Tuesday, August 3, 2010

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Review: 'Making War in the Name of God', Christopher Catherwood

A very good book - but with a few major flaws.

by Ferdinand III

This is a good book but flawed. Catherwood is a Scots-Welsh Anglican Protestant, educated at Oxford and Cambridge and married to an American professor. He is highly literate, fair, not a PC-Marxist and detailed. His main interest however, and one which takes up too much space in the book, is the Balkans. Catherwood has published a few works on the Balkan's and the interminable religious and economic conflicts which will, thanks to Islam, never abate. He has expanded this analysis into a new book which purports to cover the main 'religions', Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which have warred in the name of their vision of 'God'.

First the flaws, then the strengths of this work.

The most obvious weakness of the book, erudite though it is, is the scope. Warring in the name of 'God' dates back millenia. Sargon the Great circa 2500 BC warred in the name of the thunder God, known in the ancient world as Baal. The Hittites in 1500 BC built a large empire in part to appease the mountain God, loosely associated with Baal. Egyptians waged wars in the name of their various Gods, including Isis and Osiris. The Jews, Persians, Medes, Greeks, and Asiatic tribes all worshipped some variant of the sky, sun or celestial cult, and all engaged in conflict to spread their one 'true faith' to unbelievers and 'barbarians'. Chinghis Khan's 'Sky God' had guaranteed for the Mongol hordes, victories and world domination.  Catherwood does not mention these wars in the name of a 'God', preferring to focus only on Christianity and Islam.

Another weakness is the definition of religion. All cults express themselves through Gods. But not all cults are religions. As a religious Protestant who sometimes attends a Baptist church in Virginia, I would expect to read a definition of what is a religion from Catherwood. Are the Assyrian celestial cults, Buddhism and Druidic ritualization all the same? Are they all 'religions'? Or is monotheism the only form of religion, and if so, why is Islam included as a monotheism when Allah is Al-Allah or the male moon deity of Mecca?

Catherwood, who has written extensively about Islamic inspired conflicts, and who writes plainly that Jihad is Islam, makes the common error of ascribing his own religiosity to a pagan moon cult from Arabia. Islam is no more a religion than any other variant of Orientalism, which elevates the worship of celestial objects, ritualization, and community expansion and power, over the individual, rationality, freedom, free-speech and innovation. Islam is no more akin to Christianity, than Baal the thunder God of Western Turkey is akin to the Jewish ideal of a deity. This is a major weakness in Catherwood's analysis of why people war in the name of 'God'. If you don't understand the antecedents, the liturgy and the purpose of the cult, you can't categorize it properly, nor analyze it effectively.

Just to emphasize this point consider the following incorrect statements found in the book:

Christians retaking Jerusalem:

“As is now widely known and war recorded in one medieval chronicle, the Crusaders notoriously waded ankle deep in blood when they took the city [in 1099]. Everyone was massacred.” [. 33]

Catherwood is lukewarm towards the Crusades. This sentence gives a lot away. It is the usual nostrum and it is a calumny. Less than 10.000 citizens died in Jerusalem, which for the era means that the large city of some 100.000 underwent a 'moderate' sack. The Muslims can be accused of much worse. No one was impaled or shipped into slavery when the Crusaders re-took the city, after a long, exhausting, bloody and almost impossible journey down the coast of the Levant, including the near disaster-turned astonishing victory at Antioch some 4 months earlier. In the Middle Ages, any city which did not surrender to the besiegers was subjected to 3 days of pillage. So it was with Jerusalem.

Catherwood also wrongly criticizes the 4th Crusade which in 1204, 'sacked' Constantinople killing some 3.000 citizens. This was for 100 years of Greek perfidy and subversion of the Crusades, including open alliances with the Turks, and leading the second crusade some 60 odd years earlier into a slaughter of an ambush. It is called 'payback'. Arrogance melded with dishonesty has consequences.

Equating Islam with French Protestants:

“Like the Huguenots before them, the current Muslim population in France does not hesitate to fight back and to stand up for its rights, with all kinds of implications.” [p. 104]

This is particularly obnoxious. Islam has nothing in common with any strands of Christianity. From 1570 until 1590 some 10.000 French Protestants or Huguenots were slaughtered by French Catholics. This civil war was part of the 'wars of religion' which effectively ended in 1632 with the death of Gustavus Adolphus the Swedish Lutheran general. Today, Islam is in open rebellion against the French state. There are some 270 zones in which non-Muslims cannot enter. Muslim Imams nosily advocate that Sharia Law be accepted as the equal of French civil law. And no Muslims have been butchered and certainly 10.000 have not perished in the Muslims quite incessant fighting with French authorities.


“...there is no compunction in Islam...” [p. 134]

When I read this, I know that the author has never read the Koran. There is lots of compulsion in the racist-supremacist book of Islamic liturgy. [see here] This line from the Koran comes from Sura 2 and the full context of the statement is this:

“As I wrote in reviewing Sura 2, verse 256 is always held up to be the example of Islamic tolerance and love. This is however, entirely misleading. 2:256 says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” It is directly followed by 2:257 which makes it clear what 2:256 is really saying, “Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the Evil Ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be Companions of the fire, to dwell therein (forever).”

It is obvious that 2:256 is referring to the fact that in Koranic theology the compulsion of slaves or Dhimmis is unnecessary, since the moon deity, Ali-ilah is going to send them to hell anyways. This is confirmed elsewhere in the same Sura where we have a dozen or more calls to Jihad...”

Again the mistake made by the well-educated Catherwood is that Islam is the same as Christianity. This is de-formed thinking.

Lastly another flaw in this book is his view on the wars in the Middle East. They are of course mandatory. The West, cannot allow Islam to squat, unmolested in this critical region of the world. You need bases in Iraq, the Gulf States and in Afghanistan. A similar set of initiatives will also be necessary for Central and East Africa. Somalia will need to be re-entered, as will the Sudan, both of which were left unattended by \Western forces, when the British exited their empire. Now they are cesspools of Muslim fundamentalism, which is to say, Islam. Catherwood's book was published in 2007. He is against the Iraq War, calling it a mistake and a lost cause. Events of course have proved him utterly wrong. So if he was wrong about Iraq, what does that say for his appreciation of Islam, Jihad, and geo-political reality? When American troops started to take dance lessons to pass the time in 2008, you knew that victory had been achieved, something that the media still will not admit some 2.5 years after the enterprise was successfully completed.

At the risk of being too negative there are many aspects of the book which are extremely useful and interesting. Catherwood knows his history well and relates for example the key battle of Talas near China in 751 AD, in which the Arabs roundly defeated a larger Chinese army from the Tang empire. This allowed the Muslims to erupt into Central Asia, converting [Catherwood says peacefully, but this is apocryphal]; through war and bribes Turkish tribes. These Turkish clans would someday become the Seljuk and Ottoman empires and would control Anatolia or 'Turkey' and eventually eradicate sick, tired and superstitious Byzantium.

There is lots which is good about this book and it should be read. I highlighted the weaknesses because you have to put the biases of the author in context as you read his work. Catherwood openly admits his prejudices. The book would have been even better if the demerits thus identified had been remedied before publication.