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George Monbiot, "Apocalypse Please"

"Apocalypse Please"

George Monbiot, London Guardian

US policy towards the Middle East is driven by a rarefied form of madness.
It's time we took it seriously.

To understand what is happening in the Middle East, you must first
understand what is happening in Texas. To understand what is happening
there, you should read the resolutions passed at the state's Republican
party conventions last month. Take a look, for example, at the decisions
made in Harris County, which covers much of Houston.1

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be repealed; income tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and corporation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

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.

In the United States, several million people have succumbed to an
extraordinary delusion. In the 19th century, two immigrant preachers
cobbled together a series of unrelated passages from the Bible to create
what appears to be a consistent narrative: Jesus will return to earth when
certain preconditions have been met. The first of these was the
establishment of a state of Israel. The next involves Israel's occupation
of the rest of its "Biblical lands" (most of the Middle East), and the
rebuilding of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Dome of the
Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques. The legions of the Antichrist will then be
deployed against Israel, and their war will lead to a final showdown in the
valley of Armageddon. The Jews will either burn or convert to Christianity,
and the Messiah will return to earth.

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 America. John Ashcroft,
the attorney-general, is a true believer, so are several prominent senators
and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay. Mr DeLay (who is also the
co-author of the marvellously-named DeLay-Doolittle Amendment, postponing
campaign finance reforms) travelled to Israel last year to tell the Knesset
that "there is no middle ground, no moderate position worth taking."9

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 Iraq as a warm-up act, as Revelations (9:14-15) maintains that
four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates" will be released
"to slay the third part of men." They batter down the doors of the White
House as soon as its support for Israel wavers: when Bush asked Ariel
Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, he received 100,000 angry
emails from Christian fundamentalists, and never mentioned the matter again.10

The electoral calculation, crazy as it appears, works like this.
Governments stand or fall on domestic issues. For 85% of the US electorate,
the Middle East is a foreign issue, and therefore of secondary interest
when they enter the polling booth. For 15% of the electorate, the Middle
East is not just a domestic matter, it's a personal one: if the president
fails to start a conflagration there, his core voters don't get to sit at
the right hand of God. Bush, in other words, stands to lose fewer votes by
encouraging Israeli aggression than he stands to lose by restraining it. He
would be mad to listen to these people. He would also be mad not to.

[George Monbiot's book The Age of Consent, a manifesto for a new world order,
is now published in paperback. Visit www.monbiot.com]


1. www.harriscountygop.com

2. eg. Committee on Resolutions, Harris County Republican Party, 27th March
2004. Final report of Senatorial District 17 Convention.

3. ibid.

4. Paul Vallely, 7th September 2003. "The Eve of Destruction." The
Independent on Sunday.

5. eg. www.raptureready.us

6. eg. www.raptureready.co (note: 5 and 6 are rival sites)

7. Megan K. Stack, 31st July 2003. "House's DeLay Bonds With Israeli Hawks," Los Angeles Times; Matthew Engel, 28th October 2002. "Meet the New Zionists," The Guardian; Paul Vallely, ibid.

8. Donald E. Wagner, 28th June 2003. "Marching to Zion: the
Evangelical-Jewish Alliance," Christian Century.

9. Leader, 1st August 2003. "DeLay's Foreign Meddling." Los Angeles Times

10. Jane Lampman, 18th February 2004. "The End of the World." The Christian
Science Monitor.