Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Paris is worth a Mass

Henry IV was a repeat conversionist, from Protestantism to Catholicism and back again, a few times. He is famously alleged to have said, "Paris is worth a Mass" meaning, it appears, that Paris was such a fine city to be ruler of that it was worth becoming Catholic to secure the allegiance of its citizens. Fast forward to the events of last weekend, when several terrorist actions killed 129 people and injured many more, and the question of the worth of Paris arises again. Initial responses from the international community of nations suggest Paris is worth a great deal indeed. But the question worth discussing in relation to Paris (recalling, lest we forget, Beirut the week before, Russian passengers over Sinai the week before that, tourists in Tunisia a few months back, and ...) is what response is best.

Military action is an obvious response. So obvious that France has already retaliated by bombing targets in Raqqa, the 'capital' of Daesh controlled territory (let's drop the 'IS' or 'ISIS' name). But - as commentators are observing, including Chris Trotter below and Nicolas Henin, writing in the Guardian, military reaction to the Daesh action is precisely what they have baited Western powers to do.

Some commentators are wisely urging that the first thing we do is think. Rightly so. We are fighting fire. Sometimes fire is well fought with fire (e.g. when the wind is blowing the right way, a fire burning towards a fire may stop the first fire). Other times it is a recipe for conflagration. My sense is that is the case with Daesh. Killing Daesh will spawn bitterness and bitterness will be the parent of future attacks.

If we do take up the invitation to think about things, we might think about the following excerpt from this Reuters' report (printed in our Christchurch Press today):

"George Dallemagne, a center-right opposition member of the federal parliament, traces some problems back to the 1970s when resource-poor, heavily industrial Belgium sought favor with Saudi Arabia by providing mosques for Gulf-trained preachers. 
These brought with them fundamentalist teachings then alien to most of Belgium's Moroccan immigrants. 
Pointing at Molenbeek, Dallemagne said: "The very strong influence of Salafists ... is one of the particularities that puts Belgium at the center of terrorism in Europe today."
We may debate whether the Daesh are part of Islam, representative of some genuine aspect of Islam, faithful to some part of the Quran or not. The simple fact is that most Muslims most of the time since Mohammed have been and are peaceful people. Daesh represents a strand of Islamic theology/political philosophy known as Salafism, itself a form of Wahhabism (or is it the other way round?). Wahhabism is the form of Islam to which Saudi Arabia is loyal and about which it is zealous in proclamation. Not all Salafists are jihadists. Jihadi Salafism has five important characteristics, according to Mohammed M. Hafez:

  • "immense emphasis on the concept of tawhid (unity of God);
  • God's sovereignty (hakimiyyat Allah), which defines right and wrong, good and evil, and which supersedes human reasoning is applicable in all places on earth and at all times, and makes unnecessary and un-Islamic other ideologies such as liberalism or humanism;
  • the rejection of all innovation (bid‘ah) to Islam;
  • the permissibility and necessity of takfir (the declaring of a Muslim to be outside the creed, so that they may face execution);
  • and on the centrality of jihad against infidel regimes."

Dallemagne's point is that Saudi Arabia's influence and funding undergird the spread of Salafism and Wahhabism around the world. If we in the West pause to think about a response to Daesh, are we prepared to think about engaging with Saudi Arabia, arguing against their not so benign support for the theology of Daesh terrorism?

Yes, I thought not. From Dave Cameron to John Key we see Western leaders cravenly refraining from criticism of Saudi. And, to be fair to their lack of fortitude, they are fearful of electoral consequences if we voters take our cars to the petrol pump and find their is no petrol.

Incidentally, do you remember a few weeks back when thousands of Syrians were pouring into the welcoming arms of Angela Merkel and Saudi Arabia offered to help out by funding 200 new mosques in Germany? Yeah, right!?

So our counter-theology to the theology of Daesh terrorism has some practical thinking to do. Even as we caution against military action, are we prepared to walk to work?

There is other work for such counter-theology to do. One work is to develop how we worship in a world of violence. Bosco Peters posts a large citation of a post entitled "Worship in a Violent World" by theologian James Alison. I urge you to read it. One sentence struck me in particular, as Alison points out how some worship can (un)wittingly divide humanity in two: "To the divinisation of the one, there corresponds the demonisation of the other, which is the dehumanisation of them all." If perchance the Christian community through its worship in challenging times demonises Muslims and dehumanises us all, what difference exists between us and the Salafist jihadis?

Finally, for now, thinking a little about theological aspects of the deadly situation Daesh has brought to the world, NZ commentator Chris Trotter argues that the Paris attacks are part of an apocalyptic provocation, that is, Daesh seeks to provoke Armageddon:

"And what purpose might that be? In his article “What does ISIS really want?”, published in the March 2015 issue of Atlantic magazine, journalist Graeme Wood observes that there is a temptation, in the West, to conceptualise jihadists as “modern secular people, with modern secular concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise – and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilisation to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.” 
The apocalypse! Yes. Islam, like Christianity, contains within its ranks a growing number of devout, even fanatical, believers in the “End Times”. According to the Islamic State recruiters interviewed by Wood, these end times will begin when the West launches what proves to be a disastrous intervention in Iraq and Syria. In Woods own words: “The Islamic State awaits the army of ‘Rome,’ whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse.” 
If Wood is correct (and there have been many challenges to his characterisation of the Islamic State) luring the “Crusaders” to this little town on the border of Syria and Turkey is critical to the unfolding of Allah’s plan for his people. Dabiq may be 300 miles north of Israel’s “Mountain of Megiddo” (Har Meghiddohn in Hebrew) but its theological location is identical. It is held to be the place of the last, decisive, battle between the allies and the enemies of God – Armageddon. 
But, surely, no rational person could believe that such a battle is anything other than metaphorical? No rational person, certainly. But, in the Islamic State we are not dealing with rational people. 
Which is not to say that we are dealing with fools."
There is a great need for wisdom at this time. And prayer. In our eucharists we have the opportunity to worship well, to pray for Paris and all those suffering from Daesh destruction and to remember the way of the cross as the victory over the power of death.


Father Ron Smith said...

"the permissibility and necessity of takfir (the declaring of a Muslim to be outside the creed, so that they may face execution);
and on the centrality of jihad against infidel regimes."

In slightly different circumstances, one might translate this Muslim extremist fundamentalist mind-set to those 'Christian' fundamentalists who regard the liberal parts of the A.C. as being 'infidel regimes'.

Extremist fundamentalist religion is not a pardigm to be followed by the followers of the Incarnate Son of God in Jesus Christ. Although it may be difficult to 'Love your enemies', this is the true religion perpetuated by Jesus in the Gospel.

The real question, I suggest, pose in the present situation of fundamentalist religious adherents, is whether or not evil is to be combatted with the exercise of what may be thought to be a lesser evil - the prospect of containment by a proper defence mechanism.

Anonymous said...

Ron, when I sketch your comment as a diagram, it seems paradoxical.

You are opposed to *fundamentalist religious adherents* (= FRA) and favour *enlightened ones* (= EO), of course. If you define them simply as persons who believe in a community bounded by itself from inside-- do you so define FRA?-- and if you define *containment* as a sort of cordon sanitaire around FRA drawn from without by the EO -- do you so define containment?-- then it seems that drawing this on paper yields some arbitrary shape with two parallel boundaries. But since nobody is merely in some nondescript outside, both sides of the double boundary must count as the inside for those there. Which means that EO are a community bounded by itself from inside. Which, by the definition makes EO = FRA. Which cannot be right since you oppose FRA and favour EO, and this would hardly make sense if they were the same.

The FRA and EO seem not to be distinguished solely by a differing propensity for exclusion. What else did you have in mind?

Anonymous said...

Peter, I suspect that most pious Muslims think of jihad in a way somewhat analogous to the way Christians think about the slaughter of the Amalekites commanded by God in the OT.

For many centuries, monastics have calmly read about this genocidal slaughter as an allegory of the soul's eradication of vice. But apart from that, Christians seldom think about Amalekites. Only my most extreme friends would steal an Amalekite's parking place on a busy shopping day, let alone slaughter one. In fact, some provinces of the Anglican Communion are so reluctant to slaughter their Amalekites that the responsibility has been delegated to an Anglican-Amalekite Indaba Commission whose Amalekite members have for some reason never been named.

For Muslims, jihad is both like this and very unlike this. They chiefly use the concept as an allegorical symbol of their struggle against sin, much as the monks use the slaughter of the Amalekites. Peaceful Muslims, who do not steal parking places on a busy shopping day, nevertheless do, in that allegorical sense, practice jihad. Perhaps it is just because they do that they park so peacefully.

But unlike Christians, many Muslims have a much more difficult time disavowing the non-allegorical meaning. To do so is tantamount to accepting that the Muslim community that stretches from Morrocco to Indonesia will never again be a political state, let alone the empire it once was. For Muslims, that empire has deep religious significance. It is far harder for many of them to accept that than for most of us to accept that the undivided Church of the first millennium will not be reunited in this aeon. The pious reluctance to accept that the breakup of the empire cannot be reversed makes pluralistic, rights-bound, secular states distasteful and dreams of a purely Islamic state attractive.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
All agreed.
One your last observation re desire for restoration of empire, that is a wistfulness, I sense, shared by those Republicans intent on recreating an America that once was!

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Anonymous (#1), I never was very good at algebra, so can hardly interpret what you are saying in your comment here. However, I still maintain that violence against innocent people has no place in true religion

Anonymous said...

Yes, Peter, all of the old great powers have had some nostalgia for past imperialism, so it is not only Muslims who are susceptible to this. Among post-imperial Christians between the world wars (see link), we can recall Franco giving a religious justification for the Spanish Civil War by saying that the Fascists were the salvation of Spain, Spain the salvation of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church the salvation of the universe. This is roughly homologous with the rationale for ISIL's caliphate, and the fascist parties across inter-war Europe may possibly have been more ruthless than ISIL has been. So I suspect that tacit approval or non-disapproval of ISIL's violence is explained more by human nature than by the nature of Islam.

The id of the Republican Party (GOP) seems, at least at close range, more complicated. For one thing, the mass base of the GOP does not see American power as diminished, and like political scientists tend to see the change since the 1960s as the gradual rise of many regional powers, which is compatible with the official American view of things. For another, the "leave me alone" mentality of the GOP base in the heartland has always wanted military forces of prohibitive size and capabilities, but also not to actually use them except in defense of some plain national interest, and they never want the US to defend even that alone. This is how a vote in the House of Commons effectively preempted a vote in Congress on a proposed US-UK intervention in Syria.

Obviously the GOP does have its interventionists, but these have usually come from the Wall Street establishment to which the Bush family have been prominently connected for three generations. This is the very establishment that has so plainly lost control of the GOP's mass base in this most interesting presidential primary season. So, when Republicans who would rather hunt or fish than play golf or make deals go to a stadium to hear Donald Trump promise to Make America Great Again, they are looking for a non-Democrat-- and apparently for a non-politician-- who will bring jobs and profits to small towns and rural counties without also promoting immigration, postmodern sexuality, or social spending. Exasperated that other countries will not act in their own enlightened self-interest, these voters have little nostalgia for American hegemony.

Bowman Walton


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I noted in today's 'Press', that even Tosemary McCleod was veering towards the distinction between religious systems that advocate violence and Christianity. It seems that, despite her often criticising Christians for their sexual taboos, she accepts that Christians are not generally known for their willingness to kill innocaent people. That, I think, is a positive for Christianity in as sometimes hostile press environment.

Bryden Black said...

“Jihadi Salafism has five important characteristics”, the second of which is:
“God’s sovereignty (hakimiyyat Allah), which defines right and wrong, good and evil, and which supersedes human reasoning is applicable in all places on earth and at all times, and makes unnecessary and un-Islamic other ideologies such as liberalism or humanism.”

It is helpful, should we indeed wish to think, as Peter says, to recall B16 at Regensburg in 2006:


While the media of the day enjoyed their characteristic mauling of non-PC sounding features (even as they seriously mistook their real nature), here B16 puts his finger on a vital difference between Islam and the Judeo-Christian ethos and world-view notably re the good and the reasonable. And he does so in ways that address current European thinking and practice as well as characteristic Muslim ones.

We’d do very well to heed this thoughtful exposé.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bryden, I had planned to say something further about scripture, but events have intervened, and this digression is useful even to that discussion.

Papa Ratzi roused the paparazzi with a lecture to his old faculty at Regensburg that did not distance him quite enough from the idea that Muslims are essentially violent. Offended that a Byzantine emperor dead for centuries said that Islam spread by the sword because it could not spread by reason, some unreasonable Muslims set out to refute him by killing Christians, while others vaguely scolded the Pope for using a quotation obliquely critical of Muhammed. All that would seem to have proven his point, or at least the emperor's point, but as you say, there was more to it.

Benedict was presumably saying, not that Muslims like Ibn Sina have been unreasonable-- St Thomas relies on his arguments-- but that while Thomas's resort to reason follows from a devotion to the Logos shared by all Christians, Ibn Sina's resort to reason, while admirable, has no similar backing in a focus of devotion common to all Muslims. Thus, through Thomas, Christians can regard their assent to an argument from Ibn Sina as an act of faith-- believers in creation ex nihilo in fact do-- but Ibn Sina's coreligionists cannot do the same. Our exercise of reason is fallible enough to justify some caution, but confidence in the Logos gives us just enough warrant for trusting it to make persuasion possible, and with persuasion, warranted authority, as distinct from unwarranted coercion. The man in white was speaking to men in tweed from the academy in the West, but his implication for the bearded men in black was clear: Muslims will never unite around an office like his because they cannot be united at all except by force, and a unity established by force can be overthrown by the same force.

Now ISIL's universal caliphate is a sort of natural experiment testing the Pope's hypothesis. As Salafists, they know about such philosophers as Ibn Sina, but they are forbidden to follow them unless they happen to be among the first few generations of Islam. So the ISIL caliphate rests, not on an authority recognised from the immanent order of things, but on force where they have force, and on authority where others recognise the same sharia. One would think that Al Quaeda, which is also Salafist and jihadist would rejoice to recognise a state on its own principles, but one would be wrong for reasons too arcane to explore here.

However, the ISIL caliphate can try to establish its authority in another way: by doing things clearly unacceptable to all but Salafist jihadis and exhibiting them in social media, they can prove their consistent Salafism to those spread around the world who will trust nothing else. This can and does encourage faraway Muslims to emigrate to ISIL or to perform acts of attention-getting consistency where they are. Thus the caliph's antithesis to the pope's thesis is: persuasion does not matter when megapixel proof of your consistency can attract the obedience of those who believe in it. And as others prove by their actions that they will commit acts of daring in the Salifist jihadi cause, they will press other Muslims to move nearer to the Salafist observance. What else is a caliphate for? If there can be a media pope, there can be a social media caliph.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Ron, I could not resist a logic puzzle when I saw one. Please excuse the obscure. I assure you that no terrors were intended, let alone algebraic ones, but do claim responsibility for the carelessly unsigned comment at 5:15 on 18th November.

On the substance, your implicit comparison of the mindsets of expelling fundamentalists and reluctantly containing liberals-- of the dense and the dilute, I would say-- is too interesting to ignore. Perhaps an OP from Peter someday?

Bowman Walton

Brendan McNeill said...


You wrote:

"The simple fact is that most Muslims most of the time since Mohammed have been and are peaceful people."

Would that include the Muslims who slaughtered and raped and enslaved their way through North Africa, the Balkan States, Italy, France, Spain, and Vienna during the not so distant past?

Or those in Pakistan today who enforce blasphemy laws on Christians, and those who standby and watch, or the half a million in Bangladesh who recently marched on their capital to enforce the death penalty on atheists and in their spare time slaughter bloggers who supposedly insult Islam?

Sure there are peaceful Muslims, more so when we in the west self censor and are compliant with sharia, but I'm Not sure we need to run defence for Islam, the history speaks for itself.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
Let me put things slightly differently: most of the time most Muslims have lived peaceful lives BUT currently a significant minority of Muslims appear to support a tiny minority of Muslims carrying out despicable acts of terror across the world. The second part of the sentence does not, across the whole of Islamic history, change my contention of most Muslims mostly peaceful, but I am happy to acknowledge that there is presently a problem.

I understand Abp Justin to be asking - as many Christians ask at times of great and seemingly inexcusable, unexplainable suffering - where God is in the situation. Even with all jihadism understood, we can still ask (e.g.), why did God permit the French and Belgium security services to (it would appear) cock up on several fronts re insufficient vigilance over those who gave signs that they would later cause trouble? I don't see Abp Justin as lacking an understanding of jihadist ideology etc.

Incidentally, talking of the state having to have a responsibility for its citizens, how come (according to Twitter today) as may Americans have died from terrorism this past decade or so as from household gunfire? (3400 in both cases). What kind of violent ideology is at work in the States, an ostensibly Christian country!?

Brendan McNeill said...

To answer your last question first, it is because In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, 64 percent of deaths from gun violence in America were suicides.

I appreciate your reframing the problem, and I think that's a more realistic assessment. Although to be fair, there have been hundred of years throughout history where the Spanish, French, Italians etc may have thought they also lived in times that were 'presently a problem' with Islam.

As recently as 100 years ago more than 1.0 Million Armenians died at the hands of what remained of the Ottoman empire. Those guys made ISIS look compassionate.

Finally, as to 'why did French and Belgium security 'cock up'? - Did you know it can take between 30 and 60 individuals to effectively monitor one jihadist? So if you have (say as they do in Britain) 3,000 Muslims on their terrorist watch list, then when you do the maths you quickly realise the numbers work easily in favour of those who would do us harm.

We cannot surveillance our way out of this problem.

If we don't want to be in a 100 year war against radical Islam in our cities, then one might have thought the best thing would be to limit or eliminate Muslim immigration from the Middle East?

But then that's to state the obvious.

Peter Carrell said...

Hmm, did the Turks massacre the Armenians, Brendan, because of religion or because of nationhood/culture?

But, leaving the past to one side, the present is a challenge. To pick up a remark you make, we do not actually know whether we are entering a period of 100 years at war, or not. (Would it make a difference to our response if we did know?)

Whether or not we / Australia / USA / Europe limit immigration, I believe that there are more than enough Muslims around the world to continue the havoc and mayhem ISIS and like groups are causing. My own solution would involve (a) securing Muslim co-operation against ISIS (i.e. getting Saudi 150% on side); (b) cutting off funding (which may be happening now that Russia etc have had a couple of moments of genius re bombing oil trucks, installations); (c) working on hearts and minds re Islam and its reformation.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter,

With respect to ‘100 year war with Islam’ far from being sensationalist, I’m simply reprising former chief of the Australian Army, Professor Peter Leahy. These guys tend to err on the side of caution in their pubic statements.


What difference would it make if we accepted that proposition? Given the cultural relativists that populate our political elite, probably not much, but in a rational world it should don’t you think?

If I may critique your solution, and good on you for putting yourself out there:

a) You are highly unlikely to get the Saudi’s on side against ISIS unless they feel personally threatened. They are Sunni just as ISIS is Sunni. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has been responsible for exporting the most virulent form of Islam around the world using their petro dollars. Finally, there is every reason to suspect they funded the 9/11 attacks in the USA, and may possibly have been funding ISIS. Not the Government funding ISIS, but wealthy Saudi’s funding ISIS. Not that they appear to need much external funding these days.

b) Sure, let’s cut off their funding. The USA wouldn’t bomb ISIS Oil tankers because they used civilian drivers knowing that the USA would not strike for that reason.

c) There is nothing we can do to bring about a reformation of Islam, any more than we can export democracy to the Middle East. We tried and how did that work out?

Can Muslims re-imagine Islam without jihad?

And then what would you do with Mohammad? He waged war, slaughtered captives, took sex slaves, everything ISIS has done he did. Reformations usually mean getting closer to the text, and closer to the founder of the religion.

Certainly ISIS is living much more closely to the pattern of Mohammad‘s latter life in Medina that the ‘moderate’ Muslims are today. The theology of abrogation overrides the peaceful texts with the more violent narrative… It’s a problem that does not lend itself to a 21st century solution.

Can I share with you my thoughts?

It is based upon a strategy of withdrawal, containment and quarantine.

1) Withdrawal of all ‘crusader’ military from the Middle East. Let Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and any other Muslim nations that are interested sort out the problems of Islam in the Middle East. It’s not our battle; we have no dog in the fight. We don’t have to solve every problem in the world. Past experience tells us we cannot solve them anyway.

2) Contain the conflict to the Middle East, resist its spread into Europe and beyond at the borders. That might mean Europe being serious about policing its borders again. Imagine that!

3) Quarantine. Stop all Muslim immigration until such time as they learn to play nicely with each other, and with us. Deport those who hate us at home, or at the very least allow them to leave never to return.

If it is a 100 year war, eventually we will take these steps, Europe may not be far away from implementing some of them if the slaughter continues.

On the other hand to avoid taking any serious action domestically, politicians may feel that we can live with a certain level of ‘death by jihad’ just as we presently live with deaths from motor accidents. I hope I’m wrong, but I have seen nothing yet from their actions to convince me otherwise.