Incisive analysis of the emergence of the Christian right in America

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Rajab 17, 1428 2007-08-01

Book Review

by Crescent International (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 6, Rajab, 1428)

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges. Pub: Free Press, New York, 2007. Pp: 272. Hbk: $25.00

American Fascists, by Chris Hedges, attempts to expose the Christian Right’s war on America on the basis of Umberto Eco’s fourteen principle features of fascism: 1) the cult of tradition, 2) the rejection of modernism, 3) the cult of action, 4) absolutism, 5) the fear of difference, 6) the appeal to a frustrated middle class, 7) patriotism, 8) a sense of humiliation, 9) the belief in perpetual warfare, 10) elitism and contempt for the weak, 11) the cult of heroism, 12) machismo, 13) selective populism, and finally, 14) the use of Newspeak. Hedges has divided his book into ten chapters: “Faith,” “The Culture of Despair,” “Conversion,” “The Cult of Masculinity,” “Persecution,” “The War on Truth,” “The New Class,” “The Crusade,” “God: The Commercial,” and “Apocalyptic Violence,” all of which encompass Umberto Eco’s features of fascism. While there are elements of truth in many of Umberto Eco’s features of fascism, some aspects are questionable, and others are erroneous. Evidently, any attempt to analyze them would require a book-length philosophical treatise. So, for now, we can only focus on Hedges’ book, making a few remarks on his mistakes.

The chapter on faith reveals the extent of Protestant fundamentalism in the United States: 70 million evangelicals, 25% of the population, 200,000 churches. While the Western media is pleased to present Muslims as “fundamentalists,” Hedges reveals that 40% of Americans believe that the Bible is the “actual word of God” and that it is “to be taken literally, word for word.” Applied to the entire country, the number of literalists in the United States is about 100 million, nearly one third of the nation. Muslims, the author should have noted, also believe that the Qur’an is the word of God. However, unlike Christian fundamentalists, the majority of Muslims, with the exception of a literalist minority, believe that the Qur’an has various layers of inner and outer meanings, providing a rich hermeneutic tradition, and avoiding essentialism.

While one third of Americans are fundamentalists, this does not necessarily imply that they are all intolerant. Hedges makes the important distinction between evangelicals who concede that there are other ways to worship and serve God and radical fundamentalists who seek to create an intolerant, theocratic America. These radical Christians merely pay lip-service to traditional justice, calling for a legal system which promotes “Christian principles.” As Hedges explains, the movement preserves the appearance of law and democracy even as its leaders condemn all opponents--dismissed as “atheists,” “nonbelievers,” or “secular humanists”--to moral and legal oblivion. Christian fundamentalists are ardently opposed to diversity and multiculturalism, and openly advocate the disempowerment and eradication of Muslims. Far from being an insignificant isolated minority, Christian extremists have assumed positions of political and military power. The author presents the example of General William Boykin. After leading American troops into battle against a Somali warlord, he announced: “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol.” Rather than being reprimanded for his inflammatory rhetoric, he was promoted to the position of deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Boykin, a member of Faith Force Multiplier, a group which applies military principles to evangelism, believes that America is a “Christian nation” engaged in a battle against Satan, and that America’s Muslim adversaries can only be defeated “if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

The supporters of the Christian right include corporations like Tyson Foods, Purdue, Amway, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s wholesale, among other huge financial backers of the movement. Due to strong financial backing from right-wing extremists, and the influence of neo-conservative think-tanks, the radical Christian right has moved from the fringes of society to the executive branch, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the courts. Unlike Western hatemongers who equate Islam with terrorism, Hedges notes that radical Christian dominionists have no religious legitimacy. They are merely manipulating Christianity, and millions of sincere believers, to build a frightening political mass movement similar to Serbian nationalism, which resulted in the genocide of Bosnian Muslims.

Hedges’ chapters on “Conversion,” “The Cult of Masculinity” and “The War on Truth” help to provide a better understanding of the fascist Christian fundamentalist. The chapter on the “New Class” is particularly interesting as it reveals the corruption which reigns among the Christian right and its callous contempt for the poor. The right-wing oligarchy believes in the divine sanction of the free market, unhindered profits, and the most rapacious cruelties of globalization. These supposedly Christian corporations have little interest in ethics, increasing profit at the expense of fair wages, health benefits, safe working conditions and pensions, seeking to reduce workers to the level of serfs. As Hedges shows, the Christian right espouses an ideology of death, calling for wanton destruction of human beings, of the environment, of communities and neighborhoods, of labor unions, of the free press, of Iraqis, Palestinians and others in the Middle East, of federal regulatory agencies, of social welfare programmes, and of public education. In short, the Christian right seeks to destroy anything and everything that stands in the way of ‘Christian’ America and its allegedly God-given right to dominate the rest of the planet. As the author explains, these corporate Christians have twisted the Bible to serve America’s god of capitalism and discredit the Enlightenment values it once prized. The author also exposes the association fo George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld with the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive right-wing organization that brings together dominionists such as R. J. Rushdoony, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell with right-wing industrialists willing to fund them. He also exposes the alliance between Israeli Jews and radical Christians, which is certainly strange considering that Protestant fundamentalists are traditionally racist and anti-Semitic. At the surface level, at least, the Christian Right has reached out to Zionists, Hispanics and African Americans, exchanging old hatreds for new ones, preferring now to demonize gays, liberals, immigrants, Muslims and others as forces beholden to the Antichrist. Hedges points out that some of the most virulent enemies of Islam can now be found among the African American community, providing the examples such as Glenn Plummer, a black minister from Detroit, and an active Republican known for his vituperative hate of Muslims.

The chapter on “The Crusade” is particularly interesting, exposing how the Christian right functions within the political system it seeks to destroy. For them, only “Bible-believing” judges are worthy of respect. Only Christian teachers are true educators. And only the pseudo-reporters on Christian broadcasting report the real news. In order to create their own “truth,” conservative Christians have created their own publishing houses, printing books filled with falsehood and intolerance, mocking Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, and presenting the likes of Joseph McCarthy as patriots. Radical Christians are locked in a hermetic world devoid of questioning or dissent. They are discouraged from critical analysis and independent thought. They are taught to obey without question. Their leaders condemn criticism and debate as apostasy. Through home-schooling, conservative Christian schools and radical Christian universities, new generations are formed which live in a fantasy world which rejects science, re-writes history, and espouses myths which are designed to destroy the open, pluralist society.

In “God: The Commercial,” Hedges reveals the corruption which reigns in Christian broadcasting, and the personal fortunes amassed in the name of Jesus. The Trinity Broadcasting Network is now beamed to some 75 countries, and its programs are carried by more than 6,000 stations in the US and abroad. Benny Hinn, who hosts “Praise the Lord,” professes to be a prophet and says that he will one day be able to raise the dead. He claims to speak to God daily, that he has ascended to heaven, and that he regularly receives revelation. Preachers like Paul Crouch have also been involved in sexual scandals.

The chapter “Apocalyptic Violence” exposes the cult of violence followed by Christian fascists, with gruesome examples drawn from the Left Behind series by Timothy LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The apocalyptic fantasy of Christian fascists calls for the obliteration of the Earth to hail the glorious moment of Christ’s return. They get excited by war in Iraq, the invasion ofLebanon, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, all glad tidings of the world’s imminent end. In the Left Behind series, the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, Iraq, all Muslims, the media, liberals, freethinkers, and “international bankers” are all followers of the Antichrist. This hate propaganda has captivated tens of millions of American readers.

Hedges quotes hatemonger Gary Frazier from Texas, who told his congregation that “every terrorist has been a Muslim.” This is a man who condemns George W. Bush as a moderate. In his words, “I heard our leadership say that we’re not at war with the religion of Islam, that there were Islamic radicals who had taken over the religion and they’re the ones we have a problem with. Folks, I’m here to tell you right now, I want to apologize to you on behalf of our president and our political leadership because they lied to us. We are at war with the religion of Islam, and it is not a handful of radical Islamists who are taking over the religion and hijacking”; “Islam,” he says as his voice trembles, “is a satanic religion.”

For Christian fascists, America is ruled by evil, and must be overthrown, since it is only champions of the Christian state who have the right to rule. As part of their attempt to destroy the open, pluralist society, the Christian right has been actively creating a parallel system, complete with parallel Christian organizations to replace the old ones, all fully funded by George W. Bush through his unconstitutional support of “faith-based” initiatives. Pat Robertson openly calls for the creation of a new political religion aimed at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and governments, as a first step towards a global Christian empire.

As Hedges understands, “Debate with the radical Christian Right is useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want dialogue. It is a movement based on emotion and cares nothing for rational thought and discussion…This movement is bent on our destruction…These dominionists hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution, a world they blame for the debacle of their lives. They have one goal--its destruction.” While the author does not deny Christian radicals their right to believe, he refuses to engage in a dialogue with those who deny the rights of others, who de-legitimize their faiths, and who denounce their struggles to serve God as worthless. As the author explains, all dialogue must include respect and tolerance for the beliefs, worth and dignity of others: “When this respect is denied, this clash of ideologies ceases to be merely a difference of opinion and becomes a fight for survival.”

Despite his detailed exposé of the philosophical traits of American fascism, the author does not believe that America will inevitably become a fascist state or that the Christian right is the Nazi Party. He does believe, however, that the radical Christian right is a sworn and potent enemy of the open society and that its ideology bears the tenets of fascism. He views the attack by this movement on the rights and beliefs of Muslims, Jews, immigrants, gays, lesbians, women, scholars, scientists, “nominal Christians,” and “secular humanists” as an attack on us all, on our values, our freedoms, and ultimately democracy. As the author warns, “Tolerance is a virtue, but tolerance coupled with passivity is a vice.”

Although Hedges’ book is an eloquently written overview of some of the fascist ideas espoused by the Christian right, it is not without serious shortcomings. As an editor, I would never have approved the book for publication unless it duly discussed the Patriot Act, a prime piece of fascist legislation if there ever was one; the fundamentalist philosophy of some extreme elements of the Republican Party; the right-wing rants of Glenn Beck, O’Reilly, and Fox Television in general; the Hitlerian plans of the Program for the New American Century and other right-wing think-tanks; as well as fascist policies implemented in Iraq by the occupying forces, legislation which fulfills every Falangist fantasy. The author has also made the monumental mistake of associating Christian fundamentalism with “Islamic fundamentalism.” As Hedges says: “the Christian Right and radical Islamists, although locked in a holy war, increasingly mirror each other. They share the same obsessions. They do not tolerate other forms of belief or disbelief. They are at war with artistic and cultural expression. They seek to silence the media. They call for the subjugation of women. They promote severe sexual repression, and they seek to express themselves through violence.”

If we discard the pseudo-Islamic groups created, funded, trained and supported by US and Israeli intelligence services, the Islamic movement is not intolerant of other forms belief or disbelief. Unlike Christian extremists, who believe that Muhammad (saw) was a false prophet, Muslims recognize all the prophets from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to Moses, and from Jesus to Muhammad. With the exception of short periods of persecution by misguided Muslim movements, Islamic history has been one of tolerance, characterized by the mutual co-existence of members of the monotheistic and even polytheistic faiths. Unlike Christian extremists, who wish to disenfranchise Muslims, or simply micro-wave them in a modernized “Final Solution to the Muslim Problem,” Islamic law respects the rights of Christians and Jews, recognizing the legitimacy of their religious roots.

The Islamic movement is not at war with artistic and cultural expression. Excluding the CIA-sponsored extremists in Afghanistan, and the French-supported terrorists in Algeria, both of whom waged wars against their own cultures, the Islamic movement has produced a cultural and artistic resurgence in the Muslim world. While the fascist dictators ruling much of the Muslim world seek to suppress the media, the Islamic movement incessantly struggles against censorship, producing the only real journalism in the region. For many Muslims, Crescent International has been a beacon of light in a dark ocean of censorship. As for the claim that the Muslim movement seeks to oppress women, it suffices to say that where women are oppressed anywhere in the world, it is despite Islam, and not because of it. The worldwide Islamic movement calls for Islamic emancipation of Muslim woman, granting her the exalted status she merits. Instead of repressing sexuality, Islam promotes a healthy expression of sexuality within the boundaries of marriage.

Finally, the Islamic movement does not seek to express itself by means of violence. The Prophet Muhammad said that “The ink of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr.” Instead of bullets and bombs, the Muslim movement has produced a wealth of Islamic literature. The Islamic Revolution in Iran, the prime example for the Muslim movement, was the result of a popular uprising. It was achieved by the overwhelming will of the people and without the use of guerrilla warfare or terrorism. If Muslims are pushed towards violence, it is the result of provocation. They are simply trying to survive like any organism which seeks to defend itself against the invasion of a foreign body. Any cornered cat will take out its claws. This is not an apology for violence, but merely an understanding of cause and effect. Islam, it must always be remembered, categorically condemns the killing of non-combatants. Militants who murder civilians act in opposition to the ideology they claim to defend. Yet, despite manifesting a complete misunderstanding of the Muslim movement, Chris Hedges has written a revealing book on the American fascists who are waging a war not only against America and its foundational values, but also against the rest of the world.

This book review was contributed by a Muslim academic in the US who prefers to remain anonymous.

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