September 12, 2011
“Iraq War”, “War in Afghanistan”, “War on Terror”. All of these terms invite strong opinions and emotions for American citizens. This war, which most would say erupted as a result of the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, is still sending our troops overseas ten years later. In Beyond Fundamentalism, Reza Aslan highlights this conflict as well as the conflict between Palestine and Israel, among others, as being a cosmic war. But how exactly does Aslan define cosmic war and is he correct in referring to our country’s current war as such?
The central theme of Reza Aslan’s Beyond Fundamentalism is cosmic war. The entire book discusses Aslan’s opinions on cosmic war and examples of it throughout history. Aslan simply defines cosmic war as “a religious war” (Aslan 5), but it is a lot more complex than that definition leads you to believe. A cosmic war is a war between good and evil, God and Satan, or their spawns on Earth. God has chosen a side in this war and it is the job of the mortal to carry out his attacks. But the question indisputably becomes “whose side is God on?”
Cosmic war is used as a justification by terrorists for why they commit such heinous crimes. According to them, God is raging the battle and they are simply the soldiers. But it becomes confusing when both sides believe that God is with them and that they have been wronged by the other side. But, according to Aslan, “addressing these grievances may not satisfy the cosmic warriors of our world, be they Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. But it will bring their cosmic war back down to earth, where it can be confronted more constructively. Because in the end, there in only one way to win a cosmic war: refuse to fight in it.” (11).
The very definition of cosmic war divides the world. It manifests the idea Aslan uses throughout the book of “us versus them”, which is first seen at the beginning of the introduction. This thought process splits the world into two sides. It quickly shifts the mindset to “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”.
Aslan describes a cosmic war as a war that cannot be won. This is because it is a very metaphorical and subjective term. There will forever be cosmic conflicts because people will forever be saying God sanctioned their acts. But the question then becomes, do they really believe this? Do they really think that God is telling them to strap a bomb to their chest and blow up a street fair? Perhaps they do believe that God is calling on them to defeat his foes. Or perhaps the justification of God has become so common and acceptable, an almost understandable way of thinking, that it is a “fallback” of sorts. It doesn’t really matter either way; the point is that they are using this idea to justify their wrong-doing, plain and simple. Cosmic war, a very abstract term, can be applied in so many different ways that it will forever be used as an excuse and rationalization of things that are quite the opposite.
I think Aslan’s idea of cosmic war and its use in today’s society is very valid. It paints the world in a very extreme way though. I don’t think the world is as black and white as “us versus them”. This extreme idea makes it confusing to draw out on a smaller scale. It also becomes unclear who exactly Aslan is talking about. How do I fit into his scale of good and evil? Aslan describes the current war against terror as being cosmic. “The men who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, were fighting a cosmic war”, says Aslan (6). To follow this logic, they attacked the United States not because of anything the United States did but because God told them to. This, to me, does not make much sense. I believe that the political history between the United States and these terrorists at least had something to do with it. I don’t think they can or should be completely characterized as “those cosmic warriors” (Aslan 6).
To conclude, I do, overall, agree with Aslan’s use of the phrase “cosmic war”. He uses it to show the extreme lengths people go to not for themselves but rather their religion. He exemplifies this phrase by showing the basics of many conflicts that we have seen in the past and the ones that our blood is being shed for today and how they are cosmic in nature. Aslan believes this mentality to be behind the reasoning of extremists from all walks of life, but brings it back to the Muslim extremists America is fighting today. Aslan allowed me to see major conflicts that were and are still being fought all over the world in a different way.
Aslan, Reza. Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2010.