Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gods' Warriors

Christiane Amanpour has always been impressive, especially before she got discovered by CNN. She had guts about Islam long before anybody else did. She is the impressario of a new CNN series called Gods' Warriors. Naturally it is a little disappointing by reason of the phony balance that is required ... that is, in the case of religion, pretending that these people are not all a bunch of total whack jobs. Remember, this is not a series about people who want to use religion for good, but rather about people who want to use religion for war against anyone who does not agree with them and, more significantly, submit to them.

(Aside ... as I write this, with Keith Olbermann in the background ... or rather the suspiciously pretty young woman who replaces him when he is taking the week off ... my sweet dog curls up beside me and sighs. He is happy that we are on the bed ... he does not like it when I play on the desktop computer, and he likes it when I spend an evening mired in the laptop. Dogs are so conservative.)

Disclaimer: I could not possibly waste six complete hours to watch the entire Gods' Warriors series. As I write and read and clean my aquariums and mosey about my business, I have various news programs and baseball games on the boob tubery. I catch what I catch. BTW, I also know that I misplaced the apostophe ... when will our holy friends admit that they are talking about multiple non-existent deities.

So a couple of vignettes ... at one point they had a Larry King talkfest and the admirable Amanpour asserted that religion, and specifically Islam, is about peace. Oh dear, who first invented that piffle. Religion is always about covering all the bases. From society to society, or from era to era, the bases may vary. So the "great" or world religions have to contain all the potential contradictions. Even Buddhism has room for warriors, and Islam was created by a man who led troops into battle and who ordered the slaughter of local Jews who ridiculed him. Jesus led no troops but alternately preached death upon the non-believers and mercy for all. Religion is about bamboozling the masses into accepting their lot, and about justifying the grandeur and self-promotion of religious leaders. Certainly there are the genuine ascetic types, and the self-abnegating types, and the earnest and the sincere. But they are, frankly, sideshows. Religion is about power. Sometimes power wants peace, and it finds it in religion. Sometimes it wants war, and, sure, there it is in the holy book. But power always wants to perpetuate itself through irrefutable myth and ineluctable submission, and there again religion provides with the mutterings and prayers and processions whether with banners or incense or little metal whips.

I missed most of the program on Jewish religious warriors, but there was a fetching scene of Zionist settlers pouring noxious brown liquids on Jewish soldiers. Everone knows what the eventual settlement will be ... two nations, bound at the hip ... the only question is how to get there. And that question marches through the thickets of two sub-populations of god-crazy maniacs. I thought it was salutary for Amanpour to teach Americans that Jewish god-nuts are just as dangerous to Mid-East peace of Muslim god-nuts. Not as deadly, frankly, but just as dangerous.

In the Islam piece, we were treated to some sturdy intellectual middle-class Cairene devotees of Hassan al-Banna ... I mean the Muslim Brotherhood, breathlessly described as having left violence behind it. Hassan was assassinated in 1949 in the midst of a campaign of assassinations against political figures of whom he disapproved. The man in the documentary, vested and suited against a backdrop of books in a fine personal library, avers that there is no question of Shariah being imposed until, and I paraphrase, "everyone has a home and proper transportation." Then, he gurgles, a thief will have his hand cut off and an adulterer will be stoned. Egawd, how little it takes for radical Islam to get to its fantasies of murder and mutilation. Here was this elegant middle class man, coiffed and Western-dressed, promising that once everyone has a car, then the stonings will begin. Cold.

And, of course, any sane rationalist would never believe his protestations that the time is not right for Shariah, nor would they believe his protestations that the Muslim Brotherhood in power would respect the democratic right to throw them out. Amanpour was mildly skeptical, but the evidence was plain of how bloothirsty religion in power would be in Egypt.

So tonight was Christian night, and the chilling part was the naked brainwashing of the battlecry teen mania cult. The impressario of this, one Ron Luce, is the latest in a millennia long tradition of self-aggrandizing charlatans using the desperate for their personal benefit. Amanpour focused at one point on a young woman wandering under the stadium where battlecry was staged ... she was singing to herself. She cried on camera about how real god was to her ... "real", my dear, is that which can be demonstrated, not that which must be experienced innardly but cannot be shown outwardly. Amanpour obviously saw this as emotional rather than rational. Still chilling.

More chilling though was the fascist style taunting by the brainwashed at their demonstration in front of San Francisco City Hall. Gay people need to remember that this was the locus of the murder of Harvey Milk, the spontaneous protest against that murder, and later the White Night riots when the murderer got a slap on the wrist. That these fascists would reclaim that space from us is a signal of the bloodbath that their cynical leaders contemplate. They complained about how we label them "bigots" ... hey folks, own your bigotry ... we know that you know that we know what you want to do to us. You've done it before, you're still doing it in Iran and in Wyoming and in Moscow. We're wise to you, and so is Amanpour.

It is no surprise that I distrust all religion. The earnest religious are not harmless because they are used by the cynical. And it is the cynical and the desperate who formed the subjects of Amanpour's documentaries. She did an excellent job of returning that aspect of religious revivalism to the conversation about the worldwide religious revanchism that is choking the planet.


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