks had failed to act on intelligence reports that might have saved so many lives. The American intelligence community had dropped the ball repeatedly by not sharing information efficiently. Noam Chomsky was quick to blame Western civilization itself but that finger of blame was leveled too quickly, too harshly, and was bitten off; many still chew on it.
By the end of the month some backward clerics from a podunk country were given an international audience. Osama Bin Laden was there, it was claimed, and that shoddy lineup of holy men wouldn’t hand him over. There was no way to declare war on the country, however, because those holy men were not recognized as the official government and, in any event, had no connection with the attacks. The solution was to declare a military action and label it a ‘War on Terror’; Ted Turner must have peed a little.
By the end of the year it was clear that roughly 3,000 Americans had died at the hands of terrorists in the September 11 attacks; little to no attention was given to the fact that during the course of that same year Americans themselves had killed roughly 16,000 Americans; it was time for the enemy to start spilling some blood. Who was this enemy though? We were told that we weren’t at war with Arabs, Islam, or even any single nation. In a post hoc twist, we were told that we weren’t even at war with al-Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden.
We were at war with those who despised freedom, and we had to sacrifice freedoms to protect freedoms. We were killing people overseas so that we could spread freedom. In America, habeas corpus was suspended, the intelligence community began illegal wire taps, secret warrants, courts, and arrests were authorized, and the American President himself gave the green-light to torture – all in the name of freedom. The notion of protecting freedom became as convoluted as the notion of a god who fathered himself so he could kill himself to appease himself at the anger he harboured for that which he had himself created in his own image. The scripture for protecting freedom became bound in The Patriot Act; a scripture that was re-consecrated today, a decade after the infamous attacks.
Somewhere along the way Iraq was invaded as well; it is still occupied. The determination of civilians and enemy combatants in an occupied country is a philosophical paradox but, nonetheless, the Iraqi death toll from the ‘War on Terror’ is irrefutably into the six figures and terrorism is more rampant there than ever before. The death toll in the Afghani theatre of the ‘War on Terror’ is impossible to establish, but it isn’t any better than in Iraq. This is the death toll inflicted by the West in the ‘War on Terror’: a war that has never been declared on Islam but which, nonetheless seems to claim primarily Islamic victims.
Today there are those who feel the need to declare Islam a threat, to ring the alarms, sound the bells, and run madly down the street screaming; others are much more eloquent in their declarations of the Islamic threat. Although terrorist have never, in a single calendar year, around the world, killed more people than Americans kill Americans in the same calendar year – they are a scourge on humanity and must be stopped. They have no nation other than Islam common to them, so it must be that religion of theirs that drives them to such madness. Their madness could not possibly derive from the occupation of their lands by foreign powers, for they have always been terrorists, all the way back to Sayyid Qutb, who was born as the world was shifting into a petroleum economy. This sarcasm only grows a little dry when it is pointed out that suicide bombers are far more frightening, even if less deadly, than American criminals with handguns.
The ‘War on Terror’ is an oxymoron, an hypocrisy, and an abject failure. The death tolls prove that the West has been the greatest terrorist in the world for the past decade. Freedom cannot be delivered to a nation; it must be won by that nation. Will the West recognize an elected Iraqi or Afghani government that does not espouse Western values? Are they free to adopt sharia as their system of law if they freely choose to do so?
Perhaps the greatest failure of the ‘War on Terror’ is the toll it has taken on the capacity and moral stance of the West to respond to the nuclear proliferation of Iran. The one country in the Middle East that was actually on course to pose a serious threat to the world has been left to develop its nuclear capabilities. Rather than chasing phantom enemies or developing a hatred for Islam, we would have been far better reasoned to focus on Mouhmoud Ahmadinejad. Let us not, however, make the mistake of calling this man an Islamic threat.
Unlike Osama Bin Laden, Mouhmoud Ahmadinejad is a head of state who openly declares his hatred of the West and all Judaism. He is actively pursuing nuclear technology and, although we have him surrounded, any move against him is going to seal our fate with all of Islam. We are at a precipice overlooking the eternal hatred that exists between Palestine and Israel. If we allow Islamophobia to control our adrenal gland, all the terrorists need do is say boo and we’ll be diving into an ocean of hatred that will outlast our species.
How can the West justify an attack on Iran while North Korea has been dealt with through economic sanctions? Islam is no justification at all considering the cult of personality that surrounds Kim Jong-Il; that guy makes Mouhmoud Ahmadinejad look like Sigmund Freud. Islam, however, will be seen as the culprit whether declared as such or not.
With the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the tolerance of torture and secret prisons, and a death toll that is still ticking, the West has lost the advantage of any moral stance to which it ever laid claim. Our open ended ‘War on Terror’ is one step away from being a war on Islam and most in the East perceive the West to have crossed that line 8 years ago in full sprint. Adding cultural hatred of Islam to our repertoire will only serve as the cement that binds us to our extinction.
If the West engages the East in a war of ideologies it will only be a matter of time until, like Israel and Palestine, religion will no longer be needed to perpetuate the violence. Honestly, this writer feels that the only option we have left is to allow Iran to develop its nuclear capability as we get our asses the hell out of there. We can always take solace in the fact that the only planet destroying nuclear arsenal in the world resides in the United States of America; let’s just make sure fundamentalist Christianity doesn’t gain control of it.