WHY IS THERE SO MUCH RELIGIOUS TURMOIL IN THE WORLD TODAY?
MY TAKE: PART TWO
Personally, I have no fantastic suggestions on how to counter the scourge of terrorism that seems immutable and ever increasing. I do think that understanding and reason would help to change the discussion of “what to do” away from some epic Crusades-style war between the Muslim and Christian worlds. There are, of late, more keening discussions, like mine, than there were five years ago but the “epic battle” meme is still the one that largely informs our discussions, not only in America but pretty much across the Western world. As the default dominant world power, our own national discussions don’t lend themselves to rationality or reason so it’s hard to imagine what the US can do to resolve this situation, if, indeed, it can. We seem to be lost in a freeze-frame of frustration and immobility towards tackling the larger issues associated with the growth of terrorism – poverty, disenfranchisement, repression - the issues that drone strikes and intelligence monitoring cannot resolve.
It is, however, instructive to note that the stresses and strains in the Muslim world today, whatever the causes, are fundamentally a Muslim problem and require a Muslim solution to resolve even though the West has contributed mightily to their formation and the current strife. I have to admit that I’m pleased with Obama’s so-called incompetence towards Middle Eastern affairs, including the current negotiations with Iran and his push-back against Israel. It’s a no brainer, to me, that our foreign policy viz the Middle East and the Arab World cannot continue as they have been since World War I or II. One easy suggested item for consideration: no more ad-hoc regime change invasions. That would be a start. No more racist condemnations of Islam as a terrorist religion. Get Israel and the Palestinians to the Peace Table. Recognize that Islam’s Sunni-Shia split which informs much of the strife in the Middle East today can only be resolved by Muslims themselves and not by the West or Christianity.
What I have yet to see are international discussions – not just the exchange of intelligence data or drone strikes – about what is clearly a 21st Century threat to our stability. Are we on the brink of a World War? Is this the beginning of a Thirty or Hundred Years War? I see nothing but increased warfare in the future if we continue along the path we have started down, particularly since there are so many deep-rooted problems involved, like disenfranchised young Muslims or the Shia-Sunni split. So why aren’t there international discussions and forums and gatherings of world leaders to discuss this problem and collateral attempts to find solutions? Why isn’t the United Nations called upon to invoke a “Year of Worldwide Religious Fact Finding” as there was “The Year of the Woman” or the “Decade of the Child?” Why isn’t there an international confab about the “Rise of Worldwide Religious Fundamentalism?” As far as I can tell there are no such efforts underway even though the scourge of worldwide religious fundamentalism and terrorism is decades old now.
Frankly, I believe the reason that such discussion aren’t taking place is the continuing theme that religious terrorism is a security issue like the proliferation of nuclear or chemical weapons and not seen as a social issue. True, problems that have their roots in social and cultural conditions may not readily lend themselves to solutions by drone attacks and precision bombing runs. Then, too, seeing the bigger picture of Middle Eastern and Islam’s current instability must also include the recognition that the West is historically complicit in creating these conditions and bears some responsibility for their resolution. But the West’s current response to deadly terrorists attacks only serves to increase the number of folks who feel compelled to join ISIL and Al Qaeda. After all, “if the West is out to kill true believers, then we are compelled to fight back,” the logic goes. And it’s not at all an irrational logic given the script of retaliation that the West is following to resolve terrorist attacks and terrorism. The hope, and presumably the goal of the Western response, is that with the passing of sufficient time, the leaders of such terrorists groups will be wiped out or so thoroughly diminished in numbers and influence so as to eliminate their presence and terrorism’s presence from the world scene. This was the rationale for taking on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda after 9-11. I’m not so convinced that this outcome is either practical or likely. With some 1.6 billion adherents around the world, Islam has a pretty large reservoir of recruits to the cause from which to draw.
While I firmly believe that the forces and circumstances I’ve outlined here are in large part the underlying factors that have given rise to today’s religious terrorists, I would reiterate our own complicity in contributing to the world wide rise of religious fundamentalism. Leaving aside the unintended and unforeseen impacts of unfettered free market capitalism on the rest of the world for another time, the state of affairs in the United States as it concerns religious themes and religious politics, is at best confusing if not outright confused and contradictory. We have continued to allow, as our liberal conscious would require, the rise of domestic fundamentalism here in the U.S. as a “freedom” that, as a secular nation, we hesitate to address and counter explicitly due to our devotion and respect for Free Speech and Freedom of Religion. In the face of vapid cries of domestic and worldwide Christian persecution, in the slow but steady erosion of the wall of religious separation here at home, in the legislative “achievements” of religious fundamentalists in state after state across the country, in the recent Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the inclusion of religious exceptions to the ACA, to name a few such examples, we have allowed this corrosive force to remain largely unchecked and unchallenged.
Our brush with religious intolerance, our acquiescence to religious bigotry, our silence as the waves of domestic religious fundamentalism have swept across the country and weakened the fabric of American society, is three decades old; a generation and more. We’ve allowed the voices of fundamentalism to continue and to grow and flourish because we believe in the free exercise of religion. What we have forgotten with our liberal tendencies toward acceptance and tolerance, however, is that first and foremost we are a nation founded on the precept that laws and the rule of law – civil law and not religious laws – are the very structural foundations upon which rests the superstructure that supports our society and allows it to continue and to progress.
In this regard the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is instructive and disappointing. As many predicted, me included, many state legislatures are enacting discriminatory laws based on the “closely held religious belief” rationale used by the Supreme Curt to justify its decision in the Hobby Lobby case. That this was the decision is no surprise and no accident. For thirty years the bonifides for nomination and approval of candidates for elevation to the Court – without question one of the most profoundly influential positions in the land - revolved around, not tenets of the law, but conservative views on abortion, religion, affirmative action, immigration, evolution and a host of other conservative sticking points. In order to be confirmed by the Senate the more “liberal leaning” Court candidates had to acknowledge their “open-mindedness” and “neutrality” in the face of these dicta irrespective of precedent, case law, their own legal experience or their personal beliefs. That we have a conservative Supreme Court today who, in error, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby is indicative of the force that religious fundamentalism has had on American society during the last three decades.
So in light of our own lack of dealing with and countering the rise of religious fundamentalism here at home for three decades, what are folks from other nations, from other religions, from other cultural backgrounds supposed to take away from this? Seems pretty obvious to me. They see us as engaged in a religious war. And they are not so far wrong. Even in Europe I’ve heard Americans called “religious nuts” to say nothing about how we are viewed by Muslims around the world. World wide religious warfare? Christian warriors? A religious Crusade? Not so hard to imagine given that Christian missionaries are hard at work today in many of the world’s nations attempting to impose their fundamentalists philosophies and practices on what I assume they see as “savage and backwards nations.” It seems that conversion to Christianity is no longer sufficient; contemporaneous political and social conversion to the conservative/fundamentalist cause must also be accomplished.
As for me, I am not sanguine that this fundamentalist period in world history will end anytime soon. Sure, we’ve been through it before but things are different today. Some conflict in Yemen thirty years ago would not have been breaking news here in America. But today the effects and consequences of communications and technology upon societies and cultures around the world are swift and pervasive and will continue to cause disruptions everywhere. I doubt that such destabilizing influences will change anytime soon.
It is cautionary to recall that the ancient empires of Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Ottoman, have all fallen by the wayside. None have succeeded in making it into the 21st Century. While we don’t often think about the periods of darkness that obliterated the achievements of these splendid civilizations for centuries in the history of the world, they did occur. Often Dark Ages followed the brilliance and flowering of the ancient regimes as they collapsed. Until recently we thought that a nuclear World War III would be the cause of the wholesale destruction of human life on planet Earth. But can you recall a single event that caused the downfall or Egypt? Or Greece? Or Rome? No, of course not. Neither a single war nor the impact of a meteor collision caused them to disappear from the Earth. If we are not careful we could be in for another dark age in our planet’s future.