From the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
When in comes to condoning violence it’s a case of the christian kettle and the muslim pot
Those Muslims who plant car bombs and turn their bodies into human bombs and take the lives of innocent people are not simply proselytising. Of course they believe that Allah will be pleased and rewarding but their action is not simply a religious gesture; it is intended as a political act aimed at a political end - though, of course, Allah‘s approval of their action makes it a sound investment in their perceived ‘hereafter’.
Recently the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who is apparently second in command, so to speak, of the Anglican Church speculated on the morality of Muslims who do this sort of thing. In fact he asked what conception these people had of their God. It is an excellent question and it implies that the Archbishop wonders how any rational individual could conceive of a good God who would endorse the slaughter of innocent people. That is precisely the sort of question that atheists frequently pose when told that the central purpose in life is to please an omnipotent being, thing or force with the power but not the will to frustrate the events that cause so much grief and pain to us mere human beings.
But the Archbishop’s interest in the Muslim killer’s perception of God would seem to imply a certain moral selectivity on his part; indeed, given the facts, it would seem that what troubles him about suicide bombers, for example, is not the consequences of their action but the means they employ in the performance of their evil deeds.
The United States, Britain and the other major nations of world capitalism spend some 900 billion dollars annually on maintaining armed forces whose purpose is the defence or expansion of the interests of their national capitalist class. Much of this fantastic wealth is devoted to the maintenance and development of aircraft and missiles destined to attack cities and, as we know from experience, kill vast numbers of completely innocent people. The grim total of those innocents murdered by terrorists who plant bombs or use their persons to deliver death over the last century is a very tiny fraction of the innocents murdered by massive sophisticated aerial devices, and it is a fair assumption that many if not most of the flying state killers profess one or other of the Christian faiths.
The Archbishop of York is simply articulating the selective attitude of the churches to the killing business. In fact by confining his speculation to the terrorist’s conception of God he is effectively restricting his condemnation of the killing of innocent people to suicide bombers, car bombers or those who plant bombs as opposed to those who drop massive bombs.
This is not meant to imply that the numbers slaughtered determines the measure of guilt. Numbers do not influence the principle and both legal and illegal military operations don’t confine their anti-human activates within certain ‘morally’ defined limits. Of course, church leaders, like military leaders, deplore war and killing but they make it acceptable by claiming it as an inevitable consequence of what they call the weakness of our ‘human nature’ - which, peculiarly, the ‘human nature’ of socialists seems to lack.
It would be a fairly safe bet that Dr Sentamu’s academic distinction is theology especially Christian theology - effectively, interpreting ancient religious texts to suit the mores of an intellectually superior society. He must at least have read the Bible but surprisingly, while wondering at the barbaric licence a Muslim killer finds in the Koran, he fails to acknowledge the appalling savagery endorsed in the Old Testament by his own God.
Does he, for example, accept that people who break the Sabbath or who are disobedient to their parents or commit adultery should be stoned to death or that the ‘chosen people’ of the Lord should slaughter their enemies? Does he accept the modern Christian view that the slaughter of anonymous innocents can legitimately constitute a ‘just war’ or that the state can set aside the Fifth Commandment?
Socialists can empathise with the Archbishop’s puzzlement at a Muslim killer’s perception of Allah and the fact that he is confused by it manifests what is good in the human condition. Doubtless that goodness would be outraged by the brutal endorsements of the God he believes in but that is part of the complexity of religious belief – no stranger, indeed, than the incantations and prayers of humans supposedly wicked in their nature imploring the compassion of an all-merciful god.
The Archbishop, to his credit, raised a more profane issue when he roundly condemned the current Labour government for its encroaching infringement of civil liberties. As an native of Uganda he probably experienced the dictatorship of Idi Amin and like anyone who values the limited liberties of political democracy he expressed his grave concerns at the growing authoritarianism of the Blair government. Indeed, when you think about it, it might lead you to wonder how the publicly religious Tony Blair conceives of his God.