The line “God does not love aggressors”is from the Koran and begins “Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love aggressors.” It is sometimes cited as the true Islamic stance, to defend Islam against jihadist-crazed stereotyping. It forbids attacking first. Christ’s counsel is more radical-it is not even to answer or resist evil with evil. Christ does not say fight only if attacked. He says if attacked, don’t fight.
Christians historically have often been jihadis, however. They have rationalized just wars as wars of defense. They have played ruthless and merciless warriors. President Bush who presents himself as a Christian justifies even preemptive war. You don’t have to wait for an attack-an enemy’s intentions or desires to kill you license you to kill him first. You can say you are the victim of the enemy’s intent to strike you, and you can ‘return’ that intended violence by physical war. Your first physical stroke ‘answers’ the enemy’s first real or imagined mental stroke. Thereby you do not attack them first; you are not the aggressor. This was the emotional calculus in saying Iraq menaced us with a mushroom cloud, and licensed our invasion. Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction were aimed at us, intending to atomize us. We then also blurred that Iraq invasion, calling it an answer to 9/11. We were struck, we must strike. The 9/11 attack didn’t match the Iraq invasion as Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but that didn’t matter for war mongering; it was the principle of the thing. What counts is the righteous license to kill.
Leni Riefenstahl in the opening of her film Triumph of the Will says Germany was brought low, humiliated, wounded in World War I.. She limns the rise of Hitler and Naziism as resurrection from that humiliation and suffering. Revenge rationalizes the will to fight as righteous. Riefenstahl depicts Hitler as a messiah, descending from the clouds to rouse and lead the people in a righteous fight to rebuild German honor and power. The uniformed men marching in 1934 with shovels (because they weren’t allowed arms) look to most people like soldiers with rifles. Metaphorically they were, forging plowshares into arms. German belt buckles in World War I and World War II said “Gott mit uns”God with us.
Does George Bush’s God love aggressors? I suspect so. I think he loves a horseman warrior Christ fashioned out of the Apocalypse, not the pacifist crucified Christ of the Gospels. Texts cannot save us from zealots who love war more than words.
Osama bin Laden thinks he’s not an aggressor. George Bush thinks he’s not an aggressor. They think they are religious warriors-innocent, inspired, righteous. Each names the other as the aggressor their God does not love. Each foments terrible violence in revenge and invokes God as judge and licenser.
The aggressor whom God does not love is in the eye of the religious warrior, then at the receiving end of his bombs and shrapnel. God is the mask and shield of the war game, the big rationalization, the paradox that hides in a cloud of mystery hatred, violence, greed, and death.
Allah may well not love the aggressor but he offers himself as justification for revenge: “fight for the sake of God those that fight against you.” This version of God is tribal, national, familiar. Gott mit uns. George Bush’s god told him to smite he said. His is not the pacifist Christ forbidding the return of violence.
Perhaps in figuring out the fields of righteous killers, the aggressor might better be identified not as enemy but as action. The aggressor is the one who attacks.
DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org