Not On Our Side The Right Blames God and Bush for 9/11?
When Representative Cynthia McKinney, a Georgia Democrat and prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus, recently told a radio interviewer that the Bush Administration had advance notice of the Sept. 11 attacks and did not "warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered," she was roundly -- and not undeservedly -- criticized in the political-media world for peddling unproven conspiracy theories. But when a senator took to the Senate floor and said the Sept. 11 attacks were retribution from God in response to U.S. policy toward Israel, a similar firestorm did not ensue.
Last month, Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, gave a speech in the Senate and asserted that Israel is "entitled" to the West Bank. He also chastised those within the United States who have urged Israeli restraint, blaming them for Sept. 11.
"One of the reason I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America," Inhofe huffed, "is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them."
In other words, on Sept. 11, God allowed airliners to be piloted into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon because U.S. actions related to Israel were not to His/Her liking. How else to interpret Inhofe's words? A "spiritual door opened" for the attack? Well, who's in charge of spiritual doors -- and opening and closing them?
Inhofe is clearly suggesting the United States was punished because the Bush Administration and, I suppose, previous administrations had not been more supportive of Israel. Three billion dollars a year in economic and military aid apparently is not sufficient in the eyes of the Almighty. So, like McKinney, Inhofe holds the Bush gang accountable for the deaths of thousands, though he is less explicit. McKinney called for an investigation, but, alas, Inhofe did not. Otherwise, CSPAN viewers could be treated to hearings where religious experts would testify to the workings of "spiritual doors" and how one determines what secular actions most influence the doorkeeper upstairs.
Inhofe's remarks are reminiscent of the ravings uttered by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson days after the awful attacks. The pair accused the ACLU, abortion rights advocates, feminists, gays and lesbians, and People for the American Way (a liberal interest group) of degrading the nation and thus pissing off God. As Falwell said, "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve." ("That's my feeling," Robertson piped up.) After the two were criticized across the political spectrum, Falwell and Robertson issued phony apologies. But long-term damage had (thank God!) been done to their reputations.
Inhofe's case is a bit different.
He's no TV preacher; he's a lawmaker. And his remarks did not come in the emotionally chaotic days following the attacks; his comments were made after he had months to reflect. He has, as far as I can tell, received no flak for his we-deserved-Sept. 11 statement. But 200 or so Tulsa Muslims did march on his office a month later to protest another portion of his speech: Inhofe's insistence that God handed the West Bank to the Jewish people. How does Inhofe know that? It's in the Bible. In that same floor speech, Inhofe offered seven reasons why Washington ought to back Israeli claims in the West Bank.
His reason number seven -- "the most important reasons" -- was this: "Because God said so ... Look it up in the book of Genesis ... In Genesis 13:14-17, the Bible says: the Lord said to Abram [later known as Abraham], 'Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward and westward: for all the land which you see, to you I will give it, and to your seed forever ... Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to thee.'" Abram was in Hebron at the time, and Hebron is in the West Bank. So this must mean God granted the Jews all that territory forever.
In Inhofe's mind, these few sentences in the Bible decide the matter, end of story. This is fundamentalism. And not too far a throw from the Islamic fundamentalism used by terrorists who point to the Koran to justify their actions.
When the anti-Inhofe protesters in Tulsa noted that the Bible and the Koran say Jews and Muslims are both descendants of Abraham, Inhofe responded, "I am not wavering from my view." He argued that, according to Genesis, the Jewish line has a special covenant with God. If Inhofe is going to take his Middle East policy guidance directly from Genesis, he has a problem, for in Genesis 15, God makes another real-estate promise to Abram. One night, as Abram is offering an animal sacrifice to God (a three-year old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove and a young pigeon, per God's instructions), the All-knowing One says, "I will give your descendants the land east of the Shihor River on the border of Egypt as far as the Euphrates River."
That's some stretch.
It would cover Jordan in its entirety, a big chunk of Syria, a third of Iraq, and the northern tip of Saudi Arabia. Talk about a Greater Israel. And one with oil. In his speech, Inhofe maintained the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is "not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true." A question for the Senator: Why would the word of God be true in Genesis 13, but not in Genesis 15? Ariel Sharon better watch out for his Christian fundamentalist supporters, for they may be looking for him to send his tanks all the way to Persian Gulf.
If the Middle East conflict is indeed a battle over the word of God, then all hope is lost. Fortunately, Inhofe is not one of the more influential Republicans on Capital Hill. But he does represent religious conservatives, an important component of George W. Bush's political base. According to Karl Rove, Bush's key political operative, the Bush camp was mighty disappointed that only 15 million white evangelicals voted in 2000. The Bush gang had expected 19 million to do so. So, Rove says, the Christian right is "something we have to spend a lot of time and energy on."
And many within the religious right do share Inhofe's view that God gave Israel and the West Bank to the Jews in the Bible. Many also subscribe to "dispensationalism," a Christian theology developed in the mid-1800s that holds that the existence of Israel is a necessary prelude to the rise of the Antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ. (As part of the End Time scenario, Jews supposedly have to be gathered together in one spot, and Israel offers logistical potential.) Consider this the ultimate conspiracy theory -- and it prompts evangelists to be fervent supporters of Israeli hawks.
Fundamentalism, Inhofe-style, is deeply embedded within GOP circles. A recent example: In mid-April, Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican and the House majority whip, told an audience of 300 people at the First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas, "Christianity offers the only viable, reasonable, definitive answer to the questions of 'Where did I come from?' 'Why am I here?' 'Where am I going?' 'Does life have any meaningful purpose?' Only Christianity offers a way to understand that physical and moral border. Only Christianity offers a comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world -- only Christianity."
What a my-God's-way-or-the-highway view.
DeLay also told the crowd, "Don't send your kids to Baylor (University). And don't send your kids to (Texas) A&M." Instead, he urged parents to ship their children to "Christian schools." This advice sure reflected DeLay's far-out extremism, for Baylor and A&M are generally regarded as two of the most conservative universities in his state. Baylor in 1999 became the first university in the United States to back the study of "intelligent design" -- a fancy term for creationism. Yet Baylor, which publicly professes a commitment to Christian values, still does not meet DeLay's standards. (Could that be because DeLay was booted out of Baylor in 1967 for what his spokesman says was "too vigorous a social life"?)
Weeks after September 11, DeLay opined, "The country has to decide whether it's going to seek the face of God or turn its back on God permanently." DeLay's all-or-nothing fundamentalism sounds awfully close to the God-punished-us line. By the way, DeLay has slapped Bush for not supporting Sharon to the hilt.
As the Middle East troubles have intensified, there's been wondering among Christian right watchers as to whether the born-again Bush shares the we-love-Armageddon view of the religious right. (When Ronald Reagan was president, he made comments indicating he was sympathetic to dispensationalism.) But Bush's policy decisions of late -- lean on Sharon (to a limited degree) and let Colin Powell push for negotiations -- have not been in sync with apocalyptic theology, and they have peeved Falwell and other religious right shepherds.
"I think the president has made a big mistake" in the Middle East, says Pat Robertson. "And when he called on the Israelis and said I want them to pull out right now, before they finish the task of rooting out terrorism, in the so-called West Bank territory, I think he's alienated some people."
How will Bush make happy the Christian conservatives and motivate the white evangelicals Karl Rove craves as voters? Perhaps by opposing all forms of human cloning. Let's hope it's not via the Middle East, for his religious right supporters may not be satisfied until there's all-out war and, if they follow Inhofe's example and read Genesis literally, Israel marches across the region and annexes Kuwait.
David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation.