July 18, 2012

War on Islam?

According to Ben White and now Richard Bartholomew the UK's army and Ministry of Defence are being advised by a chap with a record of scathing condemnation of Islam and "islamisation" of the west.

Here's Ben in Electronic Intifada:
It has been revealed that a British Ministry of Defense advisor — who helped write the “religious engagement strategy” for troops occupying the Afghan province of Kandahar — believes Islam might “be the rod of God’s anger,” raising disturbing questions for the military and the UK government.
Patrick Sookhdeo, who teaches at the UK’s Defense Academy and has served in the role of “cultural advisor” to troops in Afghanistan and southern Iraq, is also a regular speaker at events held by churches and Christian organizations internationally.
Speaking in a Washington DC church in 2007, Sookhdeo wondered if “[there is a] danger facing the West, particularly with Islam, might Islam be the rod of God’s anger?” (“Understanding Radicalization and Islamicization,” Capitol Hill Baptist Church)
Jumping to more on this "rod of anger stuff", Ben White asked Sookhdeo what it all meant:

He said that the idea of Islam as the “rod of God’s anger” was “developed by the leadership of the Syrian Orthodox Church about 75 years after the death of [the prophet] Muhammad. Faced with the fact that most of the lands that had constituted Christian territory had been lost in the Arab invasions, the church leadership posed the question why this had occurred. Instead of laying the blame on the Muslims and the Arab invasions, they concluded that it was their own fault because they had sinned and gone away from their faith in God by neglecting to be truly Christian in terms of love and compassion, to be humble and not to be motivated by money and power.”
Sookhdeo said that he had used the “rod of God’s anger” concept to ask if Christian churches today are now being punished for their “lack of faithfulness to God.” He added: “Could it be that Islam, which is now seen to be the dominant religion that may well replace Christianity in the future, can be seen as God’s instrument? This is not a negative comment of Islam, but a negative comment on the Church with her intrinsic weaknesses and failures.”
To which Richard Bartholomew responds:
This is somewhat disingenuous: the notion of Islam as the “rod of God’s anger” clearly fits into a long tradition in which disasters are explained as being expressions of God’s chastisement; being placed into a category of calamities is hardly a positive comment. Further, the expression itself is derived from Isaiah 10, where it is applied to Assyria; the Biblical author suggests that being the “rod of God’s anger” has its downside:
“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”… When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes… Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it, or the saw boast against the one who uses it?… Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors;… The Light of Israel will become a fire… The splendor of his forests and fertile fields it will completely destroy…”
Further discussion of how Christians used the “rod of God’s anger” concept in the context of early Islam can be found in a couple essays in the book Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction in the Middle East Since the Rise of Islam, edited by J.J. van Ginkel, H.L. Murre-van den Berg, and T.M. van Lint (Leuven: Peeters, 2005).
Vulgarized versions of the general concept can also been seen in contemporary American conservative evangelicalism: post-9/11, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell notoriously suggested that God had allowed the attack to occur (which is quite not the same thing as causing it) because of liberalism in American society; a current American bestseller called The Harbinger claims that American failure to return to religion following the attack means that further disasters will occur. Last year, an anti-gay evangelist named Bradlee Dean suggested that God would “raise up” Muslims to execute gay people because of the USA’s unwillingness to implement less severe anti-gay measures.

All very unpleasant stuff. According to Richard, this Sookhdeo chap has quite a good academic pedigree and his work has won serious praise but the appropriateness of his advisory role to the UK military is surely questionable.

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