On Obama’s Insistence that “We Are Not at War with Islam”

One would like to say that the cruelty of ISIL (ISIS) shocks the entire world. In fact, however, it doesn’t shock everyone. Sad though it may seem to you or me, some people actually observe events in the emergent “Islamic State” with approval and admiration. Thousands of young men and even young women from many countries—even some from Europe and North America—are flocking to ISIL’s black banner. There are various estimates of ISIL strength available, ranging from 30,000 to 100,000. European intelligence agencies estimate that 3,000 young people have joined from the continent.

One should not assume these are all uncivilized thugs, just because they inflict horrible suffering on fellow human beings. They are far from alone in doing that, or in viewing their actions as the administeration of some god’s punishment.

We should not presuppose, as Barack Obama suggested in his February 17 speech, that its members join ISIL simply due to such factors as unemployment, alienation and the nebulous phenomenon of “radicalization” to which some minds are strangely vulnerable.

To me they appear as people with a set of serious religious beliefs, including the belief in the existence of a Supreme Being; belief in a holy book of divine authorship; and belief in a set of laws authored by this one-and-only God that—for society to function properly, and the problems posed by modernity fixed—must be rigorously implemented.

Personally, I disagree with all of this. I don’t believe that once upon a time some awesome original Mind created matter out of nothing and now oversees events in our infinite cosmos. Much less do I believe that the religious texts that I study with interest were authored by anyone other than flawed human beings, some with impressive imaginations. I certainly don’t believe that laws about human behavior come from anyone other than ourselves.

I find the whole mindset underlying such suppositions dangerous— indeed injurious to the human brain. But I’m aware that such convictions which are upheld by ISIL, al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups have also been widely held by many Christians and Jews—including equally deluded, fanatical people—for many centuries. Indeed the Muslims who appeared from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (ca. 570-632) inherited such concepts from the Jews and Christians with whom they traded and socialized in the Hijaz region of what we now call Saudi Arabia.

Of course ISIL forces disgust the great majority of Muslims globally, due to their vicious intolerance and sickening methods of imposing their will—their carefully staged beheadings, their crucifixions of children, their burial of people alive, their torching of the caged Jordanian pilot, their seizure of girls as involuntary brides, their enslavement of people, their forced conversions or summary executions of non-Muslims (in the case of Shiites, those they consider such). Their actions (I will not call them “radical”—since I call myself that—but rather horrid, inhuman, sadistic, evil) are rejected and denounced by the Islamic world in general. This fact should be constantly reiterated to anyone foolish enough to think otherwise.

And I don’t think that anyone should bark at the global Muslim community demanding that Muslims go out of their way to repudiate such forces. That very demand promotes the assumption that Muslims tend (as it were, by default) to support them. Such exhortations can be profoundly insulting. They are like demanding that every Christian in America spend some time assuring the world that he or she rejects the actions of the (ostensibly Christian) Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and nearby countries. Who in their right mind would suppose they do?

That said, the ISIL forces do have a significant social base, which appears to be growing.

These Muslims Think that the Current Situation Calls for Special Tactics

These folks are no doubt aware of the fact that the Qur’an says Jews, Christians and others can be saved, admitted into Paradise, and that there should be no compulsion in religion (2:256). They probably know that the killing of innocents is generally forbidden in Islam. But they feel that in these times, under these specific conditions, when Muslim believers are under attack on so many fronts, Allah allows them special dispensations to lash out and punish the imagined enemy—as they have in attacking the Twin Towers of New York City, commuters in the Madrid and London subways, spectators along the Boston Marathon route, etc.

(Maybe like President Harry S. Truman, a Missouri Baptist, thought special conditions justified tossing the Geneva Convention aside and incinerating 225,000 innocent Japanese civilians with nuclear weapons in August 1945.)

They look at the evidence from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, showing U.S. soldiers and intelligence forces gleefully torturing and humiliating Muslims, many of whom they (and we) know were innocent of any crime. They look at the video images leaked by Chelsea Manning showing clueless young U.S. pilots striking defenseless journalists in Baghdad. They look at matter-of-fact reports by prestigious western medical and rights groups indicating the mind-boggling death toll of the U.S. invasion of Iraq based on lies. They note how whenever Israel bombs the hell of Gaza every U.S. politician with any hope for advancement makes it a point to applaud.

They see total evil there. And though part of their minds might suggest to them, “It’s the U.S. government doing all that, not the people,” another part of their mind says, “Those ordinary civilians—using what they call ‘democracy’—chose those decision-makers. The polls show that they support vicious actions against Muslims, our people.”

So they develop religious arguments to support the random slaying of civilians in this and other western countries, believing God is on their side and accepts such actions.

Their Methods Follow Judean-Christian Precedent

If you’re a Christian or Jew and the idea of randomly killing innocent people shocks you, please check out your Bible and read the Book of Joshua. It contains many, many instances of the Hebrews conquering Canaan and slaying every last man, woman and child among the resident peoples. See Joshua 6:20-21 for example.

Serious historians consider those biblical battles mythological. Fortunately, they never happened as described in the scriptures. The Bible accounts, replete with all kinds of miracles (like the sun standing stationary in the sky in Joshua 10:12) post-date the supposed events by many centuries. Those mythical happenings long precede the very appearance of the Hebrew written language. But the myths express a religious sensibility historically pervasive in “Judeo-Christian civilization” that legitimates mass slaughter if not genocide.

One could cite many instances of this in North American colonial history. I will only mention the massacre of the Pequots by English Pilgrims in May 1637 when the colonists torched a Native American palisade in what is now Massachusetts, on the Mystic River. Around 700 people were roasted in this event. Captain John Mason recorded that it had been an act of God, who “laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn making [the Pequot] as a fiery Oven… Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling [Mystic] with dead Bodies.”

Think about that! This prime representative of the Pilgrims—that group so celebrated in elementary school textbooks as religious refugees seeking freedom in the New World, etc.—in his feverish imagination saw the Maker of Heaven and Earth laughing as native men, women and children burned in the fiery oven. If that doesn’t disturb you, there’s something wrong with you.

One should understand the contemporary Islamist terrorist’s mentality as part of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic continuum that dates way back to the time unknown scribes authored the Old Testament. This is a collection of writings filled with disturbing concepts with lingering, destructive ramifications. One can say the same for the (Christian) New Testament and the (Muslim) Qur’an.

People on the Outside Looking In Should Not Define Who Is (or Isn’t) a Believer

In President Obama’s speech last week, he said, “Let’s make it clear: ISIL is not Islamic.” But it makes no sense to deny such people their religious identity because of their extremism. That’s like saying George W. Bush is not “really” a Christian because he ordered a war on Iraq that killed half a million civilians and because he has blood all over his hands. A lot of people would say that’s not Christian at all. But a lot of Christians continue to support him and what he did.

My point is not that Dubya was or was not a Christian doing Christian things, according to my own concept of what Christian behavior should entail. My point is that George W. Bush was a self-identified Christian behaving in accordance with his set of values. In June 2003, according to the then-Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath, the president who’d imagined himself “born again” 17 years earlier told Palestinian delegates that “I am driven with a mission from God” both in attacking Afghanistan and in invading Iraq. We can’t say that his particular form of Christianity was irrelevant to his decisions.

To say that the terrorism of some Islamists has nothing to do with Islam is like saying (to posit some wildly divergent examples) that Gregorian chant has nothing to do with Catholicism, that the Protestant work ethnic has nothing to do with Protestantism, or Japanese shōjin ryōri cuisine has nothing to do with Buddhism. Of course these things are connected in some way, even if they can be dissociated; the challenge is to do the proper analysis of the connections.

I myself was raised as a Christian, Lutheran specifically. I still have a deep respect for Martin Luther—not because I embrace his theology anymore but because I think I understand his historical importance. (I agree with Marx’s assessment that he was a kind of revolutionary, and that the Reformation of the sixteenth century that he launched was a sort of prelude to the English and French bourgeois revolutions. As Marx put it, Luther “replaced the faith in authority with the authority of faith.” That is to say, by providing the masses with a German translation of the Bible—and thus encouraging individual study and interpretation, as opposed to reliance on Church clerics trained in Greek and Latin—he validated the individual and secular life.)

On the other hand, Luther the religious revolutionary had a brutal, reactionary side. When the magnificent Peasants’ War stimulated by the Reformation broke out in Germany in 1524, led the radical cleric Thomas Müntzer, Luther condemned the rebels. “Let everyone who can,” he urged, “smite, slay, and stab [rebellious peasants], secretly or openly … Nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as one must kill a mad dog…” This from the pen of one of Western Christendom’s most revered figures!

I can’t say that Luther wasn’t “really” a Christian because he advocated stabbing to death some people whom I happen to think were the good guys. And it’s certainly not appropriate for someone (like Obama) on the outside looking in to tell the world who really is or isn’t a member of a certain faith. In denying ISIL’s Islamic character Obama reminds me of the Protestant or Catholic who denies that Mormons are “really” Christians, or the Stalinist or Maoist who denies that Trotskyists are “really” Marxists. Drawing lines like that is not helpful if we’re trying to understand how people think and behave.

The Political Use of the Immolation of Lieutenant Kaseasbeh, and the Jordanian King’s Sudden Action

The videotaped immolation of the Jordanian Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh has aroused global outrage—although again, there are people who applaud. (Were that not so, ISIL would not post the video expecting it to serve as a recruiting tool. Surely there are people who think: He bombed God’s people and was punished appropriately. He got what he deserved.) In this country it has been used quite effectively to whip up indignation and reduce popular opposition to a U.S. re-entry into the Middle East chaos—for which, let us recall, Washington has largely been responsible, especially since the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

We are told that, aside from the generally accepted proposition that burning anyone alive is a horrible crime, the punishment that ISIL inflicted on the pilot was un- and anti-Islamic. I agree, in the sense that there is no provision in Muslim scripture for that sort of thing (although there is in the Bible). Nor can I find any precedent for it in the history of the Muslim world (although Muslim armies in their conquests certainly torched targets, including the Library of Alexandria in the 630s by order of the Caliph Omar). The burning of Lt. Kaseasbeh was out of character for Muslims, and sickens perhaps (who knows?) 99% of those who identify as Muslim.

But as it turns out, the horrific end of Lt. Kaseasbeh has turned into a virtual godsend for the U.S. officials pressing for more war in the Middle East. That is the problem for the antiwar movement, such as it survives in this war-exhausted country, where memories are short and organizing energies short-lived.

Suddenly it doesn’t matter so much that the war on Iraq—which directly gave rise to ISIL—was based on lies, killed half a million innocent Iraqis, and enraged Arabs and Muslims everywhere for very good reasons. In torching the Jordanian pilot, ISIL in its proud cruelty has provoked a key U.S. ally, Jordan, whose king Abdullah II has suddenly become lionized as a heroic figure uniting his people against the Islamic State. So the king is represented as the REAL Muslim, the good Muslim versus the bad brutal ones.

Jordan had been largely passive in relation to U.S. calls for urgent action against ISIL. But now the king’s strikes against ISIL in Syria give credence to the U.S. propaganda about a genuine “coalition” of forces engaging the Islamic State. Washington, which had been so disappointed with his father, King Hussein—for siding with Iraq during the first Iraq War (1991)—can’t say enough good things about his son.

In fact the adulated king is not so popular in his own country. The IMF-imposed austerity program that his regime has accepted is widely rejected by the Jordanian people. Efforts to establish “democracy” have stalled. Freedom House rates Jordan as a “6” in political rights, 7 being the group’s lowest rating. Reporters Without Borders rates Jordan low on its “press freedom index.”  Human Rights Watch has reported that torture is “routine and widespread” in Jordanian prisons. Amnesty International has documented rampant sexual abuse of Syrian refugees in Jordan. Palestinians, who constitute the majority population in Jordan, recall with bitterness the savage attack on Palestinian refugees in Jordan under Abdullah’s father, beginning in September (“Black September) 1970. Up to 20,000 Palestinians were killed, and the PLO driven from the country.

The Jordanian population has not been united in support of the U.S.-led strikes against ISIL. John Kerry might tell CBS’s Meet the Press, “The coalition is strong, more committed than ever, particularly after the burning of the Jordanian pilot.” And the U.S. press might generally rejoice that the horrific burning of Kaseasbeh has galvanized the Jordanian public into aligning with the U.S. in the current phase of regional intervention. But have people forgotten that the very founder of what is now called ISIL, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was Jordanian, and that he was able to recruit lots of Jordanian Muslims first to his Afghan training camp and then to the battlefields of Iraq’s Anbar province?

Perspective: The Judeo-Christian, Euro-American Tradition of Burning People Alive

While the warmongers exploit the Kaseasbeh immolation incident to quash any resistance to more U.S. boots on the ground, it might be worthwhile to put this particular form of tortured execution into historical perspective. The Pilgrims’ glorious immolation of the Pequots in 1637 was mentioned in passing above. But there was also of course a longstanding tradition in western Christian civilization of burning convicted convicts at the stake.

The Bohemian priest Jan Hus, that morning star of the Reformation, was burnt at the stake in Switzerland following an ecumenical council in 1415, having been declared a heretic. Protestant reformers themselves used the method to punish those threatening their control over people’s minds. Jean Calvin was complicit in the decision to burn a man at the stake in Geneva in 1553. The Spanish theologian, physician and scientist Michael Servetus was found guilty of heresy, and so publicly fried. In 1600, the brilliant scientist Giordano Bruno was burned in Rome’s central market place at the orders of Pope Clement VIII. (Among Bruno’s crimes was the proposal that intelligent life forms populated a “plurality of worlds.”)

Some characterize the ISIL and al-Qaeda crazies’ methods of inflicting terror as “medieval.” But the episodes referred to above didn’t occur in the Middle Ages, and these were not “medieval” crimes. Europe in the sixteenth century was at the height of the Renaissance, that great revival of Greco-Roman learning. (A rebirth—it must always be stressed—was made possible by European contacts with the Islamic world, which had preserved the treasures of western classical antiquity that hadn’t been torched by Christian fanatics.)

During the glorious Tudor period in English history—the era of Shakespeare—burning at the stake was a common method of administering capital punishment. Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”) during her five-year tenure on the throne, had 274 people fried publicly, including the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, in 1556. (Like Bruno, he was burned on the charge of “heresy.”)

Throughout Europe, perhaps 200,000 persons accused of “witchcraft” (closely linked to heresy in general) were immolated during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (This was not, contrary to popular belief, because the Bible prescribed such punishment. The Bible does allude to witchcraft and sorcery; see Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10, Galatians 5:20 etc. But it does not specify the penalty for it. Exodus 22:18 says that sorcerers “must not be suffered to live” but is silent on the particular method of execution. It does however prescribe that a man who takes both a mother and her daughter as wife must be “burnt with fire”— along with the hapless women—and that any priest’s daughter who “plays the whore”  must be burned; see Leviticus 20:14 and 21:9. In other words, the most sacred Jewish scriptures prescribe burning people to death for certain sins.)

England’s last burning at the stake occurred in 1612. Having been convicted of heresy, the Anabaptist Edward Wightman was immolated in Lichfield at the orders of King James I. James is of course best known as the sponsor of the King James Bible, that towering monument of English literature. The town of Jamestown, in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America, is named after him. U.S. civics texts depict this town as the cradle of representative democracy in America.

One should add that there was a final burning at the stake event in London, outside of Newgate Prison. It occurred in 1789, the year of the French Revolution.  Europe was at the peak of the Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason. Convicted felon Catherine Murphy was not actually burned alive; convicted of the high crime of counterfeiting, she was first hanged, and then her body was torched to provide a public spectacle. England was then the most liberal country in Europe in terms of religious liberty and intellectual freedom. (It’s not like burning people is entirely antithetical to historical progress.)

Indeed, just as H. Rap Brown once famously declared that “violence is as American as cherry pie,” one might say that burning people at the stake was as European as wheat bread and sausages. It was part of the culture.

In 1741 in New York City, in colonial America, 13 black slaves accused of a “Great Negro Plot” (to burn down the city, kill white men, take the white women for themselves, and elect a new governor) were burnt at the stake. They had been found guilty of arson and this was used to justify the punishment. Coincidentally, at around the same time there was a rash of high-profile arson cases in Japan and those found guilty were burned to death. In both societies the ancient principle of lex talionis applied. If you burn others to death, you too will be burned to death. It just sort of makes sense, doesn’t it?

No Religion (or Nation) Should Be Left Off the Hook

We can say, “Well, there’s nothing Christian about any of that!” But to do so imposes our own view of what Christianity is, or what it should be. Such a statement leaves Christianity—as a concrete historical phenomenon, a vast cluster of human thoughts and activities—off the hook.

There are Christians in this country—self-defining Christians, and I won’t say they’re anything else—who believe that all who do not share their iron convictions will burn forever in hell-fire after they’ve died. Some no doubt derive a quiet satisfaction in the confidence that, while they themselves will bask in the glow of God’s glory forever and ever, their agnostic neighbors will be suffering God’s torture (as they deserve). While most Christians reject the imposition of the Old Testament “Laws of Moses” on society— embracing St. Paul’s view that the “old law” has been superseded by the new covenant involving faith in Jesus Christ—some Christians would like to like to make biblical law the law of the land. Rather like some Muslims in some countries demand that the Sharia be enforced.

Our crazies are marginalized. The march of gay marriage recognition alone shows that their influence is waning. But the U.S. government while always urging separation of religion and state, embraces some of the most intolerant religious-centered states on earth. The Sharia is most ruthlessly enforced in Saudi Arabia, that intimate U.S. ally.

Obama went out of his way the other day to attend the funeral of Saudi king Abdullah (not to be confused with the Jordanian king). U.S. officials took pains to praise the late king as a “reformer.” Israeli officials mourned the loss of a “brave and wise leader.”  In London, the Union Jack was at half-mast over Downing Street.

But as the Observer put it: “King Abdullah was a staunch conservative who toed the line of Islamic values which included a strict adherence to shariah law. Beheadings, stonings, the hacking off of hands were common in his kingdom. At times, the executioners of Saudi Arabia were so overwhelmed and so overworked that they publicly complained of not having enough new blood entering their field of employment. Executioners under King Abdullah had so much work to do that they were often late coming home to their families at night and had difficulty taking vacation and even retiring.”

In Saudi Arabia stoning to death is a common punishment. Victims are reportedly sedated before the sentence is executed, which makes you wonder what’s the point. (Presumably the Saudis can say to any critics: Don’t worry, there was no pain. We just had to follow our religious laws in the most humanitarian fashion.) Recall how throughout the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001), adulterers were stoned to death—un-sedated—in Kabul’s soccer stadium. Saudi Arabia was (with Pakistan) a principal supporter of these fundamentalist Sunnis. And there are plans underway in Afghanistan (“liberated” so brilliantly from the medieval Taliban by U.S. troops in 2001) to restore the penalty of stoning for adultery.

Where is the western outrage at Saudi stonings? Or beheadings, like that of a man for sodomy in 2006, in the second year of the celebrated King Abdullah’s reign? Why these expressions of horror at the application of Sharia in the Islamic State, straddling the now-defunct, ruined states of Syria and Iraq and expanding as we speak—and silence about its implementation in Saudi Arabia?

The little boy in the crowd asks quietly: Does it have anything to do with oil? Or Israel?

What Right Does (Mostly) Christian America Have to Cast the First Stone?

In the familiar story in the Gospel of John, Jesus is teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem. Pharisees and scribes bring to him a woman “caught in adultery” and remind him that the Laws of Moses require that such a woman be stoned to death. (See Deuteronomy 22:23-4, which specifies that a virgin betrothed to a man who lies with someone else needs to be stoned to death. This reminds us that stoning was a part of Jewish tradition long before there was a Qur’an, Sharia, the Prophet Mohammed or even Islam!)

The Pharisees ask Jesus’ opinion as to what should be done, seeking to trick him into making the wrong reply, “looking for something to use against him”  (John 8:6).  Jesus initially ignores them, bends down and starts writing on the ground with his finger. As they repeat the question he looks up and says that if someone among them hasn’t sinned, he should cast the first stone. He looks down again, as the shamed party retreats. Jesus is left alone with the woman, whom he simply tells to go and sin no more. (Some traditions associate this woman with Mary Magdalene, although it is all of course conjecture.)

Like the Pharisees in the Temple, the U.S. State Department is always looking for something to use against its enemies. It looks for pretexts, not to stone or burn (at least not up-front and personal), but to bomb the hell out of its foes, to inflict “shock and awe” and induce greater terror than any non-state Islamist force, however hellish, can inflict. It will do anything to crush the opposition. As we saw in Vietnam, it proclaims the need to destroy the village—in order to save it!

Its logic is hard to reconcile with the avowed Christianity almost mandatory within the U.S. military leadership and within the political class.

The U.S. firebombing of  Tokyo during the Second World War, on April 9-10, 1945, was designed, as future U.S. vice presidential candidate General Curtis LeMay put it at the time, to “scorch and boil and bake to death” any Japanese in the city. 100,000 civilians were fried in one night in a firestorm as terrorizing as the nuclear blasts over Nagasaki and Hiroshima four months later.

Napalm was the U.S. military’s weapon of choice in the Korean and Vietnam wars. It killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians as the U.S. sought to assert its will. In his Napalm: An American Biography (Harvard University Press) Robert M. Neer sites a U.S. soldier’s explanation for its efficacy: “People have this thing about being burned to death.”

Who can forget the images of U.S.-inflicted death by hellfire along the “Highway of Death” between Kuwait City and Basra in 1991, as Iraqi schoolboy conscripts were fleeing in terror, defenseless, bombed by U.S. pilots? (Some with some lingering conscience were appalled by their own ordered actions; as one pilot put it, their assault was “like shooting fish in a barrel.” ) But these fish were fried to a crisp.

Look at this, for example, the face of a toasted Iraqi conscripted kid trying desperately to get home from the front following Iraq’s defeat, with no possible defense against the hellfire from above, delivered as a matter of U.S. policy, to diminish the Iraqi army by slaughtering the frantically retreating forces.

ISIL explains its treatment of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh as a matter of lex talionis, declaring he’d been incinerated alive “for what he had done by burning Muslims with the fire of his plane.” They claimed that the bombs he dropped killed civilians. (Can we say this is untrue? Does the U.S. media even bother to ask such questions?)

Washington is trying to use the horrific act and State Department-managed news coverage to press the people of this country to snap out of their battle-weariness and disillusionment and cheer on further U.S. war in the Middle East.

Why Not Glorify All Snipers, of All Nations, Throughout Time?

This effort receives timely support from the record-breaking film American Sniper, which glorifies a U.S. soldier in the Iraq War, the extraordinary marksman Christopher Scott Kyle. It shows him shooting down what he calls “savages”—meaning, resisters in the invasion of their country in 2003. Early in the film he kills a woman and her young as they attempt to kill U.S. soldiers—who have invaded their country for absolutely no good reason—with a grenade.

You’d hope that by now people would be so aware that that war was based entirely on lies, and inflicted so much suffering on the Iraqi people, that they would have about as much sympathy for an American sniper in Baghdad in 2003 as a German sniper in Russia in 1943.

After all: what is the moral difference between Christopher Scott Kyle, “serving his country” in a war in Iraq that UN secretary-general Kofi Annan frankly pronounced “illegal,” proudly scoring 160 confirmed kills: and Matthaus Hetzenauer, “serving his country,” who killed 345 on the Eastern Front? Why not have a Hollywood movie about Hetzenauer, dripping with sentimentality, focusing on his deep love for his fellow Wehrmacht soliders, just doing their duty as ordered for their Führer?

If you’re going to celebrate one sniper in one criminal war, and make lots of money in the process, why not do a whole series? Maybe Eastwood could produce a whole slough of films about great marksmen who shot people to protect their comrades. It could culminate with one glorifying Ivan Sidorenko, the legendary Soviet sniper who holds the record with over 500 kills during the Second World War.

But maybe not—-Sidorenko unlike Kyle and Hetzenauer was defending his country from aggression—not picking off citizens defending their own countries from invaders like himself. His war wasn’t a criminal one. And Hollywood dislikes recognizing the decisive role of the USSR in defeating German fascism, preferring to highlight the secondary U.S. role. So maybe the inclusion of Sidorenko’s story in the series would be inappropriate.

As Washington prepares to send ground troops into Mosul, and in doing so inevitably recruit more volunteers into ISIL—Muslim believers of a certain extreme type, raring to take them on, happy to die and wake up in their imagined paradise as multiple others take their place—its decision-makers might consider another of Jesus’ dictums, as recorded in the New Testament: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the great log in your own? Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

But they can’t do that, of course. Even if they can see reality, they’re driven by their hunger for power, and rooted in class loyalty. In my humble opinion, there is no way out, no way to end the imperialist wars, except to overthrow the imperialists.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu