Friday, May 10, 2024

Religious Colonisers

One of the many absurdities behind the new form of antisemitism which goes by the name of Anti-Zionism and tags the Jews as imperialists, colonisers and racists is that of the three monotheisms that emerged out of the Middle East, Judaism is, according to any sensible reading of the matter, the least inherently imperialist.

Islam is the extreme case in fact, with global conquest baked in as a core objective from the start.It’s properly codified into the scripture.

Next most imperialist is the eastern Orthodox form of Christianity, particularly in the Russian flavour. This is because in the contemporary world it represents a near unbroken tradition where the Emperor and the Patriarch have acted in tandem: the result a near theocratic form of statehood which has tended to be authoritarian domestically and often highly expansionist beyond its borders.Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill are its most recent exponents.

Western Christianity is more of a mish mash. Oddly enough one still hears rather naïve people claiming that Christianity is the Sermon on the Mount, as if none of the rest of the stuff which accreted onto that organically afterwards really counts.

Adoption by the Roman Empire was a solid start for any religion with imperialist ambitions, but in the West at least, secular authority soon started to disintegrate.The Popes attempted to refashion the dominant secular power to suit themselves with the so-called Holy Roman Empire, but this ultimately led to conflict, German disunity and a whole later, far more toxic forms of imperialism.

The rather self-serving way the Arabs tell it today, the Crusades were the first serious example of European ‘white settler colonialism’ that they had to endure. 

At their inception though, things were far more complicated. The leaders of the early Crusades, the Normans, were colonisers because they were basically Vikings, not because they were fanatical Christians, and on arrival in the Med they started to promote sophisticated societies where all three monotheistic faiths were tolerated and enjoyed a measure of equality.

And outside of Franco-Norman acquisitiveness, the basic urge behind the Crusade was to re-establish Christian control of an area between Syria and Libya which had been overrun by Islamic hordes, with the re-taking of Jerusalem itself seen as the bare minimum. So, a counter-strike rather than an opportunistic invasion for profit.

By the conclusion of the Reconquista, the Spanish version of Catholicism had undoubtedly incorporated something of an explicit global territorial mission, but there nevertheless always remained a defensive component to this. Iberian navigators headed west in part because they believed they would be able to to locate and collaborate with pre-existing Christian societies in ‘the Indies’, which might offer the possibility of outflanking aggressive Islam, which at that time once again threatened to overrun Western Europe via the Balkan route.

There was always an inherent tension between church and state in the western form of Christianity and this would be transplanted to the New World. Christianity may be have evolved to become more than the message on the mount, but dig hard enough and it is there, as is the persona of the Messiah as a non-violent, redistributive, Jewish, anti-imperial radical.

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