Desert, but no Manna
It is one of the countless examples of the hypocrisy of Cultural Marxism, that it can lump Judaism, Christianity and Islam together in “primitive backwardness, Abrahamic morality and divinely-ordered atrocity”, but then turn an admiring eye to the one religion that has not been tempered by any form of Enlightenment, the one religion whose adherents are overwhelmingly in the mindset of an age which in the Western world is now deemed to be all but a historical curiosity. I find no more interesting an endeavor than unraveling the system that makes such seeming doublethink possible.
I have seen the phrase, “Desert Monotheism” used in the conflation of Biblical and Koranic religion. The Cultural Marxists say it refers to the origins of both: the giving of Torah at the foot of the mountain in the middle of the Sinai Desert, and, l’havdil (“to distinguish”), the alleged revelation of the Koran to Mohammed in a cave in the middle of the Arabian Desert. To frame both religious traditions as desert monotheisms because of a single event is already something to be suspected of superficiality; in truth, the Marxists do not believe in it themselves, but use it as their tu quoque (“You too”) club, whenever someone points the violence of Islam from the Koran. If they believed in it, they wouldn’t accord Islam a special status. Is it a cynical ploy? Is it born of fear, fear of the one religion whose followers are not reluctant to wreak revenge for any perceived slight to their feelings? Or is there something real, inner and spiritual about this exception-making? My attempted answer cannot cover all of them, and I am sure there are a few of them who parrot words without inner conviction, but my experience with the modern Left tells me there must be some inward convergence, otherwise there would not be such zeal and fervor in the Left/Islam alliance as we see today. And I believe the phrase, “Desert Monotheism” is where it begins and ends.
As with many foundations underlying the Left/Islam alliance, the “Desert Monotheism” grouping of Biblical and Koranic traditions is a lie. The role and perception of the desert in the Biblical tradition is far different from that in the Koran. If cultural truth were allowed to have a say in naming names, then only Islam would be called a desert monotheism. Only Islam was born in the desert, is culturally bound to it and brings it along to every place it comes. Judaism was not born in the desert, despite the location of its founding event, and is not culturally tied to it. Christianity, having the Greco-Roman world as its background, is even less so. In the Biblical tradition, the desert occupies a place in the sidelines and is a tool in HaShem’s hands; in the Koranic tradition, the desert is the whole setting, the stage on which the entire drama takes place, and without which the religion cannot be fully understood.
The founding narrative of the Jewish nation is based on three points in a line:
- Egypt: the gilded cage to be escaped.
- The Sinai Desert: the necessary route to take in order to reach the goal.
- The Land of Israel: the goal, the hard-won but spiritually unique destination.
Egypt, the rich land, whose generosity is guaranteed by the regular flooding of the Nile, is a gilded cage, both spiritually and (later, and also symbolized by that) physically. Because of the confidence in the Nile, the Egyptians’ eyes had no need of being raised upward in beseeching of the divine, with the result that they created their deities in such images that even the Greeks and the Romans, masters of creating the divine in human image, were shocked. Our sages of blessed memory tell us how defiled Egypt was, how filthy with dark spiritual practices, like sorcery, divination, necromancy and sexual immorality. After generations of living on the fat of the land, the time came for the Israelites to pay up, with the currency of physical slavery—real, but also a symbol for the high price paid by those who are lost in their estrangement from HaShem, slavery of the worst kind.
To an outside observer, the Land of Israel would not look as rich as Egypt; in our day, the joke about Moses meaning to bring the Israelites to Canada, but saying, “Canaan” instead because of his stutter, comes to mind. But they err that compare Egypt and the Land of Israel through physical eyes alone. The Land of Israel has the vast, incomparable bounty and advantage over Egypt—over any other land in the world—in that it is under the direct rule of HaShem. It can produce ample physical bounty—a land flowing with milk and honey—but it does so in direct proportion to the spiritual rectitude of its inhabitants. The Torah warns us of this so many times: walk with HaShem and you will prosper in the Land of Israel; disobey (God guard us), and the Land of Israel will spew you out. The bounty of the Land of Israel cannot be measured, because it is a spiritual one.
Between Egypt and the Land of Israel is the Sinai Desert. No other way to get from Egypt to the Land of Israel by land. The desert is an ambivalent place, a place full of doubt: physical hardship that, on the one hand, prepares one for an existence of trusting in HaShem, but, on the other, is the opposite of both Egypt and the Land of Israel as regards permanence. Nowhere is this more illustrated than by the Tabernacle, which was dismantled and rebuilt each day, while the Temple in Jerusalem was a permanent building.
The Biblical story of the Israelites’ passing through the desert cannot be told without reference to the manna, the bread given from above. Our forefathers did not desire to adopt Bedouin ways; when they sensed the hardship of desert life, all the more so after Egypt, they cried out to HaShem. He answered them, and sustained them all the years with food from above. It was another symbol of the impermanence of the desert: since one cannot live on miracles forever, it is clear that the manna was only a temporary measure, until the arrival at the Land of Israel. The desert was where we received the Torah, but the Torah given at Sinai contains such mitzvot as the Sabbatical Year (one in seven years of ceasing to work the fields), which cannot apply to the desert. And the desert was also a punishment: for believing the lies that the Ten Spies uttered about the Land of Israel, the entire generation was condemned to roam the desert until dying out. All in all, the desert was a necessary evil, the place of Israel’s birth-pangs. The Biblical narrative is conclusive: it is not HaShem’s requirement for mankind to be desert-dwellers in order to be spiritually fulfilled. The desert was preparation for a life of trusting in Him, but the life itself, a life of completeness through carrying all His 613 mitzvot, was to take place in inhabited land, in the Land of Israel.
Islam sprang out from a totally different setting.
Islam emerged in the Arabian Desert, in the area of two oases surrounded by uninhabited desert. The desert was not merely a transition between Mecca and Medina; those two cities were enveloped by it, and served as a life-belt from it. The contrast was not between a rich but defiled land and a rich and sacred land, with a desert separating them, but between desert and non-desert: between the sanctuary and life hanging upon a thread. The Arabian desert-dwellers would come to those fertile points to set their livestock to graze—another important point. Whereas Egypt was marked by lethargy, born of the consistent flooding of the Nile, Arab Bedouin existence was marked by a life dependent on taking what one had not toiled for.
Bedouin existence was, spiritually, a little better than that of Egypt, in that the circumstances forced the desert nomads to raise their eyes upward; but they did not raise their eyes in expectation of manna, they raised them for a reprieve from the fate of next day or month or year. For the Israelites, desert life was a transition, and continuous roaming of the desert was a punishment; for the Bedouins, desert life was their main existence, punctuated only by forays into fertile fields worked by others. The Bible is centered on the arrival at the Promised Land; but for the Arab Bedouin, in contrast, there is no Promised Land, there is only an oasis for refueling, a race to reach there before dying of thirst.
The Koran advertises itself repeatedly as a “clear guidance”. The term for that, huda, according to Malise Ruthven’s Islam and the World, means “desert guide, the tribesman on whose navigation skills the tribe depends in order to reach the oasis”. The word “shariah” itself means, “the way to water”. Islam views mankind’s entire existence as a roaming in the desert, with Allah being the only reliable guide to the oasis. Desert life being such a stark struggle between life and death, it is no wonder that Islam’s afterlife paradise is described in the most lurid of physical terms. Jewish commentators on Islam have long faulted the religion for promising its adherents a reward that can be had in this life. It is only natural for adherents of a Biblical worldview to look down upon that, just as it is natural for a religion born in the harsh world of the desert to promise rewards of this kind. The Biblical worldview promises the follower that God will take care of his physical needs if he does His will, leaving him with the leisure and desire to seek out God Himself, His spiritual splendor; in contrast, the Koranic worldview, desert born, has the physical promises running over, splashing out from the cup of this life onto the afterlife. “A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity”, said Winston Churchill on Islam, more than a century ago.
The desert nomad sustains himself by punctuated forays into fertile lands; he sets his livestock upon fields tilled by others. This modus vivendi has been carried over to Islam and its adherents to this day: appropriation of the accomplishments of others, both physical and cultural, has been the hallmark of the Islamic colonialists from the 7th century to our times, each appropriation often followed by a fraudulent claim to original ownership. The golden cow-udder standing on top of the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem is the most prominent example of this, along with the usurpation of the Jewish ownership of the Land of Israel by means of the Fakestinian Nation narrative.
And it is an object of admiration for many Cultural Marxists worldwide.
Oh, the desert! Pristine land, unsullied by the hands of capitalism, industrialism, commercialism and other forms of man-made modifications of the original state! Oh, the Bedouins! Free as the air, authentic, sprung from the soil, untouched by the artificial mannerisms of townspeople! Oh, all that we had but have lost! All the things we once were (according to the Primitivist narrative, conceived by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Father of All Hippies) and would wish to have once again! Can we have them? Can we turn the clock back? Maybe, maybe not, but if not, at least we can support the Bedouins in their moves against that hated Western, Bible-based civilization, use them as proxy avengers of our wrath.
Those Cultural Marxists understand what eludes many scholars: the primitivist affinity between Marxism and Islam. Marxism longs for return to a mythical world “Before Capitalism”; the Bedouin nomad looks like an authentic remnant of that long-lost paradisical age; therefore the alliance between the Marxist primitivists and the active representatives of Bedouin life, the Muslims, is a natural and spiritual one.
It is also natural because Marxism is built upon legalizing theft. Communist regimes had their upper class and their vast stratum of poor, downtrodden people, just as—usually far worse than—did the hated capitalist countries of the world, but the upper class justified it as “taking from the rich in order to give to the poor”, and with the mindset, both internalized and externally voiced, that the wealth never belonged to the original owners in the first place (“Property is theft”). As today both Venezuela and Zimbabwe, once rich countries reduced to financial ruin under their Marxist dictators, show, the micromanaged economies espoused by the Far Left are total failures at production; therefore, the only recourse for those countries, or for their rulers, is to live off the work of others. Marxist robber, meet the Bedouin setting his livestock to graze on another’s field—or the Bedouin’s representative on the modern geopolitical stage, the Muslim.
This World War is between those who wish to desertify the whole world and those who believe in the Promised Land, in eating the fruit of one’s labors (Psalms 128:2); between those who believe mankind’s pristine existence is a canonized goal, and those who believe the world was meant to be worked, those who believe the Garden of Eden is not the initial state but the result of mankind’s toil (Genesis 2:15); and between those who are trapped in viewing prosperity as either a brief respite from the harsh day-to-day reality (an oasis in the desert) or a fantastic, patently unrealistic cornucopia (a lustful carnal paradise), and those who set their eyes onto bountiful, yet moderate and spiritually conducive, prosperity.
This war begins with the idea of how the world should be, and there it also ends.