Whether or not tolerance between Sunni and Shia Muslims, as well as tolerance between Muslim and Christian religions, can be achieved even minimally, might well be one of the defining issues for the world community over the next decade. Christians can and will have marginal impact on the achievement of any degree of tolerance between the Sunni/Shia factions of Islam, rending a Sunni majority oppressing a Shia minority the norm. So that fractious and violent theme will likely continue. And so long as the terrorist segment of Sunni Islam reigns, there is little likelihood that Christians will be empowered to make peace with their Islamic cohabitors of the planet.
Disentangling "Divine Law" from the exercise of political power, by all faith communities, seems an obvious yet virtually impossible task, and among the Muslim communities, Divine Law is so integral to their faith as to be considered 'the' defining feature of its praxis. Yesterday in this space, we wrote about the history of "divine right of kings" aspect of the Christian faith, a historic barnacle that continues to hold too much sway in the organizational structure of both Roman and Anglican churches. For any human to presume that s/he is in possession of the absolute will/mind/spirit of God is, to put it mildly, presumption that defies the humility to engage in any faith expression. And for large groups, in all religious camps, to graft violent words, judgements, missiles and bullets to that presumption is tragically pathetic.
Nevertheless, that grafting is a crime integrally embedded in both Christianity and Islam.
While there are modest signs that, some would argue through democracy and the protection of minority rights, the west has made some progress out of a tribal/viscious/narrow parochialism that continues to rear its ugly head among Christians. There is a reasonable case to be made that bases religious intolerance upon excessive fear and self-righteous compensation, fear of being unacceptable to the Almighty and compensation that demonstrates a zealous discipleship to that same Almighty.
It was Henri Nouwen who introduced many of us to the concept of "redemptionism" as one of the less savoury features of the practice of the Christian faith by many of its adherents. "Working one's way into heaven" through excessive works, whether those be of the good Samaritan kind or the much more violent kind, is still evident as a very thin and questionable praxis of any faith discipline.
And for the west to depend on the achievement of democracy in many of the places where Christians are being violated by radical Islamists, not to mention the violent violation of the lives and communities of "other" Muslims by their Sunni "brothers" seems a little over simplistic.
If Divine Law trumps human law, for all of the Muslim communities, and using whatever means, including violence of extreme proportions, to achieve the imposition of that Divine Law in what they regard is Islamic states such as the one sought in both Iraq and Syria, then the achievement of democracy will be a much lower priority, if a priority at all, for those convicted of their radical Islamic "faith".
The language of the "state" or the democratic process, including the writing of laws that seek not to impose specific religious tenets of any faith represents a completely different culture from the impetus to seek to impose Divine Law on a people living within a specific geographic and political boundary. Much of the cognitive dissonance of the last half century over the question of Quebec's remaining within Canada has been the separation of a language and impetus to preserve a unique language and culture within a wider and more dominant culture, and the failure of the people of Canada, that larger culture, to grasp the subtleties of culture from 'economics and taxes and status' the normal questions facing governments.
And Canada's dissonance did not come from a clash of religious faiths. It came from a deep passion to preserve and protect the French language and culture in what the Quebecois feared was and is a tsunami of "English" culture that dominates the North American continent. And while many "democratic" steps have been taken, both in Quebec and in Ottawa to "accommodate" the preservation impetus, including referenda on actual sovereignty for Quebec outside of Canada, there continues to be a significant chasm of missing political empathy from the people outside of Quebec
for the sovereignist movement, and the fears that sustain it. And so far as most of Canada is aware, there is no sovereignist arguing on the basis of anything resembling "divine law" to support the impetus to secede.
Nevertheless the "radical" impulse to achieve a specific political and religious goal, the establishment of many Islamic states, a caliphate, in spite of the existence of a plethora of states in which Islam is now practiced without interference or even the threat of interference by the state, remains at the core of the radical Islamic terror that seeks to engulf the world's political apparatus, including its economy, its military, its intelligence and its governance. And given that the movement is armed, and committed to its own martyrdom in the effort, and seeking to acquire all weapons of mass destruction, there is nothing to which that movement will not resort to achieve its "religious" goals, inspired by a conviction that they are doing this as part of their "worship of Allah".
Of course, Christianity, in the abstract, does not seek to engage as either an official or an unofficial enemy of radical Islam. Pluralist, democratic states too do not seek to declare war on radical Islam. Consequently, the radical Islamists have, by default, gained the upper hand, although their capacity and resources are marginal when compared with those of the 'western' states. In fact, radical Islam occupies the role of David as the one with only a sling-shot for a weapon, in a undeclared war on the mightiest militaries the world has ever known. And those behemoths of power seem increasingly powerless in the mountains of Afghanistan, and on the streets of Boston, in the underground in London, on the rail line in Spain, and in the heart of the financial district of New York.
In an undeclared war, without the usual conventions, expectations, strategies and tactics, those mega-weapons have little if any opportunities for effective engagement. The 'west' is in danger of scratching itself to death, like the mosquito sprayed with insecticide dust that lodges in the crevices of its wings. Only this time, the insecticide comprises not merely a chemical compound but a religious fanatic group determined to achieve dominance by Islam, in the form they consider appropriate, Sharia Law.
Negotiating with terror, and with terrorists, like negotiating with hostage-takers, is never easy or often effective. It is fraught with deception, distraction, and all of the deviance of evil for the simple reason that those forces have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, in their own mind, an afterlife of specific rewards, promised, also deceptively and deviously by their faith leaders. Engaging in all-out military conflict will render Islamic terrorists precisely the status of martyr that they seek. Headlines will scream "unfair" for the big boys to be so merciless to poor little unarmed and incompetent Islamic terrorists. And yet, spotty, piecemeal attacks by whatever micro-weapons like drones, will also evoke similar cries of "foul" given the "collateral damage" that results.
If Islamic terrorism were a new biological virus, the WHO would have a team of researchers in many labs working on its chemical, physical, and geographic implications, as well as how it is spreading. This would constitute a "world health danger" of significant magnitude that every country would be contributing large sums to ward it off. The people of the world would demand such a response.
While one could stretch the case and call this "infection" a disease of the human spirit, there is no specific body like the WHO, or the IMF, nor any military alliance that is designed to confront this malaise.
We are frightened, and we are also trained to be tolerant of the religious views of 'the other' in our many pluralist states, and so to turn our eyes directly in the face of the new threat would be to deny our personal and our national histories, for the most part. We fought organized crime through the police and criminal investigative resources of Interpol and other police-like cadres. We fight cancer in the labs, in the universities and in the operating rooms where biopsies can be secured and analyzed. We fight criminal behaviour in our courts, through the presentation of evidence before a judge and jury. We even have been able to convict specific people of crimes against humanity, in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, when the evidence against them was so convincing as to be incontrovertibly convicting. Are we either unwilling or unable to "define" the acts of Islamic terrorists in a manner that would render both those committing those acts and the acts themselves "fitting" with our existing legal structures? Or, perhaps, are we so frightened that we do not have adequate evidence to convict, and are therefore unwilling to expose our deficit in an open and public Does the world not, in fact, face a common enemy in Islamic terrorists?
Does the world not, in fact, have the collective will and the collective imagination and resources to do more than carry out micro-raids, "chopping the head" from the monster in a vain hope of eventual success?
Let's acknowledge that Al Qaeda is in this fight for the long haul. They are ready to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of martyrs for their cause, and clearly they are gaining in their recruiting efforts, helped, ironically and tragically by our very minimalist approach, which nevertheless garners negative press especially among the civil libertarians who consider those acts "bullying" when carried out by large states against a single household.
We cannot hold out the hope for the democratic ideal to become the norm in states currently fraught with Islamic terrorist threats. Nor can we hold out the hope that our democratic and negotiating ways, including our collective criminal court, can and will be adequate to the threat that grows and spreads its tentacles daily. We also cannot fold up our collective "arms" (in the physical, anatomical sense of the word) and sit back by the fireplace waiting for some world leader to come up with a strategy to confront this threat.
Together, through the media, through think tanks, through intelligence gathering when and where appropriate, and through a collective and collaborative merging of the best intelligences around the world, we have to elevate this scourge to the top of our shared agenda, in an effort to stem the tide everywhere, with a concerted and intelligent and committed strategy linking both hard and soft power, linking both Christian and Islamic scholarship, and linking various representatives of different cultural heritages. This is not merely a national emergency. Nor it is an incalculable international emergency. It is clearly an amoeba-like movement that seeks the light of headlines through the death and destruction of thousands if not millions in order to accomplish its goals. And we must invoke all of our historic models, including perhaps in a new century and generation, forces heretofore that considered themselves non-negotiable enemies in this world effort to block further destruction of lives, of communities, of economies and of opportunities.
And we must not be "intellectually detached" in asking whether radical Islam can get along with other elements of Islam or with Christianity. that is not the relevant question at this time. And we must sacrifice our national perspectives, in considering this issue, not as another complication faced by "our" military, or "our" intelligence community as is too often the case in the United States.
Writing in the Washington Post today, former presidential speech-writer Michael Gerson asks some significant questions, but, we believe, from a narrow national perspective and while relevant, such a perspective, in order to be effective, has to be merged with a broader point of view.
As William Inboden of the University of Texas notes, there is a robust correlation between religious persecution and national security threats. “Including World War II,” argues Inboden, “every major war the United States has fought over the past 70 years has been against an enemy that also severely violated religious freedom.” The reverse is equally true. “There is not a single nation in the world,” he says, “that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States.”
There are a number of possible explanations for this strong correlation. The most compelling is that religious freedom involves the full and final internalization of democratic values — the right to be a heretic or infidel. It requires the state to recognize the existence of binding loyalties that reach beyond the state’s official views.
It took many centuries for Christendom to achieve this thick form of pluralism. Whether the Islamic world can move toward its own, culturally distinctive version of this democratic virtue is now one of the largest geopolitical questions of the 21st century.
Some argue that Muslim theology — emphasizing fidelity to its conception of divine law — makes this unlikely (or impossible). Others point to past centuries when Muslim majorities and rulers coexisted with large Arab-Christian populations — a thin form of pluralism in which Christians were second-class citizens but not subject to violent intolerance. Every major religious faith contains elements of tribal exclusivity and teachings of respect for the other. The emergence of social pluralism depends on emphasizing the latter above the former. (By Michael Gerson, Can Muslim lands learn to tolerate Christianity? Washington Post, December 26, 2013)