Monday, September 20, 2004

Apocalyptic violence & the war on terror

We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth
in defense of our great nation -- Bush at War

To what extent does apocalyptic theology inspire and inform the protagonists on either side of the war on terror?

If we compare the rhetoric of extremist Islamic jihadis with that of the crusading Christian evangalists, we notice some fascinating similarities.

For example, they both portray the current conflict as a "monumental struggle of good versus evil".

They both promote violence as an instrument of divine will, a cleansing force that will purge the world of sinners and deliver an age of peace and religious purity.

Each side justifies their violence in terms of "retribution" and "retaliation", blaming the other side for creating conditions in which violence is the only viable response.

George Bush says he is doing God's work, hunting down and destroying evil doers. The Jihadis constantly punctuate their threats and Fatwahs with the phrase God willing. In each case, they hand responsibility for their violence up to God.

Both sides deny the possibility of dialogue, compromise or negotiated settlement, preferring instead to rely entirely upon the purifying power of apocalyptic violence.

Each side believes they have God and Right on their side, and nothing less than complete annihilation of the other can guarantee their own survival.

They share a bizarre, almost obscene enthusiasm for a conflict that they believe heralds the "end time", culminating in God's destruction of the world and the return of the messiah.

Their zealotry is characterised by a combination of grandiosity and paranoia, a pathological brew of omnipotence and vulnerability, as if each is both the instrument and the victim of devine wrath.

Another interesting correlation is the way these fundamentalists reject the moderate elements of their own societies, often with great loathing and hostility.

For example, bin Laden has condemned the Saudi royal family as corrupt, despotic apostates and has called for their overthrow.

On the other side, evangelist Jerry Falwell has blamed the attacks of 9/11 on fellow Americans who are gay, pagan, pro-choice, feminist &/or involved with the American Civil Liberties Union.

What I find disturbing is the fact that mainstream moderates are also peddling alarmist hysteria. We have politicians like Kim Beazley and Robert Hill, warning that civilization itself, indeed our very existance, is threatened by evil terrorists who must be destroyed.

Fueling this phenomena is the practice of politicians and the media, who use language to shape our understanding of the conflict and our opinion of the opponents.

So for example, violence against the West is described as "vile", "heinous" and "barbaric", the perpetrators are called "murderous criminals" and "terrorists".

On the other hand, violence by the West is described as a "military response" or an "air strike". The perpetrators are "brave men and women serving their country and defending our freedom".

Similarly, any suggestion that our violence is harmful and might actually create or provoke more violence against us, is vehemently condemned as "moral equivalence", "appeasement" or "aiding the terrorists".

Very often we find those who are the most enthusiastic about the use of violence against others are also the most vitriolic in their condemnation of the use of violence by others.

It is precisely this sort of bigotry, prejudice and hypocisy that presents the greatest obstacle to resolving conflict around the world.

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