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28 March 2019

The Middle East does not need more religious fundamentalists

By: Daoud Kuttab
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I learned at a young age, growing up in Jerusalem, to be very suspicious of people who claim to have a direct line of communication with God Almighty. I have heard so many times, often from people with a particular political point of view, of people trying to compare some current event with some biblical story. This or that political figure is the anti-Christ, or this or that current event is a fulfilment of a prophecy. Biblical words are often taken out of context in order to justify a particular point of view. One story that I remember vividly growing up was of a Christian missionary in Jerusalem who approached a particular woman and told her that God has told him that she is the one he should marry. The startled woman responded as quickly by asking this supposed man of God whether the Almighty had given him any direction as to what she is to do with her current husband.

I recall this as we seem to have entered yet another one of those twilight zones, in which a person is crediting a particular event or a particular official with some divine message. In answering a journalistic question in Jerusalem this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Christian Broadcasting Network that President Donald Trump might have been sent by God to save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace.

Is it possible that God send a leader with questionable morals to save the Jews? Which Jews was Pompeo referring to as suffering?

Pompeo, a Christian fundamentalist, belongs to a group that are often referred to as Christian Zionists. This is a largely white, American, evangelical-based group that believes in a specific theological interpretation that focuses on the claim that the state of Israel is a fulfilment of a biblical prophecy.

Even as Secretary Pompeo made his ill-advised religious remarks, pro-US forces were about to destroy the last physical presence of another group of religious fundamentalists, which also believes that it has a monopoly on truth and wants to create its own version of a religious state.

While the analogy that Pompeo offered, which is connected to Queen Esther who used her proximity to the ruler to help save her people, has a biblical basis, it is a far-fetched comparison. Ironically, many people in Iran were very upset with Pompeo’s statement. Jews from across Iran pray at a shrine in Hamadan, in north-western Iran, dedicated to Queen Esther. Not only was Esther a Jewish queen, but, as the wife of King Ahasuerus, she also continues to be revered as a Persian queen and, thus, an icon of Iranian national history.

Christian Zionists in the Trump administration have done more to hurt their own credibility and expose their political naiveté in contrast to America’s record of supporting the oppressed, defending the right of self-determination, promoting democracy and respecting human rights.

In the Middle East context, the idea of opposing Iran on the basis of its human rights record while supporting Saudi Arabia speaks volumes about the hypocrisy that the present resident of the White House, his Christian fundamentalist vice president and his secretary of state have.

Secretary Pompeo’s statement was made at a time when the Israeli authorities have been trying to bar Muslim worshippers from access to a location within their own mosque. The unexplained and unjustified ban is seen by many as acquiescence to fanatical Jewish groups which have been eyeing the very same location within Islam’s third-holiest mosque to turn it into a Jewish synagogue on what Jews consider the Temple Mount.

His Majesty King Abdullah, as well as Jordanian and Palestinian officials, has called the latest Israeli decision regarding the mosque “playing with fire”. Secretary Pompeo is also playing with fire by inserting a religious element to an already troublesome part of the Middle East. Using religious examples and favouring one religious group over the other is a scary recipe that could possibly lead to a religious war that no one in the region wants.

Israelis, Palestinians as well as Syrians and Iranians have enough trouble with their own Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists to have a religious Christian fundamentalist element be inserted into the mix.

The cradle of three Abrahamic faiths in the Middle East is the last place that one should espouse a single religious bias. Religion is basically based on absolutes, while politics is the art of the possible. If Pompeo is so engrossed in this absolute religious view and cannot keep his spiritual relationship to himself, he should not be a senior diplomat.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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