Sunday, 28 May 2017

Jihad and the Church Militant

In Christian theology the church militant consists of those Christians alive right now who are engaged in the battle with Sin and the Devil. One thinks of “Onward Christian Soldiers!” and the Salvation Army. In medieval times this was interpreted more literally and the spiritual crusade became the real Crusades with real armies and real swords. Wresting Jerusalem from Islamic control was usually the prize. Such literalism is now largely, and literally, a thing of the past. The last Crusade took place in 1272 although there were great defensive battles against the Ottoman Turk Muslim navies and armies in 1571 at Lepanto and in 1683 in the Siege of Vienna. This is even more the case given that we have largely moved on not only from literalism but, to a great extent, from Christianity and religion itself into a secular society. This is not to say that our secular western culture is not shot through with assumptions and moralities deriving from Christianity.

Modern Islam is at a much earlier stage in its development. Just like the concept of the church militant battling, literally or otherwise, against sin it has the concept of Jihad – justified war against evil with further concepts like Christianity of martyrdom and access to Paradise through that martyrdom. As with Christianity these concepts are described and mentioned in central texts. However, as I say, Islam is at an earlier stage in its history and is, perhaps, more prone to taking the call for Jihad in a literal sense as the medieval crusaders did. The evidence for this is the large number of armed Jihadis present in the word and in our societies today. This may be the case not only because of the earlier stage in its development but also because the Prophet himself was, unlike Jesus, who said “turn the other cheek” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” amongst other things, a ruthless military commander famed for his victories and uncompromising demeanor in prosecuting wars against unbelievers. Indeed, he was celebrated for this.

It is not controversial to suggest that Muslim children are taught in the Mosque that many of the values taken for granted in western secular society are the work of the Devil. Among these will number the usury which underpins capitalism, attitudes towards homosexuality, alcohol and feminism – some of the most prominent things in our culture. Muslim children will be told that the way to heaven is by shunning such temptations and that they should be suspicious of them. In this way they are placed in a sort of direct moral opposition to the culture in which they live. My local mosque, for example, casually displays notices directing female Muslims to their special entrance with the words “Ladies entrance at rear” in full view of hundreds of western women every day. The other thing to say about Islam is that it is serious. It means what it says and aims to deliver what is written on the tin. There is no mealy-mouthed Anglicanism about it. One has to admire it for that.

Given the opposition set up between western culture and Islamic culture in intellectual and spiritual terms as, according to the Koran, it properly should be there is bound, at first in purely intellectual terms, to be a struggle in the minds of young Muslims for possession of them. There is a kind of battle of displacement which one side must win because the attitudes each contains are so diametrically opposed that they simply cannot co-exist in the same mind. For example you can’t believe homosexuality and usury are and are not ok at the same time. This being the case how far is it to travel from the concept of spiritual Jihad, the knowledge of the Prophet as a warrior, adolescent problems with identity and the infidel culture projected at young people every day to turn Jihad into a more literal and devastating version? Certainly, throw into the mix a narrative about the rape of the Middle East by the Imperialist Crusader forces and Bob’s your Uncle. You can see how attractive the adoption of such a role is.

I am, thus, suggesting that there is something very distinctive about the very nature of Islam that predisposes a considerable number of youths brought up in it towards adopting literal Jihad. How often do you hear of Buddhist, Hindu or, for that matter, Christian suicide bombers operating in western society? Sure there are the Anders Breviks and the Oklahoma bomber white supremacist types but their motivation is political rather than religious and they number far fewer than the Jihadis. They do, perhaps share with the Jihadis the need for a simple narrative that gives them an identity perhaps.

We can eternally apologise for imperial adventures begun in the 16th century, on which it is ridiculous to attempt, anachronistically, to impose modern liberal values as Jeremy Corbyn would like us to (I personally find it hard to feel guilty for the East India Company or Clive of India I’m afraid as no one thought to consult my views on their actions at the time). However, we should not forget that, in Kuwait in 1990 and in Bosnia and Kosovo in 1998 the West intervened dramatically to protect Muslims and this took place after Lockerbie and before the Twin Towers. Even the poorly thought through intervention in Libya was carried out to prevent a massacre of thousands of Libyans by Colonel Gaddafi in Benghazi. Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber was one of them. The narrative is definitely not always one of an evil West. We can also apologise for egregious mistakes like Iraq (carried out nevertheless, partly, to depose a grisly dictator who tortured and murdered his own people) but this in no way changes the fact that what we have in western Europe is a displacing clash of cultures who, in a sense, can’t tolerate each other if they are being honest. They can’t both occupy the same intellectual ground. For me this clash of cultures makes the narrative of historical blame pale into a certain degree of insignificance when placed alongside it. It does, of course, give it a historical context and, of course, in this context mistakes are made and bad things happen sometimes. How could they not do so?

To suggest that the main strand in the problem is the essentially militant nature of Muslim spirituality (at first purely intellectually but still so easily becoming literally so) and the fact that, however fastidiously that fact might be veiled, it condemns much of what we are is to speak things that may not be spoken in the liberal west. The only exception to this should be if they are true.

I offer no solution. I am not suggesting that we round up Muslims in Football stadiums and oblige then to stamp on the Koran. I am just trying to look the problem squarely in the face and see it for what it is. I accept that Muslims are only here in the UK or in France because of imperial adventures carried out by our distant forefathers but I don’t see that as a moral weight in the present under which I or we should bend. I can’t see an easy solution and, for the reasons I give above, would expect there to be more atrocities. When they happen I won’t be assuming it is my or our fault though as, perhaps, some of the left would like me to. The West largely defined itself by events like the Siege of Vienna in 1683 when Muslim culture was repulsed in order that Christian culture could continue to flourish. I, for one, am glad that it did and celebrate the fact unashamedly.

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