History has witnessed the rise and fall of many empires that instigated horrendous wars, genocides and oppression of the innocent as the price for sustaining supremacy and domination over the masses. Despite maintaining such dominance, the need for an ideology as well as an enemy has always been a facet of imperial powers and their rise to reign. The modern era has not been any more successful in establishing a world free from imperialism at the price of innocent suffering. This composition will endeavour to discuss the present-day form of American imperialism and its use of religion in determining its ideology as well as enemy in its efforts to sustain global supremacy.
The use of Religion by the US in Sustaining American Imperialism
Imperialism refers to the policy or advocacy of extending hegemony beyond territorial boundaries by means of political, economical, cultural and or military. In reference to American and or United Sates (US) imperialism, John Munro explicates that it denotes “a structure of power that stretches beyond homeland territory to dominate other societies and accumulate unevenly distributed benefits along intersecting axes of inequality”. Predominantly gained through a process of wars, from the American liberation from British rule to the apparent defeat of communism with the Cold War, such were indisputable elements that paved way for the rise of America as the global power. With the expansion of capitalism and the decline of colonialism, the post-Cold War era exhibited a new term that disguised US imperialism – “globalisation”. Immerman asserts that America is essentially an empire and that from the Founding Fathers till today, the vision for America has always been to progress into an empire, as Thomas Jefferson dubbed it the “Empire of Liberty”. He also elucidates that in essence, imperialism merely connotes the process in which empires “employ instruments of power to acquire control over peripheral people and territory”. Despite the denial of America as an empire and preference to refer with terms such as “hegemon” or “great power”, Immerman ascertains that such attempts at rejecting the notion of an empire immediately changed after the events of September 11, that it became common amongst politicians and media to refer to the U.S as an “empire”. Americans consequently celebrated the U.S’s global war on terror as an actualisation of America’s imperialism around the globe, insensitive to the contradictory and inhumane policies adopted. Not surprisingly, globalist scholar Manfred Steger also asserts that the war on terror is a necessity for the progression of imperial globalisation. He asserts that the pretense that the war on terror will provide material sustainability and global security is essentially a means to “sustain consensual arrangements of political rule”.
Religious Discourse and the “Crusade”
The First Amendment of the US constitution’s Establishment Clause prohibits the US from establishing an official religion and or preferring religion to non-religion. Nevertheless, after the events of September 11, George Bush commenced a course of religious rhetoric in addressing the American people. Chang and Meham contend to the theory of “American Civil Religion” and refer to Bush’s post-September 11 discourses as the “war on terror script”. According to Chang and Meham, the Bush administration launched a course of rhetoric based on the Christian notions of American society in efforts to legitimise foreign policies such as the military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using a “religious mode of representation”, George Bush employed discourses and reasoning using terms such as “good vs. evil”, and “freedom vs. fear” to equate “America vs. terrorism”. The discourse not only utilised American civil religious terms to propagate to the masses, but it also swayed the political concept of “terrorism” to declare war against an idea as opposed to a people, i.e. the terrorists. Hence the war on terror ultimately transferred into a war against ideas than a war against villains – justice, liberty, and good vs. evil, barbarism and terrorism. According to George Bush, it was a “crusade”. Bush didn’t leave space for conjecture; he identified these mysterious terrorists, despite the absence of empirical evidence – they were (initially) al Qaeda, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Ultimately, Bush identified an opponent for his “crusade” – Islam and or the Muslims. His references to Islamic terms were an unambiguous effort using religious rhetoric in distinguishing his adversary, such as his statement: “Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists . . . his “nuclear mujaheddin,” his nuclear holy warriors.” Likewise, when he warned that in the absence of an invasion into Iraq, Iraq would inevitably turn into an “epic battle” between Shia and Sunni extremists, leading to the emergence of an “emboldened enemy”, with an even “greater determination to harm America”. Heavy religious discourse was manifest in the first public speech George Bush gave after the attacks that included praying to God, asking Americans to pray and quoting a passage from the Bible. Whilst we may not have thought congress had a particular religion established, we know George Bush did, to which he applied in his discourse with the American people.
Totalitarian Terror – Power through Fear
Sheldon Wolin makes a stimulating contention that the US is an inverted totalitarian government that uses the totalitarian method of instilling fear into the masses in efforts to sustain power and imperialism. Political theorist Hannah Arendt, who specialised in the study of totalitarianism, asserts that totalitarian terror is a method implemented by governments in their pursuit of fulfilling a certain ideology. This ideology is usually one that claims to uphold justice – divine law and the law of Nature and or History (derived from the works of Darwin and Marx) leading such governments to introduce laws and methods that terrorise the society and inhibit human freedom and rights with the justification that the law of the specific ideology prevails that of positive laws. Ultimately, Arendt expounds:
“For a totalitarian government to achieve its goal of total control over the governed, people have to be deprived not only of their freedom… Totalitarian government’s failure or success therefore ultimately depends on its ability to transform human beings into perverted animals”.
Wolin contends to much of the same parallels that are apparent between the American government and the facets of a totalitarian regime. He acknowledged the words of 19th century philosopher Tocqueville who made a similar statement regarding his vision of the American democracy “…and finally reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd” Since September 11, American imperialism and its course of implementing terror and religious discourse based on Christian themes is what Wolin refers to as “myth making”. In an attempt to dramatise the world into a cosmic war/”myth” of “civilization against barbarism”, countering an enemy “whose nature, number, and location largely unknown”, the US has led the world into supporting the expansion of their government powers and provocative foreign policies in the battle against “alien enemies”. He explicates that:
When myth begins to govern decision-makers in a world where ambiguity and stubborn facts abound, the result is a disconnect between the actors and reality. They convince themselves that the forces of darkness possess weapons of mass destruction and nuclear capabilities; that their own nation is privileged by a god who inspired the Founding Fathers and the writing of the nation’s constitution; and that a class structure of great and stubborn inequalities does not exist. A grim but joyous few see portents of a world that is living out “the last days.
The Erosion of Civil Rights and Liberties
Despite being a scientific era that upholds the denunciation of myths, Wolin ascertains the remarkability that these precise scientific and technological advancements are what have enabled governments to successfully propagate their mythical cosmic war as a reality with the use of modern media. The US’s “crusade” against “alien enemies” has provided the government with an enormous amount of power and mass support to inhibit the freedom and rights of society with the implementation of invasive laws guised as anti-terrorism. Susan Herman explores the various methods in which the US government has averted the liberties and civil rights of the people. From the spying and surveillance on every aspect of people’s private spheres and information; the unmerited imprisonment on charges of being (unknowingly) linked to someone who accessed material or merely voiced their political opinions; withholding of charity donations under suspicion of being terrorist funds, or having your charity shut down for the same reason; being publicly “randomly” searched on more than twenty different occasions; being mistakenly identified as a terrorist; being put on the No-Fly list; or arrested and or imprisoned innocently under suspicion until proven guilty. Herman explicates that such suppression of freedom and civil liberties has led many academics, elites and social movements of society to take to the courts and media to defend privacy and freedom along with American Muslims who also emphasise the ultimate demonisation of their religion with the implementation of such anti-terrorism laws. American Journalist Trevor Aaronson who authored the book ‘Terror Factory’, investigated the FBI’s counter terrorism activities post September 11 and discovered that the FBI had employed over 15,000 informants to spy on the Muslim community and ironically to entrap persons to commit terrorist attacks in sting operations. The FBI ultimately supplies the ideas and resources (i.e. bombs and weapons), sometimes even alluring the target offering large amounts of money. Aaronson deduced from his findings that the FBI is “better at creating terrorists than catching terrorists”. Greenwald expounds that the FBI targets American Muslims – not due to any evidence of content or capability but rather for the “radical” political views held, typically uses a “Muslim” informant to entice the target (whom generally is a young, mentally ill man) to plan a terrorist attack to which the FBI will swoop in minutes before the “terrorist attack” is completed, arrest the individual and unsurprisingly publicly praise themselves to the masses for having foiled and saved everyone from a terrorist attack – that they created. Greenwald quotes a former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes, who stated:
If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that “We won the war on terror and everything’s great,” cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive.
The “War on Terror” Tool
To conclude, in attempts to expound the way in which the US uses religion to sustain American imperialism, I discussed the facets of American imperialism, its ideology, aspiration and methods in which it hastens in pursuit of global supremacy. This composition touched on the course adopted by the US post-September 11 – with the use of Christian religious rhetoric and the denoted Islamic enemy of alien nature, declaring the global war on terror – envisaged by George Bush as a “crusade”, the US sustained unprecedented global power in which it commenced wars absent of empirical evidence, introduced repressive laws inhibiting civil liberties under the pose of anti-terrorism laws; and consequently permitted the imprisonment, torture and carnage of hundreds of thousands of innocent people justified by conjecture. Argued by various political scholars as a required process in the success of imperial globalisation, the war on terror has been a tool of exerting power and control over the masses. Reflected in the statement of Hannah Arendt, “terror as a means of frightening people into submission”, I conclude that the US has unequivocally striven to sustain their imperial power by using religious contexts to depict a relentless war of “good vs. evil”, “American Christian vs. Muslim terrorist” – ultimately terrifying people into submitting to the ideology of American imperialism.
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