The Sword of St Michael

In The Dune, a visionary film that predicted the US invasion of the Middle East, the spiritual leader of the Resistance is asked:
– Will we ever have peace?
– We’ll have victory, – he replied.

Indeed, the invader may relent and seek for peace; an attacked must seek victory until the invader will seek peace. Thus, during the Vietnam War, good Americans demanded ‘peace’, but people of Vietnam and their supporters elsewhere sought to defeat the invader. The rule is often forgotten by modern proponents of pacifism and non-violence. They preach non-violence to the oppressed as the panacea for their troubles. Not surprisingly, non-violence gets very good media coverage and is supplied for downtrodden in great abundance.

The Holy Land received recently a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who went teaching non-violence to the Palestinians in Ramallah. Good idea, wrong place: non-violence is the daily bread of vast majority of Palestinians, while their ‘violence of the oppressed’ is a rare and precious thing; without it, non-violence has no meaning. The lion’s share of violence is done by the Jewish state, though it is often “suspended violence”, as an Israeli philosopher and a friend of Palestine, Adi Ophir, has called it — violence suspended as the Damocles sword, as a suspended sentence ready to uncoil any moment. Pacifiers leave the suspended violence in place; that is why instead of seeking peace we may seek victory.

What is more annoying is an attempt to establish non-violence as the only acceptable way, as a religiously orthodox norm of dissent. “Nothing justifies violence”, or “Two wrongs do not make a right” – one hears these pseudo-wisdom cracks daily. It is not true from any point of view; even from the highest moral ground: violence is justified and commanded in order to save another person’s life and dignity. A saintly man may follow the Sermon of the Mount advice to the dot and turn his right cheek to be slapped; but he may not pass by a rapist or a murderer at his vile deed and leave him unchecked. He must kill him, if there is no other way to stop the murderer. We are free to give up our life and dignity, but we have a duty to defend others. Equally, justice is “doing wrong” by imprisoning, fining or executing a man for he did “wrong” by murder or rape; in such a way “two wrongs make one right”, indeed.

This simple rule is sometimes forgotten, often intentionally, by non-violence preachers. In the T-net discussion (reproduced below), a pacific Indian-Canadian, Ardeshir Mehta claimed that: “One can be a Christian, or one can advocate violence, but one can’t be both.” He was neither, but words of Christ are often quoted with the same ease Nietzsche quoted Zarathustra. The radical South African, Joh Domingo retorted: “Do I justify Palestinian violence? No, I support it”.

Is violent resistance wrong and non-Christian act? This question brought to my mind a picture I have seen in Medina del Campo, a small Castilian town that hosted an exhibition in memory of Isabella la Catolica, the Queen of Columbus and Granada. The picture by her contemporary El Maestro de Zafra (Alejo Fernandez) was one of the most striking and impressive of the art of his period, of any period, period. In the midst of an Apocalyptic battle, amongst saints and angels, devils and dragons, on the deep blue background, shone a handsome, calm, serene countenance of St Michael with raised sword in one hand and the embossed shield in the other. A visage of supreme beauty, somewhat androgynous as angels are, the serene St Michael knew no hate; fury clouded not his calm blue eyes; anger furrowed not his brow crowned with cross; but his sword was not a toy, and it was raised to smite.

Tucked away in a deep valley lies the Palestinian village of En Karim, where red and purple bunches of bougainvillea embrace its delightful Visitation Church, which marks the meeting of the two expecting mothers. In its second storey, there is a big painting of the Lepanto maritime battle, with the Virgin as the battle spirit, the Commander of the Celestial Army and the Defender of Faith, akin to the St Michael of Castilians, to Nike of Greeks and to Valkyries of the North; a manifestation of Christ, who said, ‘I’ve brought you not peace but sword’, the sword of St Michael.

The Christian faith contains seemingly contradictory ideas; this is one of its unique qualities. It includes the example of St Francis of Assisi who considered it his best pleasure to be humiliated and thrown into snow. But it also includes the risen sword of St Michael. These two opposites are harmonised by our love to God and to our fellow human being. This love can cause us to give everything including our life, and it can cause us to take life, as well.

As our friend and philosopher Michael Neumann eloquently stated,
“Christianity is a religion of love, but not of cloying, hippy-dippy love. The repentant sinner is loved. The sinner persisting in sin is abhorred, but receives God’s love if or when he receives the grace to repent. Think of Tertullian: what we learn on Judgement Day is who, in the end, is hated. We must always love our enemies, but not the enemies of God.”

Too often, non-violence grows not out of humility and self-sacrifice, but out of self-preservation and fear; fear of supporting the right side in the war. It is easier to be “against wars and violence” in general than it is to stand against an aggressor and invader, especially if your country happens to be the aggressor and invader.

Thus, in Italy, Communist leader Fausto Bertinotti has proclaimed that he is “against the Iraqi War for he is a pacifist and against wars in general’. After such a statement, he had no reason to demand the return home of Italian soldiers. And he did not. What a change for a party that had once taught the ringing words of that great rebel, Chairman Mao, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun”!

True, the Italians have found themselves in a tight corner. For the second time in the last sixty years their country has chosen a wrong partner – two times too many! Sixty years ago, young Italian soldiers went with Hitler to Stalingrad; today, their sons and grandchildren proceed with Bush to Baghdad. Still, then as now, a painful duty of an Italian man of conscience is to wish the speedy victory to the people who shoot at Italian troops, be it Russian soldiers on Volga River or Iraqi resistance fighters on Euphrates.

Some wars are silly: nobody knows why the WWI was fought – there was not even a Helen to be brought home from the banks of Spree River. In such a war, one should not fight. But in this war we have a right and a wrong side, and we are duty bound to support right against wrong.

Regarding the Third World War waged in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is not enough to be “against the war” and preach non-violence “to both sides”. One has to give full moral support to the fighters who resist the invader just as the Russians resisted the German and Italian aggression in WWII. In the same way, good Americans supported the Viet Cong against their own army; and good French – like our friends Ginette Scandrani and Serge Thion – supported the Algerian resistance. Pacifism offers a coward’s escape from facing moral choice.

The moral record of pacifism is far from perfect. Many readers have heard of a wartime American book by a Dr. Kaufman who proposed to sterilise the Germans to get rid of the war drive. The German propaganda ministry reprinted this book by the millions to steel the spirit of their fighters and to remind them that they were defending not only their Fatherland but their Fatherhood as well. Not many people know that the same Dr. Kaufman proposed to sterilise Americans, too – he was a convinced pacifist and thought there was nothing like mass sterilisation to bring universal peace.

Another great pacifist, Lord Bertrand Russell, advocated nuking Soviet Russia in order to bring peace. Father of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi advised the Jews to commit mass suicide to shame their Nazi oppressors, while his political career ended with one of the biggest massacres in human history. In short, pacifism is a quirky, doubtful and unsuccessful idea.

In the past, the enemies of Christ tried to convince Christians (in my view Muslims are Christians too, for they believe that Jesus is Christ) to accept non-violence and pacifism by various sophisms. The entertaining (if anti-Christian-to-extreme) Judaic best-seller of the fourth century, Toledot Yeshu, tells us of a cunning Jew who came to the first Christians and told them he was sent by Christ. He indoctrinated them (the book says) in the name of Jesus:

“Christ suffered in Jewish hands, but he did not resist. Likewise you should suffer whatever Jews do to you and not cause them any damage just like Jesus. If a Jew demands that you walk a mile, walk even two miles; if a Jew hurts you, do not hurt him back. If a Jew strikes your right cheek, offer him your left cheek out of your love to Jesus and do not cause Jews any trouble, big or small. If a Jew insults you, do not punish him but tell him: “It is your arrogance that speaks;” and let him go freely. If you want to be with Jesus in the Better World, you should suffer all the evil caused to you by Jews and repay them with good deeds and mercy”.

We do not know whether such an indoctrination attempt ever took place in the murky years preceding Constantine’s conversion, but if such an attempt was made, it failed profoundly as many an insolent Jew learned to his peril. It is not that Christians forgot the words of Jesus (his pacific message did not relate to Jews in particular), but the Christian faith is not a collection of his sayings; it is manifested in the living body of the church, in her doctrine and praxis, and it includes the flowers of St Francis and the sword of St Michael.

The society, like everything in the universe, is in the best state when there is a balance between the yin (the passive, female principle) and yang (the active, masculine principle). Christendom was powerful when its yang was strong. Then, the church blessed many warriors and was blessed by them. St George the Dragon Slayer and St Joan of Arc wielded sword. The Western Church knew Knights Templar and St John’s, and the Eastern Church venerates St Alexander Nevsky who defeated the Germans and St Sergius who prayed for victory over the Tartars. For war may have a spiritual meaning; and we may acknowledge that “war is a possible ascetical and immortalising path”, as Julius Evola summed up the medieval Christian tradition. Our Muslim brothers implied it by their double concept of a Minor Jihad (war for faith against the oppressor) and the Major Jihad (war for faith in the soul of man).

Now yin element won over the spirit of the west, while its natural un-subdued yang parted with harmony. The Peace movement is dominated by women, and it is not a coincidence. In his article Little Old Ladies for Peace, the reviewer of the Pardes, Owen Owens notes the makeup of the Peace Camp crowd as “female, old and short”. For sure they are blessed, but their prevalence is a sign of misbalance. Beside the Yin Peace Movement, there is – or there should be – the Yang Victory Movement. They, the fighters with AK machineguns cautiously treading the narrow streets of Nablus or Faluja, the French farmers of Bove crushing McDonalds with their bulldozers, the demonstrators of Seattle and Genoa, partisans of Che Guevara and rebels of Mishima are the latter day Christ warriors, holding out against the ultimate anti-Christian force in the history of Christendom. Hail the warriors; hang not on their shooting arm. Maybe we won’t have peace; but we’ll have victory.

Israel Shamir is a critically acclaimed and respected Russian Israeli writer. He has written extensively and translated Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Jaffa, is a Christian, and an outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.