By PAUL SIEGEL
Christian, Islamic, and Jewish fundamentalism all play important roles in the struggle for Palestine and in the conflict of interests in the Middle East. Each believes in a literal reading and strict application of its holy books (the Old Testament for Jews, the Old plus the New Testament for Christians, both testaments plus the Koran for Muslims). Each, therefore, believes that it is the sole possessor of the whole truth and of a direct line of communication with God.
In practice, to be sure, each emphasizes those portions of its holy books that suit its needs and trims its actions accordingly. Although the Bible, for instance, orders the stoning of gays to death, Christian fundamentalists do not find it practicable to advocate this in the United States. Instead they seek to stone gays to death figuratively rather than literally.
Although each fundamentalism is in opposition to the two others, each is in many respects a mirror image of one or both of the others. Also, despite their opposition, each will, if politically necessary, work together with one of the others.
With regard to Palestine, the Christian fundamentalists believe that the Bible states that Jesus Christ will make a Second Coming after the scattered Jews have returned to Palestine. They are therefore wedded to the Zionists in the support of Israel, forming with them an odd couple.
While the Christian fundamentalists support Israel, a corollary of their support of Israel is that only those Jews who on coming to Israel are converted to Christianity will be saved. The author of a best-selling book among evangelical Christians, fundamentalists who regard themselves as “born again” through having made a commitment to Christ to spread his word, calculated from his reading of the Bible that 144,000 Jews would be saved. The millions of other Jews are left out in the cold-or rather they are consigned to the eternal torment of hell-fire.
George W. Bush himself told the Houston Post in 1994 that, after having been “born again,” he for a time believed that the Bible said that “only Christians had a place in heaven.” However, he stated, he later learned (after protests from Texas Jews) to “listen to the New Testament” but not to be “harshly judgmental.”
So too did Billy Graham, Bush’s spiritual mentor, say after the recent revelation of his anti-Semitic remarks on the 1972 Nixon tape, that in the course of time he had acquired understanding that he had formerly lacked. Whether or not we accept Bush’s and Graham’s disclaimers, their statements indicate the propensity of the Christian fundamentalists to say “go to hell” to everyone not of their faith.
Thus, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in a TV broadcast shortly after the World Trade Center attack spoke of Islam as being an inherently wicked religion, and this was later reiterated by the Reverend Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son. Falwell and Robertson subsequently apologized for their remarks, but more recently Falwell asserted on TV that “Mohammed was a terrorist,” and, when this statement caused rioting by Indian Muslims, apologized once more. He evidently has trouble repressing his ignorant intolerance.
For Christian fundamentalists religions remain unchanged throughout the course of time, unaffected by different social conditions. Islam, however, like Christianity, has not stayed the same through the centuries and is not homogenous today, including modernists as well as fundamentalists.
At one time, for example, it was far more tolerant of other religions than the Islamists and the Christian fundamentalists are now. Jews who were driven out of Christian Europe lived peacefully in Islamic countries for centuries until the founding of Israel caused antagonism against Jews to develop.
Bush, intent on enabling America’s Middle Eastern clients to maintain their autocratic rule over their restive masses, has, unlike his evangelical brethren, spoken soothingly of Islam, saying that the Islamists have distorted a great religion. How little, however, he, scarcely a student of history, knows of this religion was indicated when he spoke of mounting a “crusade” against terrorism.
This was a word that was bound to infuriate the Muslim masses, for the memory of the Crusades, which were plundering expeditions under the banner of religion by a backward Europe against a much wealthier Islamic civilization, remains strong among them.
Desperation born of poverty
Islamic fundamentalists have the same certitude that they alone will attain paradise that Christian fundamentalists have that they alone will attain heaven. The certitude of the Christian fundamentalists, however, is expressive of the smug arrogance that comes from overwhelming American power. The certitude of the Islamic fundamentalists, on the other hand, is expressive of the suicidal desperation born of poverty and oppression that drives them to strike out at an enemy immensely more powerful than they are in actions that they see as assuring themselves of paradise.
In Israel these actions have taken the form of suicide bombings. Palestinian terrorism is inhumane in its killing of innocent civilians, including children, but Israeli state terrorism has killed far more children and other civilians in suppressing resistance to the occupation with what Amnesty International has called “excessive and disproportionate use of force.”
Palestinian terrorism is not only inhumane; it is counterproductive. The Islamists’ terrorist tactics can inflict wounds upon Israeli society, but they cannot defeat Israel, with its enormous military superiority, and they repel potential Jewish allies.
The Islamists’ borrowing from European Christian anti-Semitism has also militated against the Palestinians being able to reach out to the Israeli Jewish workers and bring them to a common struggle for peace in opposition to the Israeli rulers. An instance of this borrowing is the publication of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the notorious forgery produced by the Tsarist secret police.
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” incidentally, appears to have colored the thinking about Jews of Pat Robertson, who in his book “The New World Order” (1991) also found Jews to be engaged in a conspiracy to gain world domination. In his version, Jewish bankers together with the Masons were behind world communism. This, however, did not prevent Robertson from recently asserting, “Right now, it’s important to support Israel.”
Blind to social causes of oppression
The Jewish Orthodox believers, the fundamentalists of their religion, like the Christian fundamentalists and the Islamic fundamentalists, regard themselves as having a special place in God’s scheme of things. They are the Chosen People of God, who singled them out for special instructions and gave them a Promised Land.
In this the religious Zionists are like the early Puritans in the United States, who regarded themselves as divinely appointed to build a “New Israel” in America. This sense that Americans have been chosen to do God’s will has continued among evangelical Christians. Ronald Reagan expressed it as follows: “I have always believed that this land was placed here between the two great oceans by some divine plan. It was placed here to be found by a special kind of people.”
The religious Zionists are like the Islamists in that the suffering of their people lies heavy upon them. They remember not only the recent horror of the Holocaust but the centuries of mistreatment before that.
Like the Islamists, they make no effort to understand the social causes of the suffering their people have experienced so that the social conditions may be changed. In each case the entire outside world is seen as an evil enemy, undifferentiated, unchanging, relentless-“infidels” or “goyim”-and this is the only explanation necessary.
The oppression the Jewish people have suffered becomes, then, for Jewish religious fanatics the justification for the oppression of a people who have lived for time immemorial in a land that the religious Zionists claim was promised them by God three millennia ago. They are guided in their actions by the spirit, if not the letter, of God’s instructions in the Bible to the ancient Israelites: “Of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.”
So hardened are the religious Zionists to any suffering other than that of the Jews that when Paul Wolfowitz-a leading Jewish hawk in the Bush administration who was sent by it to address a Washington, D.C., pro-Israel rally in good part made up of students from Jewish religious schools-thought it politically advisable to devote a sentence in his speech to the suffering of the Palestinians, he was roundly booed.
While courageous Israeli reservists have refused to serve in the occupied territories, stating, “We will not go on fighting … for the purposes of domination, expulsion, starvation and humiliation of an entire people,” Zionist religious zealots in Israel and the United States willfully blind themselves to the gross human rights violations of the occupation forces.
The religious settlers in the West Bank serve as the leading force of expansion and repression. In Israel itself the Orthodox rabbinate, which has a monopoly in religious matters and exercises a good deal of political power, constantly impinges on the civil rights of secular Jews.
For instance, a secular Jewish woman in an orthodox neighborhood carrying a hand-bag on the Sabbath, which is against Jewish religious law, will be threateningly told to make herself scarce.
The rabbinate does not have the power that the Taliban had in Afghanistan, but the will is not lacking. On the other hand, with religion being taught in Israel’s public schools, it has the power in education for which the Religious Right in the United States longs.
All three fundamentalisms believe that they have a mandate from heaven, and all three are self-destructive. Israel bristles with the most modern arms and possesses biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, but its presence as an occupying power makes the entire region a powder keg and places in danger the lives of the Jews who have come to it as a haven.
The Christian fundamentalists of the mighty American Empire too have their own kind of self-destructiveness. They look forward rapturously to Armageddon, the great final battle between good and evil foretold in the Bible. They are, therefore, in the forefront of an American imperialism that, drunk with power, is hurtling toward disaster. As the ancient Greek tragedian wrote, “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.”
But this would be a disaster that would affect all of humanity. Humanity has to save itself through collective action to stop these madmen.