Editor's Note: This editorial appeared on the op-ed page of The Stamford Advocate in November 2001, about two months after the events of Sept. 11. I thought the idea that mankind would be better off without any religion would elicit a large number of negative responses, but surprisingly, there was only one — an editorial that appeared on the op-ed page the following week — click here for the Christian rebuttal. I had written a similar article on the dangers of religious fanaticism a few years earlier, and that article (click here) generated a larger number of negative responses. Clearly, I had not pushed the envelope as far as I had thought this time.
The Holy Wars That Never End
Why do our enemies hate us so much? There are as many answers to this question as there are pundits at CNN.
The contrast between our wealth and their poverty has been suggested, but this a doubtful root cause — most of the September 11 terrorists were middle-class Saudis, and the mastermind, Osama bin Laden, is richer than a Texas oilman. Nonetheless, it’s clear that we and our enemies are very different from one another.
Afghan fundamentalists are as foreign to most Americans as men from Mars, and we too must seem utterly alien to our Taliban foes. The sociological term “ethnocentrism” describes a group’s belief in its own natural rightness. This idea creates passionate tensions between “us” and “them,” fueling xenophobia the world over. And one key factor in this equation is that the terrorists are Muslims, and most of their victims are not.
According to the Bush administration, we are not at war with Islam; however, the one thing all members of the al-Qaida/Taliban axis have in common is their religion. At the same time, our enemies — from bin Laden and the Afghan leadership to Saddam Hussein and the Hezbollah suicide bombers — have shown no reluctance about calling for “Jihad” against America and its “Zionist allies.” And so the war on terrorism joins the panoply of religious conflicts already raging around the world.
Violence has exploded everywhere the three great Western religions intersect — from the Islamic genocide of Christians in the Sudan and Serb Christian massacres of Muslims in Bosnia to the unending, mutual slaughter of Israelis and Palestinians. As the third millennium anno Domini dawns, believers continue to hate and kill unbelievers, as billions continue to demonstrate fanatical allegiance to ancient religions that have remained virtually unchanged since the barbarous epochs from which they arose.
Besides their mutual hatreds, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common a foundation in the Old Testament, the writings of primitive, violent people in a savage and uncivilized land. If this seems an inflammatory statement, read the story of the fall of Jericho in the “Book of Joshua.” With the Lord’s encouragement, the Israelites “utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and asses with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:21). Jericho was not an isolated event — this story is one of many: “For Joshua did not draw back his hand … until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8:25–26). In city after city — Makke’dah, Libnah, Lachish — every last man, woman, infant and goat were murdered with Jehovah’s blessings. Thus did the Chosen People establish their claim to the land of milk and honey. It’s hard to imagine what pagan brutalities the original inhabitants of Canaan could have practiced that would have made them more immoral than their godly Hebrew conquerors.
Upon this violent foundation was the New Testament built. As Jesus warned his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Few of Christ’s words have been more prophetic. Of those who were not his followers, the Prince of Peace said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23), and in the 2,000 years hence, Christians have treated this as gospel.
In the name of God, fanatics of all faiths have gleefully burned the books they’ve found offensive. One can only imagine how different the world would be today if, rather than torching literature and science texts, the book burners had destroyed the Old and New Testaments. Does anyone with a sense of history imagine the world would be in worse shape today absent these books and the Koran?
Despite the Koran’s call to “fight those who do not believe in Allah” (Koran 9:29) and Allah’s exhortation to “wage war against such of the infidels as are your neighbors,” most historians agree that, for most of its 1,400-year history, Islam has been far less intolerant and bloodthirsty than Christianity. By contrast, Christendom’s history has comprised 20 centuries of uninterrupted barbarism, from the Inquisitions and pogroms against the Jews to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and the Crusades against the Saracens. In fact, during the Crusades, Jewish residents of cities in the Holy Land often sided with the Saracens, since the more-tolerant Muslims treated them far more mercifully than the Soldiers of the Cross, who tortured and massacred those they saw as “Christ killers” in the cities they conquered.
By the 20th century, the Muslims had begun to rival their Christian counterparts in making war on the Jews and any other neighbors they deemed to be unbelievers. In recent years, bloody Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic genocides in the Balkans have surpassed the savagery of Lebanon, where Christians, Jews, Druse, and Shiite and Sunni Muslims have been killing each other for decades. Meanwhile, Pakistan owes its very existence to hatred and mistrust between Muslims and Hindus, and, in Afghanistan, the Taliban compelled its few Hindus to wear distinguishing marks on their clothing, as the Nazis once did to the Jews.
Islam is reputed to be a beautiful religion, and perhaps, in its ideal form, it is. But where in the real world is it practiced in such an edifying manner? Certainly not in Saudi Arabia, a spawning ground for terrorists, where schoolchildren are taught hatred of the infidel with their geography lessons, and women are treated like chattel. Nor in Iran or Afghanistan, where fundamentalists practice Islam with a brutality that would bring tears to Mohammed’s eyes. And certainly not in the terrorist states of Syria and Iraq, where Ba’athist tyrants use the presence of the Jews in Palestine to fan the flames of hatred and divert their oppressed subjects’ attention from their own miseries.
For most of the 20th century, America stared down the Russians, and miraculously, we avoided destroying each other. But unlike the enemies we now face, the “Evil Empire” was not composed of nihilistic religious fanatics in love with the idea of death. The pragmatically atheistic Soviets didn’t revere martyrdom — as Christians and Muslims have done for centuries — and the evils of Communism did not include the belief that suicide or mass murder for God would transport the faithful to paradise. Nor did Soviet dogma involve deliberately sacrificing their own children, like the Palestinian gunmen who bring toddlers to Intifada street battles to be shot by Israeli soldiers, creating martyrs whose tiny bodies can be raised aloft while their pious elders shriek “God is great” into the television cameras.
During this past October, Protestant thugs have thrown pipe bombs at terrified Catholic schoolgirls in Ireland, while Muslim extremists machine-gunned Christian worshippers in Pakistan, and armed bands of Muslims and Christian rioters murdered each other in the cities of Nigeria. How many more millions will need to die before we finally become literally sick to death of the phrase “Holy War”?
Since September 11, the mosques, synagogues and churches have been filled, but is all this piety part of the solution or the problem? One can only wonder whether mankind will ever tire of hearing about Jihad or screaming “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
John Lennon once asked us to “imagine” a time when there would be “nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.” We can imagine such a time, but, sadly, none of us will live to see it.
Click here to read the Christian rebuttal to this article.
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