Vinoth Ramachandra

Sexual violence, whether against women, men or children, is a tragic fact of life seen across national borders and class divisions.

Violence against women assumes many forms, ranging from emotional abuse to sexual predation, assault and rape. Honour killings, forced child marriages, sexual exploitation and trafficking, genital mutilation, and sexual harassment at work and school are also considered “gender-based violence”.

In 2013 the World Health Organization, together with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the UK Medical Research Council, conducted an analysis, based on existing data from over 80 countries, which found that worldwide almost one in three women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. The prevalence estimates range from 23.2% in high-income countries and 24.6% in the Western Pacific region to 37% in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and 37.7% in South-East Asia. Furthermore, globally as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.

Leaving aside fatal outcomes such as homicide or suicide, the analysis found that women who had been sexually abused were 1.5 times more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection and, in some regions, HIV, compared to women who had not experienced partner violence. They are also twice as likely to have an abortion.

Some of the factors identified by the WHO study that lead to both intimate partner and sexual violence include: lower levels of education; exposure to child maltreatment; witnessing family violence; antisocial personality disorder; harmful use of alcohol; having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity; and attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality.

In cultures where violence in general is widely accepted and where beliefs about family honour and male sexual entitlement are unquestioned, sexual violence against women rarely evokes censure.

It has also been amply documented that war zones, refugee camps and disaster areas are fertile settings for rape and sexual assault. In these places, even humanitarian aid workers are not immune. One study revealed that female aid workers in places such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and Haiti had experienced disturbing rates of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues.

A renewed debate (probably short-lived, like the sporadic debates over gun laws!) on violence against women has been sparked in the United States by the recent exposure of widespread sexual predation in Hollywood and the American media industry. Since the allegations about Harvey Weinstein surfaced, many high-profile names have used social media to highlight the problem of sexual assault, some detailing the harassment they too have endured.

Weak legal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence is one reason that abusers are never checked. But cultural acceptance is a more pervasive and disturbing reason.

Weinstein’s sexual predatory behaviour seems to have been well-known within the film industry, yet he was allowed to continue his abuse with impunity because the “macho” masculinity that pervades Hollywood culture condoned it or simply laughed it off.

And why did the rich, white women superstars who now join the tirade against him not complain when their careers were being launched? And what have they done with their current fame and wealth to highlight the plight of less fortunate women in the USA and beyond?

Whenever I watch a typical Hollywood movie, what disturbs me more than gratuitous scenes of sex and violence is the constant and routine use of sexual obscenities, especially the F-word. Before you dismiss me as a prude, just consider: here is a swear word used in contexts of cheating, robbing and degrading somebody that we intensely dislike which is at the same time used to describe the most intimate physical act between two human beings. What cultural understanding of sexual intercourse does that convey to young people?

The coarsening and degradation of the English language is not morally neutral. When sex and violence are routinely linked together in our everyday speech, only an alternative language can restore respect and dignity in our human relationships.

And, of course, we must not forget that more than fifty per cent of white American women voted in a President who speaks of them in the most obscene, predatory language.

A bigger tragedy is that large sections of the global church are swift to condemn Hollywood but fail to put their own houses in order. Patriarchy, often in its most oppressive guise, reigns. The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, for instance, has in recent years known of acts of rape and sexual assault committed by its ministers against women in their congregations. None of these men have been handed over to the police, or even removed from the ministry by the clerical hierarchy. When pressed, the answer given by the latter is: “In a society already hostile to Christians this will only give further ammunition to our enemies.”

When self-preservation becomes more important than moral integrity and faithfulness to the Gospel, hasn’t the church ceased to be the Church of Jesus Christ and become instead just another club for men playing religious games?

Re-reading some of C.S. Lewis’s theological essays, I have been struck again by how stimulating and relevant they remain.

His essay on “Christian Apologetics” (1945), delivered as an address to Anglican clergy, is prescient in gently chiding the latter for being out of touch with the thought-world of a rapidly changing Britain and proclaiming a message that simply did not make any sense to most working-class people. While sending missionaries to other parts of the world, the Church in Britain had not woken up to the reality that Britain itself needed to be evangelized- and in non-traditional ways.

“A century ago our task was to edify those who had been brought up in the Faith: our present task is chiefly to convert and instruct infidels. Great Britain is as much part of the mission field as China. Now if you were sent to the Bantus you would be taught their language and traditions. You need similar teaching about the language and mental habits of your own uneducated and unbelieving fellow countrymen. Many priests are quite ignorant on this subject. What I know about it I have learned from talking in RAF [Royal Air Force] camps.”

We should be grateful that Lewis did not learn theology in a theological institution. He was self-taught. His academic expertise was in English literature and in philosophy. These generally provide a much better education for Christian communicators, provided of course that they, like Lewis, are willing to listen and learn from the non-academic people with whom they interact. Lewis had a voluminous written correspondence (no e-mail or cell-phones then!) throughout his life with men and women from all social backgrounds, largely through his radio talks and popular children’s stories. He seems to have been equally at home in the Senior Common Room, the local pub, or an RAF canteen. (The life of an Oxford don was obviously a more leisurely affair than today. No pressure to publish or perish).

An extract from his essay “Christian Apologetics” (1945) resonates so much with what I have been saying for many years that I cannot resist reproducing it below:

“I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more good by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. Every newspaper, film, novel and text book undermines our work. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects- with their Christianity latent.

You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the reconversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguins and the Thinkers’ Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.” (Emphases in the text)

My last post provoked some thoughtful and passionate criticism which I have deeply appreciated.

So this postscript is a response to those critics and a clarification.

I maintain that respecting human rights, properly understood, is indispensable for a just and decent society. Human rights implies that no one is authorized to define the circle of those who are entitled to them and who is not. Protecting the rights of those whom we dislike intensely and whose beliefs we abhor also acts as a brake on our usual tendency to put ourselves at the centre of things.

These rights are rarely absolute. In many countries, the right to freedom of speech is curtailed by laws pertaining to slander/libel, the verbal humiliation of vulnerable persons and communities, and incitements to violence. I have supported this in previous Blog posts. And it surely goes without saying that the brandishing of weapons in public by pseudo-militias has nothing to do with human rights and should have been addressed by courts and political leaders a long time ago.

The principal target of my last post was the hypocrisy/one-sidedness of much mainstream-media rhetoric about “equality” and “diversity”.

Last Wednesday, the New York Times carried a tweet from Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the U.S Army: “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.” Really? The army had separate black and white units well into the 1950s, with black units always led by white officers.

White supremacist and far-right groups in the US exist on the social margins and are relatively “soft” targets for the media. But the influence of racism is far more pervasive. A black or Hispanic teen caught with drugs on a street corner in an American city is thrown in jail and carries the stigma of being called a “felon” for the rest of his life- severely restricting his educational and job prospects. No such fate befalls the rich white kid smoking dope in the local college or high school. The entire criminal justice system, with its endemic racism, needs to be overhauled. And what about the hiring practices of elite universities, the non-registration of many black voters, mortgage discrimination, lack of access to healthcare and other sources of social exclusion?

Attempts to write “revisionist” histories of the American Civil War (histories denying that slavery was the principal cause of the war) have been around for a long time. But so have other versions of “revisionist” history. I alluded to Thomas Jefferson in my post to illustrate how selective and distracting are the calls to demolish “racist” memorials. During forty-nine of the seventy-two years from 1789 to 1861 the Presidents of the United States were Southerners- and all of them slaveholders. The only Presidents to be re-elected were slaveholders. And in 1860, without a single electoral vote from the South, Lincoln won the Presidency on a platform of containing the future expansion of slavery, not abolishing it.

While slavery may have been confined to the South, white racism was visible everywhere in pre-Civil War America- so much so that the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison declared, “The prejudices of the North are stronger than those of the South.” And these continued well beyond the end of the war.

Jefferson himself was a hypocrite. He owned over 600 slaves at one time, despite writing about the equality of humans in the Declaration of Independence. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson described blacks as intrinsically and permanently inferior to whites. He hid his affair with his enslaved house maid by whom he fathered at least six children and shunned all financial responsibility for them. He also advocated the idea of forced repatriation of blacks to Africa, arguing that it was far preferable to the mixing of races in the USA. As for his presidential orders regarding the harsh treatment of native Indian Americans, this too never appears in American popular histories.

And I mentioned Darwin because there is a long history of “scientific racism”, encouraged by Darwin’s The Descent of Man which influenced nineteenth and early twentieth-century government policies. This is rarely mentioned in undergraduate history-of-science courses.

As for the majority of the Asian religions, they do not subscribe to belief in the basic equality of human persons. Many in the West forget that this concept was introduced into European thought via the Bible, even though its implementation in politics and social policy was hampered by a complex combination of factors, including widespread illiteracy, clerical betrayal, the co-option of the church by political interests, and lack of technological development.

India and China are still among the most racist societies on earth. In my experience, Indians, Sri Lankans, Chinese and Koreans in the US are more often dismissive, even at times contemptuous, of African-Americans than most whites. Can I say this in “politically correct” circles? Much of this is due to ignorance of American history, but also the worldviews they have imbibed from their families and subcultures. Further, many devout Hindus and Buddhists believe that people born in poverty or with disabilities are simply reaping the outworking of their karma from a previous life.

Are we to outlaw such beliefs? Demand that people who hold them be expelled from universities or sacked from their jobs?

If we did so, the consequences are most likely to be that we turn such people into martyrs for their cause, whether it is religious or political. It nurtures feelings of resentment, even of conspiracy. It is what stokes the flames of violence.

Isn’t it better to meet lies with facts, poor arguments with better arguments, insults with civility, and false narratives with counter-narratives?

The real test of whether we or our governments understand the concept of human rights is whether we or they are willing to defend the rights of our enemies.

I believe that the near-hysterical denunciation of the white far-right marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, with numerous calls on Twitter and elsewhere for their sacking from their jobs and expulsion from universities, is evidence of a lack of understanding about human rights.

The marchers were protesting the demolition of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, one of the leaders of the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. Whatever Lee’s political views, no historian doubts his military genius. And if city mayors and state governors are going to expunge memorials to Americans who were “pro-slavery” or “white supremacists”, they should begin with Thomas Jefferson and shut down the University of Virginia. And, in Britain, the memorials to Churchill and a host of other statesmen, generals and scientists (including Darwin) should be demolished.

It seems to me that this is another instance of “political correctness” run amok. Dismantling statues rather than unjust structures. Suppression/Denunciation replaces moral argument- something on which I have written before: e.g. The New Intolerance and On Giving Offence. Paradoxically, tolerance is killed in the name of promoting tolerance, intellectual diversity suppressed in the name of valuing diversity. I am reminded of Zygmunt Bauman’s quip that, in some strands of postmodernist rhetoric, Descartes’ cogito (“I think, therefore I am”)has been replaced by its neo-tribal version “I shout, therefore I am.” The one who shouts loudest, whether on social media or in the university, is the new moral leader.

Another recent instance in the U.S of this new ethic is the sacking of an engineer at Google for suggesting that the reason there may be fewer women in the hi-tech sector is because of biological differences. Note: this was a suggestion, not a recommendation to exclude women applicants from any job. One can disagree with his view and present counter-arguments and empirical evidence, but to sack him as if he had committed an immoral act? Surely that is itself immoral- violating the basic right to be different, to hold contrary opinions.

Racism/sexism is about systemic injustice more than it is about attitudes. But attitudes also matter as they are what shape our everyday social relations. A Martian who scans news media on the planet Earth will conclude that, whatever some national Constitutions may say, the lives of “celebrities” and super-rich oligarchs and tycoons are far more valuable than others.

The arrogance of those left-leaning secular liberals who disdain or caricature viewpoints other than their own is a mirror-image of their right-wing conservative opponents. Both have created a global financial system and internet empire that perpetuate the most grotesque economic inequalities ever seen in the history of the world. Yet much of the talk of “equality” in the media focuses narrowly on issues of sexuality.

Why do we scarcely hear of protests against the exploitation of children in the mines of Congo, for instance- mines which are producing the cobalt and other metals that are used in electric cars and smart phones? Are we not complicit in this exploitation through our silence and never questioning where our technologies or food or clothing come from? And where were the liberal protesters on the streets of Washington DC when the Indian Prime Minister Modi visited a month ago (see my post India: A Failing State?)

This is why many of us believe that what most undermines “human rights” and “equality” is the hypocritical and one-sided way they are invoked by Western governments and liberal media.

Equality is a relative concept. Equality in relation to what? The worst female athlete in the Olympics is far superior to me in terms of physical fitness, just as I am superior in reasoning ability to a Downs Syndrome person. Empirically we are clearly unequal. The moral questions are whether a given inequality is enforced and whether inequality in one area justifies discrimination or exclusion in another, unrelated area. The intrinsic and equal worth of human persons, which undergirds equal respect before the law, is a difficult concept to justify on strictly secularist/naturalist grounds. It is why this deeper question is side-stepped (or, as Bauman’s quote implies, shouted out of view) in the polarized discourse about equality in contemporary politics.

But it was this sense of the intrinsic and equal worth of human persons that motivated the Christian Church, throughout its history and all over the world, to care for the despised, degraded and forgotten members of society. Whatever their own culpable “blindspots” in relation to internal church politics, the best Western missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (often from under-privileged backgrounds themselves) sacrificed their own reputation and health in providing education and healthcare to women and the destitute classes (often in opposition to both local elites and colonial administrations). If helping women and dalits in India or Sri Lanka become nurses, doctors and teachers is labelled imperialistic, then I am happy to identify myself with that label.

The American (Eastern Orthodox) theologian David Bentley Hart raises some thought-provoking questions about the American church that if raised by others would immediately be brushed aside as symptomatic of “anti-Americanism”. In an article (“The Angels of Sacré-Coeur”) first published in 2011, Hart writes:

“It is very much an open and troubling question whether American religiosity has the resources to help sustain a culture as a culture- whether, that is, it can create a meaningful future, or whether it can only prepare for the end times. Is the American religious temperament so apocalyptic as to be incapable of culture in any but the most local and ephemeral sense? Does it know of any city other than Babylon the Great or the New Jerusalem? For all the moral will it engenders in persons and communities, can it cultivate the kind of moral intelligence necessary to live in eternity and in historical time simultaneously, without contradiction?”

And he ends with the sober judgment: “European Christendom has at least left a singularly presentable corpse behind. If the American religion were to evaporate tomorrow, it would leave behind little more than the brutal banality of late modernity.”

Harsh words, perhaps, but they stem from a passion to see the Lordship of Christ embracing and permeating every area of the church’s life and engagement with the world. The apostle Paul too used harsh language in denouncing the way the face of Christ was distorted by both false teaching and behaviour inconsistent with the Gospel.

American Christian Fundamentalism (ACF) has made deep inroads into churches all over the world since the Second World War, and its influence has been magnified with the rise of satellite TV and the Internet. I have often said that, with the decline of old-style European theological liberalism, ACF poses a far bigger threat to the global church than Islamist fundamentalism. Why? Because the biggest threats arise not from those who can only kill the body but from those who kill our souls in the name of religion.

Here are four reasons, among others, for my concern:

(1) ACF promotes religious hypocrisy. Its preachers rail against “worldliness” while baptising the consumerist “American dream” and right-wing political agendas; they announce that we are living in “the last days” but they don’t close down their bank deposit accounts or pull their children out of school; they teach that “preaching the Gospel” is the primary, if not the only thing, that matters to God, but they themselves spend most of their time in getting married, building a home, ensuring that their children get the best health care, education and employment. They preach that since the earth is going to be destroyed anyway, environmental concerns are a waste of time; but they spend an inordinate amount of time feeding and clothing their bodies, repairing their homes and cars- all of which are likewise doomed to perish. They teach that all who don’t hear the Gospel are “going to hell”, but that doesn’t seem to move them to give up marriage, children, jobs, money, etc., and go about rescuing as many souls as they can from this “eternal hell”. If they clearly don’t believe what they preach, why should we?

(2) ACF promotes mindlessness. It demonizes whatever it doesn’t understand, especially Secularism, Evolution, Feminism, Islam and the ancient Asian religions. Walk into an affluent ACF-influenced church, and you will see some highly educated men and women in the audience who have checked in their critical thinking at the door. They passively absorb the most outrageous theological notions, submit to authoritarian forms of leadership, and fail to see the glaring contradictions between the lifestyle of Jesus and that of the preacher-entertainers on the podium.

This “split-mind” among many ACF-influenced academics and professionals is a product of the narrow “Gospel” they have been introduced to (e.g. “being born again”, “going to heaven when I die”, “having a personal relationship with God”), so that they cannot see how their daily work, studies, political views, economic behaviour, and so on, have anything at all to do with the Gospel of Christ.

(3) ACF promotes divisiveness. By preaching a private, individualistic “Gospel”, it blinds its followers to the scandal of Christian fragmentation, rivalry and separation. It also encourages “personality cults” which are often disguised as “doctrinal distinctives.” ACF-influenced Christians believe they have nothing to learn from other Christians. The concern of Jesus that the visible unity of the church is the best apologetic to a watching world (e.g. John 13:34, 35; 17:20,21) and Paul’s teaching that the visible unity of the church is central to the message of the cross itself (Eph. 2:14ff) – these are completely ignored.

(4) ACF promotes Zionist views re the Middle East, reinforcing the apartheid practices of the Israeli state. The post-1948 secular state of Israel is bizarrely identified with Old Testament covenant Israel, and the politics of the region going back to the 19th-century is simply ignored. Most tragically, there is a profound and culpable neglect of the entire New Testament understanding of Christ as the fulfilment of all the Old Testament promises (e.g. where is “the land” ever mentioned in the New Testament?).

At root, all these spring from the sad fact that those who talk most loudly about the “authority of the Bible” and being “Bible-believing” Christians, don’t actually read the whole Bible. They read a “Bible within the Bible” (selected verses used as proof-texts) or they read the Bible through spectacles taken from their favourite preachers and authors.

Which is why we need a new Reformation among evangelical Protestants.

While “hate crimes” committed by and against Muslims in Europe receive increasing attention in the global media, the rise of Hindu vigilantism in India receives scant coverage. Yet the loss of life and the levels of terror under which Muslim and other religious minorities in India now live far exceed anything experienced in the West.

For example, a 15-year-old Muslim boy, Hafiz Junaid, was stabbed to death on board a Delhi-Mathura train on June 22. His and his three brothers had boarded the train at Delhi’s Sadar Bazar Station after shopping for Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They were set upon by a mob which repeatedly taunted them with cries of “anti-nationals” and “beef eaters.” In the fight which ensued, Junaid’s three brothers were hospitalized with stab wounds. The police have hitherto done nothing to apprehend the killers.

India is an exporter of beef. But ever since the nineteenth-century Hindu nationalist movement under the leadership of the Arya Samaj made Cow Protection a political slogan, it has from time to time been an excuse for vigilante groups to harass and even murder Muslims in the name of “protecting our religion and culture”. Cows are deemed more valuable than some human lives. Hence the term “sacred cow” that has passed into the English language to denote any object that is immune to criticism.

Under the current BJP government in India, cow protection groups, operating with impunity, have killed Muslims and low-caste peoples simply for transporting cattle. In BJP-ruled states the lynching of Muslim men by Hindu mobs is becoming commonplace.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cronies in the central government remain silent over these killings. But so do many affluent Hindu Indians in the US who welcomed Modi to the US a few days ago and who are intent on exploiting the Trump regime’s ignorance and fear of the Muslim world. A week after Junaid’s murder Modi was in Washington DC, wooing the Tech Giants to invest in India, while the country itself is deteriorating into a state of near-anarchy.

The BJP-ruled Gujarat state, where Modi was formerly chief minister and blithely ignored repeated pogroms against Muslims, recently amended its Animal Preservation Act of 1954 to extend the maximum sentence for cow slaughter from the present seven-year jail term to life imprisonment.

Anybody familiar with Indian cities knows that cows are treated far worse in India than in other countries. Malnourished cows, their ribs painfully sticking out and munching on discarded polythene bags, are a common sight in Indian cities. But anyone familiar with Indian politics knows that such contradictions are central to the whole ideology of Hindutva. Every nationalist needs a bogeyman, and Pakistan and the Muslim and Christian minorities in India serve that end.

Moreover, academic scholars are under pressure to rewrite not only the history of India but their specialist courses so as to obliterate or diminish the contribution of Muslim, Christian and other minority communities. Liberal and Marxist scholars and journalists, no less than Christians and Muslims, are often the targets of vicious personal attacks. Christian NGOs working among the poor (largely ignored by vocal Hindu politicians except at election time) are constantly harassed with allegations of making “unethical conversions”.

Yet another irony is that the colonial penal code relating to “sedition” has often been invoked in recent months to justify assaults on anybody who criticizes India’s policy or military actions in Kashmir. Pakistani actors cannot appear in Indian movies. A group of Muslims who cheered Pakistan’s recent victory in the international cricket championship were set upon by a gang who charged them with “sedition”. Such are the ridiculous depths to which Indian society has sunk! (Imagine all those Indians in the UK who, despite being British citizens, cheer the Indian cricket team when they defeat England, being hauled off to gaol!)

But all is not yet lost. Amnesty International India has condemned hate crimes against Muslims, and civil society organizations have continued to mobilize people to express their revulsion at police inaction and tacit governmental support for the growing culture of Hindu vigilantism. Several thousands of concerned citizens have marched in Indian cities under the slogan “Not in My Name”, following the murder of Junaid and the spate of recent mob lynchings.

If more Hindus in India and the so-called Indian diaspora in the West do not raise their voice in support of such civil society defiance, they should not be surprised if the fear, anger and frustration of young Muslims becomes channelled in the direction of ISIS and other radicalised Islamist groups. If there is one lesson we have learned in South Asia in the post-colonial era it is that extremism breeds extremism, and the silence of elites strengthens the voice of the mob.

Is a government that fails to protect its minorities a “failed state”?

The United States has signed the biggest arms sale in its history (a staggering $100 billion) with Saudi Arabia. There is much irony here, not to mention moral revulsion. For consider:

(1) The Saudi Arabian air-force (comprising predominantly American and British aircraft) has indiscriminately and brutally ravaged the country of Yemen over the past year- leaving a people devastated by famine and facing what the UN has called the gravest humanitarian crisis of the present time (even surpassing that in Syria!). The Saudi military is not held accountable for war crimes. Since militant Islamist movements thrive in failed states, Yemen will be the breeding ground for the next version of al-Qa’ida or ISIL that rises against the West.

(2) Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states being wooed by the Trump regime are apartheid-type societies which do not acknowledge religious liberty nor the equality of women. They have done precious little by way of offering shelter or financial help to refugees from Syria or Iraq, despite their status as fellow-Muslims.

(3) Saudi Arabia has played a central role in the nurturing of a violent form of Islamism. It is home to the most intolerant form of Islam known as Salafist or Wahhabi. Until the mid-twentieth century this was a theological movement of only localized significance; but the oil wealth of modern Saudi Arabia has allowed the Salafists to spread their militant brand of Islam through the funding of extremist religious schools, charities and mosques across the Islamic world. The Saudi kingdom took in Salafist leaders expelled by secular regimes such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq. It was among Saudis engaged in the Afghan conflict of the 1980s that the fatal fusion took place between Wahhabi puritanism and the jihadist ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to the creation of the al-Qa’ida network.

Many of the conflicts within the Muslim communities of Asia and Africa are fuelled by Saudi-funded Salafist organizations that claim to possess a purer interpretation of the Qur’an and therefore condemn as “heretics” Shi’ites, Sufis and others who have lived relatively peacefully with their non-Muslim neighbours Salafism does not necessarily advocate global political violence. It does, however, tend to view the world in Manichean terms, with the West the source of all the impurities that have contaminated the world of Islam and obscured the message of God.

(4) Arabs and Persians have very different civilizations, and their differences were exacerbated by the Sunni-Shia conflict in early Islamic history. Iran, heir to both Persian and Shia Muslim traditions, boasts a much richer intellectual community of scholars than any Arab nation. It does not pose a threat to the USA or Europe. It is clear that the US, with its fear of both ISIS and uncritical defence of Israel, is being manipulated by Saudi Arabia into an irrational anti-Iran hysteria that trades on seeing the Middle East in simplistic black-and-white terms.

Why has the Trump regime’s politically short-sighted arms deal not elicited howls of protest among political and religious conservatives in the US and Europe?

The other part of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia involved securing deals for American corporations to the tune of several billions of dollars. This reveals once more the hypocrisy of those conservatives who accuse advocates for social welfare of wanting a Nanny State. What the Republican Party wants is not really “limited government” but a government that subsidizes the rich rather than the poor, that uses its political and military muscle to open up global markets to American corporations. Trump is only the latest embodiment- though perhaps the most blatant- of the unholy alliance between American government and Big Business. Doesn’t this make a mockery of “free markets”, let alone of democracy?

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