Why Bring Religion Into It?
Of the objections to my lines of argumentation, the greatest concerns my use of the religious argument for the Jewish ownership of the Land of Israel. People say any argument from religion is a show-stopper in a world that is (they say) largely secular. They say religion arrests any possibility of debate, because there is no arguing with G-d. They insist the only way to secure peace is through pragmatic dialogue, something that requires separation of religion and politics.
I admit I was at first reluctant myself. Though my blog has focused on ideology and ideological arguments from the start, it took me some time until I got comfortable with making the religious Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. The road from the initial reluctance to the present comfort has provided me with the answers to those who say there is no room for religious claims here. In points, these are they:
- Religion is already in this conflict, and at the heart of it, whether people like it or not.
- The enemies of Israel, even the non-religious ones, have no problem using religious language against Israel.
- Religion is no more undebatable than the bloody secular ideologies from the 18th century onward.
- Separation of religion and politics is a situation that does not exist in pure form in the real world.
- Zionism, down to its very name, does not make sense apart from religion.
- Religion is a higher authority that is needed for countering the corruption of law in our age.
And more at length, one by one:
Religion is already in this conflict, and at the heart of it, whether people like it or not. It is the attempts to force reality to the straitjacket of one’s wishes that has been the undoing of the entire non-Muslim world, and in this there is no difference between left-wing and right-wing leadership. Leftist appeasement, driven by historical materialism, is worse in quantity, but not in quality, than President Bush’s belief that democratization (“Iraq the Model”) could magically convert Muslims into friends of those infidels living in Dar Al-Harb. Bush’s insistence on “not making this a religious war” is cut from the same cloth as the American Democrats’ cut-and-run motions and the Kossacks’ calls for “a more evenhanded approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict” (translation: sacrificing Israel to the Muslim wolves, G-d forbid), for both are rooted in that Westphalian dread of religious war.
The reality is different from the wishes—the reality is that the Muslim world has undergone little in the process of secularization, so the argument that “the world is largely secular” fails to acknowledge a sizable chunk of the population of the globe. As the various riots (Rushdie I, Danish Cartoons, Pope Quotes, Rushdie II) showed, the masses of Muslims are easily manipulated by the Friday mosque prayer speeches, however much this may seem surreal or outdated to those in the West who think all people are the same everywhere. The suicide terrorists show that people are capable, even in this day and age, of believing in the afterlife promises given them. Those who argue against the mere idea of this being a religious conflict are, in effect, saying it is inconceivable for people to believe in what religion says, in what the scriptures promise and in the overall seriosity of religion in human beings’ lives. Here is, again, the fallacy of assuming one’s way of thinking is everyone’s way of thinking. Joe Secular Public in the United Kingdom believes in the pursuit of personal happiness on this earth, but his neighbor Youssuf may well be a believer in a collective goal, in a grandiose vision of empire in this world (the Caliphate) and eternal pleasure beyond it, pleasure for which he could fearlessly blow himself up in the midst of non-Muslim Britons (G-d forbid).
I return to my neck of the woods with the second answer: the enemies of Israel, even the non-religious ones, have no problem using religious language against Israel. I might summarize, in advance, that the call for Jews to avoid making the religious claim for the Land of Israel is a call for participation in an asymmetric war of minds, just as we are ever called to participate in asymmetric warfare on the battlefield of flesh and blood. Our enemies, and here I am talking not just about the Muslims (who can be expected of such behavior—see above) but also about the Leftists (who claim to stand for secularism and “realism”), have no trouble using religious language when
holding Israel to a different standard than all other nations criticizing Israel’s policies: they speak of Israel’s “original sin” of driving the “Palestinians” away from the land in 1947–9, for which, they hold, Israel should pay through the nose, preferably by shedding off its Jewish character as satisfactory atonement; they say Israel should make all the peace initiatives and concessions because it’s the “light unto the nations”; they have no trouble using the Biblical story of David and Goliath, turned on its head, against Israel; and they have no qualms about recruiting “Jewish ethics” in the service of demanding that Israel turn the other cheek, even quoting the most fanatical and unprogressive of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects for that purpose.
Religion is the opium of the masses. Except when it advances the Progressive cause. Exchange from Daily Kos, from June 22, 2007.
Like the now worn-out, “Criticism of Israel isn’t anti-Semitism!”, which is there for disarming us while they freely heap their vilest abuse on Israel and Zionism, the Leftists’ brushing off of our religious claims as “insane, irrational fanaticism” while they indulge in a way of thinking having roots in the Middle Ages is unacceptable, as it is an invitation to an unfair fight. Not even the Taliban would kill an illegitimate baby (they would kill the mother, without doubt, but not the baby), but the Leftists top the Taliban in calling for, or at the very least voicing sympathy with the idea of, the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state (G-d forbid) because of its “illegitimate birth” by virtue of the partial expulsion of the “Palestinians” in 1947–9.
One cannot be more Catholic than the Pope, and we cannot be expected to avoid religious arguments when our ostensibly secular adversaries do not do so.
Now for the issue of debatability, the contention that religious is a show-stopper as far as intellectual debate goes. I hold that religion is no more undebatable than the bloody secular ideologies from the 18th century onward. Those ideologies have made wild, unverifiable, irresponsible claims from their inception, usually with disastrous results—the same charges that are leveled against religious ideologies. To those who argue that all debates between the various religionists, or between theists and atheists, have invariably reached an impasse sooner or later, I say: I agree, but the same is true for the secular ideologies of the last few centuries! Or has the debate between Capitalism and Communism—to name just one example—been sealed with a conclusive verdict? Not as far as I know. There are still Communists nowadays, after nearly a century of colossal failure and more than 100,000,000 dead by its hand. There are still even Nazis in our day! Those ideologies are no more amenable to a conclusive verdict than are religions, and in that, both contrast with science, meaning the hard sciences, that which is capable of sealing the case for heliocentrism over geocentrism, or of banishing theories such as phlogiston and the humors to the dustbin of historical curiosity.
Ideas such as Nazism’s “Thousand Year Reich”, Communism’s “New Man” and “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Primitivism’s “Return to Pre-Industrial Eden” and Humanism’s “Basic Good of Humanity” are no more rational, arguable, debatable, verifiable and refutable than ideas spawned by religion; if they can be stood in the arena of intellectual debate, then so can religion, and if religion cannot, then neither can those secular ideologies. Those ideologies can be made palatable and convincing to many people by coating them with sophisticated language, making them sound like the best thing since sliced bread, but then so can any religious ideology, at the hands of an Angelic Doctor or a capable apologist like William Lane Craig. Post-1648 Europe arose from the shock of the Thirty Year War (between Catholics and Protestants), realizing the capacity for bloodshed, only to subsequently fall for equally unverifiable ideologies born of the Enlightenment, with results more catastrophic than before.
There is no escape. People either stand for something or fall for everything. A conclusive verdict is usually available in the hard sciences, but alas, these have no bearing on how humans relate to each other. Human relations are necessarily outside the bounds of conclusivity, therefore fraught with the risk of faith. Replacing religious faith with faith in a secular ideology will do no good.
Building on this, I can easily make the argument that separation of religion and politics is a situation that does not exist in pure form in the real world. Unless religion (or secular ideology, as I said) is a totally personal affair, involving no more than one person, an element of politics will always enter the fray. Even, say, a Christian pastor who conscientiously avoids talking about world or state politics must engage in political activity, however local, in that he is called to maintain the harmony between the members of his flock. The involvement of religion in the real world requires attention to resources both human and material, thus leading to the multitude of situations which humans are used to in politics.
On a less mundane level, the line between religious and political ideology is more often than not a blurry one, not only on the side of religion (religion going into politics, which is what secularists routinely decry), but also on the opposite side (politics going into religion, which secularists are usually oblivious to). As I said before, Islam is a deeply political religion while Marxism is a deeply religious political theory. Environmentalism (as distinct from caring for the environment) and Radical Feminism (as distinct from standing up for women’s rights, also known as first-wave feminism) are so-called secular ideologies which in fact have a profoundly religious core, complete with theories of origins, explanations of what went wrong and how to fix it, and a vision of the Last Days. And in another great irony, the Religious Left is the most politicized, because, by having shorn religion of all its otherworldly tenets (i.e. the supernatural), adherents of the Religious Left have nothing to concern themselves with except politics (“Social Gospel”, “Tikkun Olam” et cetera).
In summary, separation between religion and politics is a Platonic ideal, a construct to which humans can draw near but never reach. Again, as in the previous point, relinquishing religion for secular ideologies such as Communism or Humanism provides no refuge, for they suffer from the same problem in the opposite direction—tainted by elements of religion, elements which the secularists themselves denounce as “intellectual show-stoppers”.
I return to the Jewish question. Though Zionism began as a nationalistic movement along the lines of all the rest of them of the 19th century, advanced at first mainly by secular Jews who were of the opinion religion was on the way out, it was inseparable from religion even in its first days. The fact is, Zionism, down to its very name, does not make sense apart from religion. For although both Herzl and Pinsker of blessed memory came to see the need of Zionism out of the hopeless existence of Jews in Europe then, the insistence on the Land of Israel as the Jewish homeland cannot be separated from over three millennia of religious Jewish promises, claims and wistful prayers. Had the goal been nothing but the ameliorating of the Jews’ everyday situation, any empty land could have sufficed; but when Herzl suggested Uganda, not as permanent abode but as temporary shelter for the Jews, he was greeted by the sight of members of the Zionist Congress walking out of the room.
All the nationalistic movements of the time made pragmatic sense. Not so Zionism: to try to inhabit such a desolate land as the Land of Israel in the 19th century, as so aptly described by Mark Twain, instead of, say, allocating the resources to the more hopeful project of setting up colonies in Argentina, was truly insane, from the pragmatic point of view. But though the Secular Zionists left the religious Jewish way of life, they knew what anyone with Jewish upbringing knew: that for a Jew there is no land that he can call home except for the Land of Israel. Not Germany, not Uganda, not Birobidjan, not Argentina—the Land of Israel and none other. As for secular Jews being insistent on such a religious point, it may seem surprising, yet just 40 years ago the world could see secular Jewish soldiers crying upon retaking the Western Wall.
British TreasonMedia rag The Guardian recently had an article by Khaled Diab, “The other right of return, in which he proposed “balancing” the “Palestinian Right of Return” by granting Jews expelled 60 years ago from Arab countries the right to return to those countries. This is not a new argument: I first encountered it on Daily Kos, and subsequently addressed it. The argument is somewhat respectful to us Jews, in that it states that we can be called an indigenous people of some place rather than rootless cosmopolitans who are destined to wander; yet it ignores the basic Zionism of the Jewish religion entirely. A religious Jew living in Marrakesh or Frankfurt could trace his ancestry of 1,000 years of living on those same spots, but he could never consider himself an indigenous inhabitant of that area because of that. The current argument for indigenous rights, enthusiastically espoused by the Leftists, is counter to the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel, for it takes account of the mere length of inhabitation while ignoring what the Torah says. Thus it is possible for clueless Muslims and Leftists to demand Jews evacuate parts of the Land of Israel “because they are stealing it from its indigenous people”, and to offer a “Right of Return” to the Diaspora as compensation, “because that had been the Jews’ home for centuries”.
It is necessary to bring the religious claim for Zionism, because the secular arguments are easily turned against us. The “indigenous peoples” argument is being used against us now, just as it could easily have been used against us back at the first time when we took the Land of Israel, in the days of Joshua (peace be upon him). Except for the Three Patriarchs, there had been no Jewish history on the Land of Israel when our forefathers crossed the Jordan. Those seven nations, the Canaanites, Girgashites and the rest, were by all accounts the indigenous peoples of the land. G-d said: take the land, driving away all those indigenous peoples with their “rich cultural heritage” of sacrificing their children to Baal and Moloch, and divide it among yourselves after that. Now when the modern movement of Zionism started in the late 19th century, such was not the case—again, Mark Twain’s descriptions are the most damning toward those who speak of “a teeming Palestinian nation, whose peaceful existence was disrupted by the coming of the Zionist invaders”—yet there is no difference in the force of the religious claim: although neither Jews nor non-Jews could be considered the indigenous peoples of the Land of Israel today, for there has been no national continuity on it ever since its dwindling in Byzantine times, the land belongs to the Jews by virtue of G-d’s promise.
For the Israelites in Joshua’s time, the belief in G-d’s promise was what enabled them to surmount the obstacle of there already being nations on the land. For the Zionists of the late 19th century onward, the imprint of Jewish education, of which G-d’s promise are an inseparable part, was what enabled them to surmount the obstacle of the depressing desolation of the land. In both cases, the insistence of the Jewish nation on this land and none other can only make sense in the framework of the religious claim. All other types of claim would not lead to the Land of Israel, but to places like Uganda or the centuries-old towns of the Diaspora. Therefore, the call to leave religion out of Zionism, out of the movement for the return of Jews to the Land of Zion (Jerusalem), is the most irrational and unacceptable that could ever be made.
I mentioned how international law was being paraded by the enemies of Israel against us. But international law, in its current form, is a problem not just for Zionist Jews—it is the scourge of the entire non-Muslim world. In this area, religion gains more relevance than ever, for religion is a higher authority that is needed for countering the corruption of law in our age. It is through their adherence to their own religious law rather than to international law that the Muslims are able to chip away at non-Muslim states and societies everywhere, and it is only through jettisoning of the present-day corrupt international law in favor of some other system, some higher authority, that any non-Muslim state and society could have hope of repulsing this threat.
International law, or Politically Correct law, or Moonbat Law, or whatever name you wish to give to this so-called system of law that is really nothing more than the codification of the breakdown of law in our age, is dragging us along into a state of perpetual asymmetric warfare with the Muslims. When people think of asymmetric warfare, they often—especially if they are Progressives—raise the romantic picture of a band of threadbare, scantily-armed guerrillas standing stubbornly against a massive army featuring the latest in heavy weaponry. It is clear which is the underdog that should be rooted for. But surface appearances apart, it is the other side, our side, especially our civilian front, our women and children, who are at a disadvantage, and are the underdog that should be rooted for.
The Islamic enemy is subject to the Law of Jihad, not to the Geneva Rules of Engagement or any derivative of them; they can do whatever they wish, including hide behind their own women and children, or better (worse), send their women and children as combatants. Modern-day international law regarding warfare is based on the assumption of a distinction between civilians and combatants. Though guerrilla warfare has always blurred this line to some degree or other, the rules of engagement are still workable. But the Islamic jihadists are engaging in an altogether new kind of warfare, one in which the line between civilians and combatants is not just blurred, but erased. This has had the effect of bringing powerful Western armies to their knees, without need—many a potentially successful operation against the Taliban was called off for fear of hitting civilians.
Steven Plaut (HaShem bless him) brings the account of how the Allied forces brought down the Nazi insurgency in the aftermath of World War II. It is amazing to read that article, especially considering that the Allies had the constraint of keeping the German population in place (we of today have no such constraint—we are not obliged to keep the Muslims in any of our countries). On the other hand, they did not have to contend with international resolutions and condemnations, for the UN was just hatching. Now, with the whole corrupt system in place, terrorists can strike with no inhibitions (I am reminded of General Alcazar’s line to Tintin in Tintin and the Picaros: “See? None of your fancy scruples here.”), whereas, should a non-Muslim state, especially a Western state, be so careless as to make the beginning of a right move, condemnations of “the heavy-handed attempt to maintain colonial rule against the indigenous people” would come swiftly.
International law is the staple of Leftist motions against Western self-defense, whether it be against illegal immigrants smuggling through the border or against Islamic imperialists turning more and more tracts of land into Dar Al-Islam. The International Court of Hague is invoked by them like a deity against anyone who proposes a no-nonsense, realistic solution, such as mass expulsion of the irredentists, as was done to the Sudeten Germans (again an example from right after World War II—the veterans of that war had no time for games). One would think of those institutions as paper tigers, and yet world leaders really fear them, and really abstain from sane actions because of that fear. Their authority is sacrosanct, and he who scoffs at them is labeled, “warmonger”, “neo-colonialist”, “racist” and worse. All while the Islamic imperialists scoff at them with impunity.
I do not know about other nations, but we Jews must abandon our suicidal adherence to international law, specifically Rules of Engagement based on it, both because our situation is critical—physically threatened, and not just culturally as are most other non-Muslim states—and because the Torah offers a complete, comprehensive and adequate basis for warfare against such an enemy as we are confronted with. In one of those fickle turns of history, modern warfare is severely hampered by the existence of combatants who wage war according to 7th-century precepts, therefore the only way for us to win is to fight with the precepts of the Torah, which does not suffer from the snobbish belief that, just because one part of humanity has left the old ways of warfare, all of humanity has done the same.
To conclude the post: the other side is the one that has “brought religion into it”, or, to be more accurate, never left religion in the first place; the erroneous thought that the whole world has been secularized and pragmatized is behind the softening of the whole non-Muslim world today, both politically and militarily. Only a recognition of the nature of this war, followed by the abandonment of Rules of Engagement that foster asymmetric warfare to the enemy’s advantage, can bring the end of this long and drawn-out conflict. HaShem be in our help.