Islam and the Gods of War


Another terror attack has resulted in a fresh round of demands for a Reformation of Islam, a religion that is increasingly presented in the West as a violent ideology. So far as we ignore all the facts we can justifiably label Islam and Muslims as violent.

Yesterday’s atrocious massacre in Orlando, as a disgusting homophobic hate crime with no demonstrable connections with terror organisations – Islamic or otherwise, has once again ignited the debate over Islam. Omar Seddique Mateen, the son of a former Afghan presidential hopeful, was a Muslim. He was born into a moderate Muslim family, and despite having gone on hajj to Mecca he was not known to be particularly religious, but to the media what matters is that he was a Muslim. It is merely incidental to the media agenda that the target of his murderous crime was the LGBT community. News and social media hacks have used this as another opportunity to open fresh attacks on the Islamic religion as an ideology of hate and violence.


It is worth noting that modern European and United States intervention in the Middle East did not begin as a means of tackling radical Islam. In Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 the CIA worked tirelessly to radicalise Muslims around their faith as a focus of resistence against the decade-long Soviet invasion of the country. The United States armed and trained the Mujahideen (“those engaged in Jihad” – or “the Jihadis”) in their struggle against the USSR, and ultimately contributed to the evolution of the Afghan rebels into the Taliban. During the Cold War there was no mistaking the fact that moderate Muslims were of little use to US foreign policy, and no expense was spared in the radicalisation of a more useful, friendly radical Islam throughout the Middle East.

Europe’s involvement in the region has a far longer history, and, beginning with the Crusades, was never directed against Islam but to the ends of Western (as opposed to Eastern) Christian militaristic expansion. This period of European and Middle Eastern history has profoundly shaped how Europe and Europeans imagine the “Islamic World” and the religion of the “Muhammadans.” More recently European exploits in the region have been colonial and imperial adventures intent on the subjugation and domination of people and nations, a series of invasions that have embittered many Muslim nationalists towards the West. In the past, when European colonial powers considered the religion of their Muslim subjects it was as a backward and uncivilised superstition, unworthy of the respect of a religion like Christianity that could mobilise the effective political and cultural resistance of a conquered people.

Both European and US meddling in the Middle East have affected within Islam the development of a politicised identity of nationhood and resistance that has returned to haunt the Western present. Unable to understand this plethora of Islamic nationalist movements, subjugate them, or defeat them, the West has resorted to more Westernisation in its demand for a “Reformation” in Islam – an irredeemably violence religion. Given the millennia-old history of Christian nationalism and imperialism, this demand for a Reformation in religious Islam is odd – odd in the fact that the overwhelming majority of the world’s non-Protestant Christians manages quite well without a Reformation.

Of course there are passages in the Quran that read to the modern reader as primitive, barbaric, and violent. The same is true of all ancient texts – the Bible included, and few demand a revision of the Old Testament on the grounds of Israel’s primitive, barbaric, and violent behaviour in the occupied West Bank or in Gaza. No one calls for a rewrite of the Gospels when the US or Britain wipe out whole families in drone strikes. Islam, if it is violent, is violent as a result of political and social developments in response to Christian and Jewish violence. Yet none of these religions is inherently violent. People are violent, and people will use any mark of difference – religion included – to justify their violence and cruelty towards other people.


What is being missed here is that Islam is being wrongly painted as a violent and oppressive ideology for a reason. European and American news corporations, deeply implicated in multiple wars and occupations in the Middle East, are working to fabricate the consent of Western democracies for unwinnable petroleum wars. Islam – like Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism – is more than a religion. It is a nexus of national and cultural ideologies and social traditions that have and continue to form the basis of unity against invasion and oppression. In its demonisation of Islam the Western media is aiming to weaken the legitimate resistance in the Middle East to further imperialism, and it is for this reason alone that the attack on the Pulse nightclub cannot be seen as anything more than yet another American mass shooting and a homophobic hate crime. Spin is everything.


Reza Aslan on Islam and Violence


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