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It’s a new world. Messianic progressives have joined Muslim jihadis to embrace a common apocalyptic narrative with an ultimate enemy — Israel. Introducing millennialism: where progressivism and jihad meet
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
T hey believe in the coming of a messianic epoch, one in which humanity will unite and peace and justice will reign. Their enemies are conservatives and traditionalists, or those who fail to comprehend the arc of history and humanity’s final destiny.
No, they’re not an apocalyptic cult hatching a plot in a South American jungle hideout, but modern progressives who subscribe to the idea of “millennialism.”
Richard Landes, a former professor of Medieval Studies at Boston University, and currently the senior fellow with the Center of International Communication at Bar Ilan University, is one of their leading critics. For decades, Landes has been studying the phenomenon of millennialism, or the belief that a messianic era of justice, peace, and abundance is coming soon, often preceded by a massive disruptive event. Now, with the election of Donald J. Trump and the protests that have exploded nationwide, the world is witness to the expression of millennialism.
“Those who are protesting his election are not only criticizing Trump, but his supporters, who they dismiss as undereducated ‘deplorables’ who love their guns and their religion,” says Landes, who came to observant Judaism as an adult. “[To their way of thinking, Trump supporters] are mere offshoots of the Middle Ages, whereas Hillary Clinton supporters have advanced beyond that.”
Were it only an academic meme, this kind of millennialism wouldn’t much concern the Jewish community. But in the 21st century, messianic progressives have joined their fellow millennial dreamers, the Muslim jihadis, and embraced a common apocalyptic narrative with an ultimate enemy – Israel.
“BDS is essentially a cognitive war (cogwar) campaign of Caliphaters — active, cataclysmic (apocalyptic) millennialists who believe that Islam will dominate the world under one global caliphate — that have teamed up with the global progressive left, who have been duped into thinking that Israel is the cause of the world’s woes,” said Landes, who recently delivered the keynote address at the Montreal-based Canadian Institute of Jewish Research’s (CIJR) conference on “BDS and the Campus Delegitimization of Israel.”
“That’s the folly of the progressives: to side with the most regressive messianic movement on the planet against the most progressive country in the world. Morally speaking, it’s just breathtaking.” Landes is perhaps best known as the man who helped expose the al-Durah hoax and coined the term “Pallywood” (Palestinian Hollywood). At the start of the second intifada, a young Palestinian named Mohammed al-Durah was allegedly shot to death by the Israeli army and died in his father’s arms. His death throes were captured by France 2 TV and became an iconic image of Palestinian victimhood. “This image represented the moment when Islamic apocalyptic discourse about the genocidal Israelis who intentionally kill Palestinian children, was mainstreamed in the Western media,” says Landes, who also serves as the chairman of the council of scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. “This sentiment was all the more horrendous given that Mohammad’s death was a fake. When I looked into it, I was amazed by the widespread use of footage staged by Palestinians, run as news by Western journalists.”
The son of Professor David Landes, a renowned Harvard economic historian, Landes’ personal journey marked a departure not only from the secular intellectualism of his youth toward observant Judaism (he was inspired by Rabbi Joseph Leibowitz in the 1980s, while living in Berkeley, California), but later departed from former friends and colleagues within academia. This mindset, Landes acknowledges, continues to affect his relationships with friends and colleagues. “Since 2000, there has been a steady decline in the number of academics I talk with, work with, and exchange ideas with.”
Of late, Landes has focused on educating university-aged students on the cognitive war that is currently being waged on today’s campuses – a war for which he feels they are woefully unprepared.
The concept of millennialism — the belief in a coming Utopia — features greatly in your work. Heaven on Earth, deals comprehensively with this subject. Please explain what this is and why it is such an important subject for today’s university students to understand and appreciate?
Millennialism is the idea that there will come a time when things will get better; therefore, we have to put factors in motion that will transform over generations. Its concepts, for the good and the bad, permeate our culture in multiple ways, which needn’t be religious. Western progressivism is based on a millennialist idea. When not revolutionary, it tends toward transformational millennialism, that is a gradual, nonviolent change that occurs because people’s awareness changes. Modern progressives start from what Pirkei Avos tells us: the toil is long and it’s not up to us to relinquish it, or finish it. For them, this is the time to finish it.
This millennialism activated by a sense of apocalyptic imminence can get darker. Fueled by a sense that the world is unbearably evil and corrupt, they believe that now is the time for evil to vanish from the earth. For many apocalyptic millennialists, the process will be cataclysmic: vast destruction of evil precedes the victory of good. In passive scenarios, like Christian Rapture, G-d is the major agent of this destruction: in active ones, like global Jihad, the believer is the major agent, G-d’s weapon of destruction.
ISIS is a Sunni Muslim millennialist cult. They believe in the establishment of a global caliphate and are willing to kill and be killed to establish it. Some Shiites also share this desire to bring on this messianic age. Iranian President Ayatollah Khamenei actually believes he is paving the way for the “hidden Imam” to emerge. And when that doesn’t happen on its own, apocalyptic zealots are not averse to suicidal action that will force the hand of G-d, in this case the Mahdi to come to their rescue. So when Secretary of State John Kerry states that the Iranian leaders are rational and would never do anything to bring on their own destruction (like nuke Israel) he doesn’t understand their motivating ideology.
Do you attribute this lack of understanding to the inability of the secular mindset to comprehend the religious mindset?
In large part. It’s especially true of academics, who are more likely to be non-religious or even hostile to religion than the average person. The Western mind is irreligious, but it’s messianic. That’s a particularly feckless combination.
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