Wednesday, August 27, 2008

John McCain's Judeo-Christian "Crusade" (?)

This Boston Globe article caught my eye last week and I've been meaning to blog about it once the hectic-ness of the first week of classes passed. Here, Peter Canellos wonders aloud about McCain's peculiar use of the phrase "Judeo-Christian values" and how the Republican presidential candidate seems to use that phrase to specifically draw distinctions between the US and countries that are predominantly Muslim. For example:
"This just wasn't the elimination of a threat to Iraq - this was elimination of a threat to the West, part of this titanic struggle we are in between western Judeo-Christian values and principles and Islamic extremists," McCain said in 2006, after the killing of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Then again, "in arguing for a strong defense of Georgia in its struggles with Russia, McCain twice noted that Georgia is a Christian nation - perhaps to distinguish it from other crumbling pieces of the former Soviet Union that are Muslim, such as Chechnya and Azerbaijan."

Canellos ends by wondering aloud whether most Americans would even notice this language, but also by wondering how those Americans who aren't Jews or Christians might feel -- Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.


I'm left wondering too, specifically because of how McCain seems to be championing a manichaean world-view (like George W. Bush) but pushing it into a starkly religious territory that Bush, at least ostensibly, has tried hard to avoid. Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" but with a (new) pentecostal evangelical bent* -- something others have noted too. All this reminds me, unfortunately, of something I've talked about again and again and again here, specifically how the ideas that reside behind the word "crusade" survive, move, and adapt.

Here, McCain (in many ways, like Bush) is framing the -- note -- violent struggles that the US faces in the context of a quasi-apocalyptic religious struggle of good (Judeo-Christian) vs. evil (non-Christian -- Islamic in the case of Iraq, Iran, & Al-Qaeda; "heathen?" in the case of Russia). McCain's rhetoric is not Gen. Boykin's but it's not far off. I'm don't know if Sen. McCain is quite aware of all the connotations of his words here. I do, however, know that I'm not particularly comfortable with either response he might give to that query.

*See especially Richard Bulliet's critique of Huntington and the idea of the West as an exclusively Judeo-Christian civilization.


Mark said...

Thoughtful and interesting. Good luck. Jack

Timh Gabriele said...

It's interesting to see how the Manichean viewpoint is being used in this election. Under Bush, it seemed to be mostly used as an almost puerile explanation of why any one would threaten the beacon of liberty that is the United States. Thereby the existence of apocalyptic/religious evil provided a great instrument for manufacturing fear and demonizing enemies.

McCain's campaign has adopted the rhetoric as less of a motivational tool than an identity-building platform, as evidenced by Romney's speech tonight It can be read here:

"Last week, last week, did you hear any Democrats talk about the threat from radical, violent jihad? No. You see, Republicans believe that there is good and evil in the world. Ronald Reagan called out the evil empire. George Bush labeled the terror-sponsor states exactly what they are: the axis of evil."

"And at Saddleback, after Barak Obama dodged and ducked every direct question, John McCain hit the nail on the head: Radical, violent Islam is evil, and he will defeat it. (APPLAUSE)"