The three days documentary premiered by the American news giant CNN across its U.S. and international networks in the last week of August detailed the amazing impact of the rise of religious fundamentalism as a powerful political force in the three faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity worldwide. The report examined the intersection of religion, power and politics and also highlighted the rise of religion as a powerful political force globally. The report, when viewed in the Nigerian context provides some deep lessons on the relationship that exists among the faiths and the role religion has continued to play in our socio-political life.
CNN Chief International correspondent Christiane Amanpour traveled the world to report CNN Presents: God’s Warriors. The report which was in three parts titled God’s Jewish Warriors, God’s Muslim Warriors and God’s Christian Warriors, looked at the clash of civilizations and cultures, the worldwide rise in religious fundamentalism and a growing yearning for faith that transcends political, racial and social boundaries.
For this documentary, Amanpour reported that during the last 30 years, each faith has exploded into a powerful political force, comprised of followers – “God’s warriors” – who share a deep dissatisfaction with the modern society, and a fierce determination to place God and religion back into daily life and to the seats of power. Their political and cultural struggles to save the world from what they view as secular materialism, greed and sexual corruption have caused anger, division and fear.
God’s Jewish warriors draw inspiration from the Book of Ezekiel: “Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers.” For them, Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 meant the fulfillment of prophecy: They believe that when Jews return to their Biblical homeland and live according to the Torah, the Messiah can come.
Following the war that redesigned the map of the Holy Land, Jewish settlements in the captured territory have become the central uncompromising principle of right wing Jewish settlers. Amanpour tells the personal stories of those who are willing to die for their cause with Jerusalem as the disputed spiritual home of the three faiths.
God’s Jewish Warriors reports how Christian Zionists in America are raising large sums of money to support the activities of the settlers and how the pro-Israel lobby’s clout in Washington has helped religious settlers remain in the West Bank. On the other hand, God’s Muslim Warriors reports on how Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and Europe, and tension between Muslim and Western cultures is also growing. Christine Amanpour interviewed Geneive Abdo, author of Mecca and Main Street, who says that since 9/11, a majority of U.S. Muslims report feeling targeted by the government and ordinary citizens for suspicion of terrorism.
According to the report, which sited a recent poll, the first to measure American Muslim attitudes, found that although the majority found no conflict between living a devout Muslim life and being an American, young Muslims were almost twice as likely as their parents to attend mosque and identify themselves as Muslim first and Americans second. They are also more outwardly religious, more likely to wear Muslim dress and more pious than older Muslims. Perhaps most unsettling was that 26 percent felt that terrorist suicide bombings can sometimes be justified.
A respondent found some Muslims are rejecting many aspects of American society that they consider to be immoral and degrading. A respondent, Rehan Seyam is one such young Muslim who feels that her commitment to Islam, her adoption of the hijab head scarf and living in a materialistic American society is her own “jihad.”
Across the Atlantic Ocean in one of the most permissive societies in Europe, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was raised as a conservative Muslim, has become a target of a more violent form of jihad. A former member of the Dutch Parliament and now an atheist, Ali collaborated with artist Theo van Gogh on a film critical of Islam’s treatment of women. As a result, Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist, and Ali remains a target.
In London, Amanpour speaks with Ed Husain, a young Muslim who describes himself as having been radicalized as a youth to accept an extremist Islamist ideology that seeks to return peace to the world through a restoration of a governing caliphate — an ideology he now rejects. Similarly and surprisingly radicalized British Muslims are responsible for the July 7, 2005, terrorist bombings of the London Underground subway system, the recent terrorist attack on the Glasgow Airport in Scotland and the attempted car bombings in London.
In the two-hour investigation, God’s Christian Warriors, Amanpour reported on evangelicals trying to influence American politics and society from a faith-based perspective. It showed a growing class of Christian warriors who are getting dis-enchanted with the extreme secularism of the American life as demonstrated in issues such as abortion rights, homosexuality, gay marriage and pop culture. A cross section of these Americans are worried that their country has lost its moral footing and this is evident in the American public school system which they believe is faithless and morally bankrupt. Most American parents according to Amanpour’s report have now begin to home school their children to keep them away from the hostile, secular society which can hurt them.
The most shocking aspect of Amanpour’s report is the influence the late Egyptian Muslim cleric, Sayed Qutb had on the Al Qaeda terror network led by Osama Bin Laden, and his second in command Ayman Al Zhawari. Qutb Sayed had traveled to America in the 1950’s and was immediately put off by the excessive materialism and permissiveness of the American society. On his return to Egypt, he began to preach against the strange secularism and licentiousness he saw in America. He eventually wrote a book entitled ‘Milestones’ where he declared it a religious duty to kill people that belong to other faiths. He was also quoted to have written that the fight between Islam and Christianity will not end unless one annihilates the other. His writings are alleged to have sharpened the thoughts of Bin Laden and the terror network which he now runs.
The Amanpour report has received a worldwide acclaim and criticisms. Never before has a single report sought to situate the growing importance of religion as a powerful political force. Of more importance is the surging threat of fundamentalism of the three faiths which she dubbed in her report as God’s Warriors. It is important to note that extreme adherents to faiths cut across all the three faiths. Though some are more deadly than the other.
But what has made religion a powerful force in the world today? In what ways have faith and politics become inseparated? Why are the Gods Warriors and its growing adherents at war with the secular society and ready to impose their faith on the secular world? The stakes are becoming high as the imprints of these radical extremists’ and their growing influence are now being felt all over the world. From 9/11 to the Kenyan Embassy Bombing, the 2005 London bus blow up and the Taliban onslaught in Afghanistan. The world has continued to feel the heat of the Gods Warriors.
In Nigeria religion has become such a powerful force that has intertwined with politics. Ordinary Nigerians have lost count of the bloody riots instigated and unleashed by the adherents of these faiths. Our recent history is replete with gory details of one religious riot after the other.
The growing number of Places of worship in our society is also a pointer to the massive influx of adherents of these forms of religions. These Gods warriors are always quick to remind us of the superiority of their faith or their aversion of the secular nature of our society as stipulated in the constitution. The document avers that we must all live together as one without any form of imposition of one religion over the other. So one often wonders why the adherents of these religions would like to terrorize innocent Nigerians. Everywhere you turn now, you are faced with the reality of a threat to belong to a particular faith otherwise you risk not making Paradise. The threat is real, inside public transportation, on television, radio, offices and street corners with blaring mega phones.
The strange behaviors of the Gods warriors-leaders and fanatical followers have left us the ordinary folks to wonder what really is the purpose of their faith. At the Obafemi Awolowo University, a dozen or so of the students Gods Christian warriors, as reported in the Guardian Newspaper, allegedly dis-enchanted with this present world left their campus and wandered off to a remote part of Ile-Ife town to await Armageddon or Rupture.
Early this year, one of the leaders of one the Christian God Warriors in Lagos was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for setting ablaze a follower whom he accused of fornicating with a fellow male God’s warrior.
Nigerians will also not forget in history the strange faith of a certain “Jesus of Oyingbo”. This strange man once had his abode somewhere in Maryland in Ikeja Lagos. A visit to the place reveals strange inscriptions on the walls. Examples are legion.
We can also not forget in a hurry the widely reported story in April in the North when students’ Muslim Gods warriors set their female teacher on fire after beating her to pulp. She was alleged to have desecrated their Holy Book. We later learnt that the innocent teacher had tried to prevent her students from cheating. Her husband and their newly born baby are now the victim of the fury of God’s Muslim Warrior in our midst.
The strange activities of these God’s Warriors are endless. But perhaps the most daring activity of the Warriors is the attempt to bring the values, law and norms of their faiths to the realm of politics and governance. This was seen in the controversy brought about by the imposition of the Sharia in several states in North even when our constitution has affirmed the secular nature of our society. At least we now know that it was for political reasons.
Detailing the activities of these God’s warriors cannot be possible in one single piece like this one. But it will be an interesting area of research for religious researchers who wish to engage scholarship on the relationship that exist among the three faiths of Islam, Christianity, Judaism or in our case traditional religion and the growing emergence of religion as a powerful force in the world today.
Finally, the Christine Amampour reports which sought to bridge the gap of understanding between Christianity and Islam was also an attempt to examine the growing religious fundamentalism and its threat to world peace. As long as the West views Islam as a major threat to Europe and the West so will the fundamentalist see the current “cowboy diplomacy” being spearheaded by George Bush as an encroachment of the Islamic way of life and a trampling of their religious beliefs. It also noted that the liberal and secular of the American way of life encourages hatred towards it.
What is the lesson for us in Nigeria? It is important that our leaders at various level of governance realize the secular nature of our society and downplay the intersection of the role of religion in governance. What is more important is the execution of programmes that will affect the lives of the ordinary citizens of this country. Religion should be the least of our worries now. Implementation of any religious code be it Sharia or the Mosaic laws cannot serve any purpose where there is extreme poverty in the land. If the citizens are comfortable, with the basic amenities of life and can feed properly, they will not result to stealing tubers of yam or goat that will lead to the cutting off of their hand as recommended by a certain religious code. Good governance is key for a crime free society. And for the God’s Warriors-(Muslim or Christian) in our midst it is important that they realize that we have to be tolerant of one another. Are we not created by one God? Why should we kill one another over a certain incident that happens in Sweden, Afghanistan or the Gaza? We must recognize the secular nature of our society as stipulated in the constitution. Only then can we begin to make giant strides as a nation. Our leaders should demonstrate the needed will to uphold the tenets of our secularism.