Wednesday, June 27, 2007

God as a weapon

Ed Husain has an interesting essay, “With God On Their Side,” in today’s Guardian comparing political movements that cloak themselves in religion, specifically as this plays out in the Middle East:
Zionism and Islamism are both political perversions of ancient Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam. They were both born out of protest and anger: Zionism in response to tsarist pogroms and Islamism as a retort to colonialism. The heavy political content of both ideologies came from men who had no theological training in the centuries-old traditional understanding of the Torah or the Koran. Theodore Herzl, an Austrian journalist, mapped out Zionism in an age of ubiquitous nationalism. Syed Qutb, an Egyptian literary critic, was the chief ideologue for Islamism. And yet they appealed to people of religious faith. Or did they?

Some of the most ardent Zionists have been non-Jews, not least George W Bush and droves of evangelical, literalist Christians. Increasingly, here in Britain, we are witnessing a new phenomenon of left-leaning non-Muslims who identify with Islamism: George Galloway's Respect party members are a fine example of this. When non-Jews and non-Muslims can share political ideologies set up in the name of faith, it illustrates that these movements, in essence, are not faith-driven, but political developments that have a potential to appeal to various sections of the political spectrum, irrespective of religious affiliation. Islamism pits itself against socialism and capitalism, not other religions.

My problem lies with marketing political ideologies as religion. Whether it is evangelical Christianity in the United States and their religious support for rightwing Republicans, or Zionism posing as Judaism, or Islamism masquerading as Islam - all three are equally guilty of misleading people, creating conflicts and corrupting three of the world's greatest religions.
You can read the entire piece here.

David at Harry’s Place, while sympathetic in general to Husain’s argument does take issue with some comparisons of Zionism and Islamism:
The major link between Islamism and Zionism is that both are, in practice, communalist political movements. Zionism and Islamism therefore have tended to recruit through communal structures: both religious and non-religious.

However, there are important differences.

1. Zionism is a nationalism, which argues that a jewish national homeland is good for all jews. Islamism, by contrast, regards an Islamic government is good for everybody in the world….

2. Zionism is a national liberation struggle, which was fuelled by genocide and persecution. Islamism is a trans-national movement, which is the product, chiefly, of a reaction against the failure of an autocratic Arab nationalism.

Ed Hussein believes that Islamism is fuelled by "colonialism": which may be so to some extent. However, it is principally a reaction to a failed arab nationalism, and emerged directly out of that failure. Even in the West Bank and Gaza - where Islamism is in part a response to Israeli occupation - it presents itself as no more than part of an international Islamic movement, fighting a specific battle against jewish "usurpers". As is the case elsewhere in the Arab world, Hamas' main opponents are arab nationalist and other political movements. Islamism is a post-colonial ideology.

3. Zionism is principally a secular doctrine. Although there are a small minority of religious Zionists, most Zionists regard themselves as supporters of a national liberation movement, and not an attempt to create a kingdom of divine justice on earth. That is why most Zionists have been interested in creating and maintaining a nation state, which is a pluralist democracy. Islamism is overwhelmingly a religious movement. Although some Islamists have chosen a democratic path to creating an Islamist state, the ultimate goal is the creation of a system of government in accordance with a particular interpretation of god's law.

Problems flow from the religious nature of Islamism, chiefly:

- It has a difficulty in recognising the equal status of women;
- It has a difficulty in recognising the equal status of minority groups.
You can read the entire post here.

I would simply caution that there are competing visions of Zionism and Islamism, which are important to be aware of in trying to understand the complexity of the politics of the Middle East. But putting the Middle East aside for a moment I think it is worth noting that even in this country there is a similar phenomenon, Christianism that uses as leverage the authority Christianity seems to hold in our society. By no stretch of the imagination has it reached anywhere close to the extreme that Islamism has reached in the Middle East. Hopefully, it has peaked in its influence in our democracy but if it has not then it is important to remain vigilant and be aware of the extremes people will go to who claim God is on their side.

No comments: