Fundamentalists are the same everywhere. Last week I made that point by comparing Jewish fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists among Israelis and Palestinians. This week U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson adds Christian fundamentalists to the list.
Last week, on a television program, Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Robertson said Chavez was a "terrific danger" to the
United States and that he aimed to be "the launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism". Several analysts have made the point that Islamic extremism has replaced Communism as the new enemy of the West but none have connected the two as Robertson has.
"We have the ability to take him (Chavez) out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,”” Robertson said Monday on the Christian Broadcasting Network show The 700 Club. "We don”t need another US$200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It”s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.””.
"I don”t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we”re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” Robertson said.
Two days later, he apologized for calling for Chavez’ assassination and tried to suggest that he was misquoted by the media – the oldest excuse in the book. When all else fails, blame the journalists.
Regardless of what you think of Chavez – champion of the poor or an upstart successor to Fidel Castro who couches his reputation on thumbing his nose at the United States – Robertson’s remarks were merely his latest gaffes, albeit some of the more dangerous and irresponsible.
And they were the latest example of the disaster that comes from mixing politics and religion.
The Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches, a group representing millions of African Christians, recognized this and slammed Robertson, saying his remarks represented a “tragic betrayal of the Gospel”.
"Robertson has made the mistake of believing that a brand of right-wing extremism is equivalent to the Gospel," a spokesman for the group said.
How I wish we had a group representing millions of Muslims that would issues such a statement whenever one of our religious leaders issues irresponsible and inflammatory statements that incited to violence.
Robertson is uncomfortably close to the U.S. administration. He is a founder of the Christian Coalition, which brought millions of voters to George Bush. He ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1988, but withdrew before the nominating convention. George Bush senior eventually won that election.
Bush administration officials distanced themselves from Robertson’s remarks but several commentators have called on the president to condemn Robertson’s folly. But Bush himself behaves at times as if he is on a mission from God and so is not completely innocent from mixing politics and religion.
Furthermore, the United States has assassinated or assisted in the assassination of foreign leaders in the past. It is difficult for U.S. officials to take the high road with such a history.
But it is the almost universal derision that met Robertson’s remakes that gave me hope and that left me wishing the Muslim world would be as hard on foolish statements from its religious leaders.
Most of the news shows that featured Robertson’s remarks questioned his sanity and newspaper editorial pages tore into the evangelist.
An editorial in Michigan’s Lansing State Journal called Robertson’s remarks “the antithesis of what it means to be a Christian. We”d even say they suggest a mind that is egomaniacally unstable.”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson pointed to Robertson’s hypocrisy in calling Chavez a “dictator” while in the
past “supporting such murderous thugs as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Charles Taylor of Liberia.” Robertson’s companies “ended up with valuable concessions to mine for gold and diamonds in those countries”, Robinson reminded readers.
Robertson has had his shots at America too. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, he agreed with fellow Christian conservative Jerry Falwell”s comment that the attacks were punishment for America”s preponderance of "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians" and liberal organizations.
Robertson later said he had not understood what Falwell was saying (he usually has an excuse handy when he needs to get out of a tight spot). But the damage was done. Every reference to him now is prefaced with his comments on 9/11.
How many sheikhs would continue to blame disasters on “our sins” if their remarks were met with derision instead of silence?
As the role of religion in the politics of the Muslim world become ever more pressing, be it in Iraq or
Egypt , we would do well to develop a healthy skepticism for those who claim to lead us.
When Robertson said in 2002 that “Islam was a violent religion and bemoaned U.S. immigration policies that "introduced these people [Muslims] into our midst,” the editorial pages of major U.S. papers condemned him.
Are the editorial pages of major Arab newspapers willing to similarly attack a Muslim religious leader for anti-Jewish or anti-Christian comments?
When they are, then we will be ready to confront fundamentalists of all kinds.