By Sam Husseini
Many from across the political spectrum seemed surprised when Pat Robertson recently endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president, but this was only the most recent manifestation one of the worst aspects of the relationship between Christianity and the state. As Blase Bonpane, whose books include "Liberation Theology and the Central American Revolution" has written:
“Back in the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea on the Turkish coast … imperial theology was born. The sword and the cross came together in building empires, in the Crusades, the Inquisition, the conquistadors and most recently among the ‘Christian’ war mongers who are cheerleaders for the war in Iraq.”
Bill Berkowitz has noted the most pertinent statements from Giuliani and Robertson:
"We had a lot of time coming back from Israel to talk about our understanding of how important Israel is to the United States, how important they are in this whole vast effort that we’re involved in this terrorist war against us," Giuliani recently told Radio Iowa. "We realized that we agreed on far many more things than we disagreed on."
For Robertson, Election 2008 is not about the bread and butter social issues that have fueled the conservative Christian movement for more than two decades. Rather, it is about the "defense of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists," Robertson told the National Press Club audience. "Our world faces deadly peril…and we need a leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead."
All this is notable, but it only touches on some of the deeper reasons why you see an alliance between the likes of Robertson and Giuliani and what that says about the nature of how religion is used in the political sphere today and for centuries — going back to the oldest books of the Bible.
While the Bible has been misused and many great things in it are too seldom noted (a recent exception is Cindy Sheehan’s "Faith and War ") there are sinister aspects of it that are even more rarely scrutinized. Chief among these is the biblical mandate to exterminate and ethnically cleanse. While many are unaware, or at least unconscious of such biblical teachings, it’s doubtful that Giuliani, and especially Robertson, are. Consider Deuteronomy 7:1-6:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. … This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones … and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
This facilitated not only conquests by the ancient Israelites, but also European colonialism of the last half millennium. Rev. Michael Prior, who died a few years ago, wrote in an essay titled "The Right to Expel: The Bible and Ethnic Cleansing" for the book " Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return":
Many Puritan preachers referred to the Native Americans as Amalekites and Canannites, who, if they refused to be converted, were worthy of annihilation. Thus Cotton Mather, [now mostly remembered for his connection to the Salem Witch Trials] author of Magnalia Christi Americana, [which is still excerpted in the Norton Anthology] delivered a sermon in Boston in September 1689, charging the members of the armed forces in New England to consider themselves to be Israel in the wilderness, confronted by Amalek: pure Israel was obliged to ‘cast out [the Indians] as dirt in the streets’ and eliminate and exterminate them.
The Catholic dioceses of the U.S. continues to draw a celebratory parallel between the Israelite and European conquests. The Preface of the Catholic Eucharistic Prayer for the liturgical celebration of Thanksgiving Day states:
Once you chose a people and gave them a destiny and, when you brought them out of bondage to freedom, they carried with them the promise that all men would be blessed and all men could be free. … It happened to our fathers, who came to this land as if out of the desert into a place of promise and hope. …
This was used by an Archbishop to welcome the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in 2005, saying "The Preface compares God’s chosen people with Americans — and some people think this is an exaggeration, but I don’t."
Prior writes that the Israelite ethnic cleansing was the origin of the term and distinct:
"Indeed, the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ itself, I suggest, is related to a conflation of the biblical notions of ‘unclean’/profane’ with the command to ‘drive out’ the inhabitants of Canaan (Exodus 23-24; Numbers 33; Deuteronomy 33 and Joshua), because, according to the biblical legend, they had defiled themselves by their evil practices (Leviticus 18:24). Uniquely in ancient literature, the biblical legend projects the extermination of the defiled indigenes as a divine mandate. With the authority of its religious provenance that value system has been incorporated into European imperialist ideologies, ‘legitimizing’ the destruction or displacement of indigenous peoples."
The biblical text calling for extermination and ethnic cleansing in historic Palestine and by European colonialists to justify genocide in the "New World" have now come full circle. Since before its creation, Israel has been engaged in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians with the support of the U.S. government — see "Israel’s Approved Ethnic Cleansing" by Edward Herman for example. There is much other than the use of biblical text to connect Palestinians with Native Americans, see Ramzy Baroud’s "Palestinians and Native Americans: The Inherent Struggle for Freedom and Justice."
While in 1948, about 750,000 Palestinian were driven from their homeland — my father among them — that process is continuing today, in slow motion. As the Israeli activist Uri Avnery writes: "But there are other ways to implement ethnic cleansing: not dramatically, but slowly, daily, even routinely. Like, for example, what’s happening now in Bethlehem."
The continued drawing out of the "peace process" as Israel continues to expand colonial settlements, expropriate water, economically suffocate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and bomb their neighborhood while the U.S. government delays and then organizes hollow talks such as those coming in Annapolis, gives Israel time to continue the slow motion ethnic cleansing process — and possibly wait for an "opportunity" for another mass expulsion. Obviously, Palestinian violence against civilians is immoral and gives propaganda pretext to massive Israeli violence.
Many today look aghast at the crimes perpetrated against the Native Americans, but seem reluctant to confront Israel’s crimes at their height. Others focus on what Israel is doing today as if this were unique in history, ignoring the legacy of European and U.S. settler colonialism.
The U.S. and Israel are the most militarized of the nations born of overwhelming ethnic cleansing in the last several centuries. They are settler colonial enterprises. This doesn’t mean they have no good aspects, it’s just a fact — a fact that begins to explain some of their worst behavior and the religious basis for it that should be confronted.
-Many of Sam Husseini’s writings are at husseini.org