Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Reflections on "9/11"

Since I arrived at Paddington Station just over half a century ago, there have been three events that, it seems to me, have, more than any other, changed and shaped the political world.

The world as it was then

The political world at that time - the world of the 1950s, 60s and 70s - was dominated by the Cold War - the ideological conflict in which the west found itself threatened by revolutionary socialism inspired by the thought of Karl Marx. Wars involving the UK, France, and the USA (and other western states) were fought in Korea (1950-53) and Vietnam (1955-75). And several other wars and revolutions were inspired in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And then there were Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Middle Eastern conflicts in those days were seen as part of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union backing Syria and Egypt, and the USA backing Israel. And most significantly, socialism was the ideology that inspired discontented Arabs. Nasser, Arafat, and the Baathists of Syria and Iraq all used the language of socialism. They were political secularists. And among the more extreme Palestinian factions, like the PFLP, it was Marx rather than Mohammed who inspired the leadership. George Habbash, the leader of the PFLP was not even Muslim. He was Greek Orthodox.

Event 1: The Iranian Revolution

Then along came the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Militant Islam, which had been a fairly insignificant force in the 1960s and 70s, now became a major force among the discontented people of the Middle East. Socialism had not delivered the goods. Perhaps Islam could. And anyway, socialism was essentially western, and Marx was European, and the communism’s preference for atheism had never been particularly popular in the Middle East. As the Lebanese Civil War raged, Hezbollah emerged as a major force. And a few years later, an Islamic Palestinian group called Hamas came into being. And the west started to worry about militant Islam - even if it was still more worried about Marxist socialism.

Event 2: The collapse of the Soviet Union.

As a result of changes in domestic and foreign policy in the Soviet Union brought in under Gorbachev’s leadership, the Cold War came to a fairly sudden end. In 1989, the Soviet backed regimes in Eastern Europe effectively collapsed. In 1990 Germany was reunited. In 1991 the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union came to an end. Civil wars broke out in what had been Yugoslavia, but the world seemed to be a less threatening place. And among the discontented in the Middle East, secular socialism’s credibility as a revolutionary force dwindled further. All the time, the power and influence of militant Islam was growing.

Event 3: The September 11 attacks

Nine months into the new century, the world changed again. It wasn’t just that the Turks were at the gates of Vienna. They were now at the gates of every city in the western world. And Islam was every bit as terrifying as communism had been in the Cold War era.

And so it remains today. Furthermore, the Cold War era seems like ancient history. Brezhnev has been dead for nearly 30 years, and it is a quarter of a century ago that Gorbachev began his program which was to lead to the winding up of the Soviet empire. It is not just that Islam is the great threat to Western civilisation; it feels like it has always been that way.

And it seems to me that this has had two major effects in the way people in Britain think. The first, and most obvious, is that there is a real and widespread fear of Muslims, and of also fear of Islam per se. There were those in Britain who feared Muslims and Islam 10 years ago - but the levels of concern are far higher today. The rise of Islamic militancy has changed the way that we see Muslims. Islamic militancy, however, is a phenomenon that was virtually unknown 40 years ago, and that a large proportion of the world’s Muslims don’t have much enthusiasm for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Muslims do vary considerably. I would differentiate, by the way, between how we view Muslims, and how we view Islam per se. I don’t judge Islam (or any other faith) by its adherents, but by what I know of its founder and of its teachings.

It seems to me that the 9/11 attacks have had another effect on the way some people in Britain think. Many people are increasingly suspicious not just of Islam, but of all religion. After all, for decades now, I have been hearing people saying that all religions are basically the same. We’ve all heard it. (Remember Steve Turner’s satirical poem, Creed?) And if they are all basically the same, it follows that Christianity is as dangerous as Islam. Since 9/11, it has become common to hear people in Britain claiming that religion is the cause of most wars. Very few people would have made such a claim 15 years ago. 50 years ago it would have been almost unthinkable for someone in Britain to have made such an idiotic assertion.

There is one other thing that, as a Christian, I find interesting. Both the old threat to the west (revolutionary communism) and the new threat (revolutionary Islam), have one thing in common. Not just in theory, but also in practice, both have proved to be strongly hostile to Christianity.

14 comments:

indigomyth said...

I hesitate to comment on this article, since this is an area where we differ in opinion quite significantly - this relates not to politics, so much as the motivation for political violence.

I would say that I think it is the case that ANY revolutionary violent political ideology automatically persecutes and attempts to destroy any competing ideology. I mean, in the Soviet Union, Islam was persecuted along with Christianity - because both claimed allegiances other than the State. In countries under the boot of Islamic oppression, particularly under the Taliban, both Christianity and Socialism are rejected, and persecuted, as is atheism and profession of unbelief.

I think the reason Christianity and Christians have been rejected is because it has in neither of the cases that you cite been the dominant ideology. However, in Fascist Spain, under Franco, Catholicism was still popular. Hence The Valle de los CaĆ­dos was built.

In short, I do not believe that Christianity has been persecuted because of any particular teaching, but rather merely because it has been a competing ideology.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Indigomyth,

I think I basically agree with you!

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran persecute Christians because they believe that Christianity is a theological heresy - and as such, I suppose it can be described as a competing ideology.

To be honest, I've never quite understood why the Soviet Union persecuted Christianity. In that Communism (for some peculiar reason) made atheism one of the dogmas of its ideology, yes, I can see that Christianity was a competing ideology. But I've never quite figured out why Communist governments were so enthusiastic about atheism.

indigomyth said...

YMB,

I did not know of the works of Steve Turner - I have to say, I went and read them and they are very moving; they moved me to tears, I have to say. They are so simple, yet for that simplicity they manage to capture the essence of what "simple" Christianity is. I particularly found "The Morning That Death Was Killed" moving.

I think part of the reason Communist governments rejected religion because they believed that religion was the opiate of the masses; that it was used to placate the proletariat into accepting their lot, and therefore a tool of the bourgeoisie.

Of course, is is ultimately because the Communists were obsessed with power, and every strand of competing power had to be destroyed.

I also think part of the reason is because a lot of the Communists were committed atheists - Stalin particularly. Stalin had bad experiences growing by in his strict Orthodox school.

Young Mr. Brown said...

"I think part of the reason Communist governments rejected religion because they believed that religion was the opiate of the masses; that it was used to placate the proletariat into accepting their lot, and therefore a tool of the bourgeoisie."

I don't imagine that they kept up that idea for long. I'm sure I read that the involvement of churches in the fall of communist regimes in Poland, Romania and the DDR in 1989 did not go unnoticed by the Chinese Communist leadership.

Placating the proletariat into accepting their lot?? More like stirring them up to shake off their overlords.

Yes, Steve Turner can be very good indeed.

indigomyth said...

YMB,

//Placating the proletariat into accepting their lot?? More like stirring them up to shake off their overlords.//

Perhaps, though seen through the lens of Communism, the world is a confusing and topsy turvy place.

DaveF said...

'There is one other thing that, as a Christian, I find interesting. Both the old threat to the west (revolutionary communism) and the new threat (revolutionary Islam), have one thing in common. Not just in theory, but also in practice, both have proved to be strongly hostile to Christianity.'

There's another factor which you've overlooked - and that is communitarianism - which is the ideology that has been driving the social and political agendas in the Western world. This is what's behind the anti-Catholic and anti-Christian propaganda repeatedly belched from the Guardianista media outlets by its priests - and it has long established itself through so-called political correctness. It's a deliberate manipulation of common cultural values, and is becoming the new orthodoxy. It has already attempted to silence individual Christian voices in the name of diversity, and its momentum is gathering.

indigomyth said...

DaveF,

//It has already attempted to silence individual Christian voices in the name of diversity, and its momentum is gathering.//

Christianity is one of the primary sources of communitarianism. What else must follow from being your brothers keeper?

Communitarianism is the doctrine that the needs and welfare of the many must be considered before the needs of the few or the one. In that sense, Christianity is manifestly communitarian. In an interview recently, Archbish Nichols decried the notion of "individual rights", instead emphasising a community vision of rights. Also, just watching the Pope in Glasgow, they were talking about how we all belong to each other - communitarianism writ large. In what possible way is Christianity not communitarian?

indigomyth said...

If you don't believe me, try this

http://www.catholicchurch.org.uk/Catholic-Church/media_centre/press_releases/press_releases_2010/choosing_the_common_good

Read the section on "The Common Good" and tell me that is manifestly not communitarian nonsense?

indigomyth said...

Or this

http://www.bdsc.org.uk/assets/pdf/2007%20Community%20Cohesion%20and%20the%20Catholic%20School.pdf

Note:

//A culture excessively concerned with individual rights will find the continued development of such efforts and communities increasingly difficult. There are times and places in which the importance and requirements of the group will outweigh the ‘rights’ of the individual if the common good is to be achieved. Obviously such ‘submission’ needs to be consciously accepted, increasingly
as an individual grows in self-understanding and maturity.
The Catholic approach to these issues always starts with an emphasis on the person, rather than on the individual. The notion of person, unlike that of the individual, includes the dimension of relatedness as essential to it. Every person is born, formed, nurtured and grows in relationship with other people. Those relationship give shape and meaning to that person. Our Catholic emphasis is that essentially we are persons and therefore ‘belong’ to one another. The emphasis of ‘individualism’ is that we are essentially separate.

indigomyth said...

The alternative of communitarianism is individualism. So the burden is on you to show that Christianity is individualist.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, Dave!

You wouldn't by any chance be the "faulksd" who was posting over at Anna Raccoon, would you?

Indiogmyth,

I've been thinking about what you said. Your mention of Fascist Spain is interesting. I can, as I say, understand the hostility of revolutionary Islam to Christianity. The hostility of communism still puzzles me a little. It obviously originates with Marx, but AFAIK, Marx was not strongly hostile to Christianity, even if he did reject it.

Now what interests me is that neither Nazi-ism nor fascism were strongly hostile to Christianity, even though Christianity was potentially a competing ideology - as much so as with communism. Both preferred to make peace with Christianity and to get the church to accommodate itself to the ideology of the state. Of course, communism tried that as well, to some extent, but they were always much more openly hostile to Christianity than Fascism or Nazi-ism.

indigomyth said...

YMB,

//Of course, communism tried that as well, to some extent, but they were always much more openly hostile to Christianity than Fascism or Nazi-ism.//

I do not think Christianity had the potential to be as competitive with Fascism - since Fascism embraced some of the common elements of the Christianity of that era.

But then, Nazism was implacable opposed to Communism (yes I know there was an early pact with Stalin, however that was quickly dissolved, and the virulence with which Hitler went after Communists seems to indicate a long-seated hatred of Communism). So, I do think it is more to do with how much of an opponent the dominant ideology considers the others. Clearly, many Fascists considered themselves to be good Christians, therefore were not hostile to Christianity. I imagine that under Communism, many people did not consider themselves Christian (or rather, considered the other Christians they were persecuting, to be not true Christians).

With Fascism and Nazism, Christianity formed a "positive" part of the ideology. It was what defined the "us" against "them". Look at the BNP. Christianity (of at least a nominal variety) is intrinsic to it, because it forms part of the identity.

Whereas Nazism and Fascism defined identity by culture and race, which incorporates religion, they both viewed Christianity positively (as far as they could). However, Communism defined people by class - of which religion has very little to do. In that sense, the hostility to Christianity was due to the fact that the religion erected barriers to the unification of people along class lines. That is my 2 cents, for what it is worth.

Mark @ Israel said...

I agree, Communism and Islam are both hostile to Christianity but I disagree to the statement that "Christianity is as dangerous as Islam." True Christianity is never dangerous since it is after Jesus Christ's teaching. It only becomes dangerous if people associated with Christianity becomes out of touch from Christ's true teachings and becomes hostile.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, Mark.

You are, of course, quite right. If you look again at the context of that line, you will see that the statement "Christianity is as dangerous as Islam" was the hypothetical conclusion of the person who has seen that Islam was dangerous, and who believed that all religions were basically the same.