Karma for Al Qa’ida

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1. Original Sin, which Orthodox Christians – at least those on Mount Athos – insist on calling Ancestral Sin, is the source of most bad karma. Drowning in inadequate minds we experience more dissatisfaction, often clinging to poetry as a raft. Because of original sin we tend to react in actual sin to all dissatisfaction, sending more waves of bad karma down the ages.

2. Lack of a doctrine of Original Sin seems to me to be, within the Abrahamic tradition, the main distinguisher of Islam from the Mosaic/Mussadek/Israelite tradition, which has such a doctrine firmly established in Gn 3 – and Gn 4, for that matter. Original Sin is a reality, and should not need a doctrine, but Mussadeks have the advantage over Muslims of having a definite doctrine and hence the constant reminder that the struggle for right, jihad, must start within each of us. Muslims also believe this, but are more inclined than Mussadeks to forget it. Of course, people on both sides of the divide often forget it, but I think that Muslims are more inclined to start great projects without concern for inner orientation, making the great projects more liable to error.

3. Lack of church music robs Muslims of the rafts they need in inadequate minds. They have poetry – indeed much of the Quran is poetic – but singing and instrumentation are a great help in keeping us afloat in our inner seas of unreason. It should be noted that those Christians who contradict the Bible’s command to sing new songs and play on instruments tend to be nastier and more prone to condemnation than their otherwise similar fellow-Christians – think of the various kinds of Presbyterianism in Scotland, for instance.

4. Lack of monasticism deprives Muslims of an ultra-sane community to give example of a way of life radically different from that to which most of us have been called, and by that example to help us see more clearly our own vocations. I am talking here of an actual contemplative life, with celibacy and some degree of material poverty and obedience, not the life of a friar or cleric. This kind of life has various spin-offs, such as retreat houses and spiritual writing, both of which have special value because of their mode of provision.

Thomas Merton writes somewhere that when we intensely want to do something to better the world we may ultimately decide that the best we can do for the world is to retire from it and pray for it. Muslims do not at present have this option. Taking a very concrete example, would John Walker Lindt have taken up arms had there been monasteries as well as schools in Yemen?

Monks give an example of the inner jihad: they repent their own sins first; they themselves are thus unlikely to have misguided external jihad, but those with strong tendencies to jihad may, in ignorance of the monastic vocation, do crazy things. Elijah lived on Mount Carmel and came down to thunder at kings. He did not work within governments to better things, although that too is good work, but stood aside and pointed out the corruption of the kings; he was better able to rebuke their lack of external jihad because of his own internal jihad. The upbraiding of kings is, of course, more pastoral than monastic, but the lack of monasticism weakens the pastor. There are two places in the Quran – 5:85 and 57:27 – which praise monasticism, but at some time a perhaps spurious hadith “there is no monasticism in Islam” [Ibn Hibban, Ahmad, At-Tabarani, graded authentic by Al-Albani] – which, for all I know, may have been a lament rather than a prescription – was generally received: monasticism, which had in fact arisen in Islam, was actively suppressed.

At the beginning of the Common Era Judaism split into Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism. It seems that Elijah’s followers all became Christian; at any rate I have come across no evidence of a monastic tradition within Rabbinical Judaism, which has apparently for all its nineteen centuries as a distinct church been monk-less. And there are in proportion probably more Rabbinical Jews who support Zionism than Muslims who support Al Qa’ida and the like.

5. Lack of democracy has prevented many Muslims from striving for their political ideals in a peaceable way. There are several reasons for lack of democracy in Dar ul Islam.

Firstly, people often see no need for democracy. In the most recent Yemeni elections some critics condemned the process as mindless aping of the corrupt and decadent West. We know the law of God, let us apply it without the kerfuffle of campaigns and parliaments. It should be noticed that the Catholic Church in the 19th Century had a similar distrust of democracy, with the result that the movements called “liberal” have tended to be anticlerical and even opposed to natural law. In Rerum Novarum we find surprise that any Catholic would wish to associate himself with a political party other than that proposed by the magisterium, showing a complete misunderstanding of the idea of democracy. Communists have a similar idea: “united trade union, of course: why then two parties?” as I read in Berlin’s Die Wahrheit during the 1970s. The 20th-Century Communist and the 19th-Century Catholic were both thinking of political parties as groupings on the basis of something other than political opinion.

This attitude may be at an end in Dar ul Islam. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini believed that Iran would remain Islamic only so long as it remained democratic: he thought of democracy as a means of achieving and maintaining rightness. But other democracies have been slow to welcome this change – indeed, the United States had kept in power the regime which preceded democracy in Iran. In reaction there is now in Iran a movement to limit democracy, keeping all power in the hands of the judiciary, who know what is right.

Secondly, the United States has kept undemocratic Muslim governments in power, notably in Araby. President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order preventing the export of weaponry to undemocratic American governments; within a decade all America except Haiti and Cuba was democratic. Why has the order not been extended to the entire world? At one time there might have been arguments for arming non-Communist dictators in a strategy of preventing the expansion of the Kremlin Empire, but that was never a very good policy and the Kremlin Empire is now no more. As far as Araby goes, the obvious answer is that a democratic Arab state is likely – although democracy is unpredictable – to be more anti-Zionist than a despotic Arab state, besides taking from the Zionists the argument that their opponents are all dictatorships. Similar considerations arise for non-Arab states, notably Iran, and Zionism is no doubt one reason the U.S. persists in hostility to Iran.

There may be other reasons for the lack or failure of democracy. I have read the opinion that India has been democratic while Pakistan has stumbled from one despotism to another because in proportion to population Pakistan inherited less than its share of competent high-ranking civil servants from the Indian Empire. I do not wish to discuss such hypotheses, merely to show that the reasons may not have much to do with Islam. After all, China, Belarus, Cuba and Burma are not Muslim countries.

Even in democracy people with big ideas – or ideas which they think big – often descend to violence. In despotism the temptation is greater.

6. Confusion of church and nation is bad for both. Dt 32:28 warns us that when Israel – which is a church, not a nation (Nm 23:9) -, degenerates into a nation it loses its intelligence, as has been demonstrated in Northern Ireland, where both branches of Israel have degenerated into nations. The principle extends to churches outside Israel – and Islam is only just outside.

Muslims have some difficulty in distinguishing church and nation. The official English version of the Iranian Constitution states in Article 11 that all Muslims constitute a single nation. There may be a linguistic problem here, even a translation problem – I imagine that the word translated as “nation” is umma rather than watan -, but Muslims do tend to get more annoyed at wrongs done to fellow-Muslims than Christians do at wrongs done to fellow-Christians. The responses to Zionism and to the Bosnian conflict are here in their different ways instructive.

Church and nation are two modes of identification – a Latin word meaning same-making – of people. If Muslims constitute a church, the Muslim’s attitude to persons of another church should be that, at least in the long run, they should be converted to Islam: there is only one true church. We are more symmetric in our attitude to persons of another nation: we are as foreign to them as they are to us, and, although we secretly think our nation the best, all nations are in principle of equal worth. Unfortunately there are sometimes fights among nations, even tending to genocide, and when we confuse church and nation we bring this kind of fighting more to the fore. When churches as churches fight they have rather different motives from nations fighting each other. We assume that the members of the other church are being deliberately obstinate, and our anger at this obstinacy becomes greater when we confuse nation and church. Humanity and God’s church will go on forever, and so will every person, but all nations will come to an end. We have a calm assurance that the church will not die. The fear that someday our nation will die leads us to insane deeds on behalf of the nation, and of the church if we confuse them. When we confuse nation and church we lose the assurance of the church’s permanence and, panic-stricken, do crazy things to save the nation.

There are other examples of this confusion on a large scale. The descendants of the Khazars have been treated as a nation and have extended their national loyalty to other Rabbinical Jews, so that the Rabbinical Jewish church has degenerated into a nation; this is one of the origins of Zionism. Similarly, the Hindutva policy strives to make Hindu church preference identical with Indian nationality.

7. National and hence ecclesial humiliation have been the lot of Muslims for nearly a century. Through most of the 20th Century most Muslim countries were under some kind of foreign hegemony. Muslim Filipinos, for example, feel themselves to be under Christian Filipino rule. Whereas a Christian may feel sympathy for a Christian group elsewhere under some kind of supposed oppression he does not identify himself with the sufferers, or if he does their Christianity has little to do with the identification. The Muslim does identify himself more with a supposedly suffering Muslim than with other sufferers. Much recent hegemony has been by communities perceived as Christian, so that a Kashmiri rebelling against Hindu stubbornness identifies himself and an Egyptian rebelling against the adoption of Christian social practices.

When Muslim governments try to modernize, they offend conservatives, who are often able to portray the modernization as Christianization. In Lebanon for a long time the Christians were materially better off than their Muslim compatriots; instead of identifying and emulating those Christian practices which made Christians richer – after all, does Fidel Castro consider copying the practices which have made the Puertoricans more prosperous than his own people? -, Lebanese Muslims became resentful. Palestinians, Pakistanis and Indonesians shared that resentment. On a larger scale, nearly all Muslim countries seem to their inhabitants somehow inferior to those of the Christian West, but reject the solution of aping the Christians.

One of the greatest humiliations for a Muslim community has been Zionism. The Palestinians are of course about 20% Christian, which is probably more important for the Zionists than the Muslim majority, but nevertheless a majority-Muslim nation is being wronged. In 1967 Abba Eban proclaimed that the Palestinians opposed Zionism because they were Muslims, not because of Arab nationalism or in objection to dispossession. That was a lie at the time, but the solidarity among Muslims has begun to make it true. And Zionism has, with help from the Christian West, been the most violent external imposition on Dar ul Islam during more half a century. To react to it seems natural, and a large part of the reaction is against Christendom.

8. Homosexualism in Christendom has grown in parallel to the growth of homophobia in Dar ul Islam. I know that there has been in Christendom a big wave of homosexualism – in which I played some small part – starting in the 1960s, but I am ignorant about the rise of homophobia in Dar ul Islam. It appears that sexual self-respect diminished considerably in Europe during World War II: regular Saturday beer and sex became customary in those parts of the British armed forces serving at Home, and the practice continued and expanded after the war; I imagine the same was true elsewhere. Muslims do not admit to similar behavior amongst themselves, and so find something to look down upon in Christendom.

In the 1960s, partly as a result of lessened erotic self-respect generally, sympathy for gays increased. Laws decriminalizing mutual masturbation were urged with the promise that, freed from the risk of prosecution, gays would be more likely to seek treatment for their sexual inversion so that decriminalization would lead to a decline in the behavior complained about. That promise has obviously not been kept, although the majority of cases of sexual inversion were already by that time rectifiable: the gay lifestyle, contrary to the common morality of all the children of Abraham, has become common while its opponents are vilified, accused of homophobia as though the homophobia-homosexualism axis covered all the possible opinions.

It is hardly surprising that Muslims see Christendom as a nauseating cess-pool of fornication, perversion and venereal disease, clearly morally inferior to Dar ul Islam and thus justly meriting God’s punishment at the hands of the faithful. This increases the resentment at Christendom’s material prosperity and the feeling of righteousness in striking the infidel down.

9. The Black Legend of U. S. wickedness parallels the earlier Black Legend of Spanish wickedness. Both result from predominance in the world. Both tend to be believed both outside and inside the hegemonic society. Anything evil the great power does gets exaggerated; anything good gets forgotten or misrepresented.

I once read a letter in The Economist describing seven great evil deeds by the United States. Judging justly, the U.S. was clearly on the right side in five of the cases, the guilty party was doubtful in the sixth, and I could not determine the truth of the seventh. People concocted preposterous – and even contradictory – justifications for North Vietnam’s 1956 attack on South Vietnam, but not until the 1960s, when the U. S. was trying to help the South Vietnamese: the Black Legend of U. S. malice motivated those stories. Many such stories are bandied around, simply because the U. S. is the world’s dominant polity. It is also Christendom’s dominant polity, so all the attacks made on it, whether true or false, are of use to the enemies of Christendom. The Black Legend concentrates hatred on the U. S. in particular and on Christendom in general. Muslims are more conscious of Christendom than most people, and of the centrality of the U. S. to Christendom.

Each of the karmic threads I have identified has its own karmic origins, and consequences besides Al Qa’ida. Al Qa’ida and the associated movements are themselves going to have tremendous consequences for us all.

It is noticeable that Zionism enters the karmic background of Al Qa’ida in two ways: firstly it has similar karma behind it; secondly it enters into several of the elements I have identified. We might follow Hegel and think of Zionism as the thesis, Al Qa’ida the antithesis and… ¿what? as the synthesis.

© 2003, John A. Wills

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