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Danger from unchecked messianism

December 07, 2010 03:03 pm | Updated 03:03 pm IST - Chennai

New Delhi, 02/12/10: Children of Abraham at War by Talmiz Ahmad

New Delhi, 02/12/10: Children of Abraham at War by Talmiz Ahmad

The attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and the furious backlash, in the form of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), have generated a torrent of literature on the the mind-boggling violence across the globe. The collapse of the twin towers in New York and the targeting of the Pentagon on 9/11 were swiftly followed by massive retaliatory strikes on Afghanistan, the home of the al-Qaeda, widely seen as the architect behind the attacks. The Afghan campaign was followed by the far more controversial U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The violence in Afghanistan and Iraq was accompanied by fresh attacks in the Palestinian territories, which Israel, a key ally of the U.S. in West Asia, sought to posit as an extension of the GWOT.


The GWOT has targeted countries and territories where Muslims are in a majority. Ideologically, the Christian-right, which rose to prominence during the Bush presidency and acquired exceptional influence, has projected the counter-terror campaign as a stepping stone to the fulfilment of a Biblical prophecy of end-times, which would result in a thousand-year utopia of Christian rule.

The dangerous part is that the war on terror is increasingly used to strike emotional bonds with and evoke the images of religious wars of the past, where the children of Abraham — adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — figured as combatants.

In a refreshing break from the tendency perceived in the literary works emerging from the West — which sought to find the well-springs of the GWOT and the Jihadist terror within the domain of Muslim alienation and political Islam — Talmiz Ahmad, in this extensively researched book, has chosen to present the post-9/11 developments in a much broader perspective. Ahmad's focus is on the re-emergence of Messianism, palpable in the three Abrahamic religions, as a key factor driving the conflict the world has been witnessing since the dawn of the 21st century. The author says that the latest edition of messianism has been incubating in the U.S. much ahead of the 9/11 attacks. Ahmad then routes the permeation of the 19th century American religious doctrine of “dispensational pre-millennialism” into the core of the United States' 21st century politics through the Republican Party.


Ahmad argues that the Christian-right in the U.S. has developed an exceptionally strong politico-religious relationship because in its scheme of things re-establishment of a Jewish state on the “promised land” is a necessary step for the realisation of the utopian “1000-year reign of perfect justice and happiness.” This has resulted in a shared political culture between the U.S. and Israel that is deeply hostile to Muslims, in general, and Palestinian national aspirations,in particular. “Messianism is the central influence in Israeli politics and provides no scope for compromise with the Palestinians or dilution of the messianic impulse,” says the author. In his view, the alliance between the Christian-Zionists in the U.S. and the American Jewish neoconservative movement became the main conduit for injecting the Judeo-Christian agenda in the Bush administration and, therefore, the current animosity in the West towards Muslims was not a response to the 9/11 attacks; it has been resonating independently and powerfully in Judeo-Christian literature for decades.


Contextualising the resurgent Islam, Ahmad asserts that, contrary to the perception spread by right-wing literature, Islam's anti-West disposition has nothing inherent about it; it is really a response to the travails Muslims had to suffer on account of the depredations of the imperialists. The intellectual foundations of a resurgent Islam were laid mainly by the writings of eminent scholars such as Sayyid Abdul Ala Maududi, Sayyid Qutb and Hassan Al Banna. Most of these writers and those who followed them focussed on the use of force under the banner of Jihad for social and spiritual revival as well as for achieving political liberation.

While the Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutb wrote about ‘global jihad', it was the radical Palestinian ideologue and practitioner, Abdullah Yusuf Azam, who developed the concept of “globalisation of Islamic movements,” with Afghanistan as its initial hub. Ahmad argues that if radical Islam, represented by organisations such as al-Qaeda, failed to rope in people of competing faiths and ideologies, it was because of its attachment to messianism, as evidenced by its avowed interest in re-establishing the “Islamic state, also referred to as a caliphate modelled on the polity of Prophet Mohammed in Madinah.”

Ahmad's warning that the GWOT subsumes “the clash of messianic militarisms,” whose potential for conflict is unfathomable, has to be taken seriously because it is born out of painstaking research and an incisive analysis, and is informed by compelling logic. Lucidly written, and with an eye for detail, the book is a must read for students of comparative religions and international politics, and, more importantly, for the global citizenry, which needs to do all it can to avert the catastrophe an unchecked messianism would spell for the world.

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