When gods drank human blood

Retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters has been a byline to watch for since he wrote a famous article for the Winter 2001 issue of Parameters, the deepthink journal of the U.S. Army War College. Titled "Stability, America's Enemy," the wide-ranging piece argued that the U.S.'s strategic insistence on maintaining a superficial peace by keeping foreign regimes intact was misguided.

Of course, that's the broadest and dumbest outline possible (I encourage GetReligion readers with strategic geopolitical concerns to give it a read) but the point is, Peters' creative thinking, his vast knowledge, and his clear, bold prose make it a good bet that you won't go wrong by reading a piece with his byline attached. You probably will not agree with everything he argues but you'll go away with something to ponder.

Case in point: He penned an op-ed for the Wednesday edition of USA Today titled "Nothing Islamic about human sacrifice." The piece begins by cataloguing violent, horrific acts that we group under the banner of Islamic terrorism, and then says that we are wrong to do so. We are wrong, Peters says, because, while these men "quote the Koran," "wear Muslim garments," and "perform the daily rituals prescribed by the faith into which they were born," they represent a return to a tradition that pre-dates Mohammad.

Put baldly, "Moses, Christ and Mohammad uniformly rejected human sacrifice," but not so with this current crop of troublemakers. Peters expounds:

The grisly decapitations caught on film and the explosives-laden cars driven into crowds, the bombings of schools and the execution of kidnapped women are not sanctioned by a single passage in the Koran. Nor are they political acts committed by freedom fighters. These are the actions of a resurrected blood cult that has nothing to do with the message of the Prophet Mohammed and everything to do with the bloodthirsty winged devils and gory altars that haunted the ancient Middle East.

There is a lot to argue with in Peters' piece. At points he almost embraces President Bush's diplomatic "religion of peace" tag for Islam. It certainly is a religion that is capable of peace but its founder (very much unlike the founder of the Christian faith) was a man of war, and militants have found it easy to ignore any Koranic curbs on jihad.

However, Peters forcefully argues for what I've heard a few people say but never well: that this barbarity represents a regression from Islam to a blood cult. If you watch Iraqi militants chanting "Allah Akbar!" unthinkingly as they offer up the latest offering's head on a platter -- and I do not recommend that you do this --  then the conclusion of the op-ed seems all too true: "The terrorists don't seek to turn back the calendar to the 10th century. They're reaching back to the sordid epochs when gods drank human blood."

For journalists, this matters a lot because how we choose to tell the story affects the way that people will contextualize it. How much is militant Islam a deviation from the broader currents of Muslim thought? That's not a rhetorical question for me and the Peters essay has prompted some reading and rethinking. I'll be very interested to hear what readers have to say after they digest the piece.

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