Recently, Pope Benedict’s clumsy handling of Islam, in which he implied it was “evil and inhuman,” has overshadowed the interesting propositions he put forth: Namely, that a faith of the soul cannot be beaten into people through the body. Instead of branding Islam guilty as charged, we should have the courage to hold a mirror to ourselves, for Pope Benedict’s logic also indicts the American invasion in Iraq.
The pope argues that reason and God can never contradict each other, but rather flow in harmony. In his argument, Pope Benedict builds an opposition to Islam, which according to him, postulates a transcendent God, who can counter even his own nature. In the pope’s words, Islam holds that God’s “will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.” Similarly, when the United States invades Iraq, it tries to impose by force and violence the principle of peace and understanding. In this invasion, the United States is not bound up with its own ideals of democracy — and the only dialogue allowed is one of gunfire, on the most unequal terms possible.
Not only do the means obliterate the message — and hundreds of thousands of people in the process — but exercising violent means upon others offends democracy in the United States itself. This is made clear by the lack of justification for war, and the reelection of an obviously disingenuous regime. Meanwhile, with the increased risk of terrorism and exacerbation of the insurgency, it seems that only Halliburton will stand to gain from the conquest. It should therefore not be controversial to suggest that we should take the Bush administration’s ability to manipulate the public, a symptom of the failure of the democratic spirit in America. People should be concerned with ensuring that such brash manufacturing of consent is never possible again — otherwise how can people ever have faith in their country?
Some might argue that the U.S. invasion of Iraq cannot be compared to the spreading of a religious faith. On the contrary, nations are not objective entities inscribed in the annals of history. They are very much a question of faith. When people are prepared to die for their country, is this really so different from dying for one’s god? Can secularism not be said to have subjugated religious faith beneath a faith in one’s country?
In the case of the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration cultivated the idea that the local population would morally rejoice in an imported freedom — a very dubious freedom, at best. The Bush administration therefore equated the conquering of Iraq with the liberation of its people. The implicit belief is that people are naturally yearning to embrace liberal democracy. And maybe they were. The tragedy is that although the people of Iraq might have felt oppressed and exploited by Saddam Hussein, their “liberation” through bombs and bullets has likely delivered many away from yearning for U.S.-style democracy into rejecting it. Few are those who do not curse God when faced with His wrath, as Job.
It is now hardly controversial that the Bush administration built support for the invasion by alleging a nonexistent link between Hussein and the terrorists responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers. Yet while Hussein was in power there was little reason or way for al Qaida to bury its twisted roots into Iraqi soil and Iraqi blood. Now it feeds off this red earth.
The war itself poisoned the idea of secular democracy — after the bombs start to rain from the heavens, secular authoritarianism finds itself obviously helpless to explain the pain. Just as in the United States the case for war was made without any reference to oil, the commonsensical speculation that “the Americans want our oil” falls on deaf ears. More convincingly, people turn to the worst of ideas, if only to preserve some semblance of meaning in the face of the obvious banality of war. Just like the war wagers, those who suffer will never believe it is in vain.
The doctrines of Osama bin Laden fill the void opened by the horror — his previously ridiculous screeching that America is the land of evil and aggression suddenly finds new credence in the eyes of a suffering people. In this way, a people previously friendly to democracy begin to see it as an invading farce. They turn to empty notions of a “clash of civilizations” — exactly what Bush would have the American people believe.
Whatever clash has been produced, it owes its horrible consequences to gullible people and insensible ideologues. For the good of people everywhere, Americans must take measures to reduce the power of the state and restore it to the people. For the path of invasions and torture, of tighter security both abroad and domestic, of the dismissal of the Geneva Conventions and the erosion of civil liberties — that path will not bring the United States one inch further in winning the “war on terror.” The measures in fighting terrorism have themselves backfired, as many people knew they would beforehand. The only way to win this war is to stop fighting it.
Jordan Trevino is a senior in Trumbull College.