Author explains Islam and cosmic war at CSUB

Maryann Kopp

Cal State University, Bakersfield’s Kegley Institute of Ethics held its fourth annual fall lecture on Oct. 15 at the Dore Theatre. Reza Aslan, noted as “one of the nation’s most respected experts on Islam and the Middle East,” gave a lecture titled after his book “How to Win a Cosmic War: Why We’re Losing the War on Terror.”
Christopher Meyers, the director of the Kegley Institute, introduced Aslan and said that he had read Aslan’s book that he was discussing over the summer. “I enjoyed it immensely,” Meyers said. “I found out how ignorant I am on the subject of Islam.”
Aslan’s lecture, which was directed at clarifying what exactly the “war on terrorism” means to everyone involved, started by talking about a small village in Israel, Umm al-Nasr, that he had recently visited. The village had a sewage pipe that had burst and was slowly leaking up from underground to the surface and would eventually become what The New York Times called a “sewage tsunami.”
Aslan explained how, through America’s “democratization process,” the situation was never dealt with. The U.S. had, in the name of spreading democracy, targeted the regimes in Palestine and forced them to open their societies for elections.
In 2007, Palestinians had the choice to vote for their leader. The election was between Fatah or, as Aslan put it, “anybody else,” as Fatah had never been truly concerned with the needs of the people. In this case, Hamas was the other choice.
Unfortunately for Palestine, the U.S. didn’t agree with having Hamas in power. (The group is “responsible for countless deaths,” according to Aslan, but also “fed people, cleaned the streets, gave scholarships and actually worked for their vote.”) In the end, the U.S. decided to shut Hamas down, even though we had promised Palestinians the right to choose.
Gaza was also “cut off from the rest of the world” as we tried to “starve the Palestinians into changing their minds.” (Thus creating a prison with 1.5 million “angry, hungry inmates.”)
The people of Umm al-Nasr had no one to go to for help regarding the septic problem as a result. After the leaked sewage had become a lake that spanned two acres, the pipe finally gave and caused the “sewage tsunami” on March 27, 2007, killing five people.
“I want you to know,” Aslan said. “That there are people in the world, right now – men, women, and children – who are literally drowning in shit. This is the world we live in.”
That statement seemed to create an impression that was reinforced throughout the lecture.
Aslan’s first question he wanted to address was what, exactly, the war on terror is. He described terror as “a tactic,” terrorist as “a wastebasket term,” and said, “if we’re considering the war on terror to be a clash of civilizations” that there is a much larger framework to consider. He said that if the U.S. were, in fact, engaged in a war on terror, that we would be fighting movements from all over the world, as the Middle East is not the only place where “terrorists” reside.
“By lumping all of these [Middle Eastern] groups together – most of which loathe each other and never saw the U.S as an enemy – we created an undifferentiated enemy,” Aslan said. “So, who is the enemy?”
The enemy, according to Aslan, is “religious transnationalism.” That is, the belief that some people hold that religion should not be bound by borders or nation-states. The Islamic religious transnationalists, like Al-Qaeda for example, believe that the entire world should be Islamic.
Aslan also pointed out that, according to a recent study done by Rice University, 46.5 percent of Americans polled are also considered to be religious transnationalists in the sense that they believe that everyone, everywhere should be Christian.
This religious transnationalism is what the “Jihadists” had in mind when they attacked the U.S on 9/11: to “awaken us to their agenda,” as Aslan said. “They wanted to goad us into their cosmic war, and that started a transformation in the United States. Our identity as a nation was at stake.”
Aslan quoted President George W. Bush as saying that, in response to the attack that “we [the U.S.] must rid the world of evil,” which furthers this “metaphysical conflict” we’ve found ourselves engaged in.
The cosmic war, the war of Jihadists, is a conflict of good versus evil, or angels and demons. Jihadists, who set themselves apart from traditionalist movements and are a product of a modernity, use Jihad more as a “means of personal identity.” Unlike Islamic fascism, which considers nation-states to be the best fashion in which to live, Jihadists see nation-states as a sin.
The Islamic fascism movement is typically comprised of the poor and marginalized, “the fathers of the dead children” in places like Umm al-Nasr. Jihadists, on the other hand, are generally well educated, bright and more financially well-off individuals. While some may consider the two terms to be interchangeable, there are large differences between the two.
“Political wars can end; cosmic wars don’t. There are no winners or losers in a cosmic war,” said Aslan. “By transforming a ‘war on terror’ to a cosmic war, we’ve lost already.
“We have to stop global conflicts of religious connotations,” Aslan concluded. “How do you win a cosmic war? It’s simple. You should refuse to fight in one.”