There is a fundamentalist religious undertone to this naive and over-simplistic view that splits the world into two contrasting parties. Many do not know that Bush’s words are based on the following saying that the Gospels of Matthew (12:30) and Luke (11:23) attribute to Jesus: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” People differ on whether Jesus could have said such a thing, but no one would argue that what he meant would have had nothing to do with taking side in a war. Jesus was not a man of war. He was the Messiah, but the Messiah was not the king that the Jews thought would come to rescue them from the heathen Romans and restore the glory of Israel. This distorted image of the Messiah started to develop in the 6th century BCE after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel and Judea, and it gained more momentum in the following centuries as the turbulent Jewish history was unfolding. The reality is that the awaited Messiah was a man of peace who came to reaffirm the message of God. There is nothing in Jesus’ history to suggest that he sought any political agenda or resorted to violence, which is why most Jews at the time did not accept his messiahship. So whether the words above are truly his or, like other sayings in the Gospels, falsely ascribed to him, they could not have had anything to do with taking side in violent conflicts. Bush’s indirect quote of the Gospels, however, is a typical aspect of religious fundamentalism where sacred texts are quoted to give authority to fundamentalist narrow views.
But there is a more sinister dimension to Bush’s declaration. It gave the term “terror” the meaning of being whatever America fights! America was going to war, and that war was against terrorism. If you wanted to know who the terrorists were, wait and see whom the USA was going to launch a war against. Throughout history, warring politicians, whether secular or religious fundamentalists like Bush, almost always claimed that they were on the right side and were fighting evil. Nothing new there. Defining what is perceived as the biggest threat and challenge facing the world as being “what one fights and/or is against” is not a first either as far as Western, and mainly US, politicians are concerned. But the blatantly self-referential way in which Bush expresses this view makes it look rather innovative and more affirmative. Only someone who is completely indulgent in self-righteousness can make such a proclamation. It is extremely concerning that the leader of the world’s only superpower should think in this way. But the real calamity for the world is the number of Western leaders who followed suit.
But why did Bush and other Western politicians prefer this way of defining terror? Why not go for a definition that explains terrorism for what it is, not as simply being what the US and its allies do not like? The answer is that any such definition would not only apply to the individuals and groups that the US and its allies would like to be called terrorists, but it would also apply to “friendly allies” — more specifically, Israel. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the activities of Israel that are associated with its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands knows that any definition that would try to capture indiscriminate atrocities against innocent people and the terrorizing of children, women, and elderly people would make Israel a terror state, its leaders terrorists, and its supporters firmly connected to terrorism.
Writing this article was triggered by yet another Israeli military campaign that is supposedly be against Palestinian militants but one that all know is causing one massacre after another of innocent civilians. Even if Israel argues that at times it acts in self-defence, no one can dispute the fact that it has taken the expressions “disproportionate response” and “collateral damage” to a new level. When the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in July 2006, Israel launched a devastating attack on Lebanon that caused massive damage, killed over a thousand civilians and injured many more, and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Only Israel can get away with anything like this, and it can do that because it has the unfettered support and unlimited blessings of the US.
The history of the Jewish state is shamelessly one of a very long series of acts of aggressions. The people of Palestine have seen their lands stolen, their livelihood destroyed, and their loved ones killed in their hundreds of thousands over the years. There is hardly any atrocity one that can think of that Israel has not committed. Ironically, Israel has even been doing to the Palestinian people what the Nazi did to the Jews. A few months ago I was in Berlin and, like everyone else, saw the Berlin Wall. People see it, and rightly so, as a symbol of fallen tyranny. They would tell you, also rightly, that we should not allow such a situation to develop again. Yet a similar wall has been built by Israel to effectively imprison the Palestinians. It has made the Palestinians live in one big concentration camp. That camp, furthermore, can be invaded at will at any time by the Israeli army. It is true that Israel has not been exterminating Palestinians like the Nazi did to the Jews, but its killing machine has had devastating effects. History is useful only when the lessons we learn from it help us avoid the mistakes of the past and develop a better future. Symbols such as the Berlin Wall and atrocities such as the holocausts must be learned from. Yet the one thing that Israel seems to have learned is how to exclude the Palestinians from the benefits from the learning of such lessons.
The US and other Western countries are very close allies and supporters of Israel, so whatever Israel does is justified one way or another by its allies. This is why Hamas and Hezbollah are called “terrorist” organizations but Israel is presented as a “victim” of terrorism regardless of what it does. But does this not sound very harsh on developed countries like the US and Britain that talk all the time about beautiful concepts such as democracy and human rights and have developed institutions based on these concepts? How can one explain why these countries behave in what looks like completely immoral way with respect to the Palestinian problem? Of course, one simple answer is self-interests. The fact that the US is a democracy and has self-styled itself as the “leader of the free world” does not mean, for instance, it would not support authoritarian regimes against emerging democratic movements in those countries when the dictators are better suited for US interests. The history of the US foreign policy is full of such examples.
The US and other Western countries see Israel as a strategic ally in a region that is extremely important because of its resources and the need of those developed economies for those resources. But why is Israel in particular that partner? Any other country could have been made to play that role. The answer takes us back to the realms of religion. Christians believe that Jesus’ second coming would take place after the dispersed Jews have gathered again in the land of their forefathers, that is Palestine. Jews share this idea, although they believe that Jesus was an imposter and that the real Messiah has yet to come:
Jewish Zionism and Christian Zionism have both found in the establishment of the modern state of Israel a sign for the coming of the Messiah, although they believe that each other’s Messiah is false! Strengthening the state of Israel, helping and encouraging Jews from all parts of the world to immigrate to Palestine, and usurping more Palestinian lands became noble religious duties for the Zionists. (from my book The Mystery of the Historical Jesus).
This is where the support for Israel historically came from. Of course, the support for Israel of many countries has now moved on to be about other mutual interests. But for the US, a country whose politics is dominated by fundamentalist Christianity and Christian Zionism, the religious significance of the establishment of Israel remains a major reason for its commitment to the Jewish state. US Christian “charities” pour billions of dollars into Israel to allow it to expand further and build yet more settlements on stolen land. These organizations, whose money brings only misery to the lives of numerous innocent people whose only guilt is that they are non-Jewish living in Palestine, are not called “terrorists.” On the other hand, organizations that try to help the victims of the confiscation and Israelization of the land and the campaigns to bring forward Jesus’ supposed advent can be easily linked to “terrorism” and banned.
Religious fundamentalism can be something that affects one’s life only. Any individual is free to adopt whatever beliefs they like and do what they like with their own life. But when the fundamentalism of any movement starts to affect the lives of other people and tries to force them violently to live in a particular way, the term “extremism” becomes a more accurate label. This applies to the form of Christian fundamentalism that links the second coming of Jesus to the establishment of Israel and the Jewish fundamentalism that links the coming of the Messiah to the formation of Israel. What the innocent people of Palestine have been suffering from is Jewish and Christian extremism.
I personally believe in a two state-solution for the tragedy in Palestine. But I do not mean by a Palestinian state what committed Zionists mean. I am talking about a substantial state for the Palestinian people, not two corner zones at the mercy of a vicious powerful neighbor. East Jerusalem must be given back to the Palestinians. Most Zionists, Christian and Jewish, would see giving any part of Jerusalem, if not any part of Israel, as a move against their faith — something that would delay the coming of their respective Messiahs.
I am not writing this article to suggest in anyway that there are no forms of Islamic extremism. Al-Qaeda and similar thinking organizations are extremists. Extremism is ugly regardless of its affiliation. The problem, however, is that the Christian West has been decidedly blind to the fact that for decades the world has been suffering much more from Christian and Jewish extremism than Islamic extremism. This is the painful truth that Bush and those who share his beliefs cannot get themselves to acknowledge. It is true, of course, that the Palestinian problem has triggered reactive Islamic extremism and terrorism, which must never be justified. But the reality is that the problem itself is one created by Jewish and Christian extremism and terrorism, and these have been given legitimacy by the West. Until and unless those in power in the West come to terms with this fact and its shameful history, the world will continue to suffer, regardless of how many times Israel’s atrocities are called “self-defence” and Palestinian reactions are termed “terrorism.”
What is required of Christian and Jewish extremists and Zionists amounts to a rebirth. These are the newborn Christians and Jews that the world really need, not the ones that Zionism has been giving birth to.
PS. This article was first published on 11th/January/2009 on Qur’anicStudies.com.