Editorial – Conflict, Croissants and Communication 17 October 2014
Abdul-Azim Ahmed on what to expect from Issue 8 of On Religion…
Iraq and Ukraine
Religion has dominated the headlines over the past few months, perhaps unavoidably so given the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Shaam (ISIS). It is remarkable that this time last year, few would have heard of ISIS (despite it existing since 2006 as the Islamic State of Iraq), yet it has since gone on to not only conquer sizable amounts of land in the Middle East, but also enter the consciousness of millions around the world. Despite accusations of medieval barbarism levelled at ISIS, the organisation has shown itself to be thoroughly modern. The foot soldiers of ISIS live tweet their battles, it produces well-edited videos released online and it maximises the impact of every Western death through orchestrated and brutal beheadings that provide fodder for 24 hour news organisations. This is an organisation not from the Middle-Ages, but one which understands the modern world better than most. Those interested in better understanding ISIS would do well to read the Opinion piece by Daniel Rey within this edition, looking at how the politics of the crusades are reflected in today’s Middle East, as well my own piece looking at the theology and history behind the term Caliph that ISIS have lay claimed to. Also of interest will be our interviews with two leading experts on radicalisation, and Andrew Grey’s piece on the Vicar of Baghdad.
What is interesting about religion in the headlines today is where it hasn’t been mentioned, or at least not in any depth. Ukraine is a conflict that has been presented and analysed in clinical and geo-political terms by most Western media outlets. This is despite religion being central to the conflict in the region through the tension between the Orthodox Church of Moscow and the breakaway Orthodox Church of Kiev. I would love to offer readers the opportunity to hear more about this, but despite my best attempts, I failed to find an expert who could write authoritatively about it. I wonder if this is also the reason why mainstream media outlets have avoided the topic.
Those who are nonetheless interested in why religion seems implicated in violence globally might enjoy reading our review of Karen Armstrong’s latest work ‘Fields of Blood’, a book which tackles the issue head on.
As a fan of pastries and coffee, I was concerned when told by a friend several years back that the croissant I was about to tuck into was haram (forbidden) for me to eat as a Muslim. I enquired further, expecting a response related to the ingredients used but was instead told it was because the croissant is a Christian celebration of Muslim defeat. This was my first introduction to the history of the croissant, which accurately or otherwise, is imbued in religious identity. Laura Jones explores more about the link between food and faith in her article marking the end of The Great British Bake Off. (For those who are interested, it is not actually haram ).
This often hidden history of faith is looked at also in Karen Willlows’ piece on zombie theology, looking at the roots of zombies within Voudouism and its more recent incarnations in movies. Religion and the big screen as a theme is continued in Joseph Adam’s look at what makes the story of Moses so incredibly captivating, in anticipation of the release of Ridley Scott’s new movie ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’.
While on a trip to Bosnia, I casually told an acquaintance about On Religion. I was surprised when she told me she was already familiar with it, as she had been introduced to it by Basil Hazledine. Readers with a good memory will remember a review of his book on Muslim-Christian relations ‘Abraham: A Bridge So Near’ appearing in Issue 3 (Summer 2013) of On Religion. I was sad to then be informed he had recently passed away, having lived a long and full life. An obituary to the scholar and theologian, written by Eleanor Stoneham, is included at page 29 of this edition.
Letters (or Emails)
As a fan of the letters/emails page in magazines and newspapers, I’ve always wanted the same for On Religion. Despite a few half-hearted attempts to get it going, we’ve never received the critical mass needed to publish a letters page. So once again, I make the plea to readers (whether subscribers or otherwise) to consider sending us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or alternatively an actual letter if so inclined (Unit 5, 35A Salisbury Road, Cardiff, CF24 4AA) for our hopefully soon-to-launch letters page.
Interested? Subscribe to On Religion. £19 gets you a year’s subscription of the quarterly magazine so you can read more informed commentary on faith and current affairs: