April 21, 2008
An Islamless World
— Martin E. Marty
An early deadline prevents our commenting on the papal visit, the religious theme of the week. So, another topic: Last week we sighted the hard-to-miss, politically-minded preacher Rod Parsley of Ohio, who wants the Christian United States to wage war for the "destruction" of Islam. Suppose he and his "theonomist" allies succeeded? Ex-CIA man and Vancouver professor Graham E. Fuller gets cover treatment in the January/February Foreign Policy, for his mental game treatment of "A World without Islam?" The sub-head reads: "What if Islam had never existed? To some, it's a comforting thought: No clash of civilizations, no holy wars, no terrorists. Would Christianity have taken over the world? Remove Islam from the path of history, and the world ends up exactly where it is today."
That word "exactly" refers to civilizations, wars, and terrorists, and commits Fuller to having to spell things out exactly. "Is Islam, in fact, the source of the problems? If not Islam, Then What?" First, ethnic wars: Religious or not, "Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds, even Berbers and Pashtuns would still dominate politics in the Middle East." Before Islam, their ancestors were fighting and, apart from Islam, they still have plenty of issues.
After ethnicity, "it's too arbitrary to exclude religion entirely from the equation." Without Islam, "most of the Middle East would have remained predominantly Christian, in its various sects, as it had been at the dawn of Islam." A few Zoroastrians and Jews were the only representatives of other religions. Would harmony with the West have reigned if Christianity had kept a near-monopoly? Hardly. The Crusades were a Western adventure driven by political, social, and economic needs. Christianity was only a potent bannered symbol, "a rallying cry to bless the more secular urges of powerful Europeans." Eastern Christians would not have welcomed the Westerners, and Western Christians as readily killed the Orthodox and burned their cities as they did those of Muslims.
That was long ago. More recently, in the age of oil, would Christian economic interests in the Middle East have welcomed Western dominators? He cites chapter and verse before he answers "No!" "Then there is Palestine." Would Christians, after millennia of anti-Semitic impulses, have suddenly welcomed Zionists? "And the new Jewish state would still have dislodged the same 750,000 Arab natives of Palestine from their lands even if they had been Christian—and indeed some of them were." No peace there.
As for intra-Christian rivalry, Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity have always had trouble, often lethally expressed. Orthodox Christians mistrust and fear the West as did their ancestors. These Orthodox would dominate a Middle East had it remained Christian. Roll calls: "We would still see Palestinians resist Jews, Chechens resist Russians, Iranians resist the British and Americans, Kashmiris resist Indians, Tamils resist the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, and Uighurs and Tibetans resist the Chinese." Summary: "It is not an entirely peaceful and comforting picture."
Nor would the "New Atheists" who want a non-religious world have anything to offer. The twentieth century horrors "came almost exclusively from strictly secular regimes: Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo, Hitler, Mussolin, Lenin and Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot." In truth, the conflicts of such a world would parallel those of a world with Islam. Rather than seek to "destroy" Islam and the Muslims, one infers, it might be better for all peoples of faith to look more in the mirror and less out the window, to promote peace.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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