The Elephant in the Room


               With the severing of heads in northern Iraq the elephant in the situation has been revealed. It was stated by the British historian, Tom Holland : “There are psychopaths aplenty loose in Iraq but not every head hunter ranks as a madman. The truth is altogether more disturbing……Victory cannot be secured militarily. This battle has to be fought and won by the theologians”. In other words, fundamentalist religion lies at the heart of the terrible situation in northern Iraq.

            Regretfully, I agree. Religion is involved, and religious fundamentalism is a menace wherever it occurs. And we need to remember that religiously motivated violence is not the exclusive prerogative of Islam. It is found in the west and was evidenced in President Bush’s statement as he sent the troops off to Iraq “And may God bless America”. I was interested to learn also that when Saddam Hussein was killed Rev Graham prayed with Bush in the oval office “It is because of you, O Lord, that Saddam Hussein has been brought to justice. Jesus, your fingerprints are on this mission.” Religiously motivated violence is not  exclusive to Islam. The elephant is just as much at home in the White House as it is in the ruins of Gaza and the killing fields of Srebrenica. The Koran may speak of “instilling terror into the hearts of unbelievers” and “striking off their heads” but it is equally matched by David striking off the head of Goliath, the Crusades, the burning of witches and the statements of American Presidents.

            Notwithstanding the fact that fundamentalism is not an exclusively Islamic characteristic, it needs to be clearly said  that it is as dominant a feature of Islam as it is of Christianity today.  Allah is seen as having  chosen and willed the violence in northern Iraq. One is tempted to comment on the single raised finger that is the symbol of the Iraqi Caliphate but that would demean what is a deadly serious issue.

           What is the answer to the situation in which we find ourselves?

           The quick answer is to get rid of religion. Although I can sympathise with those who think this way, I fear that the baby may go out with the bathwater. The problem is not religion per se. The problem is fundamentalist religion. In my book, as in his, Jesus was non violent and lived by the precept “Put up your sword! Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”. The crucifixion was not some ghastly bargain with God by which salvation was achieved. It was an example of non violence, an example that he called his followers to emulate. There are those who see religion in terms of some kind of divine bargain that guarantees life in some kind of heaven (the motivation that incidentally drives many suicide bombers!) but please don’t count me within that number! Count me with those who believe that violence is dysfunctional as a political and social instrument.  The violence in Iraq today is in no small way due to  the redrawing of boundaries by Britain and France after the 1918 war. Violence  simply begets violence.

            I find myself thinking of the words of Tom Fox, a fellow traveler in Iraq. I never met him, although I feel I have known him all my life. These are his words.

“If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression…. how do I stand firm against a car bomber or a kidnapper? Does it mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying “American for the taking”? No! But if Jesus and Ghandi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and, if I lose it, to be as forgiving as they were when murdered. I struggle to stand firm but I’m working at it.”

            Tom did work at it, he was kidnapped, he was killed and he will be remembered as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.

            I am also  reminded also of the words of Ron Sider “To rise to this challenge of history we need to reject the ways we have misunderstood or weakened Jesus’ call to be peacemakers; and we need to prepare to die by the thousands”.


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