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Policy Recommendations for Reducing the Threat of Islamic Terrorism Worldwide

terrorism(Copyright 2016 by S. J. Munson)

Islamic terrorism is currently perceived in the media and by most Americans as the most significant threat to global peace. The conflict is most often seen as a so-called “clash of civilizations,” in which Western ideals of democracy and religious freedom are under attack by an Islamic “fundamentalism” which hates both. It is the purpose of this study to examine the elements within contemporary Islam that seem to give rise to terrorism and to uncover the root causes of the phenomenon. In addition, we will propose strategies for counteracting or neutralizing the threat of terrorism.

The Wahhabist threat ?

Viewed from the perspective of the Qur’an, Islam is in itself largely a religion of mercy, compassion, and peace, and the vast majority of its adherents are peace-loving (Abou El Fadl, 11). For them jihad refers simply to the inner “striving” of individual believers to serve God. Historically, however, the term has also held an outward interpretation in regard to the struggle against infidels.

The spread of terrorism and terrorist groups within the Muslim world today, however, has often been blamed on a particular reform movement within Islam called Salafism, more commonly referred to by its Saudi form Wahhabism, a puritanical or fundamentalist movement originating in Arabia. Wahhabism urges its followers to a more stringent life based on a literal interpretation of the Qur’an. If it had not been for the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, Wahhabism might have remained just one of many regional expressions of Islam. Today, however, the Saudi monarchy, which has long identified itself with the movement, zealously pumps billions of dollars each year into the spread of Wahhabist doctrine worldwide.

Fundamentalism in general (whether Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Christian) is a global phenomenon. Its appeal lies in its ability to simplify the complexities of life into dualistic terms (good versus evil, light versus darkness) and to channel the anger of those who (like many Muslims) are disaffected by modernism or marginalized by globalization. Although Salafism’s austere tendencies and intolerance may indeed provide soil favorable to the growth of violent jihad (Salafism is quite diverse, but there is a small branch that both justifies and advocates terrorism), the spread of this movement is not the cause of terrorism (Economist). Instead, the chief blame for Islamic terrorism, whether against the West or against Middle Eastern regimes, must be attributed to the ongoing history of Western colonialism and economic and cultural imperialism in the region.

“…the chief blame for Islamic terrorism, whether against the West or against Middle Eastern regimes, must be attributed to the ongoing history of Western colonialism and economic and cultural imperialism in the region.”

Western colonialism today

For the average Muslim, colonialism is not dead; it is alive and well in the West’s continued military interventions and its cultural and economic dominance in the Muslim world, including support for repressive, pro-Western regimes (the former Shah of Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Syria are a few examples). Similarly, the recent rise in Muslim violence against Christians (in particular in Sudan, Egypt, and Iraq), is rooted not so much in ancient rivalries between the two religions as in current hostilities between East and West. Such attacks are most often sparked by Western, especially American, interference in the region. Local Christians become targets because they are seen as allied with the West (a view that stretches back to the Crusades in the eleventh century) and thus become the nearest receptacle for Muslim rage.

“‘…America’s direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits…'” (2004 DOD Task Force Report)

U.S. intervention, bombing and drone campaigns:

The conflict we are now engaged in is really one of perception, that is, how people in the Muslim world see America. In 2004 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked the Pentagon’s own Science Board Task Force to study the impact of administration policies (specifically the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) on terrorism and Islamic radicalism. Not surprisingly, the report found that “…Negative attitudes and the conditions that create them are the underlying sources of threats to America’s national security and reduced ability to leverage diplomatic opportunities.” Our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks, and detention policies are meant to make us safe, we are told. In reality, they have had the opposite effect of radicalizing more and more Muslims and making the U.S. increasingly hated in the Islamic world. In fact, our foreign policies of the last fifteen years are probably the best public relations tool al-Qaeda or ISIS ever had. According to the report,

America’s direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights and the long-standing and even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States… Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be… deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination (DOD study, quoted in Greenwald).

Farea al-Muslimi, a young U.S.-educated Yemeni activist with deep ties to America, testified before a 2013 Senate hearing on President Obama’s controversial assassination program. Speaking with great emotion about the bombing of his own village by a drone, he said,

What Wessab’s villagers knew of the U.S. was based on my stories about my wonderful experiences here. The friendships and values I experienced and described to the villagers helped them understand the America that I know and that I love. Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time….What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America (Al-Muslimi, 3-4).

It is believed among some terrorism experts that Osama bin-Laden had planned all along for the U.S. to be drawn into an unwinnable ground war in Afghanistan: that our great military machine, like that of other empires before us, would founder upon that country’s unforgiving terrain and resilient population, and that we would be both bankrupted and exposed as the cruel imperial tyrant hiding behind the mask of freedom and democracy. Empires, after all, do not die in battle; they collapse from within, usually through overextending themselves. Bin-Laden ought to know: he assisted in the demise of the U.S.S.R. “We, alongside the mujahiddin, bled Russia for ten years, until it went bankrupt,” he once boasted (Klein).

Muslims see that the U.S. lacks consistency between its rhetoric and international actions, that the U.S. is, and has always been, a nation tragically at odds with itself.  We stand for one thing, but pursue another.  We speak soaring words that make the world dream– of freedom, democracy and the sacred rights of humanity– but too often our ambassadors are not Jefferson or Lincoln;  they are Caterpillar, Monsanto, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Blackwater.

Blowback is the term government personnel use to describe the sometimes violent reaction in response to a military or covert U.S. action. For example, sixty-three years later we are still reaping the fruit of the CIA’s toppling of Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, and replacing him with an absolute monarchy. Supporting repressive regimes is convenient in the short term, but very costly in the long run. We cannot treat the Middle East as we do Central America.

“‘…Had the United States built a school or hospital, it would have instantly changed the lives of my fellow villagers for the better and been the most effective counterterrorism tool…'” (Farea al-Muslimi)

The power of humanitarian aid

For fifteen years the U.S. has waged war in revenge for 9-11, “to make America safe.” Sadly, however, the real war we are fighting is really one against poverty and fear, oppression and ignorance, corruption and greed, and we are fighting such a war with daisy cutter bombs and drones—exactly as the terrorists would have us do—instead of helping to plant crops, building schools, or sending food and medical supplies.

Following the great Kashmir earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami disasters, both in 2005, the arrival of U.S. aid to these afflicted regions was not only greeted favorably by local populations, it also had a surprising impact on how the U.S. is viewed. Both the New York Times and Washington Post ran articles about this phenomenon:

A survey of 1,200 Indonesians one month after the tsunami…conducted by a leading Indonesian pollster, found that, for the first time, more Indonesians (40 percent) supported the U.S. terrorism fight than opposed it (36 percent). Sixty-five percent of those surveyed had a more favorable impression of the United States, with support strongest among those younger than 30, while support for Osama bin Laden dropped from 58 percent before the tsunami to 23 percent… Husain Haqqani, director of the Center for International Relations at Boston…said the experience in Indonesia could easily be replicated in Pakistan. Haqqani, a former adviser to several Pakistani political leaders, said that anti-American Islamic groups have begun to realize this and have opposed the U.S. aid because “this may take the wind out of their sails” (Kessler).

Al-Muslimi made a similar point in his testimony before the Senate and urged the U.S. to reevaluate the effectiveness of its drone policy in the light of more humanitarian goals:

There is nothing villagers in Wessab needed more than a school to educate the local children or a hospital to help decrease the number of women and children dying every day. Had the United States built a school or hospital, it would have instantly changed the lives of my fellow villagers for the better and been the most effective counterterrorism tool. And I can almost certainly assure you that the villagers would have gone to arrest the target themselves. Instead of first experiencing America through a school or a hospital, most people in Wessab first experienced America through the terror of a drone strike (Al-Muslimi, 3-4).

Reducing tensions in the Palestinian-Zionist crisis

In addition, a solution must be found to the Palestinian-Zionist conflict, which adherents to Islam worldwide tend to see as most symbolic of the injustices committed by the West against Muslims. In the eyes of most Arab Muslims, it was the West, specifically Britain, who seized control of Palestine after the First World War, allowed a flood of Jewish immigration, then essentially abandoned the local Arabs to their fate. Former President Jimmy Carter has been active in the peace process since his presidency. His organization, the Carter Center, has been in Palestine helping to negotiate peace for decades. In his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he states emphatically:

Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.…The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or even abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories (Carter).

Since the birth rate among Palestinians far outpaces that of Israelis, the so-called two-state solution is the only viable alternative for peace. Yet, to achieve this goal, Israel must cease its occupation and settlement building. To make the Israeli government amenable, Washington must apply pressure by threatening to cut off aid. (Israel now accounts for one quarter of all American foreign aid.) Most Israeli politicians would tremble, since they rely so heavily on U.S. gifts to maintain their massive military arsenal, the largest in the region. Yet taking such a hard line would mean standing up to the powerful Israel lobby in Washington (AIPAC), of which American conservative evangelicals also form no small part. For this to happen, the American public must pressure Washington. For the public to pressure Washington, they must first be told the truth. The old media narrative of a beleaguered Israel defending itself against unjustified Arab hostility must be replaced with a more balanced view that shows Israeli acts of brutality and oppression for what they are and a more human, less demonized view of Palestinians in their quest for survival. This could be achieved chiefly through a steady stream of accurate information leaked to key media outlets. It might also prove advantageous to exploit the current growing rift between younger Jewish-Americans (as well as young conservative evangelicals) and the Zionist old guard by exposing and marginalizing the latter’s views. Unless the U.S. takes this hard line, the situation will only grow worse. Tensions in the Middle East will continue to boil, providing more and more fodder for violent jihad against the West, until the U.S., too, like Israel, becomes an armed camp.

“‘…The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or even abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories…'” (Jimmy Carter).

Achieving energy independence

Lastly, from the toppling of Mossadegh (1953) to the invasion of Iraq (2003), the underlying motivation for U.S. military intervention and support of dictatorships in the region has always been oil (Betz). Also, of the seven states that have appeared on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list, five are major oil exporters (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria [Wenar, 84]). Achieving energy independence at home would thus reduce the need to project American power abroad or to prop up repressive regimes (such as Saudi Arabia). As one former Department of Energy official emphatically believes, “a combination of measures to reduce oil imports reduces the need for an American military presence in the Middle East” (Hakes, 8). In addition, although Wahhabism itself cannot be eradicated, its spread and influence could be limited over time by reducing the financial power that backs it (i.e., Saudi oil). To achieve this, the U.S. and its allies must be more aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energies.

“Instead of playing a violent and futile game of Whack-a-Mole with terrorists around the globe, which has been clearly shown only to increase hostility toward America, the U.S should focus more on aid and humanitarian relief, which have been shown to have a significant impact on how the U.S. is perceived, thus undercutting terrorist recruitment.”


It is the finding of this study that the rise in global terrorism is not so much linked to Islam in general but to particular trends within Islam, which are in turn a reaction against past Western imperialism and continued interference in the Muslim world. It is thus a conflict rooted more in history than in religion. Instead of playing a violent and futile game of Whack-a-Mole with terrorists around the globe, which has been clearly shown only to increase hostility toward America, the U.S should focus more on aid and humanitarian relief, which have been shown to have a significant impact on how the U.S. is perceived, thus undercutting terrorist recruitment. In order to heal its image abroad, the U.S. must also cease its support for repressive regimes, in particular its complicity in the continued occupation and oppression of Palestine.


Sources Cited

Abou El Fadl, Khaled. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. New York: Harper-Collins, 2005.

Al-Muslimi, Farea. Testimony before U.S. Senate, “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing,” 23 April 2013. http://www.judiciary.senate.gov. Retrieved 10 June 2016.

Betz, Charles. “Blood, Oil and Ecology.”

Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2007.

Greenwald, Glenn. “A Rumsfeld-Era Reminder about What Causes Terrorism.” Salon (20 October 2009). Retrieved 10 June 2016.

Hakes, Jay. Declaration of Energy Independence: How Freedom from Foreign Oil Can Improve National Security, Our Economy, and The Environment. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008.

Kessler, Glenn and Robin Wright. “Earthquake Aid for Pakistan Might Help U.S. Image,” Washington Post (13 October 2005). http://www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 10 June 2016.

Klein, Ezra. “Bin Ladin’s War against the U.S. Economy,” Washington Post (3 May 2011). http://www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 10 June 2016.

“Salafism: Politics and the Puritanical,” The Economist (27 June 2015). http://www.economist.com. Retrieved 12 June 2016.

Wenar, Leif. Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World. New York : Oxford University Press, 2016.



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Political Opinion and the Whole Person

GSand“I believe that a man’s political opinion is the whole man. Tell me your heart and your head, and I will tell you your political opinions. In whatever rank or party chance has caused us to be born, our character wins out sooner or later over the prejudices and beliefs of our education. Perhaps you will think this a sweeping statement ; but how could I choose to augur well of a mind that clings to certain systems that humaneness rejects ? Show me someone who supports the usefulness of the death penalty, and, however conscientious and enlightened he may be, I defy you to establish any sympathetic connection between him and me. If this person wants to teach me facts that I don’t know, he will not succeed ; for he cannot count on me to trust him.” —George Sand, Indiana (1832)

In her novel Indiana, French author George Sand (1804-1876), whose real name was Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, ventures to explain why people can fall out so completely over politics. I believe she got it in one. People’s politics do demonstrate who they are, not in the sense of telling everything about them, but by revealing something very deep about the state of their hearts.

I do not believe that Sand means that civil dialogue itself is impossible, or that we should judge or utterly reject those with whom we disagree. She herself was un auteur engagé, a passionate writer with a cause, who spilled a great deal of ink to set forth her political positions and to educate the public mind. Rather, what she is driving at is something more fundamental: that personal politics has deep roots in our soul, bypassing, eventually, even the prejudices of our upbringing, to reveal in its flowering something basic about our personality or even, one might say, our maturity as human beings.

Modern psychology has hypothesized a spectrum of spiritual development which might also be applied in this case. From the work of Fowler and Peck, we see a series of natural stages of spiritual growth from the toddler to the mystic, or from egoism to altruism. Peck observed, however, that some of his patients, for various reasons, got stuck in one stage or another, perhaps because of trauma or fear, or because their context somehow rewarded or reinforced their behavior. Take someone like Donald Trump, for example, whose blustering and boardroom bullying (toddler stage) has made him successful in the corporate world. Sand herself might be characterized as having spent most of her adult life in the adolescent (or rebel) stage, as witnessed by her frequently wearing men’s clothes, smoking tobacco, and having a long series of romantic liaisons with men of genius (poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frederic Chopin being among the most notable).

Sand, however, does not refer to natural stages of spiritual development, but to political opinions, which seem to be a kind of snapshot of a person’s quiddity. I do see a great deal that is true in what she says, although my fear is that taking the conclusion too far might lead us to dismiss individual human beings as monoliths and therefore justify our further polarization as a society.

Yet what would Sand say, for instance, of the “Christian” who pulls into the church parking lot, his SUV plastered with stickers lauding John Galt (a hero in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) or The Donald ? Would it be fair or even accurate to infer that the stickers represent the person himself ? I know that none of us is perfect, yet if this person so opposes everything Jesus stands for, why is he at church at all? What is to be done with such people, who seem now to make up such a significant proportion of the church? How are we to have anything in common with them when they are, effectively, our enemies?

Yes, enemies. Not because they vote differently or stand on the other side of some political spectrum, but because they want to empower a man who stands for greed and militarism, the eradication of civility and kindness, the further destruction of our planet, inhumanity toward the poor and immigrants, and racism and bigotry. Is not such an individual an enemy of mankind? I look at them, then I look at my child and ask myself what kind of world she will live in. Will she be denied opportunities because of the color of her skin? Will there even be a habitable world for her to live in? What kind of world are these bigots and climate-deniers preparing for her?

I must say that the current political polarization in this country is frightening. Yet even more disturbing is the support Donald Trump has among so-called “evangelicals.” The word evangelical is code in the media for older white voters who identify themselves as evangelicals. So thankfully, they do not represent the entire evangelical community in this country. The same demographic questions are not used by pollsters when interviewing black or young voters among the left. If they did, they might discover the evangelical world is a lot more diverse than traditionally depicted in the media. Yet it is enough that so many who do consider themselves evangelicals are praising Trump to the skies and are largely responsible for his unyielding success.

It is astounding that these white voters seem not to be put off by the GOP candidate’s blatant racism, misogyny, and contempt for the poor and immigrants. It is impossible to deny that each of these positions is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Has the mask finally slipped ? Has the religious right finally found a candidate who (like Archie Bunker on steroids) is willing to say what they are all thinking but have been afraid to say ? Has their concern for abortion and family values all along been but a smoke screen for their real concern, which is the inexorable decline in white dominance ?

Sadly, the latter is probably the real issue (just as the religious right itself sprang into being in the 1970s, not as a religious reaction to Roe v. Wade, but in response to the federal government’s threatening the tax exempt status of Christian universities that resisted racial integration). Yes, in supporting Trump, these voters seem willing to threaten world peace and pull our whole democratic system and the Constitution down around us merely in order to turn back the clock on civil discourse, the rights of women, immigration reform, and economic and racial equality. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is just a dog whistle for a return to white dominance at home and abroad. Talk about a pipe dream. No, Donald, like you, America may be a bully, but she will never be truly great until she is good, just, and fair—both here and over there.

Perhaps worse than the Trump supporters among the church is the church leadership itself who, in general, seem to be taking refuge in silence, afraid to take on the angry crowd. I’m sorry, but church leaders do not get a pass on this. We are pastors, shepherds, commissioned to protect the sheep. Silence does not signify, “I don’t want to get involved.” Silence means consent. For those afraid to wade into politics, let me just say that this is no longer about liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican. This is about right versus wrong, and good versus evil. We have crossed a line in this country, and we now stand at a crossroads, just as the German church did in the early 1930s.

Quoting Micah 7:6, Jesus tells of a time before the end when “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:36). At the same time, he also commands us to love and pray for our enemies. The apostle Paul likewise instructs us with the following strategy:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2Tim2:24-26)

Lord, give us the words to speak to our erring, angry, and frightened brothers and sisters.





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The Short Route to Chaos

In Act One Scene 2 of Robert Bolt’s celebrated play A Man for All Seasons (1960), Cardinal Wolsey tries to enlist Thomas More’s aid in securing a Tudor heir. King Henry VIII wants a son to ensure his dynasty, but his wife of 20 years, Queen Catherine, is as “barren as a brick.” As Lord Chancellor, Wolsey plans to secure a papal divorce for the King by applying pressure to church property. Then Henry can marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. Sir Thomas, an idealistic scholar and a deeply religious man, is horrified.

WOLSEY:  I think we might influence His Holiness’ answer…

MORE:  I’ve already expressed my opinion on this.

WOLSEY:  Oh, your conscience is your own affair; but you’re a statesman! Do you remember the Yorkist Wars?…Let him die without an heir and we’ll have them back again. …England needs an heir; certain measures, perhaps regrettable, perhaps not… All right, regrettable! But necessary, to get us an heir! Now explain how you as Councilor of England can obstruct those measures for the sake of your own, private, conscience.

MORE: Well . . . I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . . they lead their country by a short route to chaos.

Since last week’s mass homicide in Aurora, there’s been much talk about the need for appropriate gun control. Every year this country must endure heartrending and macabre acts of mass murder. Among the cacophony of voices are those who blame the failures of our mental health system or the entertainment industry, and still others who claim the real problem is that there just aren’t enough people carrying guns (as if more guns would actually make society safer). And of course, these are followed by the annual cries for sane gun legislation. They all might as well be spitting on a forest fire. Coupled with the climate change crisis, extra-judicial killings, American drones terrorizing populations abroad, campaign spending out of control, and the undue influence of corporations in our government and media, we get the clear picture that our system is terribly broken, that we are all held hostage by special interests running amok.

America is and always has been a violent nation. Yet over the past decade that culture of violence has received a huge shot in the arm from the rampaging violence of American might overseas and the ever expanding War on Terror, from executive power without checks and balances, from the growing militarization of local law enforcement and the shooting of unarmed citizens, and from the economic violence committed daily by a financial sector without accountability. In short, everything seems out of balance because everything is out of balance. Without justice, without the rule of law in the highest places, there can be no peace elsewhere.

It may seem simplistic, but nonetheless accurate, to say that the entire world would be amazingly better off if the US would simply reform its campaign finance system. Think of it. There would be fewer wars. Real action on climate change and a switch to a greener economy might be possible. Appropriate gun control would not be just a pipe dream. More justice at home and abroad. One system of justice for rich and poor. Fairer diplomatic policies that reflect our actual values as a nation, instead of the fiats of a handful of multinational corporations, would mean fewer acts of terrorism. The list is really endless and should serve to demonstrate what our priorities need to be in the years ahead.

Speaking of the breakdown of the rule of law, later in the play, Thomas More confronts his would-be son-in-law, Will Roper, whose religious zeal almost makes the scholar’s flesh crawl.

ROPER: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down–and you’re just the man to do it–d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

More’s words paint a frighteningly accurate portrait of the kind of chaos that is unleashed when the rule of law breaks down, or rather, is sacrificed for reasons of security or even simple greed. The current administration’s mainstreaming of injustices and acts of violence that in former years were practiced in back rooms are, as history may judge, the most dangerous crimes ever committed by a sitting president. I am of course referring to the policies of indefinite detention, the assassination of US citizens and foreign nationals, the use of drone warfare, not to mention the most egregious trade bill ever concocted by man, which may render national and local legislation completely powerless in the face of multinational corporations.

No one yet knows what was going through the tortured mind of a young man who entered that theater through an exit door last week. Most probably, none of the above issues ever passed through his head. Yet injustice has a way of breeding more injustice, and violence more violence. Both breed rage, hopelessness, and despair. As our government grows increasingly unrestrained, the people will follow. And violence and mayhem have a way of coming home to roost, even when they are practiced ten thousand miles away.

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Haven’t We Been Down This Road Before?

Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats  
Will not debate the question of this straw:
This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies.  –Hamlet, Act IV, Scene iv

Don’t look now, but it’s happening again, just when you thought the wars in the Middle East were winding down. No, war never takes a holiday, not for the USA. For in case you haven’t noticed, war is now a permanent calling card of our foreign policy. Now that al-Qaeda has been hamstrung, it’s time to find a new enemy and a new war. This time it’s Iran, the greatest threat to civilization–according to the spin–since Alaric the Goth.

We’re like the plumber who had only one tool, a hammer– and oh what a mess he made wherever he went!

Few would have any affection for the Iranian government, a brutally repressive regime. The problem, however, is that, unlike us, Iran hasn’t invaded anyone. They’ve not declared war on us. Their so-called nuclear weapons program is but a mirage. Only look how hard our government has worked in recent weeks to find something, anything incriminating against them. But as we’ve learned from the last war and the hunt for WMDs, facts don’t matter much. When the US wants to go to war, we’ll find a casus belli, even if we have to manufacture one (again). Now that Iraq and Afghanistan have been “made safe for democracy” (i.e., reduced to rubble), Iran is next on the list.

Don’t believe it? Just ask retired US Army General Wesley Clark. According to Clark, neo-cons at the Pentagon have long been at work implementing a plan “to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.” The plan has included destroying the governments of seven countries: Iraq (check), Afghanistan (check), Libya (check), Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia, and Iran.

What I find fascinating is not that Iran is simply Iraq redux, nor that the corporate media, in their usual fawning subservience, are falling into line to do the government’s bidding. Rather, I feel like the philosopher Kierkegaard, who once attended service at the king’s chapel, where “the stately court preacher…advances before an elite circle of fashionable and cultivated people and preaches emotionally on the text of the Apostle, ‘God chose the lowly and despised.’” What amazed the philosopher most was that no one laughed.

The vast majority of Americans have no trust in government when it comes to taxes, but our faith becomes absolutely implicit when it comes to war powers (the biggest revenue waster on earth). We Yanks love a good fight– provided we win, and it does not last too long.  And for some reason drummed into us from the cradle, we are under the misapprehension that America goes to war only to export democracy– free speech, the right to vote, and a CVS on every corner. Who wouldn’t want that? We don’t understand that, in reality, what we export overseas is not democracy but economic domination, corporate exploitation. Or perhaps we just don’t care. If we were able to look at things squarely in the face, we might discover that our foreign policy is not an extension of American democratic institutions; it is responsible only to an A-list of multinational corporations. But we ordinary citizens don’t seem to mind, benefiting as we do from the fruits of empire: cheap gasoline, cheap electronics, cheap clothing and other commodities. It is a symbiotic relationship, like rhinos and oxpeckers.

As satirist Tom Lehrer used to sing in “Send the Marines”:

For might makes right, and till they’ve seen the light,
They’ve got to be protected, all their rights respected,
‘Till somebody we like can be elected.

That is, “somebody” favorable to doing business our way, which means handing over all their natural resources so that we can turn them into profitable commodities. We call it “economic development.” Those kill-joy countries who decline to be pushovers then become the villains in our national melodrammer.

“But Iran wants the bomb!” you cry. Well, can you blame them? Iran is a major player in the region and wants to be respected as such. They are tired of being isolated and fearful of being bombed by the US and Israel (which has been assassinating Iranian physicists with alarming frequency)–just as we are fearful of having a new power to contend with, one that will be a wedgie in our plans to dominate all the sources of oil in the region. “But they’ve threatened Israel; they want to wipe it off the map!” Granted, Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli rhetoric is insane and over the top, but it is designed for home consumption. The Iranian regime, like other totalitarian states, needs at least one bogeyman to give it legitimacy and to distract its populace from the harshness of its rule, just as the Israeli government needs to be surrounded by enemies so that it can justify the ongoing theft of Palestinian land. There is another oddly symbiotic relationship.

In reality, no country would be so foolish and suicidal as to attack Israel with a nuclear strike. Israel maintains the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the region and a swift capability to deliver them with accuracy by sea or air. So the security argument does not wash. Perhaps by security we really mean our desire to do what we want, to whom and when we want, arrogating to ourselves alone the right to be the biggest bully on the world stage. No, sadly, the biggest threats to world peace at the moment are the good ol’ USA and its enfant gâté (Israel)– and the American church is a chief enabler of both.

A few Sundays ago I was attending church with my family. The service was advertised as a Missions Sunday, an annual opportunity for the congregation to hear reports from its missionaries on the advancement of the gospel in various parts of the world. A traditional part of the service is a flag ceremony, in which the flags of the nations where these hard-working missionaries labor are carried down the aisle of the church. Unfortunately, one zealot, who had been entrusted with carrying the American flag, received permission from someone to don a US Army hat and fatigues and parade down the aisle to the wild cheers and applause of the congregation. How embarrassing! Not to mention sickening. It might have been forgivable if the person were a military hero. Instead, what was meant to be a harmless symbol of the unity of the church–one gospel, one people out of many nations– became a pivot point to hoist the flag of American militarism and exceptionalism. Well, I suppose we’re fortunate that in their excitement no one fired off a celebratory round– that’s always hard on stained glass. If someone had thought to ask the assembled missionaries what they thought of this display, they might have helped us gain some perspective by sharing how other peoples view us.

In Act IV of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet surveys the vast Norwegian forces about to invade his neighbor Poland, all for a scrap of land no farmer would bother to till, and he muses sardonically on the vanity of warfare. Like our own warmongering leaders, the Norwegian king,

Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d  
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw … 

To the American church all I can do is plead: please, please, don’t be manipulated again, don’t be a mascot for the military-industrial complex. We serve the Prince of peace–he is our Commander in Chief, first and foremost–and he commands us to be peacemakers, not warmongers. That means we don’t start locking and loading at the first sign of conflict; rather, in this case, we endeavor to be more objective, to understand the other side, to build bridges not bombs. It means we pray that war will not be necessary, that more death and destruction will be averted, that cooler heads will prevail, that the forces of arrogance and greed will not win out, that two great nations, two great civilizations can find a way to live in peace. It also means we love and pray for the other side as well as our own.

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