It may have escaped your attention with all the (other) horrible news these days, but one of the strangest recent developments is that Steve Bannon, former advisor and key strategist of the Trump campaign, has recently taken up residence in a remote Italian monastery. This is not, unfortunately, a result of him seeing the error of his ways and seeking penitence, but instead part of a broad strategy to empower and enthuse European ultran-ationalists across the continent. The monastery is leased by a Catholic organisation which lobbies against abortion legislation and is working with Bannon’s pompously-titled group, “The Movement,” to create an academy at said monastery where burgeoning political leaders in alt-right and ultra-nationalist parties can come to get trained and to meet one another.
The fact that ultra-nationalist politicians are engaging in international cooperation is itself rather strange, but even stranger is that Bannon and co. routinely utilise the same rhetoric in defining what it is they’re doing in this remote mountain sanctuary: defending Judeo-Christian values. Right– so what are those?
I’ve written before about what a troublesome category ‘Judeo-Christian’ is, but perhaps nothing underlines so powerful the danger of such a phrase than it being evoked by Bannon’s monastic disciples. We have to be especially careful that Judaism is not co-opted by culture warriors who want to try and sell some romanticised vision of ‘the West.’ After all, this is the same West which has defined its entire two-millenia long cultural history as being based on anti-Judaism (with the occasional bonus of anti-Semitism as well).
Jewish values are Jewish values– not for anyone else to use or expropriate. Yet, even if they were to be hyphenated, the far more accurate description of values would be to conflate Judaism and Islam rather than Judaism and Christianity. Because Judaism and Islam operate the same way (halakhah/sharia) and describe God the same way (elo’ah/allah)– they more often share the same values. In addition, Judaism and Islam both share cultural components shaped heavily by the Middle-East, whereas Western Christianity (Catholic and Protestant alike) has made every effort to strip itself of ‘Eastern’ influences.
We have to be careful that we too don’t fall into the trap set by those like Bannon, who wish to conflate Jewish texts and values with their extremist vision of Christianity and Christian identity. One way we can counter-act that is to claim and speak for our own values, and another is to show how much we share with Islam. Especially because Bannon’s worldview is one that is trying to pitch Jews and Christians against a Muslim enemy– we can balance the scales by spending some time learning and sharing, our cultures and our foods, with our Muslim neighbours and friends.
To that end, I wanted to extend an invitation to you, to our entire community, from the Muslim community here in St. Albans to join them for an Iftar meal and celebration this Saturday evening. Though it is still Shabbat for us, this event is free, open to the public, and just around the corner from SAMS– so I hope that, if you’re able, you’ll join us to share and learn about Jewish and Muslim values together.