Spreading the Blame: The West’s Exporting of Jihad

Spreading the Blame: The West’s Exporting of Jihad January 9, 2015

In heated debates about the nature of religion it's easy to forget the angel, lamb, even  the falling knife. (Rembrandt, Sacrifice of Isaac, 1634, Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100)
In heated debates about the ‘violent’ nature of religion it’s easy to forget the angel, lamb, even the falling knife. (Rembrandt, Sacrifice of Isaac, 1634, Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100)

Why is it when a small group of religious fanatics kill innocent people it’s a crime against humanity and a testimony against ALL religious people?  But why is it when secular Western governments bomb the merde out of thousands of innocents it’s acceptable collateral damage in the name of freedom?

Twitter is a limited medium for articulating complicated thoughts. For the very same reason Twitter is the perfect medium for articulating stereotypes such as the one above. The following tweet cuts to the marrow of what I will attempt to talk about today:


The Bible on the topic.
The Bible on the topic.

The easy path consists using such automatic stereotyping for painting Islam black. But what if the story of Islamist is much more complicated than such reflexes can grasp? Yesterday’s story on frequently shifting perceptions of Islam encouraged me to take another look at William T. Cavanaugh’s now classic The Myth of Religious Violence. The recapitulation of his argument touched upon many of the points I already made.

Furthermore, I followed the trail of his  evidence like a sleuth to make a very uncomfortable discovery. The discovery proves Dostoevsky’s point that we are all responsible for all. Frequently our own traces lie uncomfortable behind the most heinous crimes committed by our enemies.

Cavanaugh starts off by making a general point about how painting religion as violent makes it all the more difficult for religious traditions to adequately address violence among their ranks:

There is no “religion” that harbors an unchanging impulse toward absolutism; to blame violence on religion as such makes it difficult or impossible to distinguish good theology from bad theology, or peaceable forms of Islam from malignant forms.

God has his mind on his terror, and his terror on his mind.
God has his mind on his terror, and his terror on his mind.

Then he gives you a laundry list of Western, to be more specific, American, connections to the Islamist terrorism:

The creation and support of the mujahideen was the largest covert operation in CIA history, far outstripping support for the Nicaraguan Contras. The United States did not merely fund the mujahideen, but played a key role in training them both tactically and ideologically. The launching of a jihad against the Soviet Union was a key part of U.S. strategy under CIA chief William Casey. He hoped to unite a billion Muslims against the Soviet Union and Marxism worldwide by borrowing from Islamic theology. The key tradition was jihad, which as Mamdani points out had been largely dormant in the preceding 400 years. The tradition of jihad was revived with signifi cant U.S. help in the 1980s. Operating through the Pakistani intelligence services, the United States also recruited Osama bin Laden. None of this history is of much interest in American public discourse. Americans prefer to talk about Muslim militancy as a religious revival from a bygone era.

This is not comfortable reading. Keep the name William Casey in mind as you soldier on.

Things get even more uncomfortable when Cavanaugh quotes another scholar, Mahood Mamdani, about the details of our engagement in Afghanistan. While you read this keep in mind this conflict is the longest one in America’s history and despite the promises, and the illusions of Americans withdrawing, there appears to be no end in sight:

9/11: It's complicated.
9/11: It’s complicated.

[E]ven if it evokes pre-modernity in its particular language and specifi c practices, the Taliban is the result of an encounter of a premodern people with modern imperial power. Given to a highly decentralized and localized mode of life, the Afghani people have been subjected to two highly centralized state projects in the past few decades: first, Soviet-supported Marxism, then, CIA-supported Islamization.

But then Cavanaugh does a curious thing: He has words for those who would blindly concentrate upon exclusively scapegoating America for Islamist violence…

Jihad was subsequently exported to other parts of the Islamic world. The point is not that Islamization is a creation of the CIA. The point is rather that there is no pristine religion called Islam that can be separated from Muslim encounters with Western power. Understanding the theopolitical project of Muslim radicals is not a matter of understanding the timeless essence of religion, but rather requires analysis of how different theologies have been formed in encounters with modern forms of power. As Mamdani says, “Contemporary ‘fundamentalism’ is a modern political project, not a traditional cultural leftover.”

This network of connections casts a wider net of blame than the stories told by media commentators.

But Cavanaugh misses one important connection: William Casey’s background.

Here’s the kicker: any cursory search for his biography on the net will come up with a couple scattered details about his involvement in spreading Jihad, but you will find out a lot about his Catholic background.

I would like to suggest the net of blame ought to be widened to include the culpability of Catholics (Casey wasn’t the only one, Brzezinski comes to mind) in their covetous drive toward assimilation into the mainstream of Western power.

This is not to say they deserve all the blame, for as Solzhenitsyn said, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” He’s right even if he frequently missed the Russian imperialist log in his eye.

For the Catholics out there, learn to say with me: Mea culpa.

DISCLAIMER: All those who might be tempted to ask questions such as “Why do you hate America?,” “Why do you hate Catholics?,” and “Why do you encourage radical Islam?” have either missed the point of this post, or they haven’t read it.

If you’d like to explore more of the issues surrounding what I’ve written about here, check out my TOP10 Religion and World Politics List.

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