Two books came across my desk recently, both of which argue convincingly that waging war over religious differences is not inevitable. Apparently, we have alternatives to endlessly squabbling over which tribe of His children God really loves best. Who would have known?
The two works come to the issue from opposite ends of the theological spectrum, but taken together they are a powerful reinforcement for the same conclusion: It is only through mutual respect among cultures and beliefs, not conquest and empire, that we will forge a world at peace.
It is a lesson that offers a true, realistic glimmer of hope for extricating us from the morass that George W. Bush's War on Terror has become. We desperately need that option. Condoleeza Rice did, after all, blithely remind us a couple weeks ago that we should be prepared to wage this war for 10 more years ... at least.
Rice's vision (no, it's not really a vision, it's more a nightmare), apparently, is that since we waged the Cold War on communism for 40 insane years, we shouldn't hesitate to tackle Islamic fundamentalism for at least a quarter of that time. Whatever the costs, in human lives, economic and natural resources, and lost possibilities, our fear of “the enemy” demands to be sated.
Anouar Majid (Freedom and Orthodoxy) and Jim Wallis (God's Politics) each offer a far more encouraging and hopeful vision. To a society that has been offered by our policy wonks only the false, artificial and meaningless choice between “all-out warfare for 10 years” or “immediate pullout and complete abdication,” both Majid and Wallis offer sane and workable options.
It turns out there are thousands of positions between those two polar extremes which deserve to be considered, debated and weighed. We absolutely do not have to settle for Bush's crusade as the only course of action.
Wallis is the evangelical Christian minister who publishes Sojourners magazine and who founded the Call to Renewal ministry, an effort to remind Christians that Biblical morality is far more concerned with justice, mercy, helping the poor and forgiveness than it is with sex.
His book is subtitled A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America. In it, he notes that “Prophetic faith does not see the primary battle as the struggle between belief and secularism. [But] the big struggle of our times is the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope.”
For Wallis, our reliance on warfare as the solution to all disputes is essentially cynicism, the belief that if things aren't going to change anyway, why not bomb civilian targets, why not torture prisoners, why not eliminate citizens' rights? You are protecting yourself ... and there are no options. No hope.
Majid, a Moroccan novelist and academic, is perhaps the apparent heir to Edward Said as the leading Islamic intellectual writer in English. His newest work is an exploration of how the world might extricate itself from the all-or-nothing clash between Islamic and Western fundamentalisms, each of which seems capable of envisioning only a world made in its own image.
He argues that the clash of civilizations that is supposed to be a feature of the post-Cold War environment is not necessarily caused by religious dogmas in conflict or even by cultural “incompatibilities” but by inflexible Euro-American ideologies which began with the Spanish Reconquista in 1492 that initiated the era of colonial empires and which now form the foundation for the New American Empire based on corporate globalization and economic domination.
The all-encompassing worldviews of the West have forced the retreat of Islam and other non-European traditions into dangerous orthodoxy, fear, suspicion and terror.
Like Wallis, he offers a range of hope-filled alternatives to the jihad/crusade warfare that we find ourselves obsessed with. He suggests the world needs a philosophy of the “provincial,” one that reattaches individuals and societies to their heritages and memories. Paradoxically, this would also connect them to the rest of the world in non-alienating, nonconflicting ways.
Before this can happen, though, globalization has to be reimagined as something different from merely economic expansionism. It has to be reconceived as a network of human solidarities and exchanges among the planet's many cultures, not as domination and extermination by one dominant force.
Pax Americana is experienced by many in the world not as freedom, but as suppression. And if we cannot hear what these other voices are saying, we miss the opportunity to become something far better than we are now.
Albuquerque will have the opportunity to hear Anouar Majid speak in person this week. He will be at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (Fourth Street and Avenida Cesar Chavez SW) on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. He will be speaking on this topic in the Roy E. Disney Center for the Performing Arts and a reception and book signing will follow immediately after.
Majid and Wallis are both prophetic voices reminding us, one from the perspective of the Islamic tradition and the other from the Christian, that God has many children. They remind us that ultimately it was not warfare that ended the Cold War, not munitions and gunpowder that destroyed the Iron Curtain, but the far more powerful force of human hearts and minds determined to be free.
If we really want to end terrorism, we have to concentrate on minds and hearts, not munitions and gunpowder.