Bush’s Religiosity Deepens Mideast Religious Divide
He did not visit a single Mosque in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, which in the eyes of many Arabs has great political significance. They took it as tacit support for Jewish and Christian claims over the holy city, over Islamic and Arabic claims.
Bush’s trip to the Middle East brought center stage the religious war between Evangelicals and Islamists over the holy city of Jerusalem and helped explain why he is never going to be the honest broker between the Palestinians and Israelis.
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Ignoring complex and regional religious sensitivities, Bush visited only Judeo Christian shrines: tracing the footsteps of Jesus, a visit to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus healed the sick; the ruins of Capernaum, where Jesus lived for 30 years, and the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus gave his famous Sermon and an ancient synagogue in Capernaum.
He did not visit a single Mosque in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, which in the eyes of many Arabs has great political significance. They took it as tacit support for Jewish and Christian claims over the holy city, over Islamic and Arabic claims. Bush’s personal religious pilgrimage explains his unwillingness to be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Asking Bush to pressure Israel into giving up east Jerusalem and dismantle settlements there is, in effect, asking him to compromise his religious beliefs.
Al-Jazeera bureau chief Walid Al-Omari put it this way on January 10: “His trip is more of a religious pilgrimage than a political mission.” He explained to viewers that, “Bush belongs to a movement called ‘Born-again Christians’ which gained momentum during the 1970s. They view Israel as a prophetic sign that the Messiah will return for their salvation.”
Egyptian Coptic intellectual Rafiq Habib agreed and was quoted on IslamOnline saying, “Bush’s tour was dogmatically motivated since he follows the Protestant Anglican Church, which believes that Jesus Christ will return to rule the world from Jerusalem.” He went further and added that, “in Bush’s Protestant conviction, Jews must be in Al-Quds [Jerusalem] at the time of Christ’s resurrection so that he can convert them to Christianity.”
Lebanese professor Salem Nassar, on the London-based Arab News Broadcast (ANB), reminded the audience that, “Bush visited Israel a few months before he was elected for the first time as a president. At the time Ariel Sharon received Bush and used his personal helicopter to show Bush many areas, especially the historical religious sites that Bush had memorized from the Bible.”
Nassar explains that Bush’s religiosity goes back to Rev. Billy Graham, a strong Israel backer. “George Bush was very addicted to alcohol. His father, the former president, tried to heal him using the help of doctors and different clinics, but he failed. Then some people suggested that Bush see Billy Graham. Graham managed to give Bush’s life meaning. Bush felt that his life was a failure because the three or four oil companies he started were bankrupt. Billy Graham managed to heal him from alcohol addiction and convinced him to join the so-called born-again Christians.”
Convinced that Bush’s religious convictions inform his strong support for Israel, Nasser says when Bush says that Israel should be a Jewish state, “this automatically nullifies the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. This means that non-Jews can only live in Israel with the Israeli government’s permission.”
Evangelicals also felt compelled to re-affirm their support for Jewish claims over Jerusalem. Pat Robertson, the host of “The 700 Club” program and the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), warned Bush and Olmert that to split the holy city is to face God’s wrath.
In his eyes, the six-day war in June 1967 “is the most important prophesy of modern day” because it marked the end of Arab and Muslim rule over Jerusalem, leaving the city to be under the control of Israel, which he believes is dictated by the Bible. God’s plan, he says, “is for the Jews to take over Jerusalem and to keep it ever after.”
Similar messages affirming Jewish claims over Jerusalem were on the Los Angeles-based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the largest Christian network in the world, reaching five million American households a week. When it broadcast the program “George W. Bush: Faith in the White House,” BBC correspondent Justin Webb described it almost breathlessly: “Nobody spends more time on his knees than George W. Bush. The Bush administration hums to the sound of prayer… His faith has been unshakeable in dealing with the 9/11 terrorist attack, fighting al-Qaeda, ridding Iraq of the Saddam Hussein regime, rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan.”
Yet to some Mideast broadcasters, he’s Satan. Hamas-run TV in Gaza Al Aqsa, and named after the Mosque in the area known by Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, broadcast a demonstration against Bush’s visit. They showed a protestor holding an effigy of Bush that resembled a serpent. A Hamas spokesman was yelling that Bush, “is a man in the body of a rhinoceros. Deceit is clearly reflected in his demonic face.”
Bush’s Middle East visit triggered a response from the American Al Qaeda operative Adam Gadahn. Al Qaeda has never mentioned Christian Evangelicals but on the Al-Aekhlaas Forum website, and picked up all over Arab and American television, he described them and their mission as a “group of militant fanatics which has taken nuclear-armed America to the brink, and is hoping to push it over the edge as soon as possible, in order to hasten the seven-year tribulation period, the Rapture, the Second Coming, and Armageddon, not necessarily in that order.”
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