Democracy Under Assault
Theopolitics, Incivility and Violence on the Right

Michele Swenson

The conflation of Piety & Patriotism contributes to a virulent pro-war militancy on the religious right — Christian Zionist influences on Middle East & Iraqi conflicts

The political religious right wields battlefield analogies against all perceived opponents— mainstream Christians and non-believers alike. Reflecting Promise Keepers’ teachings that young men become "warriors for Christ," weapons-centered ideology often combines muscular theology and anti-government fervor with bellicose end-times doctrine. Inevitable conflict with anyone "bucking that one-way street to Jesus Christ" preached by PK leader Bill McCartney posits biblical literalism the sole means to salvation. Battle allusions are common among those seeking to reclaim the world for Christ. True believers view themselves in a life-and-death struggle to impose their theology on the world, in preparation for the second coming. A subtext of war in the Middle East is the drive by ideological fundamentalists to realize their visions of end-times conflict and ideologic triumphalism.

Theologian Bud Capps notes that when piety and patriotism are homologized, militarism and warfare become the true test of faith and patriotism. Coincident with the rise of the political right was renewed militant anti-Communism in the aftermath of the Viet Nam War — the failed adventure that confirmed the sense that the federal government had failed the people.

The implications of Middle East policy in general, and the Iraq war specifically as a surrogate for Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are profound among the religious right. Christian conservative leaders have promoted settlements in West Bank Palestinian territory, in opposition to a peaceful Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Pat Robertson and other self-described "Christian Zionists" have castigated "unbiblical" Israeli-Palestinian peace accords that pledge return of any West Bank lands (referred to by biblical names of Judea and Samaria) to Palestinians, in defiance of end-times prophecy. Christian fundamentalists praise Israelis who expand West Bank settlements for doing "God’s will," as any surrender of these lands invite certain retribution from God. "Anyone…who blocks the flow of prophecy in [Israel] is in great danger," warned Robertson. To Christian Zionists, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was "God’s punishment" for his negotiation of relinquishment of land as part of the Oslo Peace Accords. Depicting themselves allied with Jews against Muslim "terrorists," evangelicals profess political and biblical allegiance to Israel.

Joined by Gary Bauer’s American Renewal and other Christian Zionists, Moral Majority co-founder and Religious Roundtable president, Ed McAteer posted billboards in the south in 2003 urging believers to contact the White House with warnings against any peace effort that treats Palestine and Israel evenhandedly, or seeks relinquishment of any West Bank land to Palestinians. McAteer pronounced all past and present peace proposals "diametrically opposed to the word of God." Some rightists believe that George Bush Sr. lost the ’92 election over the issue of Israel, due to his conditioning of $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel on halting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and his sale of five AWACs to Saudi Arabia that presumably could be turned against Israel.

Among active opponents of the Israeli-Palestine peace process who have held key positions within the Bush Defense Department, Douglas Feith was charged with oversight of post-war Iraqi reconstruction. Feith co-wrote with Pentagon advisor Richard Perle the 1996 policy document titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." The document advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by Israel. Written for an Israeli think tank, the paper reinforced the religious undertones of the U.S.-Iraq conflict, including the Christian Zionist goal of ending land-for-peace talks with the Palestinians.

In 2007, Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that former Pentagon policy chief Feith undercut the intelligence community when his office "inappropriately" advanced the notion of a clear relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida in advance of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Gimble said Feith’s office maintained that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, Czech Republic, five months before the attacks, and that there were "multiple areas of cooperation" between Iraq and al-Qaida, including pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Early in the U.S.-Iraq War, John Ashcroft (whose justice department enforced unlimited detention of Arab-Americans) addressed "Stand for Israel," a conference of Christian Zionists. He described the U.S. and Israel linked by "threat and virtue" in a global war against terrorism - an inference of Christian vs. Muslim conflict. At the event, evangelical media personality Janet Parschall spoke of the Palestinian authority as "the enemy."

Pentagon official, Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Lt. Gen. William Boykin also portrayed the war on terrorism in religious terms, equating "radical Islamists" to Satan waging war against the U.S. "Christian nation." Speaking before church congregations and prayer breakfasts, evangelical Boykin declared "I knew that my God was a real God and [Islamist’s] was an idol." He echoed the conviction of Pat Robertson and others that God put George W. Bush in power. Assertions of Christian right alignment with divine intention, in turn, reinforce trans-global suspicions that U.S. foreign policy consists of a crusade to weaken Muslim states. The God-on-our-side tone among fundamentalists of all faiths augurs continued religious conflict within and without the U.S.

Note: Dick Cheney in 2004 cited an article in the Weekly Standard magazine that was based on a leaked copy of the Feith memo as the "best source of information" regarding an alleged link between Iraq and al-Qaida.