Public Comment

Commentary: Malign Edicts of the Fatwa Brotherhood

Friday April 14, 2006

I thought about writing this op-ed last summer when Reverend Pat Robertson said that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez should be “taken out,” but I decided to pass on the opportunity. I figured people were making too big a fuss over that. Surely, being a man of the cloth, Robertson had no malicious intent. He’s a good Christian, so when he talked about “taking out” Hugo Chavez, I’m sure he meant taking him out to dinner or something like that, possibly a movie as well, and walking him home after the movie, and then.... Well, we all know that Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor.” 

Of course, this is the sort of op-ed that anyone can write anytime. The material is a renewable resource. Last month Robertson treated his flock to a tirade against Islam, calling Muslims “crazed fanatics... motivated by demonic power... satanic. Islam is not a religion of peace.... The goal of Islam... is world domination.” 

If this has a ring of familiarity, try this: substitute “Communism” and “Communists” for “Islam” and “Muslims,” and replay the video. Add Donald Rumsfeld’s recent reference to the “Long War” and the convergence of this rhetoric becomes obvious. We have our next ideological war to whip up our anxieties to the point that we’re happy to feed the military-industrial complex for the next 50 years, just like we did throughout the Cold War. 

Another thing you might try is to imagine yourself standing on the walls of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, substitute “Christianity” and “Christians” for “Islam” and “Muslims” and replay the video. That works, too. Or picture yourself standing in front of the Alexandria Library before it was destroyed by a Christian mob, or looking on while priests burned the books of Aztec and Inca science and culture. Where do Christians like Robertson get the idea that they have the right to cast the first stone? 

I get a big kick out of these people who are looking forward to the Second Coming. They wouldn’t recognize Him. Quite the opposite, they would crucify Him again because they haven’t learned a damned thing in two thousand years. 

Of course, Islam vies with Christianity for the world heavyweight title as the most intolerant, violent, and destructive religion. A thousand years ago, it was spread across the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe at the point of the sword. In recent times, there has been the 1988 fatwa against Salman Rushdie: write a witty book, get sentenced to death. 

Then there was the Nigerian journalist, Isioma Daniel, who, reporting in 2002 on the Islamic furor over a beauty pageant in her country, posed the question, what would Mohammed do? He would probably want to marry one of the contestants. There were riots, people were killed, and she had to flee Nigeria. Now this was just wrong. As I understand it, the Prophet, peace be unto him, would probably have wanted to marry four of the contestants. OK, now I have a fatwa against me. See how easy that was? 

And for all those who buy into the neocon ideology that we ought to spread democracy and pluralist values across the Islamic world at the point of a depleted uranium shell, consider the recent case of the Afghan who was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. 

The saving grace of Judaism is that, although just like Christians and Muslims, Jews are cock-sure that they have the One True God and everyone else is wrong, they really don’t mind that everyone else is wrong. It’s one monotheistic religion that isn’t in the habit of terrorizing, torturing, and killing millions of people... except for the Philistines, of course. They’re a special case. There’s just no living with those Philistines, and we all know that. 

The louder someone proclaims his faith in God and what God wants, the more you ought to suspect that a) he doesn’t have a clue, and b) he’s trying to scam somebody... out of his money, out of her freedom, out of his life. One of the remarkable observations to come out of the Enlightenment was Edward Gibbon’s comment in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.” 

Those filthy pagans! How dare they live in peace with one another! Well, monotheism fixed that problem. Worship is even more useful to authority today. The real power of the One True God is wielded by the cleric and the politician to stoke the machinery of death and feed into it the infidel and the faithful alike, each comforted in the belief that they go to a far, far better rest than they have ever known. 

It beats me how all of these religions can have the same truth, each with a somewhat different face, yet so many people don’t seem to notice. What could be simpler than the idea that one should treat people justly and have faith that in the long run one will receive justice? 

I know what beliefs comfort me, but I pretty much keep them to myself. I suppose that’s something of a Jewish attitude. No, I’m not a Jew, but I wouldn’t mind being mistaken for one. Or a Christian. Or a Muslim. Or a Hindu. Or whatever. 

Happy Passover. Happy Easter. Happy Mawlid al-Nabi. Happy Hanuman Jayanti. Make friends and play well with others. 


Thomas Gangale is an aerospace engineer and a former Air Force officer. A resident of San Rafael, California, he is currently the executive director at OPS-Alaska, a think tank based in Petaluma and an international relations scholar at San Francisco State University.