"We did this," popular British religion writer Karen Armstrong said in a November 21, 2013 keynote address at Georgetown University. She was referring to her country's imperial history and al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Speaking to Georgetown's Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU), Armstrong clearly showed with bizarre, anti-Western self-accusatory explanations for jihadist violence how "I like to turn the finger against myself first."
"We have all done terrible things," Armstrong stated at ACMCU's 20th-anniversary conference on "Muslim-Christian Relations in the 21st Century: Challenges & Opportunities." Armstrong in particular was "very conscious as a person of the British Empire" about how "we are all implicated" in problems afflicting Muslims globally. Armstrong referenced Anglo-French involvement during World War I in determining Middle Eastern borders and Pakistan's "almost impossible" borders derived from Indian partition in 1947. Armstrong also considered "our Palestinian mess" a British sin inciting Muslim violence today.
American drone strikes around the world and "new images of Muslim suffering" following America's military regime change in Iraq added to Armstrong's anti-Western litany. "Disgraceful" also for Armstrong was global poverty such as the "people in the world who do not have clean water." Reverently referencing "Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him," Armstrong cited an Islamic hadith about the immorality of sleeping while others hunger. In light of all this suffering, Armstrong rejected making Islam a "scapegoat" for the "violent sins of the 20th century."
"Muslim pain, Muslim suffering" and the "desire to do something about it" were thus Armstrong's explanation for violence from groups like al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda videos, for example, presented a "collage of pain," and yet "we don't see the half of it." "Self-interested policies have blown up in our face," Armstrong concluded, and demanded that people "look at these images of pain."
"Hiroshima and 9/11" resulted from deficient personal reflection, Armstrong concluded. She compared impersonal killing from the "high altitudes" of World War II bombers to "killing from a helicopter" and criticized Westerners for being a "privileged caste" removed from the world. In contrast, "weeping together creates bonds between human beings." Armstrong argued that the world should have wept for Muslims following 9/11, just as the Greek playwright Aeschylus mourned for his enemies slain at the Battle of Salamis in The Persians.
Armstrong perceived no threat in any given religion, such as Islam, for all faiths according to her have a "version of the Golden Rule." Armstrong saw religious fundamentalisms "rooted in a profound fear of elimination," not any aggressive ideology, such that they became "more extreme" under attack by military force and media. The tearing off of women's veils by Iranian troops under the shah, for example, incited a backlash of Shiite fundamentalism. The present Islamic Republic of Iran, meanwhile, elicited from Armstrong merely the comment that the "Iranian revolution is still continuing."
None of Armstrong's mea culpas makes any sense upon examination. Arab state borders are not by any stretch of the imagination the world's most haphazardly drawn, particularly in comparison to Africa's colonial borders. Yet no global terrorism has resulted from sub-Saharan Africa. Armstrong's criticism of Pakistan's borders likewise does not answer why only Pakistan's Muslims, and not India's Hindus, engage in cross-border terrorism. Muslims have also been historically both colonized and colonizers. Poverty is similarly ecumenical, but individuals in China and elsewhere have responded to deprivation with work, not warfare.
Echoing the various hostilities of the ACMCU's namesake, Prince Alaweed bin Talal, his Saudi compatriot Osama bin Laden, and others against Israel, Armstrong seems to see causality for 9/11 in the British "Palestinian mess" supporting Zionism. Yet support for Israel's right to exist is simply incompatible with the destruction of Israel sought by rejectionist Islamic ideologues like bin Laden or the Iranian ayatollahs. Presented with this analysis, Armstrong during a coffee break criticized my being "obsessed with Israel ... the word never crossed my lips," as if Britain's "Palestinian mess" was a reference to Zimbabwe.
Armstrong does not explain why Muslims in Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, never colonized, engage in terrorism, and Boko Haram's Nigerian Muslims massacre Christian Nigerians sharing the same British colonial history. Sectarian agendas of jihad and sharia, the Golden Rule's very antithesis, are invisible to her befuddled thinking. Many "images of Muslim suffering" in places like Iraq, meanwhile, derive precisely from the application of these agendas to intra-Islamic divisions.
In Armstrong's relativistic reasoning, pilots Paul Tibbets, who ended a war over Hiroshima, and Mohammad Atta, who began a war in New York, are equal. Not a vigorous fight for freedom, but guilty mourning for Muslims should result from 9/11. Such is the analysis of Armstrong, a member of the High-Level Group at the United Nations' Alliance of Civilizations.