September 10, 2010

Fanaticism, the Eternal Enemy of Civilization

From "The Mind of Jihad", by Laurent Murawiec, page 108:
"In the history of Islam, one myth has powerfully anchored millenarian phantasies of all kinds virtually from the beginnings of the religion: that of the Mahdi."

Fanaticism, regardless of what drives it, is the eternal enemy of civilization. Hitler, Tojo, Mao, Stalin, these are the nightmares of our most recent past and all of them drew their power from the fires of fanatic devotion to some imagined ideal that could not be realized in the everyday world of work, children, family, and friends. These men, like countless others before them and thousands around us in today's world, could not be bothered to think, reason, feel, or forgive. Their passion drove them to what in their minds were godlike powers and achievements but for the rest of us these same goals created a living hell on Earth. They believed themselves so far above the rest of us that by comparison we were insects and they were gods.

This problem is not new. Consider Gudea of Lagash. Gudea rose to prominence sometime after an external group known only as the "Gutians" swept through the various city-states of Sumer and Akkad leaving destruction and terror in their wake. Gudea drove them from his hometown of Lagash, re-established trade with territories still free of Gutian control, and rebuilt the critical temple to Ningishzida, the patron diety of the city. He led his people on the basis of honor, devotion to the gods, and piety.

So powerful was the memory of his short reign over Lagash that his statues remained objects of worship and devotion until the Muslim onslaught of the Southern Mesopotamian plain in the 7th Century A.D. And what did the Muslim raiders do when they discovered dozens of diorite statues dedicated to this simple, pious leader who led his people from slavery to freedom? They chopped off the heads and buried them in a separate location from the bodies of the statues.

Christianity is not free from such history, naturally. Salem will forever burn in the memory of Americans as one place that symbolizes the excesses that Christianity can produce. But the Crusaders did not destroy mosques, palaces, and merchant houses when they swept through the Levant. They did pillage them, and sent many items back to their hometowns as trophies of war, but they did not desecrate the Muslim holy sites, they did not forbid the Muslims from meeting in their mosques and praying, nor did they prohibit Muslims living in the Levant from trading with other people. This tolerance of non-military Muslim residents proved to be their undoing, however, as many of these people who they lived side-by-side with provided both intelligence and support to the spies and troops of Saladin during the Third Crusade.

Greed drove the Akkadians to conquer the Southern Mesopotamian city-states in 2350 B.C. Fanaticism drove the Gutians to sweep through both Sumer and Akkad in 2150 B.C., leaving only misery in their wake. Piety drove Gudea to rebel against the Gutians and rebuild the temple to his city's patron god. Then fanaticism once again buried Lagash beneath the sands of Southern Iraq in about 650 A.D. where it lay hidden until it was first uncovered in 1887 A.D. and only finally identified in 1953 A.D.

Simple, everyday fanaticism ranges from the Qu'ran burning Rev. Terry Jones to the Victory Mosque building Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. This kind of personal fanaticism in turn provides propoganda fuel for the terrorism of Al Qaeda and the militancy of the Taliban. The sad truth of fanaticism is that it has been part and parcel of human existence from the very dawn of recorded history and will no doubt remain with us until we finally destroy ourselves completely.

Unless, of course, God himself uses an act of nature to destroy us first.