Conversations With God

Tell Andrew what God commands you to do at [email protected]

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God said to Abraham: "Kill me a son." Abraham said: "You've got to be fucking kidding me ..." Or, at least that's the loose translation.

God has spoken to a lot of people in the past, with patchy success. Telling Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt was a great idea. Telling a 17-year-old girl in the 13th Century to fight the English ... kind of hazy on that one. Recently, His communiques have become more frequent. And more political.

This has been one hell of a week for God and his confidantes. Following the release of pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, a retaliatory tape surfaced in which a masked man screams "God is great" just before hacking at the neck of Nick Berg, an American who traveled to Iraq to build phone antennas.

As if to make sure he got his point across, the killer spoke to President Bush individually, saying: "Your worst days are coming, with the help of God. You and your soldiers will regret the day when your feet touched the land of Iraq and showered your bravery on shelters of Muslims." While this hooded man is a fundamentalist already wanted for 25 bombings in Iraq, his anger is not abnormal-a recent Gallup poll found that 71 percent of Iraqis consider American forces occupiers rather than liberators.

The actions of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and others like him contort the Iraqi conflict into a religious battle.

Osama bin Laden wishes to start a religious war, a kind of renewal of the Crusades that bloodied the Dark Ages, pitting Muslims against Christians.

So what is the U.S. leadership doing? Playing right into al Qaeda's hands by hopping on the "God told me ..." bandwagon.

"God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did," Bush said in June of last year, according to an Israeli newspaper.

This kind of talk only inflames the conflict and convinces the Arab world that the war on terror is actually a war on Islam.

Osama bin Laden's recruitment tapes are packed with religious references and orders to kill those that do not follow the strict, fundamentalist way of life. Last February, bin Laden revealed that God had told him, "Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors, they are but friends and protectors to each other."

So if God is talking to both U.S. leaders and the leaders of our enemies, which side is right? The answer is neither. Absolute religious conviction is a dangerous end game that has no place in affairs of state. If the U.S. is drawn into a religious conflict it will be fought using unorthodox methods.

The march to a religious crusade will be fueled by righteous anger and careless terminology from both sides. Last Tuesday, Rep. Tom Delay called the men on the tape "monsters," and Sen. Lindsey Graham said, "they're despicable in every way and behave like animals."

These characterizations of the killers may be true, but in the rumor mill and newspapers of the Arab world, the words "monsters" and "animals" will be used to incite rage and retaliation. When a conflict is framed by religion, loose rhetoric is just as dangerous as degrading pictures.

A renewed crusade is so horrific that it seems beyond the realm of possibility. American Muslims would have to choose between country and religion in a war that will be fully stocked by soldiers on both sides of the conflict who truly believe that God is on their side. Imagine entire generations of young men and women flying to distant parts of the world to fight over what God said to whom.

We must think seriously about the type of conflict we want to engage in. Bush has the nation walking a thin line between a war on terror and a war on Islam. Using God as justification for war raises the conflict to a point where victory is impossible, no matter whose side-if any-God is on.

If we continue down this path, Iraq could easily become a stepping-stone on the road to religious war. When U.S. leaders' conversations with God aggravate an international conflict, they should tell their priests, not the press.


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