Saturday, February 04, 2006

Wars and Rumors of Wars

It was January, 1994. I was traveling alone from San Francisco to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy by way of Moscow. It had been snowing heavily in Moscow, enough to delay our departure from Domodedova Airport a full three hours. Another storm would close the airport in Elizovo before we arrived, forcing us to land in Magadan, where we would wait from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday morning for the completion of our flight.

I met Volodya and Elena on the flight from Moscow; and spent the next several days with them, as my one semester of studying the Russian language was not at all sufficient to allow me to understand the announcements made on the plane or at the airport. They let me stay in their room at the hotel, bought my meals, and kept me company while I worried and waited. And Volodya and I drank his vodka -- lots of vodka. He had what seemed to be an endless supply in his travel bag.

He told me, while we were on the ground in Moscow, that he was a captain (first rank) of a submarine, and had been based on the Kamchatka peninsula, where he and his wife we going for a vacation at a resort for naval officers at the hot springs at Paratunka. I had asked him, only half-jokingly, whether he would have to file a "report" about our meeting and conversations. Now, on the second night together, as we drank more vodka (more than I had ever thought I could consume, as it turned out), I asked him again. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then looked directly at me and said, "One day, we are going to need each other, the Americans and the Russians." I nodded to the south, and said, "China?" He shook his head and said, "No. The Moslems."

A few years after returning home, this conversation was forgotten (for the most part) until I saw the events of September 11, 2001, unfold on the television screen. As we talked about what had happened, and what it meant, on that day, and for days to come thereafter, I thought again and again of Volodya's comment, made over 7 years earlier. He had correctly identified the threat: the Moslems.

It's probably not correct to make such a blanket statement -- "all Moslems" -- any more than it would be correct to say that the Crusades were, or are, supported by "all Christians"; or that the bombings of abortion clinics are favorably endorsed by "all Christians." But there is no doubt that there is a segment of the Islamic world that sees itself as manifestly meant to rule the world, imposing shari'a law and the worship of Allah upon all peoples; and will stop at nothing to achieve these goals. There is also no denying that the principal teachings of the Islamic faith support these goals, and approve of any means for the accomplishment of the same. Such a "destiny" makes every other religion -- and even atheism -- incompatible with Islam; and means an inevitable conflict between those who believe in, and work for, the triumph of Islam, and every other system of belief.

There are two things now taking place that add to the "war on terror" that has arisen with the acts of al-Qaeda, and with the things we have done to provoke, intentionally or unintentionally, the hatred and mistrust of many in the Islamic world. There is, first of all, the incredible (to westerners) response to the publication of cartoons of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper last September, which now has led to protests, boycotts, and the bombing and burning of Danish embassies; with threats of violent responses, including killing, to other nations, such as Norway, France, and Germany, where the cartoons have been reprinted. The U.S. State Department has issued a statement condemning the action of the Danish and French newspapers; and the editor of the French newspaper has been fired. The Danish government has apologized; and it seems that appeasement appears to be the order of the day.

Part of me wants to ask, where was the U.S. State Department when the "artist" Andres Serrano took a photograph of a crucifix immersed in a flask of urine? Or when the most holy Lady Theotokos was depicted in a pile of dung? What would the State Department say if a mob of Christians, after the reported plan to show an episode of "Will and Grace" in which Brittany Spears plays the host of a (fictitious) Christian cable network cooking show called, "Cruci-fixins" airs on the day the western church marks as "Holy Thursday" -- the day before western Christians remember the crucifixion of our Lord -- what if this mob of outraged Christians goes to their local NBC affiliate, storms the building, sets it on fire, and beheads the station manager? Isn't that the same thing as what is taking place among many Moslem communities today?

Of course, such a response would be totally wrong, on every level, both with respect to the law, and to the Christian moral understanding. No sane person could advocate such a response; and while I may not have all my marbles, I think I'm sane. Why, then, is such "sanity" expected, even required, of Christians, but not of Moslems? (By the way, I don't plan to watch the show. I've never watched "Will and Grace"; and we don't watch any television during Great Lent.)

Where are the voices of sanity and reason among the Moslem leaders? Where are the Moslem leaders calling their people to restraint, and to find other ways to express the wrong they believe they have experienced by these cartoons? And where are the Moslem leaders, the imams and others, who recognize that the continued unfavorable depiction of Christians and Jews in Islamic publications and media is of the same stripe, and, while being outraged by the insult to their prophet, call for an end to the outrages directed at others? If such people are "out there" saying these things, it sure hasn't made it to the media that I've seen...

Meanwhile, the "war of words" between Iran and the West seems to be escalating. As I read the reports, I cannot help but think that, on one level, once again, we're missing something: a sense of history. (I said the same thing with regard to our efforts to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo.) We think we know everything; or, at least, enough to know the way out of any given situation. In the Balkans, we ignred the 800+ years of conflicts between Christians and Moslems. How many people know that we still have troops on the ground in Bosnia? (Granted, it's down to about 150 -- but we're still there...)

Iran is an ancient culture. Iranians today have not forgotten that their nation is heir to a heritage that derives from one of the empires of the ancient world -- the Persian Empire. What people does not dream of recovering the greatness from which they have fallen? What country allows itself to be bullied by another when it has, or can obtain, the means to strike those whom it sees as aggressors or oppressors? This is a situation that requires the utmost care and diplomacy; yet it seems our leaders think the best think to do is rattle our sabers and make threats of attacks. What would we do if we were the ones being threatened?

Another complication is the U.S. support of Israel; so much so that our government has declined to discuss the option mentioned by Iran, to make the Middle East a "nuclear weapons free zone," because of what this would mean for the Israelis. Are we serious about mitigating the threat of Iranian development of nuclear weapons?

And if, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said, military spending and preparedness on the part of the U.S. and its allies must be increased to prevent the development of a “global extremist Islamic empire,” while also claiming that Iran is a significant sponsor of terror attacks around the world, one must wonder what our government plans to do.

It is increasingly obvious that the "war on terror" is more than that: it is a war of culture against culture, a war between the Islamic world and the western world -- and, because the western world still has its Christian veneer, it is a war of Islam against Christianity.

May God help and save us.