More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

The world is currently at a point where religious extremist organizations, which are often terrorist organizations as well, are successfully making their voices heard on a global scale. Along with this, they are instilling fear into much of the Western world. This success has led said organizations’ opponents to seriously consider the best approach to respond to the hostility of terrorists. Professor Phyllis Chesler, in her article entitled “The First Serious Push-Back on the West-Islamist Battlefield of Ideas,” Israel National News, 5 April 2015 describes Dr. Richard Landes argument that claims Western leftists are unintentionally promoting religious extremist organizations.

Richard Landes is a professor of history at Boston University. He specializes in medieval history as well as messianic and millennial movements. Landes believes that the progressive left are demonstrating their humanity by embracing the “Other,” but this embrace is not reciprocated. Indeed Jihadists believe that the very people that are embracing them must be annihilated. The article goes on to explain that Westerners are plainly promoting their own enemy by doing things like wearing tee shirts that read “We are Hamas.” Supposedly Westerners have mistaken Hamas as a religious and nationalist movement, when in reality they are a terrorist group who are relentless to their own people and have dedicated themselves to “the extermination of Jews.” Landes claims that many Jihadists are largely unconcerned by the United States and Western Europe, and that their main goal is the destruction of Israel. This would be a victory of strong symbolic power. “[Jihadists] envision the Queen of England wearing a burqa and the flag of Islam over the White House.” Landes states that in order to save itself, “the West must genuinely renounce its long romance with Jew-hatred which, right now, constitutes its single greatest vulnerability.” He also believes that America is “far more tolerant than Europe.” Chesler ends the article with an interesting view held by Landes. He believes that all non-Muslims are effectively Israelis. “Civilians anywhere, everywhere, are potential targets.”

I find this article to be very enticing. Its paints a picture that Westerners are misguided when it comes to the beliefs and aims of Jihadists. Landes raises an important issue that is commonly overlooked by Western media – the West has a history of anti-Semitism (Jew-hatred as Landes calls it), and that this view must fundamentally change in order to defeat religious terrorism. This article is very thought-provoking to me because it is quite conservative in its content, but I find myself agreeing with almost everything that Landes has to argue. For the most part I would consider myself part of the progressive left that he speaks of, and I had never considered the idea that more harm might be done by unencumbered embrace towards other cultures. The statement that I found most interesting is this – “In the name of anti-racism and anti-imperialism, the progressive Left has made common cause with the most imperialist and racist force on earth.” Perhaps it is time that the Western world take a step back and re-evaluate their position when it comes to “intensely tribal, exceeding barbaric” cultures.

Chesler’s article is ripe with issues discussed in our course. Most prominently, it claims Jihadists to be the most imperialist force on earth. These terrorists find their fundamental goal through interpretation of religious texts that were not written in the context of today. It is necessary to understand the context of the culture in which these texts were written, and to concede to the fact that they can be extremely dangerous when taken literally.


Identifier – JSrels348

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