GOD, GLOBALIZATION, AND THE END OF THE WAR ONJE 4;.K. wss s; am az zmc z…5 .659z-Av An113 or of NJ; god but Cud Bush is from Mars; Jihadists are from Venus BY JOSH ROSENBLATT f you want to know where the United States went wrong in its approach to the War on Terror, look no further than the day George W. Bush told the world there was going to be a war on terror. You can forget our pre-emptive war against Iraq or our blas bungling among the caves at Tora Bora or even the Abu Ghraib fiasco; our fate was sealed on Sept. 16, 2001, five days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when the president announced, “This crusade, this war on terror is gonna take a while.” Like a contestant on the old Groucho Marx game show “You Bet Your Life,” Bush had spoken the secret word”crusade”confirming the darkest suspicions of already-skeptical Muslims and couching all of the country’s future responses to 9/n in the language of what author Reza Aslan calls “cosmic war.” Suddenly we weren’t just victims of an act of brutality committed by religious zealots from a far-off land. We were defiant actors in what Aslan describes as a “ritual drama in which participants act out on earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens” Here we were partitioning the world “into black and white, good and evil, us and them,” just like the terrorists were. Suddenly we were zealots, too. He may not have known it at the time, but Bush was condemning the U.S. and the world to a clash of civilizations; raising the stakes to heights of Manichaean, even biblical, significance; offending an enormous portion of the world’s population whose hearts and minds would be the spoils of battle; and giving Osama bin Laden and his looseknit army of global jihadists exactly what they were hoping for. In his excellent and fascinating new book, How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, & the End of the War On Terror, Aslanan assistant professor How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror By Reza Aslan Random House 256 pages, $26 of creative writing at the University of California-Riverside and research associate at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy in Santa Monicaexplains just how consequential Bush’s word choice was. For those of us in the Judeo-Christian West, the Crusades are like some misbegotten quirk of history, an isolated series of moments from a darker time and place when human beings were willing to engage in all kinds of bloody nonsense in the name of religion and territory. For all their relevance to our daily lives, the Crusades might as well be the Battle of Agincourt or the Punic Wars. But in the Arab world, Aslan writes, “the image of cross-marked knights riding out to cleanse the Holy Land of heathen Muslim hordes became the most potent symbol of the imperialist aspirations of the West: a kind of shorthand for Christian aggression against Islam.” The Western colonialism that had served throughout the 19th and tot centuries to partition the territories of the Middle East, crush and dismantle its traditions, and profit off its natural riches is an integral part of the Middle Eastern imagination. Many in the region view Europe and the United States to this day as imperialist thieves and conquerors, intent not just on profiting from their land but on destroying their religion. So calling up that word was like sounding an alarm. “For Jihadists,” Aslan writes, “the Crusades are not so much a historical event as they are an ideological constructan enduring narrative whose final chapter is only now being written in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq:’ Drawing such a straight line from the Crusades to the construction of the Suez Canal to the first Palestinian Intifada to the current war in Iraq may seem like a gross oversimplification, but as Aslan points out, it’s just these sorts of oversimplified “cosmic dualisms” that speak most clearly to aggrieved souls willing to strap bombs to their bodies and blow up buses. Not to mention those souls going out to fight such jihadists in the name of Christian Zionism and a hoped-for American theocracy. In fact, if there’s one thing that How to Win a Cosmic War shows, it’s that the language and imagery of religious zealotry is essentially the same across regional and theological lines. Cosmic dualismwe’re right; they’re wrong; God is with us; they’re with Satanis the preferred philosophy of Islamic extremists, ultra-religious Israeli settlers, and the Christian soldiers of the American fundamentalist movement in equal measure. When a member of Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group said of global jihad, “There is no neutrality in the war we are waging. With the exception of those who are with 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 10, 2009
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