The Devil and the Post-9/11 Era

President Hugo Chávez’s speech at the U.N. on September 20, 2006 created a new nadir of crudeness. It was also just one more attempt to demonize an opponent. He depicted President George W. Bush as the devil. Watching him speak extemporaneously, and with so much malice, one wonders where this world of ours is heading. Unfortunately, however, he is not alone in that public display of "moral outrage." It seems that references to the devil – either by identifying one’s opponent as such, or by attempting to get on the proverbial moral high horse – are becoming increasingly common in the global arena. Civility is becoming rare and the chances of conflict and war are on the rise. The devil might be happy with his increasing popularity.

One can disagree with policies of the lone superpower, and one can even talk of the alleged "imperialist" proclivities and pretensions of the United States. But calling the American president the devil underscores the bankruptcy of ideas on the part of the speaker. It also demonstrates that the tone of national and international debate is deteriorating steadily. In a strange way, many visible personalities of today are using their own version of the moral high ground to berate other similarly placed individuals, religions, or others’ "ideals," in order to feel good about themselves, their vision, faith, or frames of reference.

In the post-9/11 era, it seems that the devil from within us – i.e., the dark side of us – is getting the upper hand. The ironic aspect of this development is that it is done in the name of morality – both the religious and secular versions of it. That is one reason why the world is becoming such a dangerous place. "Moral rage," it seems, is on the rise in a number of regions of the world. Except that one hears more often about the moral rage of the Islamists or the Jihadists. But look hard. It is running rampant everywhere.

The practice of wrapping one’s struggle for survival, national identity, and religious affinity in the appealing package of morality is as old as time. The most recent great struggle of our time, the Cold War, was fought under such banners. The United States depicted itself as the "leader of the free world." That shibboleth highlighted its self-description as a "beacon of freedom and liberty." The Soviet Union, on the contrary, was portrayed as a force of tyranny. President Ronald Reagan eventually described it as an "evil empire," and a "focus of evil."

The Soviet Union described the United States as a morally corrupt and greedy capitalist economy that unabashedly exploited not only the American "proletarians," but also those of the Third World countries. In fact, according to communist ideology, capitalism represents the worst kind of exploitation of the poor. In the final analysis, the Soviet Union imploded because it not only deprived human beings of their dignity through totalitarian rule, but it also failed miserably to provide them economic well being.

In the post-9/11 era there emerged new and intense moral rhetoric from the United States, the lone superpower that was attacked by the global Jihadists of al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001. That attack was deliberate and well planned. In al-Qaeda’s own perspectives, the distant superpower was an epitome of evil and an "anti-Islamic" force. It supported the corrupt "anti-Islamic" regimes of Middle Eastern countries. The only way to change the political status quo, according to the thinking of the leaders of that organization, was to attack the distant "super Infidel," in order to sow fear in the hearts and minds of those corrupt monarchies and dictatorships. Then they could be overthrown through similar and frequent attacks from within.

The overall purpose of al-Qaeda was to use the Islamic concept of Jihad to bring about political change. The current and rather simplistic explanation is that al-Qaeda wanted to establish a worldwide Islamic Caliphate, as if the modalities of such a system was well-thought out by Osama Bin Laden and his ilk.

The fact of the matter is that Bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri and other Islamists in Central and East Asia have frequently uttered the phrase "caliphate." But a good argument can be made that such reiterations were the outcome of those leaders parroting each other’s calls in order to appeal to the Islamic Ummah (community of the faithful) and to win popular support for a well-known concept.

The American response to the actions of global Jihadists was its declaration of a global war on terrorism. President Bush never stopped identifying the attackers of September 11 as "evil doers" and those who "hate our way of life and our freedom." As ill conceived as that description was, no one inside the United States and, indeed, in the West was going to challenge its veracity. When thousands of Americans perished within a matter of hours, no one was going to indulge in the silliness of debating whether al-Qaeda really attacked the United States because it hated freedom or the American way of life. The aggrieved nation became fully focused on retribution against those who were responsible for those nefarious attacks.

The United States invaded and dismantled the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan. There also ensued a war of ideas between the United States and the Islamists. The Bush administration became preoccupied with winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide. But al-Qaeda had already won the attention of Muslims everywhere. It also won the sympathy of a large number of them, not in support for Jihad, but in agreeing with al-Qaeda’s campaign that Islam was under attack.

It took the U.S. invasion of Iraq to enhance that war of ideas to attain a global scope. The U.S. occupation of Iraq reinforced the argument of the global Islamists and Jihadists – that the real purpose of America’s presence in Iraq was to enslave Muslim countries in the pretext of spreading Western secular democracy – quite credible in the world of Islam.

In 2006, both Iraq and Afghanistan became places where the United States and NATO’s International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) are fighting Islamists and global Jihadists. Of course in Iraq, the rising spirals of sectarian violence are making their own contribution to turning that country into a highly unstable place. Afghanistan is also becoming increasingly volatile, with rising incidents of confrontations between the Taliban-al-Qaeda fighters and the ISAF.

As the U.S. presence in Iraq is becoming increasingly unpopular among the American people, the Jihadists are anticipating victory. If U.S. forces were to get out of that country, that development would be seen as a victory for global Jihad. No one knows how the strategy of global Jihad is going to be revised. It is possible that Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be the next target of those forces.

Global Jihadists have intensified their activities to increasingly radicalize the politics of Bangladesh. In all likelihood, their activities in the Philippines and Indonesia would be escalated. The clash between the Islamist and American versions of morality will not end, no matter what happens in Iraq.

Another aspect of the global preoccupation with "mutual satanization" involves the United States, Iran, and Venezuela. Since the Bush administration includes Iran as part of the so-called "axis of evil (the devil has long been part of this debate) and considers Hugo Chávez as the heir apparent of aging Fidel Castro of Cuba – another epitome of evil, from America’s viewpoint, and a relic of the Cold War years in the Southern Hemisphere – Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Chávez have conducted their joint verbal attacks on President Bush in the UN General Assembly. Both Ahmadinejad and Chávez described the United States as an imperialistic power and Bush as a world dictator. Of course, Chávez brought the name calling to an unprecedented low by referring to Bush as the "devil."

Now President Bush is claiming that he "senses" a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that coincided with the nation’s struggle with international terrorists, a war that he described as a confrontation between good and evil. But if the Islamists envision America’s so-called war on terrorism as a "war against Islam" – and a number of ordinary Muslims also share that view – how wise is it to link the war on terrorism with the so-called Third Awakening? It seems that the devil is busier than ever all over the world.

In view of these developments, an important question that ought to be raised is whether all this moralistic rhetoric is improving the chances of peace and lessening the threat of war. A quick answer is no.

In the case of the United States and Iran, there is more than a fair chance of a military skirmish or even a major conflagration over Iran’s alleged aspirations to develop nuclear weapons, as claimed by the Bush administration. The U.S. may take the measure of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities through the use of the air force. Alternatively, the Bush administration might give Israel a wink and a nod to attack Iranian nuclear plants – as it did in the case of Israel’s extensive bombing of the civilian infrastructures in Lebanon last July-August. Israel appears ready and willing. It has already issued its own hyperbolic depiction of Iran as the greatest threat to its security. Never mind the fact that there is no comparison between the military prowess of the Jewish state and Iran. So the enemy of the U.S. and Israel – evil or devilish Iran – has to be put in its place, no matter what kind of human misery is created in the process.

In the case of Chávez, he hardly has to fear an invasion by the United States.

It bears repeating that the use of morality to justify violence in the post-9/11 era is not a new phenomenon. Only that all sides are bringing in God and the devil more readily to condemn the other side than they did during the Cold War years, or even to make a case for the use of force or war and to spill human blood endlessly.

Who is right and who is wrong in this global debate? An appropriate way to answer this question is to say where you stand on this issue depends on where you sit. In the meantime, persons of all faiths, and even those who consider religion as a waste of time, must consider the observation of an unnamed "scandalized atheist" when he observed, "If I were a God of love, I would first damn to hell all the Christians, Jews and Muslims who abuse my name by committing murder."