The recent threats of random beheadings in the center of the city of Sydney have, as intended, spread terror throughout the population. That is what terrorism is all about. Whether or not such threats are ever carried out, we know from the much-publicized horrifying decapitations of two American and one British journalist that they are real : “Ab esse ad posse” – “From what exists one can deduce what is possible”. Over-reaction can fan the flames of fanaticism and blatant or latent Islamophobia across all levels of society, especially among Bogans over their beer. But the fear of faith-based conflict Down Under is amply justified as a famous unprecedented riot in the beach suburb of Cronulla proved not long ago.
In a broader world perspective and in view of the recent emergence of a well-armed and well-financed “Islamic State”, already in control of a territory in Irak and Syria larger than France, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether we are not condemned to witness, if not be involved in, a repetition of history’s infamous wars between Islam and Christianity. It is somewhat disturbing to learn, for example, that ISIL is already speaking of its Western, Christian enemies as “Crusaders”. It is even more frightening to discover that behind the title of ISIL’s official magazine “DABIQ” is reference to a locality in the north of Syria between the city of Alep and Turkey, which is mentioned in an apocalyptic prophecy, very popular among jihadists, as the location of the final conflict between Muslims and “the infidels” that we are.
Most of us have had little contact with the world of Islam. Many, even a theologian like me, would have to admit to having very superficial knowledge of the religion, its followers and their history. Our fantasies about Arabs, mistakenly identified as representing the world’s Muslim population, are perhaps colored if not based on movies like “Lawrence of Arabia”. Who can forget the backwardness and the chaotic incompetence of the competing Arab tribes after Lawrence led them to victory over the Turks, the enemies of their World War 1 ally, Great Britain ?
In a world where oil has given Middle East Muslim countries enormous economic power and the means of financing terrorism and the Islamic State’s holy war against us (with the added help of European ransom money), where a coalition of Western allies, along with several Arab states, has been formed and is at present militarily involved in trying to destroy the Islamic State, one cannot but be afraid that the Third World War has already begun. Apocalyptic Armageddon, or more precisely, Dabiq, has become less unthinkable.
While religious fanaticism is not the sole mobilizing factor fueling the conflict, the apparent impossibility of dialogue between the protagonists does not favor optimism for a peaceful outcome. Are we condemned simply and impotently to lament with Christopher Hitchens that “religion poisons everything” ?