I just read a very illuminating and very disturbing article in this week's issue of The New York Times Magazine. Paul Berman reports on "Al Qaeda's Philosopher - How an Egyptian Islamist invented the terrorist jihad from his jail cell." Grab a copy of the magazine and read about Sayyid Qutb and his seminal book, a commentary on the Koran, "In the Shade of the Qur'an."
And let me summarize what I took from the article:
(1) The world, in the eyes of Mr Qutb and his followers, is horribly corrupted (secularism, feminism, sexual license, for starters), the West by its flagrant disobedience to the laws of God; and Islam, by its humiliation at the hands of the Christian West and the secularism it has spawned in Arab countries.
(2) The religion of Jesus has been perverted by the Christians who came later and institutionalized a radical separation between physical life and spiritual life.
(3) The ultimate expression of this dualism, body and spirit, is the western democratic principle of the separation of church and state; but God's will is a theocracy.
(4) Jihad, "struggle," will inevitably require death, but those who are martyred will continue to live in those who continue to struggle to free Islam from the shackles of the West and its liberal, democratic institutions.
(5) The war on terror, being played out in Iraq even as I write, is just the surface manifestation of the struggle with which the West is faced; the deeper and far more consequential struggle is in the realm of thought and belief.
Berman concludes the article with this series of challenges: "But who will speak of the sacred and the secular, of the physical world and the spiritual world? Who will defend the liberal ideas against the enemies of liberal ideas? Who will defend liberal principals in spite of liberal society's every failure?" Mr. Berman supplies an answer: "Philosophers and religious leaders will have to do this on their own. Are they doing so? There is something to worry about here."
I began by saying the article was illuminating and disturbing. It suggests that the theology impelling Osama bin Laden and his cohorts should not be dismissed, as many are wont to do, as shrill invective without a reasoned basis. The ideas are woven from the fabric of an ancient culture and its spiritual foundations. Al Qaeda and its associates in terror mean it when they identify the West as the Great Satan. They mean it when they celebrate the martyr's death, as victim or as suicide bomber, as God's design for a better, holier future. They really, truly, absolutely believe they are doing Allah's will.
To be sure, Sayyid Qutb isn't by any means the only interpreter of the Koran. But it seems that way to me. Other spokespeople for Islam either aren't saying anything to the contrary or, if they are saying it, they are not getting any press. "Radical Islamic clerics" is beginning to sound like a redundancy. Many pundits have wondered in print as to where are Islam's Luthers and Calvins and Wesleys. I just hope Qutb isn't one of them.
The mainline church leadership in the U. S. has opposed the war in Iraq. With this opposition there is an undercurrent of penitence for the guilt of our Western world and its economic exploitation (think oil and SUV's) of the Arab nations. In other words, it is America's fault they blew up the Twin Towers. This politically correct sentiment reads, in the light of Qutb's theology, like outrageous arrogance. Al Qaeda has its own reasons, thank you, for violence against the great Satan. Kindness and compassion, far from convincing the terrorists there is a better way, confirm their presumption of the West's weakness.
That is, the leadership of most Christian denominations is ill-equipped to engage the theologians of terror.
The Christian church needs a spokesperson, someone at home in the Christian tradition and thoroughly conversant with the Koran; someone who can quote Mohammed as readily as Jesus or Moses; someone at home in Arabic; someone who can "take it to" the radical clerics and meet them head on, verse by verse; someone whose allegiance to the Christian tradition, if critically informed, rises from the heart. Isn't there, please, a theologian out there somewhere eager to accept this mission? Not just to fight invective with invective, but wisdom against misinformation and misunderstanding.
Smart bombs may win the battle; but only better ideas will win the war. CCRWH