To understand what is happening in the Middle East, you must first understand what is happening in
The delegates began by nodding through a few uncontroversial matters: homosexuality is contrary to the truths ordained by God; "any mechanism to process, license, record, register or monitor the ownership of guns" should be repealed; income tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax should be abolished; and immigrants should be deterred by electric fences.2 Thus fortified, they turned to the real issue: the affairs of a small state 7000 miles away. It was then, according to a participant, that the "screaming and near fistfights" began.
I don't know what the original motion said, but apparently it was "watered down significantly" as a result of the shouting match. The motion they adopted stated that Israel has an undivided claim to Jerusalem and the West Bank, that Arab states should be pressured to absorb refugees from Palestine, and that Israel should do whatever it wishes in seeking to eliminate terrorism.3 Good to see that the extremists didn't prevail then.
But why should all this be of such pressing interest to the people of a state which is seldom celebrated for its fascination with foreign affairs? The explanation is slowly becoming familiar to us, but we still have some difficulty in taking it seriously.
What makes the story so appealing to Christian fundamentalists is that before the big battle begins, all "true believers" (ie those who believe what THEY believe) will be lifted out of their clothes and wafted up to heaven during an event called the Rapture. Not only do the worthy get to sit at the right hand of God, but they will be able to watch, from the best seats, their political and religious opponents being devoured by boils, sores, locusts and frogs, during the seven years of Tribulation which follow.
The true believers are now seeking to bring all this about. This means staging confrontations at the old temple site (in 2000 three US Christians were deported for trying to blow up the mosques there)4, sponsoring Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, demanding ever more US support for Israel, and seeking to provoke a final battle with the Muslim world/Axis of Evil/United Nations/European Union/France or whoever the legions of the Antichrist turn out to be.
The believers are convinced that they will soon be rewarded for their efforts. The Antichrist is apparently walking among us, in the guise of Kofi Annan, Javier Solana, Yasser Arafat or, more plausibly, Silvio Berlusconi.5 The Walmart corporation is also a candidate (in my view a very good one), because it wants to radio-tag its stock, thereby exposing humankind to the Mark of the Beast.6 By clicking on www.raptureready.com, you can discover how close you might be to flying out of your pyjamas. The infidels among us should take note that the Rapture Index currently stands at 144, just one point below the critical threshold, beyond which the sky will be filled with floating nudists. Beast Government, Wild Weather and Israel are all trading at the maximum five points (the EU is debating its constitution, there was a freak hurricane in the South Atlantic, Hamas has sworn to avenge the killing of its leaders), but the second coming is currently being delayed by an unfortunate decline in drug abuse among teenagers and a weak showing by the Antichrist (both of which score only two).
We can laugh at these people, but we should not dismiss them. That their beliefs are bonkers does not mean they are marginal. American pollsters believe that between 15 and 18% of US voters belong to churches or movements which subscribe to these teachings.7 A survey in 1999 suggested that this figure included 33% of Republicans.8 The best-selling contemporary books in the United States are the 12 volumes of the Left Behind series, which provide what is usually described as a "fictionalised" account of the Rapture (this, apparently, distinguishes it from the other one), with plenty of dripping details about what will happen to the rest of us. The people who believe all this don't believe it just a little; for them it is a matter of life eternal and death.
And among them are some of the most powerful men in
So here we have a major political constituency - representing much of the current president's core vote - in the most powerful nation on earth, which is actively seeking to provoke a new world war. Its members see the invasion of
The electoral calculation, crazy as it appears, works like this. Governments stand or fall on domestic issues. For 85% of the
George Monbiot's book The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order is now published in paperback. www.monbiot.com
References: 1. http://www.harriscountygop.com/sections/sdconv/sdconv.asp
2. eg. Committee on Resolutions,
4. Paul Vallely, 7th September 2003. The Eve of Destruction. The Independent on Sunday.
5. eg. http://www.raptureready.us
6. eg. http://www.raptureready.com/rap16.html (note: 5 and 6 are rival sites)
7. Megan K. Stack, 31st July 2003. House's DeLay Bonds With Israeli Hawks,
8. Donald E. Wagner, 28th June 2003. Marching to
9. Leader, 1st August 2003. DeLay's Foreign Meddling.
10. Jane Lampman, 18th February 2004. The End of the World. The Christian Science Monitor.