September 20, 2008

"Terrorism is a cancer in Pakistan, we are determined, God willing, we will rid the country of this cancer."

Said the new Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, after today's horrific bombing.

In America, we like to quote Lincoln:

No nobler reply ever fell from the lips of a ruler, than that uttered by President Lincoln in response to the clergyman who ventured to say, in his presence, that he hoped "the Lord was on our side."

"I am not at all concerned about that," replied Mr. Lincoln, "for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."
The frightening thing is that the terrorists -- some of them, anyway -- imagine that they are on God's side.

Zardari says "God willing," but surely there are those who hear that and think that it is God's will that the other side win. It's the custom to say "God willing," I understand, but if you say "God willing, we will rid the country of this cancer," you are saying that if you do not win, God must be on the other side.

Does it help to bring God into the discussion? It must fire up the enemy to fight harder, because to win will be to prove that God is on their side.

I understand that it is intended as a prayer for God's support, but still...

***

The Lincoln link goes to a discussion of Sarah Palin's invocation of Lincoln to explain a remark of hers. And here's a good post by Ray Fowler asking: "Was Sarah Palin out of line with her prayer or simply following presidential precedent?"

49 comments:

erniecu73 said...

Isn't it just a figure of speech?

In Cuba, and in many Spanish speaking countries we say "Si Dios quiere", "God willing" quite often, and sometimes, I must confess; for quite trivial reasons. It always sounds like just a figure of speech to me.

erniecu73 said...

In fact, in Spanish we have two of those:

a) Si Dios quiere - which is a bit more serious

and

b) Ojalá - which comes, actually, from Arabic. Oj-Allah, "God willing"

Sorry, didn't want to disrup any deep philosphical and deistinc discussions. Just make a couple of observations.

And I don't like this new guy any more I liked Musharraf. He and his wife were quite corrupt back in the '90s.

erniecu73 said...

I mean deistic, or actually theological...meh...

Jake said...

Al Quaida is losing face all over the world because of their defeat in Iraq.
It is now evident to Muslims that Allah is not on the side of Al Quaida.

Donna B. said...

It is a figure of speech, and where I live it's often "The Lord willing, and the creek don't rise..."

But if the creek does rise, you can still believe that God was willing, it's just that the damned creek rose.

blake said...

Oh, let's not pretend that the attacks on Palin for her "God" comment are anything other than a desire to paint her as a theocrat.

Biden can say the Pope told him to vote a certain way without raising an eyebrow.

chickenlittle said...

What do atheists substitute for God?

Ron said...

What do atheists substitute for God?

Let's see...I know the answer to this one! It's Saturday, so it must be beer!

Danny said...

He likely said something along the lines of insh'allah which is best understood as 'hopefully'. Urdu might be different than Arabic here, though. It's about as noteworthy as an atheist left-wing latte-sipper saying 'goddamnit.'

krylovite said...

The Ray Fowler post makes the same arguments seen elsewhere for Palin's prayer. The problem with Fowler's spin is that it doesn't explain a similarly bizarre comment from Palin:

"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that."

In this instance it's clear that Palin claims to know God's will.

Fowler's attempt to spin Palin's prayer offers up this distinction:

There is a big difference between claiming that something is God’s plan and praying that something we do lines up with God’s plan.

Palin says that building the gas line is God's will. I have no idea how Palin claims to know God's will regarding US economic and energy policy. In any case an invocation of Lincoln doesn't help Palin out on this one.

Zach said...

I thought of Lincoln's second Inaugural, "Fondly do we hope, and fervently do we pray, that the mighty scourge of war will swiftly pass away...", but Fowler has a much better quote from that speech, which goes to the heart of what you're talking about.

"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."

Something you'll notice about many of Lincoln's better speeches is how the theological references allow him to address an issue both more directly and with more subtlety than more materialist analyses. We can invoke God's aid, and reason that we deserve to receive it, since "[i]t may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces", but "[t]he Almighty has His own purposes", which means that no prayers may be answered fully. (also notice the word "answered" instead of "granted").

The gulf between asserting that you follow God's will and praying that you do is huge, and Palin -- who was referencing Lincoln! -- has a legitimate gripe when people read her quote the wrong way.

erniecu73 said...

krylo, what is the context of that quote?

PatCA said...

I agree, Zach, Palin was definitely referencing Lincoln, and she did it well.

Of course, the media cannot let on that the little lady knows and invokes her U.S. history, can they?

vbspurs said...

Ann, Ernie is right. It's the most common figure of speech in Arabic.

In fact, they wouldn't even so much as blink if anyone said 'inshallah'. It's like us not blinking if someone says "geez". Geez is a variant of Jesus, but we're not invoking the Lord's name necessarily.

It's just something one says.

P.S.: Ernie, in Portuguese the equivalent is "Se deus quiser", said very commonly by everyone. There is oxalá too, but you know, for some reason it is very unusual to hear it -- probably because IIRC "Oxalá" is a figure in their animist culture.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Wouldn't it have been cool to hear Zardari say, "Geez, these terrorists just cheese my left nut".

erniecu73 said...

vbspurs said...
Wouldn't it have been cool to hear Zardari say, "Geez, these terrorists just cheese my left nut".

7:35 PM


The LuLs!!!

Stinger Assassin said...

Inshallah has become the linguistic equivalent of the head scarf on women and the prayer bump, the spot where worshipers press their foreheads into the ground during prayers, on men. It has become a public display of piety and fashion, a symbol of faith and the times. Inshallah has become a reflex, a bit of a linguistic tic that has attached itself to nearly every moment, every question, like the word “like” in English. But it is a powerful reference, intended or not.

Political and social commentators here say its frequent use reflects or fuels, or both, the increasing degree to which people have dressed the routine of daily life up with religious accessories. Will the taxi get me to my destination? Will my sandwich come without onions? What’s my name? It’s always, “God willing.”

--

In this Presidential prayer video that's going around, you can tell that Roosevelt is fervently beseeching God's aid. He was a little worried.

Methadras said...

Any terrorist can imagine that he is on God's side, but when it comes time to meet his maker, both will be very disappointed. When you invoke God or the Power of God as a means to justify killing innocent people for the purposes of political ends (in this case to set up the Caliphate), then God will shun you and turn his back on you and curse you.

Theo Boehm said...

Additionally to Zach's and others' very good points, underlying the use of expressions such as these is the understanding that we are not, in fact, masters of the Universe.  Despite all human efforts, our best-laid plans indeed Gang aft a-gley, an' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain.

The agency of God, or the randomness of the Universe, or Karma, or however you conceive the plain fact of the everyday failures of our intentions, should leave us with that rarest of feelings in the modern world, humility.

Gov. Palin seems to be generally solid with this piece of ancient wisdom.  To the extent she thinks she sees God's will in the welds of pipe sections, she begins to skate on thin theological and, taken broadly, philosophical ice.

But so far and overall, I give her about 85% in the Wisdom of the Ages Dept.

jdeeripper said...

Obama in August 2007

Troy said...

"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that."

The quote is from HuffPo so that has to be taken into consideration. If accurate -- she falls into a huge error many Christians do -- starting a project and then aligning "God's will" with it. It's the same thing as "doing what you want" so it only sounds controversial to those who are not believers or are unfair in criticism. In the end -0- what does it really matter? The bottom line is -- is a pipeline good policy? Who cares who gets the credit?

I don't think politicians should go around spouting off "God's will" all the time either, but neither should the populace get the heebie jeebies like Andrew Sullivan every "God" pops out of the mouth.

Ann... "God's will" is obviously a nod to His will being done regardless of who wins. Even Christ asked to be spared, but ultimately submitted to His will.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Chickenlittle's question: What do atheists substitute for God?

And the answer is:

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Trooper York said...

Zardoz is president of Pakistan?

Synova said...

Most people from a culture with religious influence will say something similar and really mean God willing, because even if they are not personally religious God is still a part of their assumptions about the world. But I don't doubt at all that Zardari figures that God has a hand in the outcome in his country.

The saying itself... sticking that "God willing" in there by rote... that's an expression, not of divine will but of humility.

And yes... if the other side wins then God's will must be... not on the other side, but must have been that the other side wins... you just can't really say why the other side won is all.

When 9-11 happened and Bin Laden and others (such as Falwell) were saying how this was God's judgment on the United States I thought... maybe it's judgment on Islam instead. (Some might call this natural consequences rather than God's judgment, and I'm fine with that.) Islam creates a situation where extremists like Al Qaeda act in the name of Islam, do something incredibly evil and destructive, and bring down the wrath of the United States on the region, make us realize that the situation is not something we can ignore, and set this all in motion. If one believes that God uses nations this way to punish other nations (or religions) (and since the concept is in the bible fairly clearly, many people do) then it's not an outrageous thing to consider.

One thing I'd never do is assume that God was on the side of whoever seemed on top at the moment or that God wouldn't decide that we needed a good smack up-side the head. Not that what is happening isn't His will, it *has* to be, somehow or other... but the lesson meant to be learned by it might be something completely different from what I, or anyone, thinks it is.

In other words (and trying for small ones for the culturally impaired here abouts) everything that happens is according to God's will, thus every task, every deployment of our troops, every road trip to Disney Land, contains some purpose. Using those terms and praying for safety for those going out to do God's will and for understanding about what God's will is for them is unremarkable.

I've known people who had a full scale prayer session every time they got in the car.

The "mission from God" of the troops being sent might be to minister to and encourage each other, or to show compassion to those they have opportunity to show compassion to... or it might be to righteously smite Al Qaeda and continue to do so until Islam does something about the rot in its midst.

Who could really say? If someone doesn't say *what* they think the "mission from God" actually is, there's really nothing more alarming to it than a ritualistic habit of reminding yourself and everyone else that God is in charge.

Trooper York said...

How can you have any respect for a guy in a red diaper?

Ann Althouse said...

I realize it's a standard expression. That's why I wrote "It's the custom to say "God willing," I understand..."

Cedarford said...

Jake said...
Al Quaida is losing face all over the world because of their defeat in Iraq.
It is now evident to Muslims that Allah is not on the side of Al Quaida.


Sorry, that's wishful thinking bullshit.

In the Muslim world there is ample criticism of Al Qaeda's butchery of innocents, bad tactics.
But don't think for a minute that the average Muslim believes that Allah is on the side of infidel America or the "foul Jewish betrayers of both the Prophet Jesus and the final, greatest Prophet, Mohammed". Not even with rspect to how the average Muslim views the observant Believers of the errant and evil Al Qaeda.
No question on who the average Muslim believes Allah would side with in the end.

As for Mr 10%, as the PM of Pakistan is known to them for his usual 10% cut of the action for the squalid Bhutto Family. NO one believes he will rein in the radicals and violent extremists. So the God Willing, qualifier to his remarks. At best he will only redirect the Jihadis to killing people that many Paks think need to be killed - like vile infidels of NATO in Afghanistan and Hindis in Kashmir instead of "Muslim Brothers" in Pakistan.

===============
Zardari is just using a common figure of speech that Muslims do even when speaking in English. So common, that us infidels know it as the "escape clause" in an honor-based People. Insh'allah, God willing, is a qualifier so that when an Arab says he will be victorious in battle or deliver an order of curry on time - and it doesn't get done - his honor and credibility isn't damaged because it is God's Will, after all..
=================
Meanwhile, along with the many other severe problems America faces, add in a rapidly deteriorating situation in Pakistan. Owner of about 150 boosted fission nuclear bombs and the bomber, 300+ ballistic missile delivery systems (IRBMs 1600-3300 kms range). And large stockpiles of nerve gas and possibly some bioweapons.

Currently we rely on the Pakis for our only supply line able to transport significant supplies into Afghanistan. That is now threatened with being cut off by more bombings of the trains and trucks involved, by dedicated radicals, who have the firm support of about 30% of Pakistan's population. And by US raids into Pakistan, not to mention Obama and McCain saying they will likely invade and "hunt down that one man..". Fortunately, everyone thinks Obama is lying about invasion, and McCain knows his donors and Neocon friends want the threat of Iran to Israel to come 1st when it comes to blowing more US lives and treasure.

We lost our other way in when the Bush people and the Neocons they listened to led to a series of provocations against Russia that cut off our other logistics.

vbspurs said...

That's why I wrote "It's the custom to say "God willing," I understand..."

"But still". There is no but still when you talk of a normal everyday expression because people don't think it's odd or forced.

Synova said...

What's so shocking about praying for unity and cooperation between people to get something done?

Sheesh.

I think Palin might have tripped over a word macro when she made her statement but she clearly says to pray for people to get along and work together.

The horror!

Brent said...

`

. . . or simply following presidential precedent?"


"It is an ironic fact that in this nuclear age, when the horizon of human knowledge and human experience has passed far beyond any that any age has ever known, that we turn back at this time to the oldest source of wisdom and strength, to the words of the prophets and the saints, who tell us that faith is more powerful than doubt, that hope is more potent than despair, and that only through 'the love that is sometimes called charity can we conquer those forces within ourselves and throughout all the world that threaten the very existence of mankind.

Keeping in mind that "when a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him," let us go forth to lead this land that we love, joining in the prayer of General George Washington in 1783, "that God would have you in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the citizens . . . . to entertain a brotherly love and affection one for another . . . and finally that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with . . . the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, without an humble imitation of whose example we can never hope to be a happy nation.

The guiding principle and prayer of this Nation has been, is now, and shall ever be "In God We Trust."

President John F Kennedy, February 9, 1961

ernestTbass said...

People take Palin seriously when she invokes the name of God because they know she really believes. They ignore Biden and other liberals because they know he doesn't.

blake said...

etb--

You know, I'd hate to think that was true. "We're just pretending to believe in God, 'cause that's what the rubes in flyover country want."

Palladian said...

"God willing, we will rid the country of this cancer,"

Interesting to use the metaphor of terrorists as cancer. Cancer, unlike a virus, is not an outsider. It is a malfunction of one's own cells, an "attack" on the body from within.

Synova said...

"People take Palin seriously when she invokes the name of God because they know she really believes."

True enough, though the "take seriously" is colored by a great deal of bigotry over "Christianists."

It's not just that they know she really believes... it's that they think they know *what* she believes according to their prejudices.

Synova said...

I agree, Palladian... it might also be his way of enforcing the idea that it's an internal matter and others shouldn't interfere.

Brent said...

Synova,

You explained it very well.

"Christainist" is bigoted hate term on the level of "nigger", "wetback", and "fag".

Ray Fowler said...

krylovite: I don't think Gov. Palin is necessarily saying she knows God's will for the pipeline. I am sure if you asked her she would explain more clearly what she meant.

It is similar to Senator Obama and the lipstick on a pig comment. His words could have been interpreted negatively towards Palin, but when given a chance to explain himself, he told us what he meant by the words. In the same way I think we should let Gov. Palin interpret her own words instead of jumping to conclusions.

Bissage said...

I used to pray to my Christian God he’d make Judy Liebman want to love me and it worked.

I’ll pray to my Christian God you get what you want but you’ll have to pay me first.

They tell me that's the way things work around here.

William said...

Islam allows a segment of the Muslim population to sanctify their hatred of western values. It is impossible to go through life without hating. It is, however, possible to go through life by being distrustful of that hatred. Hatred never makes you a better person. When you start thinking that your hatred of the bourgeoise or the heretics or the perverts or "those people" (and we all know who "those people" are), has made you a better person, you are approaching a very bad place. The great crimes of the 20 century were committed by people who worshipped their hatred.

Chip Ahoy said...

God told me to tell you he's charmed by your speculation.

That is all.

Will said...

Troy I'm not that sure it's obvious... sounds to me like he's beseeching the almighty to help him smite his foes.

But I'll concede you point that he could just be hedging his bets.

Gov. Palin, if you read her words in context, isn't praying for God to be "on our side." She's praying that our actions are in accord with God's will. That's a subtle but very important difference.

Kirk Parker said...

JFK--what a theocrat! No wonder the commies took him out.

Adjoran said...

To western ears it is "merely a figure of speech." To Muslims, it certainly occurs often enough, but is uttered with concious piety.

Using the phrase in this context challenges the radicals' pretense to represent "true" Islam.

That he has been and probably still is a corrupt figure with no significant experience is a given, but has little bearing on his meaning in the statement.

vbspurs said...

To western ears it is "merely a figure of speech." To Muslims, it certainly occurs often enough, but is uttered with concious piety.

Thank Christ that's sorted out then.

That he has been and probably still is a corrupt figure with no significant experience is a given, but has little bearing on his meaning in the statement.

Oh, thank you for bringing this up!

Which famous Pakistani politician was it who said that Bhutto's greatest tragedy in life was marrying this guy?

He's corrupt. He's inept. He's basically a cypher.

And now he's our partner in the War against Terror. Nice...

Well, let's see if maybe he has ambitions for his role in history. He has to do well for his son's sake, the eventual heir-apparent to this country's republican throne...

Cheers,
Victoria

krylovite said...

I don't think Gov. Palin is necessarily saying she knows God's will for the pipeline. I am sure if you asked her she would explain more clearly what she meant.

Ray Fowler, I can only go by what Palin says. In this case it's perfectly clear: Palin claims to know God has a plan for building a gas line.

Words have meaning, which is why you spent so much time analyzing precisely what Palin said about our troops in Iraq. We should hold our politicians responsible for their actions and their words.

Except the new Republican game is to defend ridiculous comments by Republican politicians by arguing that it's just "verbiage." Palin did this when she defended McCain's assertion that the fundamentals of the economy are strong:

"Well, it was an unfair attack on the verbiage that Senator McCain chose to use."

I think you use the same sort of defense of Palin:

"I am sure if you asked her she would explain more clearly what she meant."

It's perfectly clear what she meant. She's used phrases like "God's will" and "God's plan" on more than one occasion in support of political positions.

If Palin had used the phrase "God's will" in urging humanitarian work, it wouldn't be a concern since the Bible offers instruction about charity and giving. But the Bible offers no guidance about gas lines. Therefore when Palin talks about "God's will" regarding gas lines, she's using religion to carry a political agenda.

Ray Fowler said...

krylovite - Well, it's more than possible that I am reading my own worldview into this whole scenario, but I don't think it is perfectly clear that she meant what you say.

Palin said: "I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that." Couldn't she simply be saying that if its God's will for this pipeline to be built, then it is going to take a lot of people coming together, so let's pray for that?

Once again, I could be pushing my own world view onto this, but I come from a Christian background where we talk about God's will a lot. And we never assume that "my will is God's will." We hope that what we are doing lines up with God's will, and we pray for God's will to be done, but I sincerely doubt that Sarah Palin was claiming divinely revealed knowledge about the Alaskan pipeline.

krylovite said...

Couldn't she simply be saying that if its God's will for this pipeline to be built, then it is going to take a lot of people coming together, so let's pray for that?

That might be what she meant to say, but it's clearly not what she did say. What she did say is that it's God's will for Alaskans to build a gas line and the project will require people and companies to come together.

I come from a Christian background too. I've heard people talk about "God's will" and "God's plan" in regard to Biblical lessons, but not in referencing specific political projects like building gas lines. Based on your Christian background, can you provide a textual reference to support the idea that God has a plan for gas lines in Alaska?

Ronsonic said...

Fatalism is a fundamental aspect of Islam. This is not a mere acknowledgment that Allah rules in all things, but that his will is unknowable and that it may contradict all human purpose and preparation and planning.

There were debates about this over the history of Islam. Some theologians thought such fatalism debilitating and limiting. All such heresy has been extinct for over 500 years.

Any Christian will accept that God's will is final, but he knows that work, preparation and planning tends to succeed. The Muslim is not so certain. It is not unusual for for a Muslim to express some goal with no intent of lifting a finger toward it, but simply tag it with "Allah willing" as if that will help.

Ray Fowler said...

krylovite asked: "Based on your Christian background, can you provide a textual reference to support the idea that God has a plan for gas lines in Alaska?"

How about Zechariah 4:12? "Again I asked him, 'What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?'"

Just kidding. I am sure both you and I would agree that this is an irresponsible use of the Biblical text by taking it out of context.

But that is exactly my point. From what I know of Gov. Palin's background, she also would be firmly against using a text like this to justify building a pipeline in Alaska.

I don't believe Gov. Palin was saying or has ever said that she has Scriptural warrant or a direct decree from God to build a pipeline in Alaska. But she was asking for prayer about it. And she was praying for God's will to be done.

Just as we let Senator Obama explain what he meant by "lipstick on a pig," (and I accepted his explanation), I think we should let Gov. Palin explain her words instead of interpret them for her.

Now, if she suddenly starts spouting Zechariah 4:12 in favor of two Alaskan pipelines, I will grant you your point and come over to your side. :-)

Thanks for a fun discussion. I enjoyed the back and forth even if we ultimately end up disagreeing with each other on this one.