Saturday, December 19, 2015
The Armageddon Factor in the Middle East
The role of the “inevitability of holy war” permeates the warring factions like no other. We understand the Malthusian reality of overpopulation, the dearth of habitable or welcoming lands for the persecuted and impoverished to escape to and the deeply disturbing impact of climate change imposing farm-destroying drought in the Middle East (flooding and rising tides elsewhere). We recognize the struggles against humiliation, unemployment, corruption and brutality that has motivated millions around the world to “do something” against their oppressors. Like the Arab Spring.
And we understand that the once-cherished, and since denied, wish of so many to “live with a quality of life like those in the United States” has been replaced by seeking a better explanation of their impoverished time on earth. God, they are told, is basically preparing them for the next life, where joy, serenity and plenty await the true believers. Religion has become the explanation, the escape valve if you will, for too many combatants and would-be combatants in the Middle East, their tool to cope with the forces noted above that are driving our planet.
Let’s start with so-called “dispensationalist” American Evangelicals who believe that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will unfold through a devastating war in and around Israel, one that will lift the Evangelical faithful (the “Rapture”) into God’s protection, decimating the unfaithful (defined as people who do not believe exactly as they do). This significant segment of the Evangelical movement supports Israel not out of a sense of empathy for a tiny nation surrounded by hostile neighbors, but out of a necessity to fulfill a their view of a Biblical precondition to the Rapture. That all the Jews in Israel would perish in such a conflict is simply, in their minds, a biblical inevitability. The following explanation is an excerpt from “On the Road to Armageddon” from beliefnet.com:
“While only 36 percent of all Americans believe that the Bible is God's Word and should be taken literally, 59 percent say they believe that events predicted in the Book of Revelation will come to pass. Almost one out of four Americans believes that 9/11 was predicted in the Bible, and nearly one in five believes that he or she will live long enough to see the end of the world. Even more significant for this study, over one-third of those Americans who support Israel report that they do so because they believe the Bible teaches that the Jews must possess their own country in the Holy Land before Jesus can return.
“Millions of Americans believe that the Bible predicts the future and that we are living in the last days. Their beliefs are rooted in dispensationalism, a particular way of understanding the Bible's prophetic passages, especially those in Daniel and Ezekiel in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. They make up about one-third of America's 40 or 50 million evangelical Christians and believe that the nation of Israel will play a central role in the unfolding of end-times events. In the last part of the 20th century, dispensationalist evangelicals become Israel's best friends-an alliance that has made a serious geopolitical difference.”
Thus, when Iran’s nuclear program threatened to take away Israel’s ability to control their lands, as hostiles from Hamas to Syria challenge Israel’s sovereignty, these American Evangelicals have pressed our government for massive military aid and unwavering support. As Israel seeks to expand its hold over the Holy Land, building Jewish settlements on the West Bank that make the U.S.-sanctioned two state (Israel/Palestine) solution exceptionally difficult if not impossible to implement, they rejoice, believing that this is an important part of Israel’s mandate to control the Holy Land, that Palestine must not have control over any portion of the Holy Land.
On the other side of the view of the inevitability of Armageddon are the Muslim extremists who also see an ultra-devastating war in the Middle East, pitting Islam against non-believers in this apocalyptic immortal struggle to the end. ISIS wants massive U.S. ground forces to be deployed against them in a cosmic battle they deeply believe that they cannot lose because “God has so ordained it.”
“It is partly that theory that President Obama referred to in his speech on [December 6th], when he said the United States should pursue a ‘sustainable victory’ that involves airstrikes and supports local forces battling the Islamic State rather than sending a new generation of American soldiers into a ground offensive.
“‘I have said it repeatedly: Because of these prophecies, going in on the ground would be the worst trap to fall into. They want troops on the ground. Because they have already envisioned it,’ said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences Po in Paris, and the author of ‘Apocalypse in Islam,’ one of the main scholarly texts exploring the scripture that the militants base their ideology on.
“‘It’s a very powerful and emotional narrative. It gives the potential recruit and the actual fighters the feeling that not only are they part of the elite, they are also part of the final battle.’
“The Islamic State’s propaganda is rife with references to apocalyptic prophecy about the last great battle that sets the stage for the end times. Terrorism experts say it has become a powerful recruiting tool for the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which sells potential fighters on the promise that joining will give them the most direct chance to battle Western interests and will bring ancient Islamic prophecies to fruition.
“The specific scripture they are referring to describes a battle in Dabiq as well as in al-Amaq, small towns that still exist in northern Syria. The countdown to the apocalypse begins once the ‘Romans’ — a term that militants have now conveniently expanded to include Americans and their allies — set foot in Dabiq.” New York Times, December 7th.
These underlying explanations of apocalyptic inevitability are driving the death and destruction we see growing like cancer in the Middle East. Perhaps it is too late, the demons may have been unleashed, or perhaps saner heads will counter extremism in all of its incarnations. But failing to understand how varying interpretations of religion are either diffusing tensions (listen to Pope Francis and read his encyclicals) or making the situation so very much worse can be fatal. How do you mount a quest for peace when the ultimate goal of too many of the players is Armageddon itself?
I’m Peter Dekom, and countering extremism wherever it appears, including our own backyard, may indeed be mission critical for our own survival, unless you too believe you will rise to the heavens following the war to end all wars.