August 3rd, 2010 21:28 EST
Islam Hasn't Cornered The Market on Jihad By a Longshot
One of the many telling scenes in Generation Kill, both the book and television series, portrays the Marines` frustrations with their interpreter. They know he`s massaging the message, but they`re helpless without him. Their dilemma is a vignette of mankind`s general dilemma vis-a-vis religion.
I have always understood the Protestant impulse to take Jesus at his word, simply because the red-letter passages of the King James Bible made my hair stand on end as a boy and still do.
But the trouble "it always comes as the second act, after the eye of the storm "is the theologians and clerics. They want things to fit when the grandeur of those red-letter words, however close or far from what Jesus actually said, is that they don`t fit and are not meant to. It is difficult to be a Christian precisely because those words demand that we abjure what we ordinarily view as common sense.
I think in my old age of my boyhood exposure to Protestantism "Christian Science in my case "when I think of the warring fanatics in Islam and Christendom. Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed are simply too compassionate for them. In the name of purity and simplicity they brutalize the message. And in the exquisite agony of their denial, their hypocrisy, they go to war and kill the innocents.
Christians who think Islam has cornered the market on jihad are liars, pure and simple. What do they think the Crusades were if not a jihad? Do they think the conquistadors were picnicking in America? Ask the Native Americans if they think those God-fearing pioneers were waging jihad on them. Muslims who think the Christians had no cause to crusade are also liars: Islam had pressed Christendom to extremities. Neither faith has room for self-righteousness, but both are mightily afflicted by it.
It never seemed to me as a boy, and it does not seem to me now, that Jesus Christ was about religion, about churches, priests, theologies. His message was much more simple and terrible than that, and all the trouble religion has caused is an effort to duck out from under the burden of his words. One of the great beauties of early Islam was its universalist anticlericalism, something the ayatollahs and imams and their followers seem to have forgotten.
Where did Jesus ever say don`t ordain women, despise and exclude gays? The tedious debate about them that has riven congregation after congregation is wholly the invention of clerics and theologians. I once knew an African-American priest who kept telling me the reasons for not ordaining women were theologically complex and someday when he had time he would explain. When I finally pinned him down he said, Well, Djelloul, Our Lord called no women as his apostles. He looked at me as if only a dunce would be unable to fathom this truth.
He called no Africans, no Slavs, no Celts, no Circassians, for God`s sake! I blurted.
The Muslim extremists are equally pinheaded. They are not about Mohammed`s message, they are about fear of women and hatred of inquiry. They read their own history selectively, as do Christian and Jewish fanatics. They want to reestablish a pan-Islamic caliphate but are unwilling to accept that the greatest Muslim caliphs would have rooted out their brand of extremism.
Just as Christians in the United States are so willing to forget Jesus`s response to the money lenders. They want to rant and rave about Muslim fanatics and gays and women priests while conveniently overlooking that greed is actually one of the seven deadly sins while their hateful concerns are beneath Christian contempt.
Indeed there is much Muslim criticism of American capitalism`s usurious and predatory nature, but the Muslims for their part live in glass houses, so unjust and unequal are the majority of their nations. And social injustice is growing almost everywhere, fueled by a predatory capitalism that has seemingly been given a pass by all three great Western religions.
It takes a well trained and practiced hypocrisy to grow up Christian or Muslim and not see the chasm between the original message and the edifices raised around it. And that practiced hypocrisy often passes for organized religion on both sides of the Christian-Muslim divide.
There has been entirely too much preaching on both sides and not enough listening, not enough contemplation. That is why Sufism, the mystical tradition within Islam, has always been despised by despotic crackpots and sometimes even by wise caliphs and sultans. Sufism gets in the way of their use of religion as a political tool. And that is equally true of Christian mysticism. Demagogues always trip over mystics.
Persians seized upon the Shia dissent as a way to resist Arabization of their culture. Berbers seized upon a reformist and fundamentalist version of Islam to topple an Arab-dominated caliphate in Cordoba. Al Qaeda propagates a lunatic version of Mohammed`s message in its craven fear of Westernization. Al Qaeda`s theology, such as it is, is essentially Wahhabist, the same belief system that motivates our putative ally, Saudi Arabia, to consider banning BlackBerry e-mail. The Saudis argue that BlackBerry is too difficult to decode and therefore threatens state security, but what threatens the security of other states is Wahhabist teachings. You can pretty much bet that any nation, including ours, that is interested in controlling communications on the Internet is more interested in controlling dissent than in its own security.
The United States, loopy on its own its self-righteousness, fails to accept that it is widely perceived as a bully and a threat to older cultures. The insistence on being right is a worldwide contagion, turning its victims into fanatics intent on killing people because of who they are and what they think.
Self-righteousness is fanaticism`s glove. Our preachers are right, their preachers are right, nobody is wrong, and the innocents die. If Muslims see Western women in bikinis as a threat to civilization, we are equally disturbed by appearances that do not suit Eurocentric notions of proper attire, behavior and ethnic characteristics.
We are all profiling each other every day of our lives, and with the help of preachers and theologians we usually come up with dangerous and even murderous conclusions. How in God`s name can a church exclude women from its priesthood and claim to be concerned about the abuse of children? How can Americans say they are concerned about the rights of Muslim women when their own institutions resist anything remotely like equality? How can any religion oppress women and claim to be universal?
There is more than enough hypocrisy to go around on both sides, more than enough lies. And there in the middle of Christian-Muslim differences are the Israeli fanatics whispering, Let`s you and him fight.
What is needed is the kind of deep breath Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan once drew in Reykjavik. But nobody will draw that deep breath as long as the Israelis seize more land, the bankers get richer on war debt, the warlords get richer on poppies, and the profiteers rip off a Defense Department that can`t account for $9 billion "billions not millions "in Iraq reconstruction money. (Are the deficit hawks howling about this?)
Religion in the context of the current East-West conflict is the handmaiden of the corrupt, the handy-dandy all-purpose excuse for haters with blood in their eyes. Religion, like war, readily becomes an industry. It has vested interests. Jesus and Mohammed had none. What claim to authenticity can it have with such vested interests?
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com