W. David Jenkins: Seeds of the American Taliban
The Seeds of the American Taliban
By W. David Jenkins III
"God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.”
— George W. Bush to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, July 2003
"We tell them that we do not seek to kill, but we will chop off the hand which seeks to inflict harm on us, God willing."
— Ayman al-Zawahri deputy to Osama bin Laden, September 2003
"The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press — in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of LIBERAL excess during the past years."
— Adolph Hitler - Taken from The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1, Michael Hakeem, Ph.D. (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 871-872.
Now that the smoke has begun to dissipate from the bomb dropped on America by Campaign ’04, we can start to get some perspective on exactly what happened. Many of us want to know just how John Kerry lost a race against absolutely the worst president in modern history – if not all time.
Well, if the pundits are to be believed, it would be largely because of the folks who are presently thumping their chests as hard as they thump their bibles. Those righteous, pompous, judgmental, sanctimonious and incredibly ignorant brethren known as the “religious right.” The ones who are convinced that Jesus hates gays, liberals, science, tolerance and, what’s more, he’s armed to the teeth.
Lock and load . . . amen!
What is amazing to me is that more people do not see the similarities between what I call Cherry Pickin’ Christians – those who select and pervert Bible scripture to suit their political and social agenda – and their counterparts who are doing the very same thing in the name of Allah. The history of the world is tainted with eras of divisive and bloody conflict centered in the misconception that God is on their side. From the persecution of Pagans centuries ago to the Spanish Inquisition, from the streets of Belfast to the streets of Tel Aviv and the Gaza Strip and now Bush’s war on terror there are numerous glaring examples that religious conflict is not only never-ending but a pointless and destructive exercise in “my God is better than your God.”
There is a growing movement within this country of people who are convinced that God is only on their side and the rest of us are going to Hell. Apparently, quite a few of them voted recently and their call to arms was something called “moral values.” Eleven states were compliant with the wishes of Bush Co.’s moral value fearmongers and included a referendum on their ballots to legally refuse certain citizens the same rights as others in regard to the subject of marriage. Not based upon law but based upon scripture, lovingly cherry-picked from a book that also says that shellfish are an abomination (Lev. 11:10) and that if you work on a Sunday then you should be executed (Exodus 35:2). Go ahead, look it up. And there’s more where that came from.
The thing is, these cherry pickers are becoming a political force in our country and history has shown time and time again that this type of cultist population and its influence is a threat to any sense of stability here or around the world. There is little more dangerous than some group of zealots thinking that some omnipresent “entity” is sanctioning their wishes at the expense of those who do not agree. The events of September 11 are a perfect example.
God vs. God
Shortly after 9/11, I did a piece on the threat that fundamentalism posed for America. Now religious fundamentalism is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, characterized by a sense of embattled alienation nurtured by some misguided perceived threat from a surrounding culture. The term can also refer specifically to the belief that one's religious texts (i.e.: the Bible or Koran) are infallible and historically accurate, despite contradiction of these claims by modern religious scholarship. There is almost a sense of righteous paranoia that fuels these individual movements and the source of that paranoia would seem to be the very “God” that these people worship. It’s almost as if these people are out to change the world into their way of thinking and worshiping because they feel if they screw up then their God will smite them for their failure.
Think back to just after 9/11 and the comments made by certain religious leaders. Some said that God was “angry” with us because He perceived weakness in our society concerning homosexuals, the ACLU and other “pornographic liberal values,” so He allowed those planes to attack us. One has to wonder about the value of praying to such a vengeful deity.
Although conservative Christians profess a love of Jesus and are diligent in their efforts to create new believers, they seem to be stuck in an Old Testament way of thinking. Most importantly, by their actions they seem to have done away with the line about “judge not lest ye be judged.” It would seem that Jesus makes a great selling point to join the club, so to speak, and God help you once they have you. But at least you know, once you’re in, that only you and people who believe like you will go to heaven – right?
The only problem is there are others who feel that they have the only keys to heaven or whatever paradise apparently waits. As I stated earlier, the world has a long history of bloody conflicts which have been little more than one side imposing its version of God on those who do not share the same beliefs. Many are so pompous as to proclaim that they know how God feels or whose side God is on.
On one hand, you have a military leader such as Gen. William Boykin speaking at an evangelical Christian meeting that “the war on terror is a fight against Satan” and then tossing in his boast that “My God is bigger” and “My God is real” while others are just “idols.” On the other hand, you have folks like the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Omar, predicting the destruction of America. “If Allah’s help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time,” Omar said. So fundamentalism teaches that my God is better than your God – I’m right and you’re wrong and if I say my God states that you have no right to exist than you’re just going to have to deal with it.
This line of thinking begins to shed light on how the shortsightedness and intolerance of religious fundamentalism can lead to everlasting wars with the will of a minority having a devastating effect on the rest of us.
Distant Dysfunctional Cousins
The comparisons between conservative Christians and their Islamic counterparts in the Taliban are numerous – the most glaring being the drive to adopt a form of government based upon a repressive theocracy. These two movements are determined to bring their brand of fundamentalism to their respective governments. (I use the present tense since the Taliban is currently regaining strength because the Bush administration has ignored them for the last few years due to the great things we’re doing in Iraq.) Fundamentalist Christians have the jump on the Taliban as far as longevity and they’re confident that their goals are being met – they’re just taking their time about it. Now, since the last perhaps spurious attempt at an election in this country, the religious right is starting to step things up a bit.
Now one of the powder kegs that I’m sure I'm setting a match to is the argument that Christian conservatives aren’t nearly as brutal as their Islamic cousins. To accept this declaration would betray the history of gruesome deeds committed in God’s name and we don’t have to go all the way back to the Crusades or Salem in this country to prove the point. Eric Rudolph (the women’s clinic bomber) and James Kopp (the sniper from Buffalo) come to mind as recent examples of brutality and murder supported by Christian extremists. In the same light that not all Muslims support such drastic behavior as committed by the Taliban or al Qaeda, neither do most Christians support snipers and clinic bombers. However, we are experiencing a small but growing extremist faction on both sides that sees such brutality as acting in God’s name.
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40)
After the Soviet/Afghan war and the Taliban had assumed control of Kabul, they instituted and began to enforce a purist way of life based on their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. Although many of their edicts had little to do with the teachings of the Koran, it was their fear and disdain for all things modern that caused them to feel the need to inflict such strict rules in order to preserve what they felt was pleasing to their version of “God.”
Like the Taliban, conservative Christians have moved the thrust of the education of their youth to specific “values” according to their interpretation of their respective texts. Although their teachings are largely based on their interpretation , it is also their fear and disdain for all things modern (or liberal, if you prefer) that forces them to enact such drastic measures on their own young “disciples.”
Both groups mask their extremism as a crusade to install a “perfect morality” in society with their version of God. Both groups are involved in a moral standoff, not only against society as a whole, but against members of their own faith. Right-wing Christian evangelicals, like the Islamic Wahhabi, see conformity with and acceptance of modern or liberal values as a blasphemy and weakness in spirit to which they speak out and, in some cases, they even strike out against their own respective communities. And both Christian and Islam seem to have the unifying theme that they are trying to “save” folks from all of those evil weaknesses in order to somehow “justify” their words and actions.
Both of these religious factions stress that they are inclusive in their practice yet they are exclusive in their teachings. While many conservative Christians rail against schools in Arab countries that teach their students that all westerners are evil, deserve death and are their supreme enemy, those same outraged folks are scooping up the “Left Behind” series by the ton in order to spread the good word that they’re the only ones going to heaven and everybody else can go to Hell. And if you don’t hurry up and get on board with these folks, well, don’t expect them to cry any tears for you. You’re just a sinner in their eyes and deserve everything you get.
Recognizing and Repairing the Damage
There are certain things in life that just do not go together. Peanut butter and tuna fish come to mind. There’s nothing wrong with either one but I don’t recommend mixing them together or you’ll end up with a bad taste in your mouth. The same can be said of mixing religion and politics. There is no possible way to merge the two without them mutually polluting each other.
Some folks may be convinced that I despise religion and am just another Godless liberal who cannot see the righteousness of George W. Bush or Jerry Falwell. They’d be wrong on the first count and right on the second. My religious views are where I think they should be – personal. My failure to see anything Christian or righteous regarding Bush, Falwell and the religious right is because I feel those characteristics require a bit more than lip service. The good Reverend Jerry just proclaimed that “we should just keep bombing them (terrorists) all in the name of the Lord” the other night. Sure, Rev, that’ll solve everything.
The unfortunate thing about organized religion – all religion – is the fundamentalist element within it that isn’t satisfied until all people accept their way of life and worship and even are willing to go to violent extremes to achieve that goal. When this element's "moral values" become a basis for governmental involvement and the policies which follow, the innocents of the world community ends up suffering.
The Bush administration may insist that the war on terror is not a war against Islam but try explaining that to the Arab nations. They see the television reports on the “fundamentalist take-over” here in America after the last election. They hear the hateful and pompous words of such blow-hards as Falwell and others like him. Now, the members of the conservative Christian movement will argue that they are in no way like the Taliban or al Qaeda because they have not attained the level of brutality on as large a scale. I would counter that there are some mangled orphans in Fallujah who might beg to differ with that argument. The war between perspectives can be just as long and as destructive as the war between religions.
What is also just as destructive is the image given to Christianity -- as a whole -- by these Cherry Pickin’ Christians. This world is full of people who show that they are at peace with their religion through their good works. They are building houses through Habitat for Humanity, they are feeding the hungry and they are reaching out to those in need – without any strings attached. These are the people who have taken the words they hear when they worship and put them into action in order to give to people – not take away. These are the Christians who are angry that the image of their faith has been given such a black eye by such outspoken and all too visible “religious leaders” who think God supports invasions and torture, just as long as it’s done in “His name.”
The seed of fundamentalism in conservative politics has begun to take root and is seriously endangering the American political landscape. The synthesis of evangelicalism and republicanism is showing the same destructive trends as the religious extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This movement threatens to use the Constitution to take away guaranteed rights for certain citizens for the first time. It has moved into our schools and wants to discredit science in order to implement the “reality of Creationism.” It wants to shield us from the evils of intellectualism and rob us all of our free thinking. It wants to reverse course and remove rights from women and, most of all, it wants to rid the scourge that hates them for their “moral values” and their “freedoms.”
Jihad has been declared in America. The seeds have been planted. We will become like our Arab counterparts who have been at Holy War with each other for centuries. While we have
not yet reached the same level of hostility and violence active in these not so far away places staring back at us from our television screens, we must bear in mind that we’re still in the early stages. We still time to recognize that in order to preserve that which is good in each, religion and politics must divorce themselves from each other before they become mutually dysfunctional – more than they already are.