Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

While We're at It

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

While We're at It

Article excerpt

So what is the name of the enemy? A lot of candidates have been proposed and employed in the last five years: Islamic fundamentalism, Islamofascism, Islamic totalitarianism, Islamism, terrorism, or simply extremism. Islamism, as distinguished from Islam, is used by many scholars, but it is a subtlety that will elude most people. Fundamentalism is an American Christian phenomenon with a very specific history that has nothing to do with Islam. Terrorism is a means employed by the enemy, but it does not name the enemy. And extremism is a generalized pejorative naming nothing in particular. References to fascism and totalitarianism have a fine hawkish ring, and there are indeed some parallels between what we faced in Nazism and communism and what confronts us now, but the dissimilarities are much greater, beginning with the role of religion in the new challenge. So what is the name of the enemy? I suggest that the most accurate term is Jihadism. The definition is not difficult to understand: Jibadism is the religiously inspired ideology that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means necessary in order to compel the world's submission to Islam. Those who support that ideology are Jihadists, and that is exactly what they say they believe. They describe diemselves as Jihadists, and there is no reason why we should impose upon them a namefascist, fundamentalist, etc.-from our Western and distinctly non-Islamic history. It will be objected that in the Qur'an, jihad can also mean peaceful spiritual struggle. That is true, as it is true that those Muslims who believe jihad means peaceful spiritual struggle are not the enemy. "Jihadism." Say it five times and it comes easily. It has the additional merit of being accurate. It is good to see that this terminology is gaining some traction in our public discussions.

* Remember The Da Vinci Code} The gospel according to Judas ? They and whatever comes next are part of a very old story, Philip Jenkins writes in the thirtieth anniversary issue of that fine journal the Chesterton Review. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was enormous popular enthusiasm over the "discovery" of new gospels by, inter alia, Thomas, Peter, Mary, and even by Judas Iscariot and Eve. Madame Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society were prominent in debunking the orthodox Christian story that had been imposed by wicked churchmen, and most especially by the Catholic Church. There were also very popular novels along the line of The Da Vinci Code. In a way similar to the appeal of Elaine Pagels' promotion of Gnosticism today, feminist themes were prominent. Elizabeth Cady Stanton published Woman's Bible in 1895, and Matilda Gage's Women, Church and State (1895) launched the mythology of European witches who were the remnant of an ancient matriarchal society that was centered in a fertility cult that had been persecuted into extinction by the patriarchal Church. Jenkins writes: "The new discoveries are never as new or as sensational as they are touted to be. Looking at the writings of the early twentieth century-as of the early 21st-our overwhelming impression is that people earnestly wanted to find some particular message in early Christianity, and wished heartily that this claim could be justified by some authentic scripture. And in the absence of such a genuine text, spurious or flimsy texts were vastly exaggerated-in effect, reinvented to become the weighty scriptures that people hoped to find. To adopt Dr. Johnson's words, the constant emphasis on the unique wisdom and value of the new-old scriptures, all scholarship to the contrary, must be seen as 'the triumph of hope over experience.'" Jenkins observes, "The cyclical nature of claims and 'discoveries' suggests that such amazing 'new gospels' are rather like London buses: There is no need to worry if you miss one because another will be along within ten minutes." Well yes, but why now? Perhaps there is more than we might think to the claims of some scholars that the turn of a century, and especially of a millennium, generates widespread apocalyptic fantasy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.