October 17, 2011
It has been said that Islamic fundamentalism was born of resentment in the Egyptian prisons of Nasser and Sadat. It was there that Sayyid Qutb began to believe that Muslims who thought they could lead a secular government were betraying Islam. This man’s writings against secularism and the west which he characterized as “the white man” became especially important after he refused to allow any change in his death sentence and became, in effect, a Muslim martyr over against any idea that Islam could exist in a secular state. This is all chronicled in the recently re-issued book by Lawrence Wright called The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.
Resentment can be born of many experiences and in the case of Qutb they included time in various parts of America as well as the experience of colonial rule and its immediate aftermath. That kind of force is relatively easy to ignite among the poor and dispossessed, especially by the cynical rich who adopt ideology that sits them in their desire for power. That at least is one way of reading the actions of Osama bin Ladin. It is why watching Turkey as a kind of bellwether is so interesting at the moment. And it is why many Christians, including many Anglicans, are so frightened and defensive in Africa where, in spite of St. Augustine and others, Christianity is portrayed as a ‘western’ religion over against the ambitions of Empire among many conservative Muslims on that continent. Given the opportunity, I ask why we cannot be more confident in preaching grace instead of becoming more morally rigid and joining the outcry against America (in the form of the Episcopal Church in our case) in an attempt to hold our own against the aggressive expansion of Islam.
In the far west of Tanzania from where I have just returned after visiting our friends in the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, Christians and Muslims seem to get along pretty well in spite of the region’s history as a cradle of the slave trade. Christians express some concern and even resentment about Muslim reactions to any of their own who convert to Christianity, and the rumor that if a Christian man converts to Islam, he is forced to take more than one wife so that he cannot revert to his former ways. It is striking to me in a part of the world where 90% of the people exist by subsistence farming on land that shows all the signs of deforestation and other poor land management practices, that there is very little resentment being expressed at least to this foreign visitor. One person talked of being in a Western supermarket whole there was a drought and with it mass starvation at home and wondering why God distributed resources so unevenly. Everywhere our team went there were covert or overt requests for help, for more monetary support for projects and institutions in the Diocese and frequent requests for help getting to America for further education. Much less expensive advancement within Africa seemed received as decidedly ‘second best’. In other words, as I think about this one week visit (my third visit to the Diocese) rather than fueling resentment, poverty combined with our presence seemed to spark a kind of hope for something better.