Religion Upside Down

If there is one thing I enjoy more than writing, it is reading.  Recently  I obtained a book called “History Upside Down – The roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression” by David Meir-Levi.  Although this was published 7 years ago, it articulates the current situation in Israel with absolute clarity and provides a history and context that is critical to the understanding of what we experience today.  I urge readers of this blog to obtain this book.

This post is also inspired by an article in today’s Australian by Professor of Theology John G Stackhouse entitled Peace under Islam requires submission

You know it is going to be bad when the online comments are less insightful than the article, however it is an important topic that requires greater thought and analysis.

When commentators, particularly academics, publish articles on what Judaism stands for I usually cringe and feel that passive analysis often misses the significance and nuance associated with Jewish observance.  I often wonder if people from other faith based communities feel the same way when their entire existence is wrapped into an article of 200 words with a non-normative slant.  Perhaps Islam is the same.  Objectively speaking I know too little and have had insufficient exposure to know if this article, or others of its ilk can justly conclude as it does; that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, but in a crucially qualified sense.

It is not so much the association of Islam with peace that makes me uncomfortable, but the stated qualifications that Professor Stackhouse puts forward, in the context of understanding and acceptance.

Firstly , is the matter of redemption.  The article puts forward the Islamic ideal of monotheism, a vision of global peace.  Apparently the Islamic fulfillment is for “non-Muslims to submit to the beneficent reign of  Allah”, where “Islam triumphs over the whole world”.  Compare that to the post-messianic vision of Judaism, equally monotheistic, but universal in construct and pluralistic in faith. 

The second construct talks of the Dhimmi status accorded to unbelievers – conversion or exile.  We are told that Islam forbids forced conversion (no source provided), but this seems to have little practical grounding.  Noting that at this very moment the Christian population of Northern Iraq is being vanquished over just such an edict, and drawing on the long and painful lessons of history, it hardly seems to be a reasonable prospect.  Sure there are occasions where others may be allowed to maintain a tradition as a second class citizen, but history evidences they are temporal and only tolerated in an environment of subjugation. 

Then comes the justification for the use of force.  We call that Jihad.  No conclusion is drawn here, except to leave the reader with no under-estimation that these calls to use the sword are indeed entrenched into the Islamic ideology.

Finally we have the agenda or “expectation” of Islam, which of course is global domination.  The embarrassment of military defeat becomes justification for violence.  This seems to be acceptable by the standards of any religion, because according to the good Professor, all religion, and by extension secular political ideology, is based on violent conquest.  Such is the nature of humanity.

Reading the article by Professor Stackhouse, I am careful not to “shoot the messenger”, but I struggle to comprehend how the author does not seem to be disturbed or even chillingly fearful of what he describes as a theology, let alone be able to portray such positions as a peaceful ideal.  Maybe I am misreading the intent of his communication, but there seems to be sufficient evidence within his own account to conclude that Islam cannot represent any form of peace that is beyond complete submission to the literal demands of Islamic scripture.

I am thankful to subscribe to a religious ideal that teaches the opposite, that peace is an attainable objective and ultimate ideal.  If I look back far enough into my tradition, I can see the theological battles from Jacob and Esau, and Isaac to Ishmael manifest themselves in a contemporary clash of civilisation.

It was George Orwell who noted that “the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it”.  Such is the way Judaism stands today in contrast to Islam.  Here we have it from the scholar; Islam is a religion of peace, but only so long as peace means complete capitulation to the sole ideal of submission.

David Meir-Levi has written about “History Upside Down”.  The sequel “Religion Upside Down” is staring us in the face.