For CUFI and ISIS, It Was the Best of Times, It Was the End of Times
With the carnage in Syria, the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq and the beheadings, these are not good times in the Middle East. Unless, that is, you believe we're living in the End of Times. And you very well might, if you're a member of the Islamic State (ISIS) or a supporter of Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
Those are the conclusions from new assessments of two of the dueling millenarian visions now animating decisions of war and peace in the Middle East. And in both cases, things don't end well for the Jews.
Writing in The Atlantic ("What ISIS Really Wants"), Graeme Wood argues that the ISIS conquests in Iraq and Syria aren't merely the attempt of Sunni extremists to establish a new Islamic caliphate. Self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and many of his followers are in this until the End:
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, "the Prophetic methodology," which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn't actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We'll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State's intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
As Wood describes it, "The Islamic State awaits the army of "Rome," whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse." That, CNN analyst Peter Bergen similarly concludes, explains "why does ISIS keep making enemies." Jews, Shiites, Muslim political leaders and, of course, Christians are all apostates who must be put to the sword.
[F]or ISIS, the Dabiq prophecy is deadly serious. Members of ISIS believe that they are the vanguard fighting a religious war, which Allah has determined will be won by the forces of true Islam...
ISIS members devoutly believe that they are fighting in a cosmic war in which they are on the side of good, which allows them to kill anyone they perceive to be standing in their way with no compunction. This is, of course, a serious delusion, but serious it is.
Meanwhile, back in the United States another serious delusion--Christian Zionism--is encouraging its own version of an End Times bloodbath in the region. And as Sarah Posner reports in Religion Dispatches, many Israelis are just now beginning to understand that with friends like Christians United for Israel (CUFI), they don't need enemies.
This week, the Israeli think tank Molad released a new report on the Faustian bargain between American Christian Zionists and Israelis leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Posner summed up the findings from Molad researcher Liat Schlesinger, what the Israeli press calls "Christians who love Israel" have an agenda that doesn't end well for the Jewish State:
The term Christian Zionist, said Schlesinger, "is very confusing" to Israelis. "What we're showing in the report is they're not Zionists if they wish for the destruction of the Israeli state. Zionism is one thing and their religious motive is something else."
The narrative is familiar to Americans who follow religion, politics, and the Middle East: Christian Zionists support Israel. When in Washington, they will frame this support--frequently described as biblically mandated love--in political and policy terms, such as opposing a nuclear deal with Iran or negotiations with the Palestinians. (Or, more recently, supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech to a joint session of Congress.) But at church, on religious television, in books, and at religious conferences, this love for Israel and Jews is unabashedly presented as biblical prophecy come to life, culminating in the return of Christ and the conversion or elimination of Jews.
The real world importance of those who see the conversion of 144,000 Jews and the slaughter of the rest at Armageddon shouldn't be underestimated. After all, while Americans oppose by nearly 2 to 1 Bibi Netanyahu's invitation to deliver an unprecedented address to Congress, one group is always with the Likud leader. Pastor John Hagee, founder and president of Christians United for Israel, warned that God will destroy America for failing to adequately support Netanyahu. As Right Wing Watch reported earlier this month:
"I am a student of world history," Hagee said, "and you can wrap up world history in 25 words or less and here it is: the nations that blessed Israel prospered and the nations that cursed Israel were destroyed by the hand of God"...
America will face the same fate, Hagee warned, because God "is watching what America does as it responds to Israel. If America turns its back on Israel, God will turn his back on America. And that's a fact. It's proven by history."
And why is CUFI having its two million members flood Congressional email in boxes with demands that their representative s attend Netanyahu's March 3 speech on the Iranian nuclear program? As Hagee explained in 2006:
"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West ... a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."
(That the mullahs in Tehran promote their own Shiite End Times vision of the return of the "Twelfth Imam," the Mahdi who will reemerge from his "occultation" in order to liberate the world from evil doesn't help matters.)
That's right. CUFI needs Israel's Jews to serve as biblical cannon fodder to usher in the new millennium of Jesus Christ. As I detailed previously, Republican presidential hopefuls past and present cloak their eschatology in a less frightening guise:
For Christian Zionists like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) ("Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist"), Gov. Rick Perry ("As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel") and Mike Huckabee ("no such thing as a Palestinian"), Israel serves merely as a means to an end. In that telling, it is a divinely required stepping-stone to the End Times conversion (and much larger slaughter) of the Jews that will accompany the Second Coming of Christ. And that has a real impact on foreign policy.
While 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain renounced Pastor Hagee's endorsement after the CUFI leader's descriptions of the Catholic Church as a "false cult" and "the whore of Babylon" became public, Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed his support for years. Adopting the position of "take the support, hold the conversion," Bibi has been a regular at CUFI events in Washington and in Israel.
And what has the man Prime Minister Netanyahu described as "my friend" been up to lately? Pushing the movie version of his latest tale of the Apocalypse, Four Blood Moons:
"Four Blood Moons" combines scripture, science, history and big-screen live action spanning centuries, including previous similar lunar occurrences and the earth-shaking changes around them. It also examines our four blood-moon cycle-and its possible meaning for Israel, the Middle East and the world.
An array of historians, religious scholars and commentators appear in "Four Blood Moons" and offer their insight-filmmaker, speaker and author Dinesh D'Souza; radio host and author Dennis Prager; and noted author and historian David Barton to name just a few.
And it's all coming to a theater near you for a one night special event on March 23, "three days after a total solar eclipse is expected to occur and days before a total lunar eclipse."
In the months ahead, we'll doubtless hear more about the clashing fundamentalisms and contradictory End Times visions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the likes of John Hagee. But while the two may not agree on the role Jesus Christ will play at the End (as Wood explains, "Just as [the anti-Messiah] Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus--the second-most-revered prophet in Islam--will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.") But for the Jews, their last chapters end in pretty much the same way. Badly.