Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Theology of Conquest

September 11th obliterated the neoconservative notion that the world is steadily secularizing and marching toward norms of socio-political liberalization. In less than two hours, a new threat, metastasizing within the Islamic world, broke through blue skies and into the psyches of all Americans. Problems once relegated to distant lands, instantly became mundane America’s own. At the heart of this problem was a transnational and decentralized network of jihadists that called itself Al-Qaeda. This organization, with absolute certainty, claimed the attacks were heaven-sent punishment for the ills the U.S. had brought upon the Muslim world. They were the work of self-proclaimed pious, religious men, who with the divine’s help, sought to “slaughter” the “animal.” The “martyrs” and their craft were merely a divinely guided tool to make known that the status quo – apostate regimes propped up by U.S. economic and military might -- within the Islamic world was an abomination before Allah and that retribution and change were now in order. The innocents killed in the process – including future casualties -- of this jihad or holy war were deemed collateral damage in the pursuit of Allah’s sovereignty embodied in the irredentist and imperial concept of the Caliphate.

As hard as it was for Americans to understand the logic inherent within this normative construct, there is a parallel within U.S. history. From the onset of “American history” there was the myth of a New World of pristine, uninhabited land, away from the dungeons of Europe and open to the Western expansion of freedom and Christianity. Yet the reality was quite different. Across the vastness of the North American continent, millions of Native Americans made their home. When the natives would not submit to the new Anglo-American Christian “race” encroaching on their land, conflict naturally occurred. With superior technology and the idea of “Providence” – the notion the Anglo-Saxon race was to settle this new world and spread the twins doctrines of liberty and Christianity by divine inspiration – the new nation of the United States exterminated the original inhabitants with expedience and ferocity.

The nature of this paper is to ask: Can similarities be shown in the underlying normative logic of Al-Qaeda terrorism and their goal to restore a pan-Islamic Caliphate with the U.S.’s extermination and ethnic cleansing of the Indians in an effort to establish a Christian and Anglo-Saxon nation from “sea to shining sea?” If so, how does each go about constructing the “Other” theologically to minimize the fact they are indeed killing human beings, thereby contradicting a central tenet of each respective faith?

My methodology will be to compare the historical discourses of each respective time period by using a method David Campbell describes as a “history of the present” to demonstrate how Al-Qaeda and the early American Anglo-Saxon intelligentsia relied on absolute, metaphysical and theological truth claims to articulate danger, separate “Us” from “Them,” and legitimize spectacular acts of violence. A history of the present, according to Campbell, is therefore a mode of analysis that “asks how certain terms and concepts have historically functioned within discourse.”

In Al-Qaeda’s case I will analyze the discourses of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri before and after 9/11. The texts I will consult are as follows:
·The World Islamic Front’s Statement, “Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders” of 23 Feburary 1998
·Bin Laden’s first post-9/11 speech broadcast on Al-Jazeera on 7 October 2001
·Bin Laden’s recording broadcast on Al-Jazeera on 3 November 2001
·Zawahiri’s letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi dated 9 July 2005 and placed on the webpage of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence on 11 October 2005
The texts are by no means exhaustive. Nevertheless, they do show a consistent reproduction of the “Other” in a theological manner that legitimizes the violent (re)conquest of territory.

In the early American context -- beginning with The Declaration of Independence and ending with President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 and its immediate aftermath -- I will show how the discourse of Anglo-Saxon Christian superiority bequeathed by “God” or “Providence” gradually led to the policy of Indian removal, which mutated into acts of extermination and ethnic cleansing from earlier policies to “civilize” the Indians as the United States steadily expanded West.
My aim is not to show moral equivalence between Al-Qaeda terrorism and the American extermination of the native population, but to show how claims of theological absolutism functioning in a politico-spatial context, necessitates the Us/Them dichotomy, and become pregnant with mass murder. As Michael Shapiro writes :
[F]ixations on particular narratives of collective identity – the stories through which “peoples” enact their identities and collective coherences (and on particular geographical imaginaries) and the spatial models allocating global proprietary control – participate in violence and inhibit ethical modes of mutual recognition at a global level.
This is why I compare such seemingly disparate historical phenomena as Al-Qaeda terrorism and the U.S. elimination of its indigenous population. The point is not to demonstrate the similarity of two different historical situations “on the ground,” but to emphasize the similarity in ahistorical logic: That the difference between “Us” and “Them” has been revealed by God or Providence and not by self-interest. Which means more generally and abstractly that if a particular people or community swim against the tide of a divinely determined history, they are destined for demise. I call this the theology of conquest.

I now move on to elucidate how difference theoretically is contingent on identity and how human belief in divine supremacy has the tendency to overflow its barriers into spectacular and systematic acts of violence.

Identity/Difference and Religious Absolutism

Identity is a central feature of humanity. As Campbell argues in Writing Security, “Identity is an inescapable dimension of being. Nobody could be without it.” Identity comes at a price for it can only be constructed in relation to difference thus alterity, or creating a “state or quality of being other; a being otherwise.” Thus, borders designating what is internal from external are erected to separate the “Us” from the “Others” inhabiting the world as well. Yet, identity is also situational and therefore fragile and constantly needs to be reaffirmed or reproduced. Thus, as Michael Shapiro argues, humans create stable identities by telling “identity stories that construct actors as one or another type of person…” but these stories “provide the foundations for historical and contemporary forms of antagonism, violence, and interpretive contention over the meaning of actions.”
This same process of identity/difference that happens individually also occurs organizationally as well. For Campbell, the state – or a bounded, hierarchical, and political construction that functions for the maintenance of security – is the unit of his analysis and also follow this logic of constructing identity in relation to difference. But for the state theorized as a security apparatus to have cohesion, difference must be articulated as danger. Danger is conceptualized as something outside the state, the “Other,” an externality that the people of the state are to be protected against if they are to maintain their identity, if not their life. As Campbell explains danger is necessary for the existence of states:
…(W)ith no ontological status apart from the many and varied practices that constitute their reality, states are (and have to be) always in a process of becoming. For a state to end its practices of representation would be to expose its lack of prediscursive foundations; stasis would be death. Moreover, the drive to fix the state’s identity and contain challenges to the state’s representation cannot finally and absolutely succeed…Ironically, then, the inability of the state project of security to succeed is the guarantor of the state’s continued success as an impelling destiny.
For a state’s continued existence then, as one danger is dealt with another must be conceived and articulated. Campbell shows this in relation to U.S. foreign policy as the Cold War ended the “War on Drugs” was quickly launched.

While Campbell limits his analysis to states, particularly the United States, I wish to argue that Al-Qaeda follows the same logic of producing discourses of danger to construct their identity and its necessary corollary: the “Other” – meaning the enemies of Islam. As I’ll show, Al-Qaeda’s articulation of danger produces its identity, its mission, and its enemies: those apostate regimes, supported by the “crusader-Zionist” alliance, which forsakes tawhid (unity of God) and places Muslims into jahiliyya (pre-Islamic state of ignorance). This means that Muslims live not under the rule of God, but the corrupting rule of man. To remedy this situation, Al-Qaeda and other fellow travelers wage jihad (holy war) to attack apostate regimes and their Western supporters to once again bring the ummah (community of believers) under the rule of the Khalifa (the caliphate). Much like the United States’ early discourse, the norms – “the collective understandings of the proper behavior of actors” – subservient to the divine, underpinning Al-Qaeda’s objectives necessitates violence. So while the construction of the “Other” makes violence easier to legitimate in defense of identity, adding religious absolutism to this process makes it combustible. As I will argue, the radical theological element of Al-Qaeda’s articulation of danger is essential to understanding its unrestrained violence. Certain that it is waging the good fight according to Allah’s will against the enemies of Islam, Al-Qaeda has accepted no boundaries to its violence. The idea of innocence does not factor into its moral calculus. In the same way, the evolution of U.S. policy towards the indigenous population can be analyzed in the same light. After the revolution, Puritanism and its “American Jerusalem” myth meshed with Enlightenment elevation of reason to produce a theological and pseudo-scientific discourse to push the American Indian outside the realm of moral consideration. Gradually, the discussion regarding the native population turned from one of assimilation to forced removal and extermination bolstered by the believe in the innate superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race which was conferred by Providence -- and confirmed by racial scientism -- to spread the twin doctrines of political liberty and Christianity. By conceptualizing their missions as divine mandates to defend and spread the faith geographically, Al-Qaeda and the early citizens of the United States lifted the parameters that each religious tradition set to reduce violence. As Bruce Lincoln argues:
When social groups constitute their identity in religious terms and experience themselves as a sacred collectivity (the faithful, the righteous, or God’s chosen people, for instance), as a corollary they tend to constitute their rivals in negative fashion (heretics, infidels, apostates, evil, bestial, demonic, satanic, etc.) Under such circumstances, the pursuit of self-interest…can be experienced as a holy cause, in support of which any violence is justified.
As each case study will show, the discourses produced by Al-Qaeda and within the early United States dehumanized their opponents not only in the eyes of the “sacred collectivity” but also in the eyes of the divine. Their campaigns of violence were therefore not man’s will but God’s law and/or design, thereby absolving them of acts they would dare not perpetrate on one another without fear of punishment.

I will now use Campbell’s “history of the present” mode of analysis to compare textually the theologically similar ways Al-Qaeda and the early United States constructed their identities in relation to difference (the “Other”), how difference produced danger, and how danger produced a discourse that legitimated large scale violence. I will take the discourses of Al-Qaeda first as they are the most recent expression of religious absolutism’s tendency toward massacre.

Back to the Future: Al-Qaeda Terrorism and the Restoration of the Caliphate
On 23 February 1998, The World Islamic Front (WIF) released their fatwa to all Muslims:
The ruling to kill Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Asqa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, “and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” and “fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.
The fatwa was signed by both Osama Bin Laden of Al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri, then emir of the Jihad Group in Egypt. The first two paragraphs of this document presents identity, difference, and danger in the most Manichean of ways. Identity is conceived of as submission to God and his Prophet Muhammad or as being Muslim, while difference and its corollary, danger, are encapsulated by a quote from the prophet Muhammad, “I have been sent with a sword between my hands to ensure that no one but Allah is worshipped.” The mission is clear: the Prophet demands the world must be subdued in the name of Allah. Yet, the situation is dire, as the statement explains the “Arabian peninsula has never…been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies spreading in it like locusts, eating its riches, and wiping out its plantations.” The statement supports this assertion by detailing the “aggression” of the United States towards Iraq and the West’s influence in keeping Arabia divided into “paper statelets” in an effort to protect the state of Israel. This logic is inherently defensive and deflective. Islam’s weakness expressed territorially has nothing to do with internal weakness, but with external oppression from a perverse “Other” whose contact and influence weakens the unifying reality of Islam. Throughout the document this “Other” is constructed as “pagans,” “locusts,” “crusader-Zionist alliance,” and “Satan’s U.S. troops and the devil’s supporters allying with them” seizing on Muslims’ legitimate historical grievances through the dangerous theological prism of “believers” against “infidels.” The remedy to this situation is one of faith and action for all Muslims: Believe in “Allah’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it” and fear not because the hereafter awaits. The “hereafter” grafts another dangerous trend onto an already dangerous theology mixed with irredentism and calls for violence against the “Other.” Not only is it legitimate to harm or kill the target, but by killing this enemy of the faith, the attacker is rewarded with everlasting bliss in Paradise for being God’s instrument.

Shortly after this statement’s release Al-Qaeda carried through its fatwa to kill Americans unleashing a string of terrorist attacks that eventually culminated in its greatest success on September 11th. The first attack occurred on 7 August 1998 where the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania were destroyed by explosive-filled lorries that drove into each target. Over 220 people perished in the attacks. A little over two years later, two suicide bombers rammed a boat filled with explosives into the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. Seventeen American sailors died in the attack. Nearly a year later, nineteen Al-Qaeda militants turn four hijacked planes into fuel-injected missiles killing over 3,000 people in attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers, damaged the Pentagon, and blackened a field in Pennsylvania. The World Islamic Front’s statement therefore reads as a cautionary tale in taking seriously discourse that legitimizes killing in defense of God and his chosen people: from ideas, actions spring.

On 7 October 2001, Bin Laden responded to the 9/11 attacks with a video recorded-speech that followed along the basic framework of reproducing danger and its associated “Other” to legitimize the attacks on the United States and define Muslim identity. The speech minimized the damage done by the attacks by juxtaposing it against the same legitimate grievances felt by Muslims towards the West much the same way the World Islamic Front statement had done nearly three years earlier. Again, this attack was ultimately defensive he argued:
What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for years. Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than eighty years. Its sons are being killed, its blood is being shed, its holy places are being attacked, and it is not being ruled according to what God has decreed.

Bin Laden went on to conceptualize U.S. foreign policy in relation to Iraq –especially the sanctions and its toll on Iraq’s children – as well as Israel’s occupation of Palestine not through the international relations discourse of the West but theologically as a war on Islam itself. He argues the “infidel” President Bush and his allies have come “to fight this group of people who declared their faith in God and refused to abandon their religion. They came out to fight Islam in the name of terrorism.” Since this fight is not about defending a country but defending a civilization’s faith, “every Muslim should rush to defend his religion.”

The same day the videotape of Bin Laden’s warning to America aired, the U.S. began its assault on Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime when it refused to hand Bin Laden over to the U.S. for prosecution. Bin Laden had been using Afghanistan as his asylum and base to plan terrorist attacks worldwide. On 3 November 2001, a recording of Bin Laden aired by Al-Jazeera spelled out the fullest articulation of his and Al-Qaeda’s discourse of danger and their theologically inspired “Us vs. Them” worldview in response to the U.S. led campaign against Afghanistan. From the outset Bin Laden divides the world into two spheres: those who supported the strikes against the U.S. and denounce the military attacks on Afghanistan and those who denounced the terror attacks against the U.S. and supported the airstrikes against the Taliban. The latter camp is “the entire West” which “supports this unfair, barbaric campaign, although there is no evidence of the people of Afghanistan in what happened in America.” Moving immediately from denouncing the strikes against an Islamic emirate by a Christian coalition, Bin Laden plays the religious identity card arguing “this war is fundamentally religious…Under no circumstances should we forget this enmity between us and the infidels. For, the enmity is based on creed.” Bin Laden’s logic is strictly binary: You are either for Allah and us or against us and for the infidels. Forcefully he continues: “Any one who lines up behind Bush…has committed one of the ten actions that sully one’s Islam.” Here Bin Laden is summoning Ibn Wahhab’s Ten Voiders of Islam, which sets out the conditions for which a Muslim can be expelled from the faith. The specific voider to which Bin Laden refers is number eight: Supporting or helping non-believers against Muslims. For if a Muslim is expelled from the faith, they fall into jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance) and therefore takfir (apostasy). According to Islamic fundamentalists such as the Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb, the transgressor forfeits the protection of the law and is condemned to death. This has dire implications for Muslims and can be seen as Bin Laden’s attempt to ensure group cohesion as well as keeping the “Other” external to his community of believers so corruption from the inside doesn’t endanger their mission.

As we have seen in prior statements, Bin Laden returns to his familiar trope that the West, particularly the United States, is the source of all the ills facing Islamic nations, whether that be in Palestine, Iraq, southern Sudan, Somalia, Kashmir, Chechnya or the Philippines. Accordingly, the conflicts these states are mired in should not be seen as particular with their own histories but “as part of a chain of the long, fierce, and ugly crusader war. Every Muslim must stand under the banner of There is No God but Allah and Mohammad is God’s Prophet.” For Bin Laden, the West constantly threatens the world of Islam. Following Qutbist jihadist theory, if Islam is ever to be preeminent again, Muslims must unify and repel the crusaders and overthrow the apostate rulers that keep Muslims under the rule of man rather than God. Which brings us to the final, essential part of Al-Qaeda theological discourse of danger where security can only be secured by the restoration of the Caliphate of Islam’s hegemonic past where life – all life -- is governed by shari’a or the law of Allah. Its fullest expression comes in an intercepted letter from Al-Qaeda second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Within the letter, Zawahiri writes to Zarqawi about what tactics and objectives should define jihad in general, but focuses closely on the Zarqawi-led jihad in Iraq. Much like Bin Laden, Zawahiri conceptualization of the conflict is strictly binary. He sees the present conflict as the “greatest battle of Islam in this era” as a “fight between Islam and atheism.” But unlike the jihads in Afghanistan or Bosnia, Zarqawi’s jihad is in “the heart of the Islamic world.” Allah has privileged him with this honor and “granted [Zarqawi] superiority over the idolatrous infidels, traitorous apostates, and turncoat deviants.” To increase this “superiority,” the “intended goal” is to establish a caliphate in Iraq protected by the mujahedeen from which Islam will radiate outwards over the globe as generation hands over the “banner to the one after it until the Hour of Resurrection.” This war against infidelity and for God is interminable. This reproduction of danger is perpetual. It will not end until “the Hour of Resurrection,” or at the end of days.

“American Israel” and Indian Removal

Much like the World Islamic Front’s statement that constructed a permanent hostility and call for violence in radical Islam’s relationship with the United States, the new republic founded in 1776 produced enduring enmity that proved disastrous to the native population in its founding document. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence of the colonists’ grievances against King George, including that “(h)e has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
This discourse of danger has its origins in the first settlements in North America. Ever since the first settlers landed on America’s shores, they came into contact with its indigenous population. Campbell writes that, “(d)istant from the familiar environs of Europe, the early colonists found themselves subject to an estrangement from traditional identities that magnified their condition of endangerment.” As settlements expanded, wars between colonists and Indian tribes broke out. The Puritans’ war with the Pequots is illustrative, as their rationales were largely theological as were their conception of themselves as a “chosen people” which in turn fed directly into the myth of the United States as being an instrument of Providence. According to historian Howard Zinn, the Puritans appealed to two Biblical passages to justify their wars of expansion with the Pequots:
Psalms 2:8: ‘Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.’ And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: ‘Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.’
Commenting on a massacre of Pequot Indians, Puritan theologian Dr. Cotton Mather made it plain the theological frame in which the battle was conceptualized: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.” He also had the tendency to describe them as “Ravenous howling Wolves.”

From the beginning, the English colonization of America was perceived through a theological lens. This was made all the more problematic by the widespread belief that God had tapped the English Anglo-Saxons as his “chosen people” to spread liberty and Christianity west. As Reginald Horsman writes:
Englishmen who settled in America at the beginning of the 17th century brought as part of their historical and religious heritage a clearly delineated religious myth of a pure Anglo-Saxon church, and in the 17th and 18th centuries they shared with their fellow Englishmen an elaborately developed secular myth of the free nature of Anglo-Saxon political institutions.
Race and creed operated jointly to fashion an identity that left the Indians, bereft of ancestry and Christianity, on the outside looking in as their interactions increased with the newcomers’ territorial expansion. As time passed and the English colonists’ successes mounted, culminating in a successful revolution, belief in their providential roles in history only solidified with what was perceived as ample empirical evidence. And this was not wholly illogical considering a small enclave of colonies -- beset by danger on all sides -- had defeated the greatest military power in the world. Even the most irreligious of the revolutionary generation believed in the United States’ elected status.

In 1785 Jefferson proposed that the seal of the United States should represent the children of Israel led by a pillar of light – a suggestion supporting a biographer’s observation that he was convinced that ‘the American people was a chosen people, that they have been gifted with superior wisdom and strength.

With this new sense of providential mission, the newly christened Americans looked to expand liberty and faith westward and with it arose an “Indian problem.” Initially, Enlightenment belief in reason and human progress won out as a policy of assimilation was advanced. One of the greatest proponents of Native American assimilation was Thomas Jefferson. He believed the “savages” of the Declaration of Independence could be civilized and made farmers so as to cut Indian land usage for more white settlement. He advocated “agriculture … manufactures … civilization.” But when this process failed on average as the Indians fought to keep their way of life, a gradual policy of Indian removal was championed. Deemed “savages” and “ungodly,” Indian resistance proved to the Americans they were right in their prior judgments all along. British observer John Smyth noted: “The white Americans also have the most rancorous antipathy to the whole race of Indians, and nothing is more common than to hear them talk of extirpating them totally from the face of the earth, men, women, and children.” Even Jefferson changed his tune, after England’s incitement of the tribes to rise against the United States during the War of 1812, he wrote to Alexander von Humboldt that the government had to “pursue them to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach." As the Enlightenment and ethnocentric discourse of assimilating the Indians retreated after the War of 1812, the Puritan’s theological version of the Anglo-Saxon’s right to the land crept back in. This version deemed that only those who cultivate the land had right to it since God had commanded man to subdue the earth. Therefore the Indians’ nomadic ways were characterized as inferior and as dangerous as they impeded the progress of civilization. Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana territory summed up the prevailing view with a rhetorical question:
Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population and to be the seat of civilization, of science, and of true religion?
While the de facto process of Indian removal started after the War of Independence, it did not become official government policy until 1830 when President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act passed Congress. President Jackson was familiar with the indigenous as his rise to national prestige came with his victory at Horseshoe Bend where 800 out of 1,000 Creek Indians perished in battle. Afterwards, Creek lands were seized by the United States. It is recorded that Jackson told the Creek chief Big Warrior that “the United States would have been justified by the Great Spirit, had they taken all the land of the [Creek] nation.” With his rise to the presidency, Jackson’s theological discourse of danger continued along the same lines as Providence [i.e. The Indian Removal Bill] pushed 70,000 Indians east of the Mississippi River west with disastrous results. Lewis Cass, Jackson’s Secretary of War from 1831-1836, wrote in an 1830 essay championing Indian removal for The North American Review that “(t)he Indians are entitled to the enjoyment of all the rights which do not interfere with the obvious designs of Providence…” Indian resistance followed this policy of removal west, but again, their struggle to maintain their traditional lands and identity only assured their inferior, thus expendable, worth. The Seminoles of Florida were a prime example of this. Instead of acquiescing to removal, the Seminoles waged guerilla warfare, attacking white settlements on the coast. In response, David Levy of Florida constructed the Seminoles as the most objectionable, vile “Other” imaginable: “They know no mercy. They are demons, not men. They have the human form, but nothing of the human heart. Horror and detestation should follow the thought of them. If they cannot be emigrated, they should be exterminated.” And largely they were, as forced emigration was largely a death sentence for the Indians and “reinvigorated the nascent doctrine of manifest destiny.” The U.S. State Department’s website describes the immediate toll of “Indian Removal” on one Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation: “Under the guns of federal troops and Georgia state militia, the Cherokee tribe made their trek to the dry plains across the Mississippi. Thousands died en route from the brutal conditions of the “Trail of Tears.’”

Conclusion: Identity and Moral Space
By comparing the discourses of Al-Qaeda and the early American republic, a striking similarity arises: When a community constructs its identity theologically in a territorial pursuit, the “Other” that also inhabits that space provokes a fear response and is excluded from the community’s ethical framework, which loosens the constraints of violence and may result in the elimination of the “Other” spatially as well. To a large extent, the early American republic was able to achieve this logical progression as President Jackson’s Indian Removal Bill spelled the beginning of the end for the American Indians. The American “theology of conquest” discourse that privileged “Providence” over the moral worth of the Native Americans translated into an actual policy of removal and extermination that largely succeeded. While Al-Qaeda’s “theology of conquest” discourse has also been translated into spectacular acts of terrorism like September 11th, the probability that it -- a decentralized network of jihadists connected more by ideology then organizational structure – will ever command enough power or lethality to destroy the United States and the “un-Islamic” regimes America supports in pursuit of its Pan-Islamic Caliphate seems unlikely. Nevertheless, it remains dangerous for the same reason the United States became the mortal enemy of the Native Americans: By constructing its identity theologically as a divinely chosen people, it relegates anyone outside its own identity as inferior, thus allowing it to trample anything “Other” as a means to a providential end.

In each context we see how Al-Qaeda and the early American intelligentsia used much of the same theological terms of alterity as “infidel,” “demon,” and “ungodly” to describe their enemies. By doing so, both Al-Qaeda and the early American republic created a discourse that ethically legitimated the “acceptance of the Other’s absolute exteriority, a recognition that ‘the other is no way another myself, participating with me in a common existence.” Ethics conceptualized this way does not restrict the use of force, but widens its scope where the “Other” must be cleansed or killed to make way for an ahistorical, supernatural design created for and known by only the privileged.

This requires one last question to be asked: How can humans evolve away from constructing theological identities that create privileged moral spaces in which all “Others” are banished from?

However crude, the answer is simple and rather unsatisfying. If humanity is to stop constructing its identity in reference to theological certainties and the violence endemic to it, the faithful must remain humbled by the notion that faith is a “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” As Christopher Coker writes:
If metaphysics was pre-condition of inhumane warfare, the abandonment of metaphyics is a pre-condition of humane warfare. In the words of Richard Rorty… “without metaphysics we can dedicate ourselves to save other people from pain and humiliation. Our first obligation must not be to seek the ‘truth’ but to eliminate pain.”
To kill or declare war for theology or faith is cruel, vicious and pointless, precisely because real, physical pain and suffering are meted out for an unprovable abstraction. It deprives real human beings of the one thing almost all of “Us” hold dear, and that is life itself.

Extended Bibliography

Theory/ Criticism Techniques

Barnett, Clive, “Violence and Publicity: Making Distinctions, Taking Responsibility,”
Found online:

Campbell, David, Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of
Identity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998).

Campbell, David and Michael J. Shapiro, Moral Spaces: Rethinking Ethics and World
Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999).

Coker, Christopher, Humane Warfare (New York: Routledge, 2001).

Kimball, Charles, When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs (San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 2003).

Lincoln, Bruce, “Theses on Religion and Violence,” ISIM Review Found Online:

Russell, Betrand, Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related
Subjects (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1957).

Thomas, Ward, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).


Primary Sources

Bin Laden, Osama, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” in Walter LaQueur (ed.), Voices
of Terror: Manifestos, Writings, and Manuals of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Other
Terrorists From Around the World and Throughout the Ages (New York: Reed
Press, 2004).

“Bin Laden’s Warning,” BBC, 7 October 2001, Found online: http://news. /hi/world/south_asia/1585636.stm

“Bin Laden Rails Against Crusaders and UN,” BBC, 3 November 2001, Found online:

Zawahiri, Ayman al-, “Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet,” in Walter LaQueur
(ed.), Voices of Terror: Manifestos, Writings, and Manuals of Al Qaeda, Hamas,
and Other Terrorists From Around the World and Throughout the Ages (New York: Reed Press, 2004).

“Letter From al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi,” Office of the Director of
National Intelligence, 11 October 2001, Found online: release _letter_101105.html.

Secondary Sources

911 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: W.W. Norton & Company).

BBC News, “Timeline: Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, Last Updated: 22 April 2005, Found
online: /1/hi/world/3618762.stm.

Bergen, Peter, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden (New York:
Touchstone, 2002).

“The Wrong War: Backdraft: How the War in Iraq Has Fueled Al Qaeda and Ignited Its Dream of Global Jihad,” Mother Jones, July/August 2004, Found online: http://www.motherjones .com/news/feature/2004/07/07_401.html.

Burke, Jason, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004).

Chipman, Don D., “Osama bin Laden and Guerilla Warfare,” Studies in Conflict and
Terrorism Vol. 26, No. 3 (May-June 2003), pp. 163-170.

CNN, “Afghanistan Wakes After Night of Intense Bombing,”, 7 October 2001,
Found online: gen.america .under.attack/.

Fukuyama, Francis, “After Neoconservatism,” The New York Times Magazine, 19
February 2006, p. 62.

Kepel, Gilles, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge: Belkap Press of Harvard
University Press, 2002).

Ruthven, Malise, A Fury For God: The Islamist Attack on America (London: Granta
Books, 2002).

United States Relations with and Discourse about Native Populations

Primary Sources

“The Declaration of the United States of America,” Found online: http://www.archives.

“The Indian Removal Act of 1830,” Found online:

Secondary Sources

Adams, Ephraim Douglass, The Power of Ideals in American History (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1913).

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, “The Grid of History: Cowboys and Indians,” The Monthly
Review Vol. 55, No. 3, (2003): 83.

Friedberg, Lilian, “Dare to Compare: Americanizing the Holocaust,” American Indian
Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 3, (2000): 353.

Horsman, Reginald, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-
Saxon (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).

Lewy, Guenter, “Were American Indians the Victim of Genocide?” Commentary Vol.
118, No. 2, (2004): 55-64.

Mead, Walter Russell, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It
Changed the World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001).

David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (USA: Oxford
University Press, 1993).

Weinberg, Albert K., Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in
American History (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1935).

Wickham, John A., “September 11 and America’s War on Terrorism: A New Manifest
Destiny?” American Indian Quarterly Vol. 26, No. 1 (2002): 116.

United States Department of State, “Indian Treaties and the Removal Act of 1830,”
Found online:

Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial,