11.24.2015 01:30 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: the religion of the poor 

Everyone has their own theory, these days, about why the world is going to shit. Mine is poverty, plus technology. ‎

**

So, flying el Al into Israel for the first time, two miles up, I could literally see where Israel started, and where it ended. Israel, from the air, is green and lush. It is an oasis. All the countries arrayed around it mostly aren’t: they are a vastness of parched and barren dirt. They are landfill disguised as countries. Looking down at it all, I said to my traveling companion: “Well, that explains a thing or two.”

**

Same with Dallas, years before, where I lived when I was a kid. I remember it, because I was scared. We weren’t rich, not by a long shot, but when my Dad got lost one day with me and my Mom and brothers in our shiny new American Motors station wagon – and there we were, at a red light in South Dallas, below the Trinity River – I could feel several pairs of eyes on us.

One moment, everything was orderly and familiar; the next moment, it wasn’t. We were stopped in a poor neighbourhood, and it felt like everyone was staring at us, the kids included. Some of them were around my age, eight or nine. “Hey, Daddy,” I apparently said. “That boy looks really mad.”

**

Bear with me, here, but those kinds of memories – and a dozen of others like them, in different times and places – always leads me back to the same place. Which, somewhat improbably, is Ottawa in the sunny and warm Fall of 31 years ago, when Pope John Paul II came to visit. It was a big deal, his Canadian tour, and he was a rock star, the first celebrity Pope. ‎

I was and am a Catholic, but not ever preoccupied by what popes and priests have to say. I am drawn to the ritual in my religion, the ineffable infinitude of it. The word itself – catholic – means universal. I am attracted to Catholicism because its rituals are more or less the same wherever you go on the planet. And, as such, it ministers equally to the rich and the poor. Or so the theory goes.‎

Anyway: Pope John Paul came to the world’s attention when he angrily sided with poor trade unionists in Gdansk’s port in 1980. He did so again in September 1984, at the end of his twelve-day Canadian jaunt, when he angrily sided with the world’s poor. After genially receiving all the Premiers and Ministers and the Prime Minister – after cheerfully blessing everyone and saying lots of Masses – Pope John Paul got mad, and he reminded me about that wrong turn in Dallas, or the view of Israel, as seen from above. ‎

The poor of the world grow angry, he said. The anger is about the “excesses” of our lives in the First World, that are too often “irresponsible and barren.” The world’s poor are denied most of what those of us in North America and Europe take for granted – but, increasingly, technology is making them intimately aware of what we have, and what they do not. And no one should be surprised when they rise up, therefore, and they strike out at us. ‎

Said John Paul II to the crowds in Ottawa in September 1984: “A society where profit-making efficiency has become an idol! Your choices amaze and irritate the world – but they never leave it indifferent!”

He was angry, a surprised media reported at the time, thirty years before his prophecy – in its most benign form (the Occupy movement), and its most murderous form (ISIS) – came true. Our excesses, he warned us, were stirring up a tsunami of anger and hate, and leaving no one indifferent. And the ubiquity of technology in the world’s poorest places was‎ making it possible. Inevitable, even.

Even now – more than three decades later – I will sometimes look at a photograph in a newspaper, or some footage in a news item. And there it will be – a Samsung TV in a corner of a dilapidated shack, or a smart phone clutched in a dirty hand in a slum somewhere – all testifying to the Pope’s prescience. Technology has spread more quickly than prosperity. ‎

Anyone involved in daily politics, as I once was, knows immediately what this means: resentment, then anger, then hate. Every campaign seeking to replace a powerful incumbent trades in resentments. It works.

It is not by coincidence, to me, that ISIS has embraced YouTube and Twitter to broadcast its beheadings and mass-murders: the Islamic State is simply making efficient use of the same technologies through which it was alerted to our excesses in the first place. The Internet let them know about how we live: to them, we are too secular, too immoral, and too suffused with greed and self-indulgence.

They saw that, via a flickering blue screen somewhere in Pakistan, and they are hitting “reply all” to express what they think about it. And what they intend to do about it, too: convert us, or murder us for our excesses. ‎

From afar, I have long admired Islam. It has no priests, no papal tours, no palatial cathedrals. It has only its book, and its core meaning – Islam, meaning submission – and its people, who will shortly number more than any other on the planet.

Muslims have faith, and we increasingly do not. Muslims have certainty, while we endlessly cast about for meaning. Muslims have identity, and none of us in the West have had that for quite some time. ‎

Most of all – harkening back to the words of that Catholic pope, in Ottawa, Ontario, of all places – Islam has become the religion of the poor. And, now that they have taken in a few episodes of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous – or a reality show like Intervention or Hoarders – they are pissed, and understandably so. ‎‎

Lots of essays get written about what ISIS is and what it isn’t. To me, the Islamic State’s name says it all: they want a state of their own, one where Islam occupies the spot presently held by Dollarama and the Kardashians in our own. ‎

Their preferred weapons are not necessarily the Kalishnikovs they carried through Paris streets, or the explosives they used to blow a jetliner of Russian tourists out of the sky. Those are symptoms, not the cause.

Their weapon of choice, instead, is a smartphone. A smartphone provides snapshots of the way in which we live, and how we are. If you are in the anger business, it is the best recruitment tool in the history of the world. ‎

With that rage about our excesses – and with Islam, the religion of the poor – they intend to conquer the world. ‎

And their‎ war is underway, whether you care to admit it or not.

49 Comments

  1. MikeTO says:

    Great insight Warren, thank you, but I believe the battle is between culture and life meaning more then wealth. How else do you explain affluent kids going to fight for the Caliphate?

    Much like ISIS is a minority of the Muslim Duma, upset that the large majority have strayed from the core teachings, the West has a similar minority faction broadly known as the Alt-right, composed of Identitartians, New Libertarians, Traditionalists and Nationalists. This movement promotes the values of Cultural Identity, Responsibility and meaning in life over traditional Conservative messages of lower tax rates etc.. Like ISIS, they are spreading the word through youtube and twitter, are young – rebels against the Boomer and GenX ethos, and are growing in popularity. Unlike ISIS, they are fun – making music, podcasts and videos not snuff films and AK47 assaults.

    For a quick primer on how these young punk do, check out this international podcast with a Canadian theme and many Canadian guests: https://youtu.be/ViiAiHW0OiQ

  2. Steve T says:

    If this is true, then ISIS has become just another ironic cult – albeit far more dangerous than any other cult in history.

    If they are railing against Western “excesses”, why is there substantial and repeated evidence that they are destroying priceless historical sites, at least partially for the value of selling pieces on the black market (CBC news item the other night)? Isn’t that a bit materialistic and self-serving?

    Why is there repeated and substantial evidence that they rape women, and even young girls? Isn’t fidelity and chastity one of the virtues they espouse, and allege that the Evil West has forsaken?

    Most importantly, why is there repeated and substantial evidence that they not only kill Western “infidels”, but also pretty much anyone that they randomly and arbitrarily decide “deserves” it? Isn’t this a war against the great Western Satan?

    Let’s not do anything – anything at all – that gives legitimacy to the alleged reasons for ISIS’s brutal campaign. They are nothing more than the most violent, immoral, and dangerous group to ever walk the face of the earth. Their allure is simple – come join us, and you get to feel more powerful than you’ve ever felt, and kill people at random.

  3. DougM says:

    As I read this I started out agreeing up to the point where poverty is the blame for ISIS. While there is no doubt ISIS loathes the West’s excesses, those excesses are not the reason for ISIS’ existence. Power is why they exist. A power vacuum allowed them to form and power continues to be their motivation. In fact up until very recently they were very focused inwards and in their area of operations. They said to the West “we are creating this Caliphate, we are doing this, so leave us to it”. Only since the West started to interfere with their quest for more power in a somewhat effective way did they strike out at us beyond their own borders.

    As for the rest of the world, poor vs the West, we must not be ashamed of ourselves for we have reaped what we sowed and what we sowed was democracy, rights and freedoms. We should endeavour to foster those same principals in the rest of the world.

    • nobonus4nonis says:

      reaped what we sowed? democracy? are you crazy? we only sowed genocide and slavery of the native populations of north america and stole the resources upon which our wealth depends. if we didn’t outgun the angry and humiliated indigenous peoples they would have done to us what isis is doing today.
      if anyone has a right to be angry it should them. no water, denigration, racism, imprisonment, treaties and residential schools. if idle no more ever goes isis we will be in deep shit and frankly i wouldn’t blame them.

      • DougM says:

        You mostly mistaking American history for Canadian, mostly. That being said of course we can do better. It starts with more rights for individual natives (i.e. property rights) and transparent accountability of first nations leadership. The bill forcing the chiefs and band councils to reveal their incomes and expenditures was a start, but that apparently will be repealed. Perhaps the Nisga’a is the way forward.

        • nobonus4nonis says:

          attawapiskat.

          • DougM says:

            What are you trying to say with one word? The Attawapiskat budget is $10,000 per person per year. That doesn’t include any monies individuals receive from the government. Is that too much? Is that too little? Do you think Chief Spence mishandled or misappropriated funds? Do you think she is a scapegoat?

    • Pete Kelly says:

      If you haven’t already I think you should head to your local library stat and pickup a copy of Guns, Germs and Steel. While I’m sure the book has some flaws, overall, it very nicely illustrates how the ascendancy of the West is in many ways a happy accident (happy being relative to your point of view, of course), and is infinitely more complex than “reaping what we’ve sown”.

      Have we in the West taken good advantage of our opportunities to craft a “civil” society? Sure, and there is, indeed, much to celebrate – but let’s not kid ourselves – it has been on the back of many indigenous populations/colonial exploitation and a lot to do with luck – it’s not like western Europeans were the only ones who could have come up with this had the circumstances been different.

      Indeed, as you’ve presented it, this is a classic case of the actor-observer error – from Wikipedia: “When people judge their own behavior, and they are the actor, they are more likely to attribute their actions to the particular situation than to a generalization about their personality. Yet when an observer is explaining the behavior of another person (the actor), they are more likely to attribute this behavior to the actors’ overall disposition rather than to situational factors”.

      If this all proves to be too much, I would simply recommend you watch Trading Places.

      • DougM says:

        Sorry Pete but I’m not one for being a Western apologist. Regardless, what you’re talking about has zero to do with countries that have democracy, rights and freedoms being wealthier than shit hole dictatorships or countries with corrupt governments. Sure not all free peoples are wealthy, but no one in non-free nations are wealthy except the dictators and their cronies.

  4. This is @#$% brilliant.

  5. Dennis says:

    Warren – a powerful column and very well written.

  6. Kelly says:

    BINGO. With a capital B.

    I lived in St. Paul, MN for a time and always marveled at how two blocks away from the Governors mansion and the Tony area around it filled with 19th century lumber Barron mansions and elite private Liberal arts colleges, was the poorest neighborhood in the city. I would sometimes wonder why everyone didn’t just gather up, walk 2 blocks and burn the mansions down.

    What was keeping that community from exploding?

    Smartphones where still 20 years away…

    (Note: the “stressed neighborhood” has since been gentrified.

  7. MississaugaPeter says:

    WK, you are missing the role of guns.

    The poor would just stay poor with their dream of the afterlife if guns were not put in the hands of their youth.

    Evil begets more evil.

    Like someone gave bin Laden and the Taliban guns to fight the Russians, someone gave ISIS guns to fight Assad.

    • cgh says:

      Not so. There were very few guns involved, and yet in the ’90s it took less than six weeks for the Hutus to massacre half a million Tutsis in Rwanda. All done with machetes.

  8. Joe says:

    Sometimes we get the cause and the effect mixed up.

  9. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    I seem to remember a lot of people were pissed off when this Prime Minister said it would be necessary to “look at root causes.”

    Maybe he heard the Pope speak. Waiting now for them to call all of us Marxists…

  10. SG says:

    “With that rage about our excesses – and with Islam, the religion of the poor – they intend to conquer the world.”

    There are plenty of useful idiots on the Left who seem determined to help them, particularly in Europe.

  11. Peter says:

    I can’t recall one Islamicist leader, terrorist, imam or mullah saying that their motivation was poverty (or climate change) or their objective was to redress it. Yet many Western progressives are absolutely convinced that if only we can usher in a more equalitarian material world, we will solve the problem somehow. Our self-proclaimed humanitarian compassion hides a gargantuan arrogance that we know what they want, what they need and what is good for them better than they do.

    Plus, speaking objectively, world poverty, hunger and disease is much, much less than it was thirty years ago.

    • doconnor says:

      Poverty leads people to embrace fundamentalist religions. You can see it in both the Americans South and the Middle East. It was the reduction of poverty that ended Europe’s Catholic-Protestant wars.

    • Joe says:

      A materialistic society will lean on its god (materialism) to overcome the god of those who threaten them. In this case allah. Materialists believe that if people are following allah it is because they don’t have enough material. Of course said materialists seem oblivious to the fact that many of the radicals making our lives uncomfortable are well educated and wealthy individuals who have decided to stop heeding the call of the god of materialism and want other materialists to stop as well.

  12. nobonus4nonis says:

    kinsella is channeling his inner chris hedges. not a bad effort but the rebellian part was left out. sorry no pulitzer for you
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUgaqJZLwOg

  13. A. Voter says:

    It’s a cliche to write about the suffering of the poor, and to blame it on “capitalism” or “corporations”. Doing things the same way we’ve always done them is also part of the problem. Here are a few things I’ve read:
    1) There are a few thousand Africans with hundreds of billions of dollars in bank accounts. Why are we giving foreign aid to politicians instead of only agreeing to fund schools or hospitals directly?
    2) If African farmer were allowed to sell their produce directly to western nations, it would pump one trillion dollars a year into Africa. Who are the people who prevent this?
    3) If the worlds poor were given title to the land they squat on, it would give them billions in assets they could borrow against. Why not do this?
    Do people need to play “White Savior” so badly they can’t support free trade and property rights?

  14. Curtis Joynt says:

    “… technology is making them intimately aware of what we have, and what they do not. And no one should be surprised when they rise up, therefore, and they strike out at us.”

    I’ve also been saying this for years including the comparison to the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” on steroids.

  15. Peter Jay says:

    You’re right about Islam being the religion of the poor. If you want to be a poor country, become a conservative Islamic country.

    Western civilization is clearly superior in every measurable way to conservative Islamic culture, including equality in prosperity.

    And yes, there may be inequality in wealth between the two civilizations, but that results from the culture of those civilizations.

    • Terence Quinn says:

      Having grown up in French Catholic Quebec which was effectively ruled by the “Catholic mullahs” of the time, I can relate. The church used to preach breeding and poverty as the way to heaven. Then Jean Lesage created the great awakening and started down the road to a secular Quebec and people dropped out of religion in droves where today only abut 10% of French Quebeckers go to church even once a year.

      Religion in the middle east in particular is used by despots to secure power in the name of Allah and enrich themselves on the backs the faithful. Education and democracy would erase the “fake” religious piety that now exists in a heartbeat.

      So, while I agree with WK that Islam is religion of the poor, it is also a religion used by despotic leaders to keep their people in line. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran operate more or less the same way and a clash of those two tenets of Islam is also underway and needs to be subverted. The iranian theocracy needs to be replaced by a secular democracy as most Iranians don’t go near a mosque because they are educated by cannot overrun the monsters who maintain tight and cruel control over them in the name of religion. Saudi, while somewhat different needs to have the Sauds replaced by something different. That may include a religious democracy as an interim step to real freedom.

      One last point is Turkey where the current is about to empower himself and will create a secular Islamist government on the way backwards to a so called religious state. This fuelled by ignorance and poverty in many parts of Turkey outside of ankara and istanbul.

  16. P. Brenn says:

    I think the world is in for many additional rude awakenings …militarily , economic , terrorism , poverty , the collective we have messed up badly..

  17. Al in Cranbrook says:

    One difference between Liberals and Conservatives is strikingly apparent here: Conservatives feel guilty when they don’t succeed. Liberals feel guilty when they do.

    Anyway…

    No inclination here to apologize on behalf of western civilization, or my forefathers whom struggled mightily to build it, particularly given that it, far and away, and for all its flaws, remains an inspiration to the rest of the world…billions of whom would give everything they have, which for too many is pretty much nothing, to live as well as do we.

    The secret to our success in the west? That’s simple: Liberty, democracy and free enterprise…all of which, God only knows too well, have been targeted since forever by self-serving tyrants and despots.

    Watched a couple relevant documentaries last couple days, one on Stalin’s Russia (Google “Soviet Purges”, 20,000,000 murdered), and the other on Mao’s China (Google “The Great Leap Forward”, 20,000,000 starved to death), both utter horror stories that are testament to absence of the afore mentioned qualities of western civilization. There are many more sad histories of the same cause and effect.

    It is said that, to those whom much is given, much is expected. I reject the notion that western civilization has failed to deliver. We have fed billions over the last century. We have spilled more blood than we care remember in defending billions of souls. And we have taken in hundreds of millions to spare them from misery.

    All of this stands in stark contrast to what the rest of the world has achieved or done for humanity over that same time.

    The Iron Curtain locked people in, not out. People, even to this day, flee to western nations for better lives, and not to Russia, China, N. Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Pakistan, etc., etc., etc….

    All that said…

    Our children, indeed entire generations, have no real idea of how we accomplished all this, or even that we accomplished anything at all. We’ve scrubbed our education systems of teachings of history, of morality, and especially anything to do with the values and responsibilities inherent in maintaining liberty, democracy and free enterprise that provides in the first place the lifestyles and benefits thereof that they take so much for granted. Leaving thereby an increasingly growing void in respect to raison d’etre they look to fill with whatever happens to be handy, or “trending” as it were.

    And why did we do that?

    As I said, success, for reasons I’ll never comprehend, seems to make a lot of people feel guilty.

  18. Rich says:

    http://www.lfpress.com/2015/11/24/feds-push-back-refugee-deadline-to-february

    OTTAWA — The Liberal government will not meet its Dec. 31 deadline to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees and now says it aims to complete the program by February.
    Trudeau had the chance to do this as soon as the plan was announced…but would he listen…NO!
    There have been many chances to alter the Dec 31 view but….NO…it was carved in stone….come hell or high-water. He refused to listen to anyone and even when it was obvious there were substantial problems and anything like success was impossible the response was…NO CHANGE….over and over.
    Well look what we now have.
    Trudeau looks like a doofus for doubling down on Dec 31 and refusing to change til he had his nose rubbed in it.
    There is a difference between being steadfast and being stead-stoopid.
    Indeed, there was no reason to die on this particular hill, and his new MP’s are about to be splattered with part of this…oh …and we look ridiculous as a country.
    None of this need to have happened had he just heeded advice or actually given the issue more than 5 minutes thought. He could have said….”we will TRY for Dec 31″
    but not locked himself, his party and the country into this ridiculous position.
    He certainly has come across as…just not ready….and if the Feb date is marked by foul ups, that is what will ne carved in stone.
    Honestly some folks kids!

  19. Doug says:

    I like most of your argument — technology, amplifier and medium, does raise awareness and spread the message. It has changed fundamentally how people view themselves, especially the poor developing world. It gives a voice where there has been none.

    I don’t however agree that “Islam has become the religion of the poor.” ISIS, Bin Laden, etc are not the poor – they are the restless middle class/spoiled upper class that see an opportunity to grab power. It is not the poor that the oil Sheiks in Saudi are worried about — if so that would be the 9 million Indian, Pakistan Egyptian, Yemeni, Bangladeshi, and Filipinos, living there as migrant workers — it is their own Saudi population who they send abroad to learn about the world that is the greatest threat.

    In working in the slums of East Africa, it is not islam which i most come up against, it is Christianity. This is the religion as far as i can see of the poor at least in Africa. If you throw in Indian and China, then you expand that religion pie. Islam provides a vehicle for some to promote radical change – and I would not really say Isis is islam, but more a bunch of hyped up 20 somethings playing out their Modern warfare/GTA 5 fantasies – but it is not the radical change for the poor that is being fought for.

    “When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die.”
    ― Jean-Paul Sartre

  20. CuJo says:

    “The rich must live more simply so that the poor may simply live.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

  21. Lee Hill says:

    I have been musing quietly about the same thing. It is tragic that Paris was attacked as it remains one of the few places in the West where are our values are represented at their best. Sadly the UK seems increasingly in thrall to consumerism (the dire state of much of its popular culture often sanctioned by highly educated Oxbridge grads is a mere tip of the iceberg) and while I agree that consumer choice is not a bad thing, it shouldn’t be the only thing that distinguishes liberal humanism in the 21st Century. If we are going to fight ISIS, we need to rise to the challenge with more than Hawkish rhetoric and more Homeland Security type measures. We need to stop pretending that the First World is separate from the Third.

  22. Jeff says:

    This column is excellent, and I might add Holy Spirit-inspired.

  23. Dave says:

    I tried to contribute to this very Idea some days ago but my post was never approved . Here goes again.
    The West has been successful for three main reasons . All of which we in the West have NOTHING to apologize for .

    1. Rule of Law, mainly through the protection of private Property. The big guy down the street can’t take your stuff. He goes away for a while. King John started the concept with his acceptance of the Magna Carta.

    2. Surplus of Agricultural Production. For the last two hundred plus years Western Nations have produced FAR more food than they need to exist. What’s the first thing a Third world Farmer does with HIS surplus?

    3. Publically funded Education driven by # 2. If a person is not hungry and Society knows it can provide then same society gets on with other problems. Justice, Higher Education, Infrastructure…Human achievement.

    Name a present Non Western Like society that has not fulfilled these three basic values and you soon get conflict Leading to lack of Hope, frustration then easily to violent action or the constant threat.

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