Book Review: Guerra santa e santa alleanza

Manlio Graziano, Guerra santa e santa alleanza. Religioni e disordine internazionale nel XXI secolo (Bologna: il Mulino, 2015). 360 pp., €25,00 (paperback), ISBN: 9788815254382.

In October 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in a speech to the Zionist Congress, said that “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews…he wanted to expel the Jews.” Netanyahu was referring to a supposed conversation in which the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had protested to Hitler that “they’ll all come here,” referring to Palestine. Netanyahu then quoted Hitler asking Husseini, “So what should I do with them?” and Husseini as answering, “Burn them!” This controversial speech came at a time of spiraling violence in which the Israeli leader had repeatedly accused Palestinians of lying, mainly about Israel’s actions at a contested holy site in the Old City. Most of the Israeli historians and some Israeli politicians joined Palestinians in denouncing Netanyahu for falsity in saying it was the mufti who gave Hitler the idea of annihilating European Jews during World War II. In A Place Among the Nations. Israel and the World (1993), Netanyahu had already argued against the perfidious West and the untrustworthy Arabs, affirming that the question of what to do with the large Arab population in Israel would be solved by massive Jewish immigration. The view that Netanyahu holds of Middle Eastern history is quite simple: endless betrayal by the West of promises made to the Jewish people, ferocious hostility by the Arabs, and heroic achievements by the Israelis.

Undoubtedly, the main quality of Manlio Graziano’s book is to suggest a more complex view of Middle Eastern and world history. As Graziano underlines, Husseini was first appointed grand mufti by the British, then he joined the Axis powers, and finally he became a third-world leader. The roots of his various “holy wars,” proclaimed from time to time against the enemies of his patrons of the moment, lie in the foreign offices of the most developed nations rather than in the sands where the Muslim tradition emerged. His commitment was part of a sort of pedagogy of hate that was paving the way for our times, when religions re-emerge instrumentally or by filling the political vacuum left by the de-secularization of the world. Facing the declining pillars of the Westphalia temple, also Israeli politicians are not unfamiliar with this post-secular trend in international relations.

Graziano’s book is divided into four sections. The first three cover, respectively, the theoretical, historical, and analytical perspectives on the “holy war” as a potential occurrence. The final section is devoted to the book’s main thesis, namely, the possibility of a “holy alliance.”

The theoretical section revolves around two discursive hinges or pivotal reasoning. First, the turning point of modern secularization started with the displacement of the geopolitical axis of the world from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and Indian oceans. The powers confined to the Mediterranean, i.e., the Italian city-states and the Ottoman Empire, saw the beginning of their decline, and with that, the two religions that had their territorial center in the region started to decline. Second, the theory of secularization with its two corollaries about the autonomy of the political and the sovereignty of the state are currently challenged by the “return of God.” This development takes place in today’s globalized world that was shaped by the decolonization process. Post-secularism is already visible in megacities, where—as a consequence of massive rural exodus and urbanization—there has been a revival of “universal morality” in the heart of the polis. The end of the capitalist expansion of the West that characterized the so-called trente glorieuse and the recent rise of Islamic capitalism both contributed to this outcome.

The historical part of the book is a broad and rich overview of the religious Great Awakenings that began in the seventies, although a sort of preview had already occurred in Indonesia (1965). These developments are manifest in the Islamization of Egypt (1971) and Pakistan (1973), in Israel and India since religious parties conquered the public sphere (1977), in the Iranian revolution (1979), but also in Sri Lanka, Burma, and even the United States. In particular, Graziano focuses on the case of Afghanistan (1979), where he observes the potential for international disorder or the coming of a holy war. He also puts the “catholicization of modernity” that arose after the election of Pope John Paul II (1978) in the context of this religious revival.

In the analytical part, Graziano overturns most of the stereotypes on which Huntington’s thesis of a “clash of civilizations” is based, but he also lays the foundation for criticizing the opposite commitments to dialogue or alliance of civilizations because these help spread the belief that the world is divided along religious fault lines. In particular, Graziano dwells upon the invention of the West, the supposed monolithic nature of Islam, the reality of bloody boundaries along Huntington’s fault lines (including Buddhism and Hinduism), and the features of religious terrorism. This part of the book is a general analysis of the nexus between religion and politics far beyond the study of international relations.

The last part of the book presents the thesis of the holy alliance. According to Graziano, in the post-secular world, the decisive fault line is global in scope, and it divides the last warriors of the Westphalia temple on one side from the new religious forces that are reshaping the globalized world on the other. To confront international disorder, the only possible way out would seem to be that of a holy alliance guided by a Catholic alliance. The thesis of a holy alliance led by the papal hegemony is twofold. On the one hand, it is based on the Vatican narratives, beginning with papal encyclicals. On the other, it depends on the nature of the Holy See, in particular its “power of statelessness” that makes the pope a geopolitical pivot.

If the first three parts are an excellent and essential discussion on the geopolitics of religions, the final argument seems rather an exercise in the “cosmopolitics” of religions. In 1990, Stephen Toulmin stated that the hidden agenda of modernity was a vision of Cosmopolis as a material society rationally ordered. Can the vision of Cosmopolis as a spiritual society morally ordered be considered the hidden agenda of post-modernity? Aside from the exclusion of other civilizations, can this project be implemented in the Holy See of Rome instead of in the Old City of Jerusalem?

Emidio Diodato, Università per Stranieri di Perugia

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