First Thursday September 2nd summary
The history of Afghanistan explains a good deal of what has recently happened there: for example John Pilger’s article: https://newcoldwar.org/john-pilger-afghanistan-the-great-game-of-smashing-countries/ However his view received a rebuff in another article: https://medium.com/@pitt_bob/john-pilgers-fantasy-history-of-afghanistan-7a53d3c776d3 There is a need to understand histories, but which of us can give the time to the necessary research, especially with such contradictory interpretations? Because of this the Church tends always to concentrate on human rights and charity, rather than the structural and politics questions history creates. This can allow governments to get on with what they wish to do, without being questioned or held accountable.
The Transfiguration story from Mark 9 reminds us of the importance of history (Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus), but also that it must be brought into the present: now “listen to him” (verse 7). The story of Jesus is the opposite of “victory” through military power- but eventually under later Roman Emperors (from Constantine onwards) the Church accepted a “state religion” role (which involved, among other things, compromised with military power, and “just war” theories). The concept of a state religion was found in the Persian (Sassanid Parthian) Empire, Rome’s main rivals- although Armenia was the first country to adopt “state Christianity” (because it was a buffer state sandwiched between Persia and Rome?).
On Saturday morning September 11th we held a Zoom meeting to mark the twentieth anniversary of the attack on the New York World Trade Centre in 2001, with members of Bedford Council of Faiths.
We shared a variety of memories of the day itself. It clearly brought to an abrupt end a decade (since the collapse of the Soviet Union) when the “West” thought it had “won” the battle for global pre-eminence, and could impose its will on the rest of the world, for example through the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (which Christian Aid and other agencies were attempting to challenge).
At one multi-cultural nursery centre in London many of the children arrived the following morning having received celebratory presents and playing out knocking down towers of bricks with toy aeroplanes. In many ways the Twin Towers had become a world-wide symbol of Western power which was being challenged.
[Some years earlier a Muslim speaker at BELIEF Bedford had pointed out that the medieval Crusades had had little impact on the Islamic world of the time, and had been dealt with effectively by Saladin, but the modern “Crusade” that was Western colonialism had been much more destructive. Recent TV documentaries on Osama bin Laden have described his reaction to the 1967 Israeli victory and occupation of the rest of Palestine; then the 1990 Saudi government’s “betrayal” when they invited US forces to “deal with” Iraq- these led him to see the USA as the enemy of Islam, and all US citizens as participants and “combatants” in that conflict, a conclusion strongly disputed by many other Muslims].
In the reaction of the “West” to 9.11 all Muslims were often stereotyped as potential threats and “terrorists”. One Muslim living in the USA (a member of the US military) experienced Islamophobia for the first time- and that had continued up to the present. A child said at school that he lived in a “terrorist” house, with subsequent forceful visits to his family from security forces, who then realised that he had meant a “terraced” house. Governments had told their publics many “half-truths” and also “untruths” to justify their responses to 9.11, the invasion of Afghanistan (and later of Iraq).
Islam in Saudi Arabia owes a great deal to the teachings of Muhammad al-Wahhab, an 18th century preacher who strongly influenced the Saudi family, who later went on to conquer most of the Arabian peninsula. The stress on returning to the teachings of Mohammed’s original “followers” (the “Salafist” movement) is also found in the work of al-Mawdudi and the Deobandi school (which began as resistance to British rule in India). This contrasts with other interpretations of Islam which stress peace and love, and with organisations such as Subud: https://www.subudbritain.org/about-subud/ One story told was of a Muslim boy who, when asked why he had been good to a Christian boy, replied “He’s my brother!”
Many of us think that we are too few in number to have any hope of influencing the direction of history or the attitudes of society. But it is a mistake to think that small groups cannot effect change- in fact they are only the things that ever do.