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by William H. Benson

April 24, 2003

     “As far as the east is from the west,” so the Scripture reads, and Rudyard Kipling wrote, “The East is the East, and the West is the West.”  Even though there exists much antagonism between the West and the East, on occasion the West has taken what the East has had to offer, such as the religion Christianity, and rejected that which it found offensive.

     April 23 is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England, and yet George was not British.  He was born in the Middle East and was tortured and put to death in Palestine on April 23, 303 A.D.  Hundreds of years later, he gained status as a saint whose name was invoked in England before the Norman conquest.  Later mythologies claimed that he slew dragons.

     The historical St. George flag, a red cross on a white background, is still part of the British Union flag, and so England, a Western country, adopted St. George, a Middle Eastern martyr.

     In the last centuries the West incorporated into its very fiber the idea that religion and politics must be separated, that much human suffering arises when the two are co-joined.  Consider Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini, a case where a holy man ruled the country and drove the people into a brutal and suppressive war-torn society.  And then there was the Taliban in Afghanistan, where men grew beards and women were not seen.

     The West does not fully understand that the East has absolutely rejected the idea of separating its religion from its civil law.  The Koran is not only religious scripture for a faith in an afterlife; it is meant to be also the law of the land.  Its scholars are expected to rule and pass judgement.

     Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), a chief ideologist of the Islamist movement, was convinced that the modern West suffered from a “hideous schizophrenia” brought on by the separation of civil and religious authority.  Qutb’s solution was Jihad by an Islamic “vanguard” to restore what he believes should never have been surrendered.

     Peter Berman in his new book Terror and Liberalism argues that we should look upon Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and even the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Hamas for what they truly are–totalitarians, heirs to an ideology handed down by the Bolsheviks, the fascists, and the Nazis.  They believe the same–in “submission”, in “the one, instead of the many”, and in “the total state, the total doctrine, the total movement”.  The result is always bloody, a cult of death.

     Berman wrote that Bush’s actual and justifiable reason for going to war against Saddam Hussein’s regime was not the fear of weapons of mass destruction but rather “to begin a rollback of the several tendencies and political movements that add up to Muslim totalitarianism. . . . Hussein’s rule in Iraq has been irrational, paranoid, murderous, grandiose, and demagogic, replete with serial atrocities and aggressions.”

     Certain religious and political ideologies are like biological viruses, such as this new one, SARS, which should be identified, quarantined, and then eliminated for no other reason than that they are so destructive to the people.  Totalitarianism is one such ideology, and another is the uniting of religious beliefs and practices with the civil law.

     Today in downtown Baghdad Saddam Hussein’s vicious regime of totalitarian and despotic rule is history, and the civil law of the land is now the U.S./English military armed forces.  The Stars and Stripes, along with a British flag, sporting a St. George cross, are both waving in the breeze above Iraqi sand.  A dragon slain lies under the rubble.

     And what is most promising is that the various factions and sects within the Muslim religion have hesitantly begun to emerge after being driven years ago deep into hiding by Saddam’s brutal regime.  Separation of church and state in Iraq is today a reality.


     Centuries ago the East gave the world a new religion–Christianity, and the West swallowed it totally and never looked elsewhere nor considered another.  By George W. Bush’s modern-day crusade the West this month has given to the East freedom, a chance at religious diversity, and promises for self-rule, and the East now has a choice–to either take them or reject them.