Paris, San Bernardino & Double Standards

Double Standard

In the wake of slaughters in Paris and San Bernardino, a wave of Islamophobia is sweeping our country. The killings have revived charges that Islam is an inherently violent religion.

Given their sources, the charges are obscene.

That’s because they are almost invariably made by “Christians” who are among the strongest supporters of spending $2 billion per day (!) on the military. They love holy wars that have (among others) specifically targeted Muslims for the last 60 years.

Back in 1954, the Christians’ government overthrew a democratically elected head of a Muslim state in favor of a brutal puppet, Reza Palavi. There followed a 25 year reign of terror in Iran, whose 1979 revolution inspired and empowered Muslim resisters across the planet.

Additionally the government of these Christians unconditionally supports Israel, a state which since 1948 has evicted Muslims from their ancestral homes in Palestine killing tens of thousands in the process. The majority of U.S. Christians not only support Israel in general (often on religious grounds), but even its possession of a vast arsenal of nuclear “weapons of mass destruction.”

In response, angered Muslims have used box cutters, stones, sling shots, primitive IEDs and rockets, (along, one day, with hijacked planes) to defend themselves and counter-attack against forces that have declared a perpetual war against them.

Why this condemnation of violence by impoverished Muslims alongside virtual worship of the “Gods of Metal” by rich Christians? The answer lies in Muhammad’s attitude towards war.

Like the vast majority of Christians since the 4th century, and along with virtually all the prophets of the Jewish Testament, Muhammad was not a pacifist. Instead he was a proponent of just war theory. In fact, he pioneered the theory’s development far ahead of its Christian proponents. Following its dictates and common sense, he insisted that the poor have the right to self-defense.

That’s what makes Islam so threatening to the West. It wants no part of people who defend themselves against western depredations. Meanwhile western powers themselves claim not only the right of self-defense but even the prerogative of “preemptive strikes.”

What the West expects in return on the part of those attacked – especially if the attacked are “religious” – is a pacifism that for more than seventeen hundred years has never been a major part of “Christendom’s” belief system. On the contrary, western Christians tend to ridicule pacifists as unrealistic, unpatriotic, even cowardly “bleeding hearts.”

No, the West wants an enemy that simply rolls over for colonialism (in Israel), wars of aggression (in Iraq), policies of torture and illegal imprisonment (in Guantanamo), drone strikes, mass killings of innocent civilians, support of unpopular dictators, rigged elections, and a host of other crimes. And when religious people defend themselves, westerners cry “foul” and consider themselves blameless victims.

Paris and San Bernardino should not surprise us. Barring mass conversion of blood thirsty “Christians,” more is on the way.

THE PARIS ATROCITIES: SOME HOME TRUTHS ABOUT WAR

Paris Blood

The entire world was shocked by the horrendous atrocities of last weekend. Appropriately, they were followed by tears, laying of wreaths, moments of silence, prayer vigils, and singing of La Marseillaise before football games and other public events.

France’s President Hollande evoked sympathy when he correctly declared the attacks “an act of war.” No one disagreed.

However, Mr. Hollande was not correct in his implication that the killings in Paris somehow began a war that France and its partners have now self-righteously resolved to “finish.” Rather, the Paris massacre is part of a much bigger picture that includes conflicts the West has been part of since 2001.

To fill out that picture, consider the following “home truths” about war. Uncomfortable as they are, allowing them to sink in might help uncover alternatives to the violence that stupefies everyone.

Begin here:

  • War is hell.
  • In modern warfare, 90% of casualties are civilian.
  • The casualties include refugee migrations.

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  • The West’s response to 9/11/01 was to declare war.
  • It began a campaign of bombing and extra-judicial assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere.

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  • According to a study by Lancet (one of the oldest scientific medical journals in the world), since 2003 the U.S. war in Iraq has caused more than one million deaths – again, most of them civilian.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. has supplied weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia for their own bombing campaigns in Gaza and Yemen.
  • In Gaza alone (with complete U.S. support) the Israeli Defense Force fired 50,000 shells, carried out 6000 airstrikes, destroyed 3,500 buildings, killed 2250 Gazans, including 551 children.

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  • In wars there are always at least two sides.
  • All have the right to attack and counter-attack.
  • It is insane to be shocked when counter-attacks occur.
  • Counter-attacks often mimic attacks.
  • So if one side is perceived as attacking defenseless civilians, the other side will likely respond in kind.

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  • France itself is at war.
  • President Hollande is a founding member of the U.S.-led coalition that has recently dropped 175,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria killing at least 600 civilians in the process.
  • Therefore no one should be surprised when “in kind” counter-attacks occur. (To repeat: that’s the way war works.)

In view of such home truths, instead of responding to the Paris massacre with more bombings, the U.S., France and their allies should:

  • Realize that the West’s enemies experience many “Paris Massacres” each day at western hands.
  • Accordingly and on principle reject the atrocities of war that on both sides justly horrify everyone.
  • Announce a cessation of all bombing campaigns.
  • With allies including the United States, France, Russia, Iran, and others, call a Summit (appropriately) in Paris to meet with the leaders of the Islamic State to seek a negotiated settlement to the conflicts the West has initiated.
  • Open western borders to the refugees inevitably produced by the U.S.-led wars over the last 14 years.
  • In churches and other principled fora, specifically condemn all Islamophobic statements of politicians and other public figures.

Only actions like these can release the world from massacres that are the unavoidable consequences of the wars we rightly recognize as hell.

(Sunday Homily) Massacre in Paris: The Apocalypse Is upon Us

Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Dn. 12: 1-3; Ps. 16:5, 8-11; Heb. 10:11-14; Mk. 13:24-3.

The entire world was shocked by yesterday’s brutal attacks on innocent civilians in Paris. President Obama accurately expressed consensus in the West that the attacks “were not just on Paris, but on all of humanity and the universal values we share.”

Early reports have France’s President Hollande attributing the slaughter in Paris to ISIL forces. French police have said that one of the terrorists was carrying a Syrian passport. Such attributions make the attacks part of the war in the Middle East that has been raging since 2001.

France, of course, is a close ally of the United States in its global war on terror. It is a founding member of the coalition which (under U.S. leadership) has been bombing Iraq and Syria for over a year. In fact, hundreds of civilians have been killed in coalition attacks which as of last August had rained 17,000 bombs on Syrian and Iraqi targets and claimed more than 600 civilian lives. Most casual observers don’t know that. Those living under the ’round-the-clock air raids, of course, do.

If Syrians are responsible, it is reasonable to assume their intent is to make the French and their coalition partners (the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, and Australia) feel the pain of civilians in Syria and Iraq. President Obama’s words show the point has been made.

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It is a sad coincidence that today’s readings centralize apocalyptic texts found in the Book of Daniel and in the Gospel of Mark. Both are war documents. That is, contrary to insistence by evangelical fundamentalists, apocalypse is not about the end of the world. Instead contemporary scholarship identifies it as a literary form always associated with war and resistance to empire. As such (it may shock us to know) the form is more sympathetic to the cause of ISIL and other “terrorists” than to the efforts of the U.S. and its close ally, France, to control their imperial outposts. Nonetheless, apocalypse in no way condones terror — neither the wholesale terror of empire exhibited in its incessant bombings, nor the retail version we witnessed yesterday in France.

The Book of Daniel originates from Israel’s resistance to the Hellenistic empire of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In the year 168 C.E., he invaded Palestine and devastated Jerusalem. He hated Judaism and went out of his way to offend Jews at every level. He slaughtered them mercilessly. But he also defiled the Jerusalem Temple by offering a pig on its altar. He even erected a monument to Jupiter in the Temple. Patriotic Jews called it “the abomination of desolation.” While occupying Palestine, Antiochus destroyed all the copies of Scripture he could find, and made it a capital offense to possess such manuscripts. It was against Antiochus and the Greek occupation of Palestine that the Book of Daniel was written. It assures the Jewish resistance (which the Greeks saw as a “terrorist force”) that the Seleucid Empire, like all those preceding it, would fall in ignominy.

Something similar is happening in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. Written around 70 C.E., its context is a six-month siege of Jerusalem by the Roman Emperor Titus. On September 8th of that year four Roman legions finally captured the city of Jerusalem from its Zealot defenders (whom the Romans considered “terrorists”). Moving from house to house (like U.S. soldiers in Iraq), the legionaries destroyed everything within reach, including the City’s Temple. Palestine would not again belong to the Jews until 1948. It was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans that Jesus predicts in today’s Gospel excerpt from Mark.

But the excerpt also calls for a complete end to the politics of violence and domination. That meant not only obeying the command of Jesus to reject empire, but also to refuse alignment with the Zealots and Sicarii — the resistance assassins who specialized (like Palestinian resisters today) in knifing occupation soldiers.

Though sympathetic to the resistance, Mark’s Jesus evidently saw the counter-productivity of tit-for-tat violence. He exhibits no sympathy for the Zealot recruiters who between 66 and 70 traveled throughout Palestine calling on Jewish patriots to defend their homeland by joining guerrilla forces. Instead, Mark’s Jesus counsels his followers to flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14-16). They were to do so not out of cowardice, but from apocalyptic conviction that God’s order of justice could not be established by the sword. Obeying Jesus’ direction meant that Christians were not only threatened by Romans but by Jews who accused Jesus’ followers of treason.

How should today’s Liturgy of the Word affect people of faith whose Commanders-in-Chief repeat the crimes of the Seleucid Antiochus IV and the Roman Titus — both of whom thought of themselves as doing God’s work in destroying what they despised as a superstitious, primitive, tribal, and terrorist religion? (Yes, that’s what they thought of Judaism!)

Today’s readings recommend that we adopt an apocalyptic vision. That means attempting to grasp the worldview of empire’s victims rather than of its agents — i.e. attempting to understand the reasons behind acts of terrorism like those which unfolded yesterday in Paris.

More basically adopting apocalyptic vision means rejecting defense of the present order and allowing it to collapse. It entails total rejection of U.S. and French imperial ambitions and practices. It signifies refusing to treat as heroes those who advance the policies of destruction and desecration inevitably intertwined with imperial ambition. It means letting go of the privileges and way of life that depends on foreign conquest and vilification as “terrorists” patriots desperately defending their countries from invasion by imperial forces. It means determining what such rejection might signify for our consumption patterns and lifestyles, and supporting one another in the counter-cultural decisions such brainstorming will evoke.

Missing the insights of contemporary scripture scholarship, fundamentalists routinely teach that apocalypse is about the end of the world — not about the end of particular empires. In a sense, they are right. Apocalypse is about the end of the world. The entire Jewish universe was anchored in the temple. Its defilement by the Greek Antiochus IV, its complete destruction by the Roman Titus seemed like the end of the world to the Jews. The threat of westernizing the Arab world might seem that way to the occupied Muslim world today. And the end of the American Way of Life premised on resource wars under cover of a “war on terrorism” might strike us as the end of everything we hold dear.

However, the apocalyptic message of hope is that the passage of empire and nationalism is not really the end. Instead it represents an opportunity for a new beginning. In the words Mark put in Jesus’ mouth this morning, “Do not be alarmed . . . This is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.”

Ironically, tragic events like yesterday’s massacre remind followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition to abandon a past based on dominion and violence and to create the entirely new reality based on the apocalyptic visions of Daniel and Jesus.