On Tuesday evening I was pleasantly surprised (as were a couple of commenters) by RESPECT candidate Salma Yaqoob’s responses in a BBC Radio 4 interview about the London bombers. Given enough rope by “Mad Dog” Milne of The Guardian‘s opinion pages, however, she happily climbed the scaffold:
“This cycle of violence has to be broken. By confining analysis to simple religious terms, however, politicians are asking the impossible of our security services as well as Muslim leaders. No number of sniffer dogs or sermons denouncing the use of violence against innocents can detect and remove the pain and anger that drives extremists to their terrible acts. The truth is that shoddy theology does not exist without a dodgy foreign policy.”
Perhaps she means the dodgy foreign policy of arming fundamentalist guerillas in a proxy war against the Soviet Union.
What’s wrong with this? Seems like common sense to me. Try arguing your point, perhaps?
Why should I be obliged to counter a complete non sequitur? Shoddy theology existed even before the phrase “foreign policy” had any meaning. Her assertion is like saying:
Though, admittedly, my construction has the advantage over Yaqoob’s of at least apposing elements that belong in the same domain.
“Shoddy theology existed even before the phrase “foreign policy” had any meaning.”
Well, possibly it did if you go back far enough. But: now? Theology and foreign policy are inseparable, aren’t they?
Are you taking the piss?
Not intentionally! I mean look at the US for instance and compare foriegn policy and evangelical theology.
“I mean look at the US for instance and compare foriegn policy and evangelical theology.”
Well, that’s mildly insulting.
What’s wrong with this?
What’s wrong is that shoddy theology does exist without a dodgy foreign policy, cf. the imposition of sharia law on non-Muslims in Sudan and Nigeria, kidnappings in the Philippines, the dismemberment by machete of Buddhist monks and schoolteachers in Thailand, the list goes on.
The mujahidin prattle on about the rich imperialist West, the US and Israel to obscure their crimes against poor, brown non-Muslims in the developing world.
Our foreign policy is a response to their expansionist xenophobic theology, not the other way round.
jeet -`quote: “Our foreign policy is a response to their expansionist xenophobic theology, not the other way round.”
You are kidding aren’t you? ‘Our’? As in…? ‘Their’? As in… ?
Ps – more from Salma Yaqoob…
“the shoddy theology [which justifies ‘martyrdom operations’] is driven by political injustices. It is the boiling anger and hurt that is shaping the interpretation of religious texts into such grotesque distortions. Such extreme interpretations exist only in specific political circumstances – they certainly do not predate them, and the religious/political equation breaks down if there is no injustice to drive it.”
Phil – So what grievance was the Islamist regime in Khartoum addressing by waging a twenty-year campaign of violence and slavery against the politically and economically marginalized Christian and indigenous animist Black Africans of Sudan’s South?
Westerners who claim to stand in “solidarity” with the peoples of the developing world ought to side with Sudan’s animists and Christians and Thailand’s monks and schoolteachers rather than their attackers.
P.S. Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s Khilafah magazine had denounced the Sudanese regime as un-Islamic for signing the peace agreement that this year finally ended the civil war in the south.
“Whilst verses of the Quran, references to Jihad, stories of the Sahabah and the like that are considered offensive and contrary to human rights and Sudanese citizenship are being removed and edited, public social interaction between non-mahrems (non-related men and women) that would have been considered unthinkable only a few years ago is fast becoming a norm.”
In other words, Hizb-ut-Tahrir objects to the fact that the peace agreement requires the Sudanese government to stop urging jihad against Sudan’s non-Muslims. And also the end of gender segregation.
Sorry to be useless, but I don’t know much about the Sudan, jeet. So I can’t properly comment. However, I think I get at least some of what you’re saying.
Are you saying that the Islamist regime in Khartoum was completely motivated by theology? Was free of the influence of geo-politics? Please do reply; these are not intended to be merely rhetorical questions.
What I am saying is that Khartoum’s policies were shaped by theology.
The civil war in southern Sudan broke out in 1983 when the Arab Muslim-dominated regime in Khartoum attempted to impose Islamic law in the Black African South, which is mostly animist (i.e. indigenous) and Christian. The twenty-year war that followed was distinguished by the use of enslavement as a tactic against the South.
In the absence of theology, conflict would not have broken out along religious faultlines. The Darfur conflict, in western Sudan, broke out in part because that region of the country sought for itself the degree of autonomy the south was being granted by the peace agreement.
My broader point is that Islamist violence has, on religious grounds, long targeted non-Muslim peoples in Nigeria, Sudan, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, et al. Yet Westerners seem largely unaware of this, resulting in the mistaken conclusion that Islamist violence is a response to the West.
The 2002 bombing in Bali – incidentally the last stronghold of Hinduism in Indonesia – was widely reported in the Western media because it killed so many Westerners. In comparison, to what extent has Laskar Jihad’s campaign of violence against Indonesian Christians in the Moluccas penetrated the Western consciousness?
Or the machete attacks on Buddhist monks and schoolteachers in southern Thailand?
If Islamist violence is justified as retaliation against Western policy, why does it so often target non-Muslim peoples in the developing world who have no connection to those policies?
“It is the boiling anger and hurt that is shaping the interpretation of religious texts into such grotesque distortions. Such extreme interpretations exist only in specific political circumstances – they certainly do not predate them”
OK so as it stands this is rubbish – “extreme interpretations” are not always and everywhere a response to Western foriegn policy (which I presume is what is meant by political circumstances) and I’m not even sure that it (extremism) ever is. As Jeet points out, violent extremism happens anyway.
But are there any political circumstances that might contribtute to (as oppose to explain, let alone justify) Islamic extremism?
All I can think of is the perception of Western support for Israel against Palestine .. is that it? Iraq and Afghanistan are too recent, Chechnya too far removed from the West. I can’t believe that the presence of Westerners on the Arabian peninsula, which seems to piss off Osama so much, is that much of a big deal on “the Arab street.”
This is not a rhetorical question – I don’t really know anything about this subject, yet I always read about extremism/terrorism being a response to Western policies – and I wonder what policies these commentators might mean. Seems to me the political circumstances that bear most responsibility are those inside various Middle Eastern states, but that’s another matter.
Jeet – you seem to know your onions – can you think of any Western policies that might reasonably be said to be fuelling Islamic anger, other than Israel/Palestine?
[C]an you think of any Western policies that might reasonably be said to be fuelling Islamic anger, other than Israel/Palestine?
In 1947, its own partition along religious lines still a fresh wound, India opposed the creation of a separate Jewish state in Palestine. In 1966, not only did the Indian government snub the Israeli President during an unschedule refuelling stop in Calcutta, it denied his request to rest in India overnight. As a leader in the postcolonial Non-Aligned Movement, India sponsored many anti-Israel resolutions in the UN and in 1975 was an original sponsor of General Assembly Resolution 3379, which denounced Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination”. In 1977, India refused to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, citing the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians. The nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference reciprocated by siding with Pakistan against India over Kashmir in resolution after resolution. India was targeted by Islamic terrorism despite its decades of anticolonial solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
Osama bin Laden includes support for India in Kashmir among the United States’ litany of crimes against the Islamic world. Not only has the United States not thrown its weight behind India in Kashmir, but this completely ignores the decades of American support for Pakistan (including arms sales) in its rivalry with India over Kashmir. Remember, during the Cold War, the United States was Pakistan’s ally and the Soviet Union India’s. Though its treatment was more evenhanded between the two after the end of the Cold War, Washington never switched its allegiance from Islamabad to New Delhi.
These are only two examples of how flimsy the terrorists’ justifications can be. Often they seem ad hoc and after the fact. Initial statements after the 2002 Bali bombing indicate that the bombers thought they were targeting Americans. Once it became clear that the victims were mostly Australian, the justification was switched to East Timor, whose independence from Indonesia was overseen by Australian peacekeepers. Insurgent kidnappers in Iraq target Westerners, hoping to capture nationals of the “coalition of the willing.” Journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, however, were nationals of France, which opposed the Iraq war, so instead of demanding the withdrawal of non-existent French troops, the insurgents demanded that the ban on the hijab in French schools be rescinded.
In this light, Iraq and Afghanistan are not too recent. Nor is Chechnya too far removed. (Like US support for India in Kashmir, US support for Russia in Chechnya is one of the grievances that exists only in the imagination of al-Qaeda, unless by support they mean “failure to intervene on the Muslim side”.)
These guys could teach George Bush lessons in “either you’re with us or against us”.
How do you compromise or negotiate with those who treat anything less than total acquiescence in all things as treachery? I guess that’s why they’re called extremists.
thanks for your reply jeet – i’ve got nothing particularly useful to say right now so i’ll keep fairly quiet. (except … that i guess i was making a more abstract point, about the inseparability of religion and politics. If religion/theology is not moved by, motivated by, geo-politics, then what does motivate it? God?)
If religion/theology is not moved by, motivated by, geo-politics, then what does motivate it? God?
I always thought that religion/theology was motivated by the need to make sense of an often cruel world, but maybe that’s just me ; )
I think I would want to make a case that theology is always (or nearly always?) motivated by, powered by, the same concerns which underpin politics. I don’t see the two as separate. If I was better read I would now advance a thesis about how the theology of the evangelical right in the US is bound up, not with eternal verities, but with the more earthly concerns of policy and power. I think this includes, but is not limited to, foreign policy. This will have to remain an unworked through thesis, but surely what we have to ask if we reject this is: On what foundation does theology rest if not on a political one? Your comment about religion being motivated by ‘the need to make sense of an often cruel world’ is not necessarily opposed to my notion, is it? The alternative is to posit that a space exists outside politics – people and the material. This is problematic for atheists like me who reject the supernatural, because it is the very basis on which some theology is founded: the idea that there exists another realm, outside this one, a purer more perfect universe, to which we must look for certainty, and from which truth proceeds. This worries me because it propagates the absolutisms of certain faith strands. I prefer the uncertainties of politics.
It’s one thing to acknowledge that theology and politics do not exist in isolation from one another. It’s another to assert that the two not only have a relationship, but are closely intertwined. And yet another to argue, as you do, that theology is nearly always determined by politics.
Also, your definition of politics – “people and the material” – is so broad that religion/theology necessarily lies within its sphere.
I would only assent to the first assertion – that theology and politics do not exist in isolation from one another – and see the relationship between the two as one of complex interplay rather than the “railway car” of religion being hitched to the “locomotive” of politics.
Perhaps this is not what you intend, but your construction “includes, but is not limited to, foreign policy” makes it sounds like foreign policy is a primary concern of the evangelical right in the US. Quite the opposite. Their religious convictions have led to a very broad agenda of public morality at the domestic level – abortion, gay rights, explicit sexuality in the media – but intrude on foreign policy only on a very specific set of issues – withholding US government funding from birth control programs, highlighting the persecution of Christians (whose prominence has diminished as the southern Sudanese conflict has wound down), and alleviating global poverty. Only the last of these could viably provide the basis for a broad foreign policy agenda and, unlike their domestic agenda, is not one of their “bread and butter” issues.
But what about the religious right’s influence on the crucial issue of Israel-Palestine? Many people in the UK do not understand the critical importance of events in the Mid-East to evangelicals. Their concerns include the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy concerning the conversion of the Jews and the second coming, and also the obligation of Christians to support and work for Israel because the Jews are still regarded as God’s chosen (if errant) people. I realize that these ideas might seem very odd to a lot of Brits, but I can assure you that they are mainstream in large parts of the US. Yes, worldly polticians like Rumsfeld may themselves be cynics but this does not mean that the symbiosis between theology and politics is trivial. One only has to look at the last US election, and the way in which Bush’s rhetoric used religious buzz-words in order to press the right evangelical buttons.
And more broadly – on isolationism – this is in effect a foreign policy. Lack of concern/action does not equate to stepping outside the political game. Some of the ramifications of this ‘foreign policy by omission’ might arguably include the US’s attitude to climate change. (Incidentally I have read US Christian theological commentary on the green movement which argues that it is a New Age abomination which should be shunned.)
There are countless issues on which the US government could take action. There are countless issues about which evangelicals could campaign. Israel/Palestine is but one issue on which the two coincide and the influence of the religious right is clear.
But you’re citing all those issues on which neither the US government nor evangelicals take a position as evidence of the religious right’s influence on US foreign policy?
You cite, as an example of evangelical indifference producing policy indifference, climate change when reductions in American greenhouse gas emissions and American fossil fuel consumption have been demanded by evangelicals and their fellow Israel-supporters the neoconservatives. On this issue, unfortunately, both have little to show for their much-vaunted influence.
Nonetheless, the evangelical influence on US policy towards Israel/Palestine, an example of theology motivating foreign policy rather than the other way round, shows Salma Yaqoob’s original thesis ([S]hoddy theology…is driven by political injustices…Such extreme interpretations exist only in specific political circumstances – they certainly do not predate them ) for the huge load of pants that it is.
What political injustice have American evangelicals suffered that predates and drives their theological support of Israel?