Story Religious expert Mark Juergensmeyer and his other religious expert friends

Script Gregory F Treverton & Co. of the RAND National Security Research Division

Directors Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, Department of the Navy, the U.S. intelligence community, allied foreign governments, and Foundations.

Producer CIA's Directorate of Intelligence

Cast Christian God and Muslim God, Christian terrorist groups, Islamic Jihadi outfits, White Christian and Islamic Governments overtly and covertly supporting religious terrorism, New Religious Movements belonging to Christianity and Islam and the Jewish, Hindu and other victims of Islam and Christianity, and Rand’s ‘religious experts’ and US intelligence analysts.

Now showing in some theatre near your home.

The lasting impression of the average viewer is confusion followed by outrage. The Hindu critic sat through two-thirds of the movie for an agonizing 2 hours and then conducted an exit poll outside a cinema hall showing Gregory Treverton’s ‘Cosmic War’, questioning viewers as they emerged after the show. 83% of those questioned told us they did not know even at the end of the movie if the war or the story had ended when it ended while 17% expressed the view that the movie must be renamed ‘comic war’. While 42% thought the story of ‘cosmic war’ was boring old stuff redeemed however in small measure by excellent modern special effect visuals provided by White Christianity’s nuclear weapons and the Islamic world’s other weapons of mass destruction, 36% thought the ‘cosmic war’ between the Christians and Muslims was action like they get to see on WWF on the small screen where two fat men in funny underclothes and gaudy painted faces merely pretend to kill each other and that it was a lot of fun; 22% told us they were not sure if the film was meant to amuse them, scare them or bore them. All of them agreed that Jurgensmeyer story and Treverton’s script sucked and that the Directors were trying to sell them a lemon and that they would think twice before watching a Rand Corporation movie again.

The story in brief: The Christian God wants Christians to believe just as the Muslim God wants Muslims to believe that He alone is God and therefore ‘good’. It follows therefore that the God who is not God is not good but evil and this depends on which God shouts louder. Both Gods want the same cosmos for their kingdom and decide to fight to the finish for it. That is why the movie is named ‘Cosmic War’ and that is why Treverton, the principal author calls the war between the two ‘only me God’s, a war between good and evil. Except for the little detail about who is Good and who is Evil, the story is straight forward up until here.

After a while both these ‘only me God’s get weary of beating up each other to a pulp and call off their war to take a breather. They declare the first of their several cease-fire agreements, agree that fighting each other to death is silly when they can get others to do it for them and so come to a mutually beneficial agreement to convert the ‘Cosmic War’ from the metaphysical into the physical. Both ‘only me God’s begin the process of creating their own terrorist armies who from now on will not only fight each other to the finish, but will also exterminate from the earth those who refuse to join them. From fighting an invisible war in some remote corner of the cosmos, both Gods create their own terrorists to fight the wars on their behalf and descend invisibly to earth to oversee the acts of murder, mayhem, rape, plunder, loot and destruction performed for them and in their name.

The biggest disappointment of the story and the script and the film is that just as the two ‘only me God’ s could not fight each other to the finish, their terrorist armies too cannot seem to fight each other to the finish. And so Jurgensmeyer, seeks to present a twist in the tale. He advocates the two terrorist armies of the two ‘only me Gods’ to declare yet another cease-fire, to realize that they are the children of Siamese twins separated at birth and to turn as one against those that refuse to join either army. The ‘Siamese Twins’ lie must be exposed, the Hindu critic thought. Jurgensmeyer forgot the Jews. It should actually be Siamese Twins of three Gods and their armies.

Obedient to Jurgensmeyer exhortation, as the two (should be three) ‘only me God’ s look around the as yet unconquered cosmos, their attention is caught by a bare-chested Hindu dwarf clad in a small piece of white cloth from the waist down sporting a wooden umbrella, who was pressing the Christian and Muslim nether world firmly under one small foot while the other small foot effortlessly soared over their own heads, in a spectacular display of special effects, to span the cosmos which both ‘only me God’ s hoped some day to control. Their fury, understandably, knew no bounds.

Jurgensmeyer, probably presaging the catcalls resounding in the movie hall and now desperate for some thunder and fury, points to the dwarf and tells the two ‘only me God’ s that it is the dwarf which poses the biggest challenge to their power and hegemony and that the Siamese twins instead of trying to finish each other off which in any case they cannot do, must try to finish off the followers of this dwarf whom he calls the RSS. From then on the film rapidly descends into bathos. The third part of the Siamese Twins decides to strike a tactical alliance with the army of the Hindu Dwarf. At intermission, the viewers are left with the question, who, for God’s and Cosmos’ sake, is the bad guy in all this. If both ‘only me God’s want the same Cosmos, if both think they are Good while the other is Evil, if the madmen and women who constitute the terrorist armies of these Gods cause the same death and destruction, who, asks the Hindu critic, is good and who evil?

Jurgensmeyer’s answer to that one – Ravana, the metaphysical ‘evil one’ and his terrorist army, the RSS. Even as the Hindu critic rubbed his ears and eyes in total disbelief, Jurgensmeyer presents Ayodhya as Kurukshetra the battlefield at which point the Hindu critic walks out of the hall in disgust. He like many others is considering suing the Rand Corporation to get his money back. This can’t be serious, agree those questioned by the exit poll. If the Rand wants to avoid litigation it must first rename ‘Cosmic War’ to ‘Comic War’ which should not be too difficult and then have the film certified as ‘spoof’ so that viewers are not deceived.

Viewer Rating: *
Critic rating: */2

Radha Rajan
16th August, 2005.

Rand Corporation Report – Salient points
The proceedings described in this report were hosted by the RAND National Security Research Division, which conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, Department of the Navy, the U.S. intelligence community, allied foreign governments, and foundations. The project was funded by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence.

To that end, the RAND Corporation organized a board of religious experts. Those experts met with intelligence analysts in three carefully prepared day-long workshops. The goal was to provide analysts with background and frames of reference by assessing religious motivations in international politics, what may cause violence with religious roots and how states have sought to take advantage of or contain religious violence.

We especially express our appreciation to the experts – Mark Juergensmeyer, Philip Jenkins, Juan Cole, Ian Lustick and Jack Miles. This research was conducted within the Intelligence Policy Center (IPC) of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD). NSRD conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the U.S. intelligence community, allied foreign governments, and foundations.

Authors - Gregory F. Treverton, Heather S. Gregg, Daniel Gibran, Charles W. Yost.

Principal author, Gregory F Treverton

This report offers an introductory inquiry into the causes and motivations of religiously inspired violence and terrorism. It is distilled from a series of workshops on religious conflict sponsored by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence and the RAND Corporation. The goal of the project was to explore religiously motivated conflict in the presence of some of the best experts inside and outside of government.

Mark Juergensmeyer’s concept of “cosmic war” provides a useful conceptual framework for examining the larger-than-life confrontations that religious extremists are engaged in today. This concept refers to the metaphysical battle between the forces of Good and Evil that enlivens the religious imagination and compels violent action. Cosmic war has roots in the theology of most religions. In the three monotheistic religions, it is the Day of Judgment, the cosmic battle between Good and Evil, and the realization of God’s ultimate purpose for His creation. In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is the perennial struggle to exit the Wheel of Existences with its continuous cycle of rebirths in order to return to Brahman or achieve Nirvana. Cosmic war ensues when this inner conflict between Good and Evil becomes manifest – physical, not metaphysical.

Cosmic war has several defining characteristics: It is more symbolic than pragmatic in intent and is performed in remarkably dramatic ways; its displays of violence find their moral justification in a religious imperative; it operates on a divine time line with victory being imminent but not in this lifetime; and it is empowering to those who take up the cause, providing divinely justified actions to real-world problems. Finally, acts of terror in a cosmic war are seen as evocations of a larger spiritual confrontation between Good and Evil. The power of this concept surpasses all ordinary claims of political and earthly authority. In the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world where the battle for the soul of Islam continues, Islamists and Al-Qaeda’s networks have placed their struggle against secularism, perceived Western domination, and the United States, in a cosmic context. This context animates and elevates their struggle giving it the imprimatur of the divine; hence the outcome of their fight is preordained: Islam in its pristine purity will prevail.

Political “wars of position,” a concept coined by the Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci, is useful in understanding the types of states that use religion for political gain and in what ways they accomplish it. “Cosmic war,” may be initiated by an extremist vanguard, but that may only be the first phase of the struggle. The next phase of conflict might be termed a “war of positioning,” in which various actors with competing agendas jockey for greater influence in and control over the state. It is also important to offer a careful definition of radical political “fundamentalism” as distinct from radical apolitical fundamentalism, on the one hand, and from a religious political radicalism, on the other. For starters, radical fundamentalists might be defined as those who fit three criteria:

  • They call for a radical, rapid, and comprehensive transformation of society.

  • They believe that there is some direct link between adherents and the ultimate source of authority in the cosmos.

  • They engage in politics to achieve their purposes.

In particular, the Iran case under Ayatollah Khomeini offers insights into the “fundamentalist” phenomenon because it demonstrates how a “quietist” posture was transformed into politico-fundamentalist fervor. And it presents a dramatic example of this fusion between religion and politics in the 20th century. Political rule by clerics was a Khomeini-inspired innovation in Shiism. His message combined religion, politics, and nationalism, and his call for political action was not only appealing to the masses but it galvanized them into taking action against the Shah. The Khomeini experiment in Iran was a watershed event. It emboldened Muslims across the world, making them more politically active and inspiring their fundamentalist fervor, and ultimately leading to radicalization of new groups such as the Mahdi Army under Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.

Sometimes referred to as cults, NRMs have two defining characteristics – a high degree of tension between the group and its surrounding society and a high degree of control exercised by leaders over their members. There is a discernible proliferation of NRMs across the global landscape. While they have gotten most attention in the richer countries, they are found everywhere, including countries of the Third World and the Middle East. Nor are NRMs unique to one religious tradition. NRMs can be found in Hinduism (the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS), Israel (Gush Emunim), Christianity (the U.S.-based Identity Movement) and Islam, including Al Qaeda, a global network with a transcendent vision that draws support in the defense of Islam. While most are not violent, a few have engaged in ritualized acts of mass suicide and homicide. Notable examples include Heaven’s Gate, the Branch Davidians, and Aum Shinrikyo. Among possible conditions under which NRMs resort to violence, two stand out – if the group or movement feels threatened from the outside, by society or the government; and if it has young, inexperienced leaders that resort to violence when threatened either from inside or outside the movement. Therefore, a government’s policies with regard to an NRM, if perceived as threatening, could prompt the group to resort to violence. The Sadr movement in Iraq fits the definition of a NRM in many respects; it is a minority within the Shia population and is marked by a high degree of control and allegiance from those surrounding Muqtada. He and his movement became symbols of resistance to the U.S.-led coalition forces and to more politically quietist Shia leaders in Iraq, such as the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who neither overtly challenged the occupation nor called for the creation of a Shia-dominated Islamic state.

For the intelligence analyst and for policymaking, an understanding of cosmic war is particularly useful when formulating strategies aimed at its mitigation In particular, the use of military force as a tool for combating cosmic war could be counterproductive; force could perpetuate the perception that a religious group is under attack and must fight for the preservation of the faith and its own existence. It validates the appeal of cosmic war.

Examples of such action might include coalition forces’ decision to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr and forcibly disarm his movement in Iraq, as well as U.S. government policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that risks looking completely one-sided to the Muslim world. More generally, in dealing with a perceived clash between Islam and current U.S. foreign policy, an attempt ought to be made to blur the edges of that clash, not sharpen them. Instead of emphasizing the historic sense of conflict between Islam and Christianity or the West, policy ought to emphasize possible points of convergence.

The numbers support what September 11th indicated so graphically: Religious conflicts have escalated dramatically since the onset of the Cold War. According to one scholar’s estimates, throughout the 1950-1996 period, religious conflicts constituted between 33 and 47 percent of all conflicts.1 Moreover, since the end of the Cold War, nonreligious conflicts have decreased more than religious conflicts.

While certainly not a new phenomenon, religiously motivated violence has become a pervasive element of modern conflicts. “Holy terror,” killing in the name of God, constitutes a major driver of violent conflicts today. This is evident in the rise of Islamic insurgencies in places like Chechnya and Afghanistan and in terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia as well as in the West, including Spain and the United States. To be sure, the rationale for religiously motivated violence exists in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and elsewhere. No major religious tradition has been or is a stranger to violence from its extremists. Some of that violence will challenge American foreign policy, and all of it will challenge the understanding of the U.S. intelligence analysts. That said, while the focus on militant Islam is marked and unsurprising after September 11th, it is also appropriate, because Islamic extremism is in a class by itself as a threat to the United States. It is an international, non-state movement with the opportunity to appeal to a billion and a half adherents. In that sense, it is without parallel in the contemporary world. It constitutes a one-member set. No movement with its origins in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other religion has disrupted international security to the extent that this movement has done and will continue to do.

Juergensmeyer argues that all religious traditions feature depictions of divine wars in which Good battles Evil, particularly in a religion’s scriptures. Divine conflicts are featured prominently in the apocalyptic theology of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Judaism, it is the final judgment and the realization of God’s purpose for creation. In Islam, it is the spiritual Jihad, the struggle in a believer’s life to overcome evil and to do good, to live according to Allah’s will and defend the community of believers against all infidels. And in Hinduism, a pantheistic religion, it was not merely confined to the fierce physical struggles between Lord Rama and Rawana, the Evil One, but also included a struggle that linked the battlefield of Ayodhya to the daily lives of all Hindus.

To be sure, the rationale for religiously motivated violence exists in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and elsewhere. No major religious tradition has been or is a stranger to violence from its extremists. Some of that violence will challenge American foreign policy, and all of it will challenge the understanding of the U.S. intelligence analysts.

For historian Juan Cole, what lies between the psychological and the socio-psychological is “personal cultural capital” - a body of inherited memories, hopes, and resentments – which he considers a very important concept for understanding the conditions under which cosmic war takes root. He argues that one cannot understand the current dynamics between the Middle East and the West without considering the last hundred-plus years of history and the impact of western colonialism on the region. Cole illustrates this point by describing the French takeover of Algeria. The French rearranged society, elevating foreigners and lowly Berbers to the top of the social ladder and relegating the clergy and old, established families to the bottom. This split persists in part despite independence, with the children of oil company executives speaking French and seeking schooling in Paris while the majority of the population receives the leftovers. This story is not unique to the Middle East where most countries have been ruled by the West for 200 years. It is also the reality in Africa and most of Asia. The genocide in Rwanda, for example, can be traced to Belgian efforts to “rearrange” society.

The Al-Qaeda worldview also reflects the history of colonialism and Christian invasion of Muslim lands – themes emphasized by its leader bin-Laden in almost all his public pronouncements and fatwahs. The Middle East, as well as the rest of the Muslim world, has been invaded by the West and humiliated and divided. While the consolidation of Europe into a set of nation-states continued in the nineteenth century, notably in Germany and Italy, that consolidation was stopped in the Middle East by colonial powers. For example, the British divided Jordan and Iraq into separate states, fractionating a cultural and geographical continuum that could have become a single political entity. The same strategy was pursued between Iraq and Kuwait. Likewise, the creation of Israel is understood as the supreme example of western efforts to divide and humiliate Arabs/Muslims in the region. Moreover, many of the existing states, such as Egypt, are “proto- Western,” in their official ideology. Nasser was not a devout or practicing Muslim; he built modern day Egypt on secular nationalist ideas. During his twenty-plus years in power, he emphasized pan-Arab nationalism, an ideology that failed to address the social and economic plight of most Egyptians. Likewise, the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924 by the ultimate westernizer, Kemal Attaturk, was the end of history for the Islamists in the region. Socialism and nationalism are pagan views to all Islamists. Thus, modern Islamists seek to reverse these trends by restoring the Caliphate, eradicating the lines in the sand that divide the Muslim umma or world community, and expelling western invaders and their allies. They seek to “essentialize” or “totalize” Islam, stripping it of its diverse cultural and social contexts. They envision Islam as a comprehensive and stable set of beliefs and practices that determines social, economic, and political attitudes and behavior. Moreover, Islamists argue that Islam is not a private religion, but a comprehensive ideological system covering all aspects of the state, economy, and society.

As a descriptive term for capturing ideologically oriented religious movements, religious fundamentalism is often equated with violent extremism, religious militancy, and terrorism. Secular fundamentalism, on the other hand, is manifested in Marxism and in the many virulent strains of anti-clerical nationalism. This comparative approach defines fundamentalism as “a discernible pattern of religious militancy by which self-styled ‘true believers’ attempt to arrest the erosion of religious identity, fortify the borders of the religious community, and create viable alternatives to secular institutions and behaviors.”

So what then is fundamentalism? To be sure, fundamentalism is not a monolithic idea or movement that expresses or adheres to a single set of ideals. It is not simply extremism or conservatism. . Fundamentalism is not the same as traditionalism. Rather, fundamentalism is “a kind of revolt or rebellion against the secular hegemony of the modern world. Fundamentalists typically want to see God, or religion, reflected more centrally in public life. They want to drag religion from the sidelines, to which it’s been relegated in a secular culture, and back to center stage.”18 For those who see themselves as Muslim fundamentalists, it is a reaction to militant secularism. And for others, it represents a strong desire to see religion reflected more clearly in their polity.

{In this section the report looks closely at the basic causes for ‘cosmic war’ by Islam against White Christian nations – colonialism, the fetish of the colonialists to ‘re-arrange societies’, invasion and occupation by Christianity of Islamic territory. This section also looks at extremist millennial and apocalyptic groups in the US, at Islamic jihadi outfits in Europe and the US and also at the increasing numbers of those converting to Islam in the US and in Europe.}

The definition of NRMs is not universally agreed upon; the term itself is an exercise in political correctness, seeking to avoid the connotations of “cult.” Recent incidences of mass suicide, homicide, and terrorism have renewed interest in religious movements as opposed to violent movements claiming to be part of the “old” religions such as Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Protestantism. Religious violence by those “old” religions was largely ignored during the controversies surrounding cults, a controversy that came to be known in the United States as the “cult wars.” Throughout the 1980s, under the label “cult,” new religions went through a period of vilification; in some cases, there were challenges in court to their status. Today, the number of these NRMs has grown astronomically; one scholar estimates that there are 800 in North America alone. The terms cult and NRM are used interchangeably in this report. For historian Juan Cole, the two defining characteristics of NRMs by any name are

  • a high degree of tension between the group and surrounding society; and

  • a high degree of control over members exercised by leaders.

That control extends to members’ finances, friends and family – indeed, to their entire lives. These movements make extreme demands on members, and often isolate those members from mainstream society. Control and leadership veneration are hallmarks of NRMs. “The role (and mental condition) of the leader of the group seems to be decisive in persuading followers either to choose the radical option, or to adjust as well as possible to adverse circumstances.” There is a discernible expansion of NRMs across the global landscape, and this trend has been evident since the end of the Second World War. In the 1980s, “it burst upon the popular consciousness as the New Age Movement. . . . Literally millions of people were attracted by the vision of hope, and experienced the personal transformation which welcomed them to the movement.” NRMs, especially in the United States, have largely been regarded as a middle-class phenomenon; however, in societies around the world, including the United States, examples of NRMs can be found across all classes. Social dislocations, particularly in economically and politically depressed societies, can become fertile breeding grounds for NRM recruitment. For example, major social dislocations have produced NRMs in places such as Iraq, India, and Pakistan.

{In this section the report looks at the NRMs spawned by Christianity and Islam. The Christian NRMs are basically anti-Jew. Islamic NRMs are basically anti-White Christianity. It also looks at the Islamic NRMs in Iran and Iraq particularly those that are violently opposed to US invasion and occupation of Iraq and those that are in the forefront of anti-US resistance.}

This is by far the most important section in the report

For scholar Jack Miles given the historical relations between Muslims and the Christian West, which for centuries have been characterized by quarrels, dissensions, and conflicts, it is no wonder that a deep chasm of mutual distrust continues to exist not just between followers of the two faiths but also between the Muslim umma and the secular West. In 1965, the bishops of the Catholic Church issued a bold statement pleading for both sides to “forget the past, and urging that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding. . . .”Thirtysix years later when Pope John Paul II visited Syria in 2001, he went further in his call for rapprochement. “As members of one human family and as believers,” he said, “we have obligations to the common good, to justice and to solidarity.”. In the wake of September 11th, there were a number of calls for dialogue and understanding by leaders of both faiths in the United States. In spite of these efforts, however, deep suspicion and misunderstanding still prevail. In the words of one Christian theologian, “the large majority of Christians and Muslims continue to view each other with detailed ignorance.” Like it or not, the secular West – for powerful historical reasons – is heir to this estrangement.

Christianity and Islam today comprise well over 40 percent of the world’s population, and Christian-Muslim relations have become a central concern in global politics. The ways in which these two communities of believers relate and understand each other will have profound consequences for the future. For Christians, the rapid growth of Islam in the West, particularly in France, England, and the United States, is a cause for grave concern. For Muslims, the current war on terrorism, perceived by them as “a war against Islam,” is a wake up call for Muslims to defend their faith. For both communities, “detailed ignorance” remains a formidable barrier to meaningful dialogue and rapprochement. Regarding the current crises in Islam, Miles’ metaphor, one contested by other scholars of Islam, is a hijacked airplane. If the airplane is hijacked – as Islam arguably is by the radicals – then the right response is to talk to the passengers and persuade them to retake the plane. The United States should be in dialogue with Muslims throughout the world to aid in this process. A first step in this direction would be to engage and elicit the aid of educated Muslims such as Tariq Ramadan and others, as militants for peace. Moreover, the United States needs to develop a better “story,” one that would enable it to speak of the Muslim world as Muslim and of the history behind current tensions between the United States and that world. The American story, continuing the European story, tells of an evolution of primary allegiance from religion to nation. Because world Islam has not evolved in the same way, American or other western actions undertaken for reasons of state may easily be interpreted as actions undertaken for reasons of religion. The needed story would place these two narratives in an intelligible and mutually acceptable relationship. Miles notes a 1797 treaty with Tripoli, in which the United States declared that America was “in no sense founded on Christianity.” But was the American national identity, thus announced, comprehensible to the Muslims who signed the treaty?

Miles’ answer begins, essentially, in the fifth century with the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. At that point, clerical government – pope, bishops, priests, and monks – moved into the vacuum created by the collapse of civil government in Western Europe. In the East, the Roman (Byzantine) Empire continued and grew stronger during the sixth century. In the seventh, however, Islam replaced the Empire in all its originally Semitic territories plus Spain, and then began its great eastward expansion.

In 751, when the Arab armies defeated the Chinese on the banks of the Talas River near Lake Balkhash, Islamic expansion and influence into Central Asia took root. This eastward expansion continued with the capture of Delhi and the eventual Islamization of Northern India. Even during the series of Mongol conquests that came a few centuries later, Islam continued its eastward expansion. The campaigns of Timur the Lame were brutal; and according to one analyst, “this was the politics of force.”. In 2003, when Saddam Hussein emphasized the idea of a terrible foreign threat to Baghdad before his own seizure by U.S. forces, “he referred not to earlier Christian attacks on Islam (including the British, who seized the city in both world wars) but to the Mongols. Indeed, when Baghdad fell in 1258, to a Mongol army under Hulegu, reputedly hundreds of thousands were slaughtered.´Yet from Sinkiang to the Caucasus, the Mongol conquerors adopted the religion of the conquered. Islam owed its successes to inheritances from both Judaism and Christianity – from the former the notion of a supremely authoritative text (Torah/Quran) and from the latter the sense of a single world community under God (the universal or “catholic” church/the umma or “nation” of all believers). In their global ambition, Islam and Christianity were fraternal twins, the twin inheritors of the Roman Empire. However, Islam’s cohesion, proselytizing zeal, and military power initially propelled it toward greater dominance. The Mediterranean became an “Islamic lake,” and Western Europe was forced into defensive isolation. Yet later Christianity began to expand as well, into Nordic and Slavic Europe and later, dramatically, into the Americas. Between 1500 and 1800, Christianity doubled in size. Meanwhile, Hindu resistance had halted the Islamic move eastward, just as the Christian resistance in Europe, symbolized by the re-conquest of Spain, began to reverse it in the north. When Britain replaced the Islamic moguls as rulers of India and Romanov Russia began its eastward march to the Pacific, the umma began to feel itself encircled.

A second and easily missed phase of this history began with the struggles within Christianity, whether between Catholics and Protestants, as on the continent, or between contending groups of Protestants, as in Britain. This was the process that eventually elevated national over religious allegiance in the West. The Peace of Augsburg in 1551 and the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 ended truly religious warfare in Europe. The latter treaty, which ended the long, brutal Thirty Years War, laid the groundwork for secular international relations as we have known them. It ended not just the dominance of the Catholic Church in political affairs in Europe but also the dream of some that a reformed but equally universal church could replace it. In place of that dream of universality was the great compromise of Westphalia: each national leader could be “pope” within his country but none could expand his “papacy” into another nation. The United States, a political creation of the post-Westphalian era, reflected precisely this combination of piety and reason at its foundation. Its constitution forbade a national religion but did not prevent the individual states from having their own (that was not definitively ended until the 14th Amendment in the mid-19th century).

In Europe, meanwhile, the fault-lines of allegiance and ideology ceased being religious and became national, as well as radical versus conservative. During the Enlightenment of the later 17th and 18th century, religion as a cultural force grew weaker in Europe, while nationalism grew stronger. Thus, Protestant Britain and Catholic Austria – both conservative monarchies – joined forces across sectarian lines to defeat radical France at Waterloo. Nationalism and the political agendas of ruling classes now trumped religion as never before. And it is in this context that the 1797 Tripoli treaty must be considered.

For the United States, the meaning of the “in no sense Christian” clause in the treaty was that “un-religion” was possible without irreligion or anti-religion. That is to say, all religions could be permitted while none would be “state sponsored.” But in all likelihood that set of notions was literally incomprehensible to America’s Islamic interlocutors. Just as Pope Pius IX later would seek tolerance of Catholics in non-Catholic lands but was not prepared to grant non-believers the same rights in Catholic lands, so America’s Islamic interlocutors in 1797 would have said that tolerance meant disobeying God. Remarkably and yet understandably, the Arabic translation of the treaty replaces the American declaration of religious neutrality between the two parties with a rambling set of considerations conducing against war on the North African side but without making any across-the-board statement about religion or religions.

During the two centuries that separate the Treaty of Tripoli from the current “war on terror,” the umma has suffered one battlefield reverse after another at the hands of the West and its allies, culminating in the abolition of the caliphate in 1917 and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947. Do most Muslims see these reverses as victories over various Muslim-majority nations by various Western nations along with world Jewry as a nation rather than a religion? Or, since Islam has had no religious wars comparable to those of the Christian West and no Peace of Westphalia signifying a movement from religious to national allegiance, are these victories seen rather as religiously Christian and religiously Jewish victories?

If the latter is often or even sometimes the case, then from a policy perspective, is it conceivable that the United States could now undertake a diplomatic initiative to present this country as “in no sense founded on Christianity”? This time it would need to go beyond the Treaty of Tripoli with a far more sophisticated and self-conscious explanation of what such a phrase means and does not mean and what it promises non-Christian nations that have diplomatic, cultural, and economic relations with the United States. Such an effort would encompass not only a reaching-out to Islam but also a real movement in unraveling the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As things stand, the secular approach of the United States and its industrial allies has fitted relatively comfortably with Asia’s economic globalization, but China and India do not share with the West and the umma the Roman imperial heritage of global ambition in the name of God. The fact that Western secularism has eased Western relations with China and India has only increased Islam’s sense that it is encircled and, indeed, under siege. Surely, part of the answer is to address religion and religious freedom frontally, because no two nations with religious freedom have fought one another. That may mean that U.S. policy should give less pride of place to electoral democracy and more to religious freedom.

Are there potential NRMs, even violent ones, apart from those spawned by Islamic radicalism? The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India, an ultra-Hindu nationalist movement, is one such organization. It has all the characteristics of a NRM. It espouses a strong and militant religious philosophy based on exclusivity and hate. After the assassination of Gandhi in 1948, the movement was banned for a few years by the Indian government because of its acts of violence and terrorism and its exhortation to followers to resort to terrorist methods in the promulgation of its religious ideas. In the 1990s, under the government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its role and influence in India grew and continues to grow even today. During the BJP’s tenure in political office, the party was divided over associations with the RSS, with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee regarded as a soft-liner on Hindu nationalist issues and the party’s president and deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, as the hardliner. But the RSS continued to gain momentum and was engaged in violence, particularly against what it viewed to be threats against the Hindu state, namely Muslims and Christians. Their religious view, with its cosmic dimension, remains a threat to the idea of India as a secular state.