Understanding the Middle East: the Enemy of My Enemy May Be My Enemy

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We
read one day that we have liberated the Iraqis and brought them
democracy only to find out the next day that Shiite flagellants
are roaming the streets of cities there covered with blood and ecstatically
demanding an Islamic State.

We
deplore Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel one day and find out
the next day that some Israeli fanatics have plans to demolish the
Dome of the Rock mosque in preparation for the re-building of the
Temple of Solomon.

We
listen to skepticism about our war in Iraq from mainline Protestant
clerics and papal legates one day only to discover the next day
that countless American Evangelicals are relishing the approaching
Rapture and End of Days as they plan foreign policy from the Books
of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. And the chief Bible Study maven
seems to be the man of the house in the White House.

Listening
to government officials from Rumsfeld down to Fleischer will not
answer our questions about these matters. Nor will cheering the
rantings and ravings of the Limbaughs and Hannitys. What we need,
believe it or not, is a little old-fashioned scholarship and study.

We
need to read the now unread ruminations of Oswald Spengler (The
Decline of the West
), Arnold Toynbee (A
Study of History
), and perhaps even Friedrich Nietzsche
(any of his works will do but you could start with A
Genealogy of Morals
).

What
Spengler, Toynbee, and Nietzsche can teach us is how Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam, despite superficial differences, were all forged and/or
altered by a religious revolution in ancient Iran associated with
the name Zoroaster or Zarathustra. The central notions of dualism
between Good and Evil, Salvation through an Expected Messiah, and
the Final Battle between St. Michael and Satan animate these world
religions and their devotees. Pragmatism, reason, and common sense
have little place in these primitive Semitic world views. All conflict
is interpreted as part of a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil
and there is no room for compromise or tolerance.

Our
American Evangelicals and Neo-Conservatives have bought into these
delusions as much as Islamicists and if left unshackled will lead
us all to world conflagration.

A
curious French reactionary at the turn of the last century, Charles
Maurras, had an interesting perspective on all this. In his view
anarchic religious revolution was the contribution of the Jewish
and Christian Bible, nourished on the same dualistic fanaticism
of the Iranian spirit.

He
lacked himself belief in God and Christianity but had a good deal
of belief in the institution of the Roman Catholic Church which
in his view had performed the necessary service of sanitizing this
dangerous religious tradition and re-directing it under the influence
of Greco-Roman intellectuality into more conservative paths. He
was a Catholic without being a Christian because he valued order
over disorder and hierarchy over anarchy.

Maurras
had many wrong and prejudiced notions and much to apologize for
in his pursuit of a reactionary French political movement, the Action
Francaise. But were he with us today he would immediately understand
why Anerican Neo-Conservatives and Evangelicals are dangerous fanatics
looking for trouble which they neither understand nor appreciate
because they have little in the way of learning or historical insight.

Maurras
had never read Spengler or Nietzsche, as an anti-German he would
not read what he considered Teutonic nonsense, but he shared their
fear that Western Civilization little understood its vulnerability
from anarchistic, primitive biblical religion.

Every
day the news from the Middle East is making these old concerns more
relevant and more troublesome.

April
26, 2003

Norman
Ravitch [send him mail],
professor of history emeritus at the University of California at
Riverside, lives in Savannah, Georgia.


     

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