In our progressively more dumbed down world, where tolerance has been honed to the point of cowardice, and the perfectly good word, “discrimination” has been appropriated to mean only bigotry instead of its proper meaning of being able to tell right from wrong at least for us personally, two other words are more commonly used interchangeably and I think it is leading to some dangerous thinking.
For those who, for whatever reason, follow geopolitical issues broadly and as they apply in the Middle East more specifically, the necessary historical background required to understand the events of today would force an awareness of the impact and general details of the rise of Islam, its denominational schisms, and its stated aspirations for both its followers and the world and non-believers. Muslims do not have to guess or try to interpret such things; Mohammed’s book is crystal clear as to what Allah wishes for the believers: a worldwide theological caliphate devoted totally to Allah, the words of his prophet, of his pronounced laws, and consequently (and expressly) how any true believer is to view and interface with the unbelievers and their world.
Our modern “anything goes and there should be no consequences for anything” world view has come to see the term “fundamentalist” as some sort of fringe group but all it takes to be a fundamentalist is to believe the word of one’s sacred text. Within any given theology, believing the text is not the stance of a fringe group, those on the fringe are those who want to expand the teachings to include activities either nor mentioned or specifically forbidden in the text. In the Christian world that can be an issue since sometimes the “instructions” and rules are couched in parable and metaphor requiring interpretation, and sometimes, as anyone who can read Hebrew or Greek knows, mistranslations have occurred, and sometimes there is still an argument over which writings claiming to be “Gospels” are the ones to be included in the Canon. At its very inception there were major rifts of understanding between James, a disciple and brother of Jeshua, and Paul, a convert. Each went on to found their own churches but James was killed in the Jewish revolt so Paul’s view won by default and went on to be the theology of the Roman church which other claimants of the label, “Christian” see as practicing precisely what Yeshua was trying to overthrow among the Jewish priestly class. As applied to Christians, claims of fundamentalism is truly a relative term.
“Fundamentalists” believe they have the only true interpretation of the scriptures and anything outside of that is not to be sanctioned. To them those other people calling themselves Christians are following false prophets or, worse, the Devil himself. Fringe members, on the other hand, know what it says but believe it should be reinterpreted in light of a changing world. The result is a “religion” that even Yeshua/Jesus would be hard pressed to recognize.
But the Muslim world has no such complexities. The book is still read properly in its original language. Mohammed was a warrior writing with little or no metaphorical view and fighting for his and his new religion’s life. He was pragmatic. In the early writing he argued for a live and let live attitude to hopefully convince the authorities opposed to him to “chill out” as we would say.
But when he and his army succeeded in taking over the writing changed quickly and drastically to a vengeful position aimed at eliminating any and all that could later play the same game and rise up against him. However, even with that, Islam has not escaped some factionalization. In the midst of a rift between Muslims starting with the succession of Mohammed’s leadership, Sunni and Shi’a have declared each other apostates and subject to even worse treatment by the “true” believers of your denomination than the infidel non-believer. Each seeks to gain total control of the Muslim world for their own sect and thereby bring all followers under the same banner and with that now gain the world as promised by Mohammed speaking for Allah. Anyone on the other side resisting conversion to the “true” side is an enemy of Allah and needs to be killed. Period. Islam IS the religion of peace if you happen to be a Muslim of the same sect. For others, there have been, at times, practical reasons for governments to allow them to exist but they have never been treated well. And even then, the true believers felt the authorities were bordering on blasphemy for not simply smiting them as mandated in the book.
What is important to understand however, both sides agree that once that schism is mended (by one side annihilating the other…), the next step ordained by Allah, is to take control of the world in his name. And they further agree that the approach is to convert or kill all current non-believers. Only one thing can stand in the way of that future: that is the Devil and his followers. And there is only one thing to do with them… they must be rooted out and utterly destroyed.
Christians and Jews are mentioned by name and called out for special attention and for the faithful to “…smite their necks” in the name of Allah. We are children of the book, spiritual descendants of Abraham and as such, in their view, ought to have been able to see the divine revelations of Mohammed and accepted them. That we did not can only be the work of the devil and we now are his minions. OK class, guess what that means should happen to us?
Into this world view steps the group that is now calling itself the Islamic State. We call them radical fundamentalists but they are just doing what the book says. By contrast we talk of “good” Muslims that we call “mainstream” (since they don’t seem to openly want to kill us all) but in truth they are really the fringe because they are NOT adhering to the clear orders contained in the book.
So how does this apply to our discussion? We in our secularized world are running away from all concepts involving religious beliefs as fast as we can and so are increasingly seeing the various parties’ positions as following an ideology. In doing so, we are using terms that expressly limit our ability to recognize the realities we are facing. The beliefs and positions of the followers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda are not simply ideologies as we would dearly love to use the word.
Being liberal or conservative, libertarian or socialist are ideologies: ideologies are ideas about governance arrived at from more fundamental beliefs about economics, ethics, sociology, anthropology, etc. They address ways to govern such as aristocracies and democracies and their connection to economic systems such as feudalism and capitalism. They are matters of the head, intellectual conclusions based on our own experiences and how those have created belief filters of history and human nature. What is important about ideologies is that to the true intellectual and open minded thinker (a type of individual becoming rarer by the day), they can change with new data and experiences. We base our ideologies on what we perceive as how a country (or other political entity) should be run.
But FAITH, is something far different. Faith is visceral, emotional, by definition it requires no corroboration or hard evidence. It tells how the world IS as a deep, usually theologically based paradigm. Faith, in this context, is about one’s deep and profound conviction about what is, to them, the REALLY important issue of the world, that being one’s relationship with God. Faith requires none of the hard factual evidence or even experiential reality demanded of an ideology by any reflective thinker and is therefore less vulnerable to debate. Faith is what we BELIEVE to be true lacking the sort of inescapable evidence from observation or experimentation. (We could argue that much of what passes for scientific “fact” is no less based on faith than a belief in a supreme creator-being or indeed that atheism is no less faith-based than any theology but that would be material for a different post.)
The important distinction is this: it is not ideology that gets people to walk into the lion’s den, to become martyrs, to risk terrifyingly ghastly ends to avoid renunciation… it is faith. People, facing death, will publically renounce ideologies with little difficulty, but it is far harder for a true believer to renounce their faith.
But here in our progressive culture where many long ago lost all vestiges of faith in anything other than in the government to save them there is also a decreasing inability to understand the power of real faith, especially when it forms a serious, open, and expressed threat to us. We look for reasons underlying such (to us) irrational positions in ideology based causes. “They are jealous of what we have!” or variations on that theme. We fail utterly to understand they DO NOT WANT what have most of which is, to them decadent at best and blasphemous at worse. They simply want us gone and wiped from the face of the earth so they can proceed to establish their medieval idea of a worldwide Caliphate in service to Allah.
We cannot understand or accept the existential nature of the threat they present because we cannot get our liberal minds around the differences between ideology and faith; indeed we do not understand faiths associated with theologies AT ALL though we practice faiths in non-theological topics all the time though avoiding the term. We refuse to take them at their word when they swear to exterminate us because we do not even remotely understand the power of the underlying faith. We expect geopolitical positions to be driven by the same logic that we see as rational and have become incapable of even understanding, much less accepting, that what is irrational to us is perfectly rational to someone whose faith demands that action as a precursor to the “forever” of heavenly delights awaiting the faithful.
So long as we continue to insist on dealing with them like some opposing ideology and assuming we can win that game as capitalism did with communism, we will be blind to a very patient, very dedicated, very deadly threat. Our cultural need for instant gratification for temporary pleasures and the technologies that supply them will be, in the end, no match for a devoted, intractable, faith-based enemy with a very, very long view because time is on their side.
We can try to marginalize the warriors on that side all we wish but they are just believing their book. We wonder why the “good” Muslims we tell ourselves are mainstream don’t rise up to overthrow these bad actors and have no understanding that it is often because they have the same book. Some claim that if we try to fight them we will just make them angrier at us and more likely to want to foment mischief upon us. I’m here to tell you the only way to believe that is to be ignorant of Muslim history and, perhaps more importantly, their sacred text. Here, I’ll help get you started.
Surah II, 216 states clearly, “Warfare is ordained for you though it is hateful to you. It may happen that you hate something that is good for you or love a thing that is bad for you. Allah knoweth, you know not.”
And it worked. Under Turkish leadership Islam expanded enormously. The Moors claimed southern Europe and Sulleiman The Magnificent expanded Muslim rule will into middle Europe. The Ottoman Turks brought Islam to a major portion of the world from Europe to India. It had embraced the knowledge of the world in science and most arts (though icons and portraits were forbidden as idolatrous).
Islam made a bold promise to the believers, for example:
Surah XXIV, 55. “Allah has promised such of you as believe in him and do good works that He will sure make them to succeed in the earth even as he caused those who were before them to succeed. (XXXIX, 10) O, my bondsmen who believe! Observe your duty to your Lord. For those who do good in the world there is good, and Allah’s world is spacious. Truly the steadfast will be paid their wages without stint.”
Allah would give them the world, the Imams and Mullahs told them, if they were just willing to live a righteous life and fight in his name to achieve it. And until the growth of scientific knowledge began to bump into theological tenets of the Prophet, it seemed to be working extremely well and providing a reinforcement of the rightness of the beliefs.
At that point the western world began its slow climb into the modern era and the Muslim world sat on the plateau it had reached. As the western world continued to grow, expand, and progress, the world of Islam began to shrink and fall away because economically, scientifically, industrially it could not longer keep up. Mired in an obsolete world view that essentially let fundamentalists ignore half the population’s brain power and potential contributions and who rewarded dissent with grim death, it had no chance. Islam had, in some senses, failed to learn the lessons of its fellow theologies in that when scripture that, in context, referred to man’s cosmic, heavenly goal was interpreted to daily life, all manner of aberrations could be done in the name of the scriptures and of God.
But when you believe, as the followers of Muhammad were told, that if you obeyed the Prophet’s words that you were destined to greatness, only heresy (which was a danger that made the Spanish Inquisition seem like child’s play) could make one even think that perhaps the problem lay internally in the system. Therefore, by definition and by faith it absolutely had to come from outside. From those people. From those people who were somehow getting ahead and had to be doing it by the work of Satan since it was the only workable explanation. In other words, from us. We are the ones seen as persecuting the believers and waging an insidious covert war specifically keeping them from their promised glory. Their sacred text allows for no other conclusion. No fundamentalist interpretation need be applied here, only a simple reading of the words and an acceptance that they mean what they say just as the followers of Islam believe them to.
Well, happily for them, the Qur’an has a solution for the problem. And it is a simple and incredibly effective one. Kill the infidel who is holding back the Faithful. Don’t forget, that’s us. And it’s a very difficult position to face since there is no room for negotiation.
You don’t believe it? Would you believe the Qur’an itself? Let’s see what, in addition to the section above, it says with a few examples…
Surah III, 196-197. “Let not the vicissitude of the success of those who disbelieve deceive thee. It is but a brief comfort. And afterward their habitation will be hell, an ill abode.”
Surah V, 10. “They who disbelieve and deny our revelations, such are the rightful owners of hell. .. (14) And with those who say, “Lo, we are Christians,” we made a covenant but they forgot a part of that whereof they were admonished. Therefore we have stirred up enmity and hatred among them till the day of resurrection. (51.) Oh ye who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians for friends. They are friends to one another. He among you who takes them for friends is one of them. Allah does not guide wrongdoing folk. “
Surah VIII, 12-13. … “So make those who believe stand firm. I (Allah) will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger. That is because they oppose Allah and his messenger. Lo! Allah is severe in punishment. (38-39) Tell those who disbelieve that if they cease from persecution of the believers that which is past shall be forgiven them. But if they return thereto, then the example of the men of old hath already gone before them for a warning. Fight them until the persecution is no more and religion is all for Allah. (65) O Prophet, exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you (believers) twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred and if there be one thousand steadfast they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah. Allah is with the steadfast. It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land.”
Surah IX, 36. “… Wage war on all the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you. And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto him. (123) O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you and let them find harshness in you and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto Him.”
There are 114 Surahs in the Qur’an. And from X to CXIV they continue with this same hatred and encouragement of violence against the disbelievers and those who, in their view, persecute them. Don’t be fooled by people trying to put a polite spin on this. Islam is a VERY peaceful religion if you are also Muslim AND of the correct sect. But if you are not; if you are, by their definition, a disbeliever, then it has no patience, no room, and no quarter for you. if Sunni and Shia are anxious to kill each other over subtle disagreements in dogma, why would you not think they would delight in killing complete disbelievers?
I’m not exactly sure how you get angrier than that. Nor am I sure how to make them LESS angry except by throwing away our intellects, our industry, and reverting to a feudal society so they can get ahead again. The war between believers and nonbelievers was happening when the text was being written and it formed the framework of its core thoughts and ideas. They were, in their minds, fighting for their lives and beliefs and there could be no quarter in such a conflict with such high cosmic stakes.
And for them, they still are. For the brief period when Muhammad was gathering forces in Mecca he preached, as noted above, tolerance to keep a low profile. But by the time he arrived at Medina with his Muslim armies, all pretense was thrown away and the merciless brutality of actions against the non-believers was unrelenting.
One current argument is that they are just mad because we are in their territory and if we just went away and left them alone all would be well and they would happily play in their own sandbox and be satisfied. Given the history of the Moors in Spain or the Ottoman Empire out of Turkey, we would believe that… why???
Another current argument is that fundamentalism is fundamentalism regardless of source, And God knows there are sad, depraved offshoots claiming adherence to Christianity such as the Westboro crowd, that would even give Satanism a bad name. But going directly to the source texts to which they claim loyalty, you have read the clearly commands to the Muslim faithful. But in the claimed teachings of Yeshua/Jesus there is not a single line that is even roughly equivalent. To the contrary his followers are admonished to love their enemies as themselves and to turn the other cheek. REAL Christian fundamentalists take those lines to heart. REAL Muslim fundamentalists would happily cut out the hearts of those Christians.
Only the historical and theological realities form an essential understanding if we are to make any sense at all of the actions of the Muslim world about both this and other actions. Al Qaeda and now ISIS/ISIL/IS or whatever it is calling itself today are NOT simply fringe fundamentalists, they are devoted followers of Mohammed and his writing, different from others only in their willingness to put their lives on the line for their faith. We in the secular west are wont to give short shrift to theology ourselves and therefore, in our hubris, to other cultures and their beliefs as well. It is and will continue to be a huge, potentially catastrophic error. We are increasingly unwilling to put our lives on the line for ANYthing, probably because we have allowed our ideologies to kill our faith.
Sadly, in our case, there was no fight between them, there was instead a complete capitulation by those for whom instant gratification was nowhere near fast enough, who, increasingly, saw themselves as worthy and entitled to the efforts of others, and who insisted on lives for which there were no consequences for choices or behaviors. There was no fight, there was not even a skirmish.
Now we are facing a faith that is quite willing to fight. You cannot fight faith with ideology. The Romans tried and failed, the Bolsheviks tried and failed. We are trying and failing. Perhaps in the end THEY are right and ideology will fall. But, as they say in basketball, you miss 100% of the shots you do not take. And so long as we insist on seeing their position as simply an opposing ideology we have no chance. It is as if someone handed you a flashlight to help navigate a treacherous path… and then put a blindfold on you.