Reclaiming the discourse of faith

The campaign is on to portray the war on Iraq as morally right and to paint President George W. Bush as a man with a divine mission to save the world from evil forces.

Bush’s religiously loaded words and euphemisms should be a cause of concern for all peoples of faith in much the same way Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric has been.

Following September 11, 2001 the exchange between President George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden revealed a mirror image of rhetorical language that used moral and religious symbolism to provoke passions and indignation.

In their use of such language and symbolism they reveal a messianic sense of mission. Each one sees himself as an agent of God with the objective of saving the world.

Both of them have constructed a Manichaean struggle – one in which “good” and “evil”, the “believer” and “infidel”, confront each other.

President Bush’s use of phrases such as “infinite justice”, “evildoers”, and “enduring freedom” were meant to sway public opinion in support of the ‘war’ on terrorism.

Since September 11, 2001 Muslims have argued that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network have hijacked their religion and misappropriated Islamic terminology such as “Jihad” to justify their murderous actions.

Once again, moral and religious symbolism are being used, this time by George W. Bush and Tony Blair to justify a war on Iraq, albeit, much more subtly.

‘Just cause’, ‘Moral case’, ‘compelling moral force’, ‘moral legitimacy’ are now catch phrases being used by the coalition of the willing to prop up their arguments for a war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the marketing agent for Bush, has been much more skilful in using these phrases in his campaign.

Following the massive rally in London on February 15, Blair made a “moral case” for removing Saddam Hussein.

“Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane,” Blair said.

The use of such language to justify a war on Iraq has raised the ire of Christian religious leaders and fuelled the debate among various theologians about whether the impending war on Iraq is a just one.

In much the same way Muslim theologians have agonized about the misuse of religious language and concepts for political and violent ends by extremists, now their Christian counterparts debate over the American and British leaders’ use of similar language to justify a war against Iraq.

C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance in Washington, points out the impact of politicizing religious language. ”Unfortunately, if you polled a lot of people on the street in America, I fear that because of bin Laden’s words they would tell you that most Muslims support terrorism. That is so wrong. And so unfair,” Gaddy said.

”By the same token, if you walk on the streets of Baghdad, or in some European cities, you will find the person on the street with the perception that evangelical Christians support a war on Iraq. That is not true, either. But those are real perceptions.”

Religion has become a tool in the hands of extreme voices and is being used to create a fractured world.

In these trying times Christians, Muslims and other peoples of faith must come together to reassert the common values and heritage they share and engage in a dialogue to reclaim the discourse of faith from these extreme voices.

Muneeb Nasir is the Editor of IMPRINT, a Toronto-based Muslim newspaper and editor of the Muslim Canadian web site, He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).