Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting column on the inability of the pacifists in Christianity to recognize the horrors of the extremist movement in Islam. Let me make it clear at the outset: while I don't believe Islam to be a true, I do believe that the vast majority of the adherents of Islam do not follow the extremist ideas of the terrorists who set off bombs in crowded market places killing thousands of innocent people. Any attempt to claim that this post is about the majority of the mainline Islamic community is simply wrong.
The article entitled "Peace Now -- Christian pacifists ignore the true ambitions of terrorists" by Joseph Loconte (Friday, November 4, 2005) notes that "England's House of Bishops released a report--'Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11'--that managed never to mention the horrific intentions of Osama bin Laden in the course of its 100 pages." I have read most of the report, and I disagree with the Wall Street Journal's characterization. Perhaps the report does not mention Osama Bin Laden, but it certainly does not take a position that war is never permissible as a means to countering the terrorist extremists. The report says:
[T]his report is written from the viewpoint that force is sometimes necessary. Christians who are not pacifists have in the just war tradition a set of criteria for the moral evaluation both of decisions to use force in the first place, and of the means of conducting a military operation. The just war tradition has been widely criticised as no longer applicable. We argue that it is, a view which has recently received ringing endorsement in a report of the United Nations Secretary GeneralÂs High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.
At the same time, I do think that the Wall Street Journal article is accurate in the statement that the House of Bishops report fallaciously shifts the blame from the terrorists to the United States for the terror being committed. The report even has to point out the present day scapegoat for all of the world's problems -- the American Evangelical Right. The report states:
From the perspective of many people in the world today, however it is not terrorism, but American foreign policy and what they perceive as American expansionism which constitutes the major threat to peace. We believe it is important to look at American power dispassionately. It is clearly a reality, the supreme reality in the power politics of the world today, with all the potential for harm as well as good that this implies. We suggest that the United States, like all major powers in history, does indeed seek to expand its economic, political and military influence and power. What distinguishes it from many other empires in history is its strong sense of moral righteousness. In this there is both sincere conviction and dangerous illusion.
This sense of moral righteousness is fed by the major influence of the 'Christian Right' on present United States policy. This has a very worrying political aspect in the way in which Christian millennialism has been taken up by so many evangelical Christians, with its apocalyptic overtones and its very clear political agenda in relation to the Middle East. We argue that not only is this political reading of current history in the light of apocalyptic texts illegitimate, but that those texts need to be read in a different way altogether, as a critique of imperialism rather than as a justification of a particular form of it.
According to the Bishops, the problem is the belief of the majority of Evangelicals in the Tim LaHaye version of the end times:
The political philosophy of these views is even more startling in the twelve books of the Left Behind series, apocalyptic fantasies by Tim LaHay and Jerry B. Jenkins that have appeared since the mid 1990s. These are allegedly novels, but they carry LaHaye's designation as a nationally recognised speaker on Bible prophecy. They refer to the period on the earth after the rapture, that is after certain special Christians have simply disappeared. The world that remains is a world of struggle against the anti-Christ, which seems to be identified with the work of the United Nations. All this is a prelude to Christ returning to kill millions of people. Sales of this series have long since topped the 55 million mark. All this, particularly the political implications of the book, with its endorsement of unbridled American power, the role of Israel, including the rebuilding of the temple and the unquestioning acceptance of violence in the name of God is deeply worrying.
The Wall Street Journal and Mr. Loconte see the issue a little differently.
The real problem, [the bishops] imply, is U.S. foreign policy, and the solution is "a political settlement" that "meets some of the terrorist concerns."
Young men who blow themselves up in cafes, behead civil servants and murder women and children do not have "concerns." They have ambitions, stated openly and repeatedly. These include: the eradication of Western influence from Muslim lands; the forced conversion or elimination of alleged infidels; the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations; and the establishment of a Taliban-like empire extending from Iraq to Indonesia.
Any religious critique of terrorism that fails to acknowledge these ambitions is deeply impoverished. It produces a political theology that helps to rationalize terrorist rage. It refuses to distinguish between the acts of murderers and the use of government force to stop them.
Isn't it interesting that the Bishops, seeing the actions of terrorists who have killed thousands of people (for those of you who say "Bush lied, thousands died", please recall that while the United States army and its allies certainly killed some in its initial drive to take Baghdad, the continuing rise in the death toll since 2003 can be blamed almost exclusively on the terrorists) in horrific ways, turn to the Evangelicals in America as the cause for the problem? Why is that?
My suspicion is that they are engaging in the informal fallacy of scapegoating, i.e., unfairly blaming an unpopular person or group of people for a problem. While the role of Evangelicals in American politics has undeniably increased, on what basis does that give license to the mainstream members of the Islamic communities of the world cause to hate America? Certainly, while many Muslims may have concerns about a particular policy or policies of the U.S. Government, it is only the radicals in the Muslim world who have committed atrocities in the name of their own faith.
What does the Bishops' report say about the views of the terrorists? Interestingly, they acknowledge that the goals of Osama Bin Laden are a world free of Western influence:
The loose network of independent groups that go under the name of Al Qa'eda, has political goals. Osama Bin Laden has made it clear that his first aim is to force the United States to withdraw from Saudi Arabia, followed by the end of Western influence in Islamic lands with the long term goal of establishing an Islamic political order as widely as it will reach. While it needs to be remembered that Osama Bin Laden's Wahhabism is of the takfiri variant, which is to say that he only recognises as Muslims those who sympathise with his theology, these political goals can only be achieved with the support of the majority of citizens in Muslim countries.
Bin Laden's "long term goal of establishing an Islamic political order as widely as it will reach" -- in case the Bishops didn't realize it -- includes such an order in Britain and the United States which agrees with Bin Laden's twisted theology. That is the goal. So where do the Evangelicals play in? According to the Bishops, it is the Evangelicals' millennialistic views (including a new Israel) that Al Qa'eda uses "to keep alive an overwhelming sense that the enemy to what most Muslims want is the United States and their allies in the West and the Middle East."
The bottom line of the Bishops' report is this: If the Evangelicals were not pressing forward with their ideas of converting the world to Christianity, spreading democracy to the Middle East, and supporting Israel, the extremist Muslims would no longer see the United States as a threat and would stop attacking. Does anyone buy this? I don't. I see the report as picking on Evangelicals as a means of presenting a scapegoat for not dealing with the real problem -- extremists in Islam who desire a particular religious belief to be held worldwide (without exception) who are willing to obtain that goal through intimidation, terror and violence. That is the real problem, and until the Bishops get a grip on that, their report -- while a good caution about how Evangelicals should be cognizant of the difficulties mainstream Muslims have with their views -- should be ignored as mere scapegoating.