God’s Rule

Posted by sepoy on July 26, 2004 · 7 mins read

There is a line uttered by a Texan candidate in the 2002 primary filmed in the PBS documentary Last Man Standing: Politics - Texas Style. Here is what the documentary showed him saying:

Our God is not their God. First of all, the God of the Bible is a God of love and redemption, who sent His Son into the world to die for our sins. Allah tells people to die for him in order to get salvation. That is not our God

The quote was summarized from Pat Robertson's rumination on Allah on CBN 700. As I watched him say it, I was reminded that Bush's rhetoric notwithstanding, the idea that the War on Terror is a War Between Gods has taken root in the minds of most Red-state Americans. I am not talking anything as sophisticated (ha!) as Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilizations but a simple dichotomous understanding of Us v Them where Us=Jesus and Them=Allah.

My own rumination was sparked by Moacir's post on watching CNN's presentation of Flight 93 from the 9/11 Commission Report:

Popularly, terrorism is connected (still) to the belief of Islam and the cultural identity/position of Arab/Middle-Easterner. In this case, the War on Terror is no longer a posthistoricist war against a tactic, (as conflict no longer exists). It is, instead, a cover for a good, old-fashioned kind of war against states (that have Arabs/Middle-Easterners) and based on beliefs (Islam, or, in the case of Iraq, a sort of perverted socialism).

The conservative argument, paraphrased by Dennis Miller nightly, is that: we know these people attacked us. Why can't we call a spade a spade? They exclaim Allah-o Akbar and wage Jihad on us. Yet, we are insisting on waging a secular, statist war on them. It makes no sense.

Is he right? Convential Wisdom is starting to tilt that way. And, in my opinion, nothing will shape CW on this topic more than the 9/11 Commission Report. Every pundit/politico is reading that to get the lowdown. Let us start there. In the "Why They Hate Us" section (written by B. Lewis I am sure because NO ONE ELSE is reading H. Pirenne anymore), they explain thusly the Islamic conception of State:

Islam is both a faith and a code of conduct for all aspects of life. For many Muslims, a good government would be one guided by the moral principles of their faith.This does not necessarily translate into a desire for clerical rule and the abolition of a secular state. It does mean that some Muslims tend to be uncomfortable with distinctions between religion and state,though Muslim rulers throughout history have readily separated the two.
To extremists, however, such divisions, as well as the existence of parliaments and legislation, only prove these rulers to be false Muslims usurping Godís authority over all aspects of life. Periodically, the Islamic world has seen surges of what, for want of a better term, is often labeled ìfundamentalism.î
Denouncing waywardness among the faithful, some clerics have appealed for a return to observance of the literal teachings of the Qurían and Hadith. One scholar from the fourteenth century from whom Bin Ladin selectively quotes, Ibn Taimiyyah, condemned both corrupt rulers and the clerics who failed to criticize them. He urged Muslims to read the Qurían and the Hadith for themselves,not to depend solely on learned interpreters like himself but to hold one another to account for the quality of their observance.
The extreme Islamist version of history blames the decline from Islamís golden age on the rulers and people who turned away from the true path of their religion,thereby leaving Islam vulnerable to encroaching foreign powers eager to steal their land,wealth,and even their souls.p. 50

Muslims have no separation of Minbar and Throne. And Parliaments/Legislations somehow piss God off. Even this deeply informed panel cannot distinguish between Muslims or get a clear-headed picture of Islamic past. The reason is simple: their job is to explain 9/11. Fourteen centuries of Islamic history have slowly and steadily build up to that exclamation point. The debates on Statehood, Role of Community, Pious Leadership, Rights of Minorities that were fostered and cultivated over hundreds of years have only one question to answer: Why did 9/11 happen? And when you look at it this way, then all roads will indeed lead to Rome.

The intellectual origin of Al-Qaeda (Ibn Taymiyya and Qutb) reflect a basic theme of the failure of an Islamic State and the intervention of a colonial empire. Yet, the Report avoids going into any of that. They hate us because the liberal-democratic State is unIslamic. Can't get any more Clash of Civ than that, can you? Instead of being a war among states, this is a war on the conception of the State itself.

The blanket language of authority and knowing prevades the Report. All Muslims have one idea - that the state should be God's Rule. There is still no way to avoid the Allah v Jesus scenario. Perhaps, B. Lewis should have briefed the Panel that such an Islamic State never existed. That there is no Golden Age. That Rule and Religion have been separate throughout the political history of Islam in Middle East, N. Africa and South Asia. That all ancient and pre modern kings and sultans proclaimed divine guidance - whether in Christian Europe, heathen Asia or kafir Africa. That Kingship and Godhead cannot part company. Our own President talks to God, for God's sake. That Muslims have sought legitimacy of Rule in just as many diverse sources as Christians: mystics, custom, geography and text. There is no recoginition of that knowledge. Or even how that complicates the debate on authority in Islam. Tragedy, they suppose, demand a straight forward answer from Islam. Yet, no one simply asks what the conception of Christian state had to do with the Jewish Holocaust caused by Catholic or Lutheran Germans.

Non-essentialized narratives cause problems. They trace the failure of states in the Middle East and Asia to corrupt rulers and imperial interventions. They illustrate that Saddam was a secular tyrant, that Zia ul Haq was a religious one. They tend to conflate the Us and the Them and if you do that...well, I guess, you just cannot do that.


Ralph Luker | July 26, 2004

Sepoy, You make a very important point here and your argument about the parallel to the Holocaust is very much to the point. Teleological history is always problemmatic, but it appears to be more persuasive when we are most under the impact of the teleological event. In other words, if you go back 40 years or so ago, you will find some very strong arguments that all German history, even all European history, at least from the Reformation forward, if not even earlier, led inexorably to the Holocaust. 9/11 has become for us in the United States a comparable teleological event and it appears to give focus to all that went before it. That the "focus" is actually a big set of blinders is a very important argument to make.

Brian Ulrich | July 26, 2004

Doesn't the section of the report accept your points? It seems to acknowledge that in practice, religion and state have been separated (last sentence, first paragraph), and continually refers to extremists and not all Muslims. As you say, they are trying to investigate 9-11, not write up all the cultural achievements related to Muslims.

sepoy | July 27, 2004

brian: my issue is not whether the panel sees extremists everywhere but with their basic analytical framework that seeks to present a homogenous entity "Islamist terrorism" which gathers its legitimacy from the very fabric of the religion. When the panel repeats over and over that the separation of church and state does not exist in Islamic cultures, then CW on the topic is not going to be very favorable to the panel's well meaning: "Islam is not the enemy. It is not synonymous with terror. Nor does Islam teach terror." (p. 363) With no mention on CIA involvement in Afghanistan, no mention of Palestine, no mention of Saddam/US dealings in 80s, it is clear that the Islamist terrorism has no political geneology - just the religious one of Muslim Brotherhood etc.