Christian and Muslim Extremists: Power-Mad Brothers Under the Skin

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

With national elections approaching in Egypt, Islamists are increasing their public presence through mass demonstrations and media action. Some seems to be trundling out this gem from 2009 — favorably featured by a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated site — that (according to The Arabist) raises the alarms about what secularism will do to Egypt:

  • In 2013, the Egyptian parliament outlaws polygamy.
  • In 2014, women’s rights organizations celebrate a new law that gives women equal inheritance rights.
  • In 2015, women are prohibited from wearing the hijab in public buildings.
  • In 2017, the first movie theater “specializing in porno films” opens.
  • The Ministry of Higher Education decides all students will learn “Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Baha’ism on an equal footing.”
  • In 2019, there is the first gay marriage in Egypt.
  • In 2020, all religious references are removed from official documents and government buildings.
  • In 2022, the call to prayer is prohibited.
  • In 2024, Egypt and Israel sign a joint defense agreement, and an Egyptian soldiers raises an Israeli flag over Gaza.

In the end, “street fighting breaks out between the religious and secularists,” and the streets fill with sexual predators, aggressive women and drunks. The chaos of godlesness ensues.

As disconcerting as this reactionary ad is, don’t a lot of the bugaboos sound familiar to, well, the fears expressed by the 2012 Republican presidential field? Same page, different book, really. As Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer writes:

The movement’s increasingly religious economic conservatism is cast in gender terms, as a quest for the restoration of masculine dignity, a revival of breadwinning in an era of genuinely humiliating economic conditions. What do social conservatives want in 2012? Same thing they’ve always wanted. “One man, one woman,” and a passel of kids. A family, narrowly defined, daddy in charge, with maybe some gentle wisecracks about how the wife is really in control.

“Daddy” would be in charge, from the household to the halls of government. Gay rights, feminism, pornography, secular education, the separation of church and state — all pernicious, character-destroying concessions to faux-humanitarians (aka liberals). According to Christian Dominionism, “salvation by [secular] law is the rankest form of humanistic paganism.” Government is a “mission field” to be dominated by true believers. Granted, this sounds like fundamentalism, but this is a bit of a misnomer. This isn’t just fundamentalism, this is “dominionism.” It is domination of state and society by a particular set of religious codes, a domain modeled after an ideal kingdom in heaven. It’s no coincidence that Regent University (motto: “Christian leadership to change the world”), a bastion of far-right Christian education, is called “regent.” The word refers to those whole will rule:

Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less.

[Snip]

Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God’s Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations.

The above could be applied to any far-right political-religious movement, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. About the only difference between the Islamist far-right and the Christian (and Jewish) far-right is the tone. Such movements, whether branding themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jewish, are all essentially the same: alarmist, anachronistic and most, of all, power-hungry. As Bertrand Russell put it:

Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylum: one man will think that he is the Governor of the Bank of England, another will think he is the King, and yet another will think he is God.

Still, the U.S. (and Israel) would never reconcile themselves to mainstreaming such thinking at home, right?

Well, you have this. And this. These are not isolated incidents, but indicators of a growing rightward shift. And there was a time when Islamists (including Egyptian Islamists) were here counted among the moral equivalents of the U.S. Founding Fathers.

Theocratic views, as opposed to somewhat more benign evangelical and fundamentalist rhetoric, are becoming more mainstream among all the Abrahamic faiths in the 21st century. Such views been the norm in Iran (and to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia) for decades now, but Iran isn’t so singularly different from other nations where the authorities use religious and ethnocentric rhetoric to justify power plays. Look at Netanhayu and Likud’s governing arrangement with Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu. Or the way American conservatives have turned Evangelicalism into policy through the seemingly unassailable Defense of Marriage Act and repeated fits of “pro-life” foreign aid. Muslim-baiting in Western countries is a lucrative business (not unlike Copt-baiting in Egypt, or Baha’i-bashing in Iran). So whether the leadership and rank-and-file seriously believe their own press, there’s no denying that it’s good for votes and good for business (and are not commercial and electoral success a sign of divine favor in all of the Abrahamic faiths?).

For deeply religious government types, like former Secretary of States John Foster Dulles, “success” in policymaking (and moneymaking) was religious. The practice of power is part of God’s plan (the Abrahamic faiths are all pretty good at ignoring what Jesus had to say on the matter). No contradictions to worry about! Defend your hold on power (and your profit margins), and you defend your God! The business of fundamentalism is booming all over the world (especially if you’re in defense, energy, construction, or finance). And since private enterprise (/corporatism) can function in a theocracy, the capitalists can honestly say that “we are not selling them the rope with which they will hang us.”

And there has been a long history of collusion (though sometimes strained) between the religious right and military-industrial interests in Egypt, Israel and the U.S. (of course, in Iran, this strained collusion is already the norm). Until it became a challenge to his domestic authority, Anwar Sadat grudgingly tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign policy tool and played up Islamist rhetoric (in place of “Arab nationalism”) against Israel. The IDF, when not evicting settlers, is either bulldozing Palestinian homes for them, heavily subsidizing their lifestyles, or actively arming them to beat back demonstrators.

U.S. officials, as noted above, have not always been so picky about which religious rightists they do business with. Many of the loudest and most well-placed voices in the American right easily move between socially conservative, national security circles in the U.S and Israel. “Homeland Security” is for God and country! Brilliant!

Oh, if only they were all members of the same religion! They’re already members of the same faith after all! Such wonderful theocracy they could make together!

“Moshiach” Qutb feat Santorum. The hit single for 2012. David Yerushalmi does a cover version.

Oddly enough, the supposed porno theater looks like one of my psychology lecture halls from college.

We never got to watch anything good in that class.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.