How to Win a Cosmic War by Reza Aslan


“How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror” by Reza Aslan, is one of the best books I read on current events lately. It talks about the War on Terror and the Radicals and Extremists ideology/movements among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Cosmic War?

I was asked what is this Cosmic War, and while I was writing this my friend asked me the same question. So what is Cosmic War, the author describes it in detail through out his book and I will try to summarize it in a paragraph or two:

A cosmic war is a religious war. It is a conflict in which God is believed to be directly engaged on one side over the other. Unlike a holy war–an earthly battle between rival religious groups–a cosmic war is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens…

A cosmic war transforms those who should be considered butchers and thugs into soldiers sanctioned by God. It turns victims into sacrifices and justifies the most depraved acts of destruction because it does not abide by human conceptions of morality…

A cosmic war partitions the world into black and white, good and evil, us and them. In such a war, there is no middle ground; everyone must choose a side. Soldier and civilian, combatant and noncombatant, aggressor and bystander–all the traditional divisions that serve as markers in a real war break down in cosmic wars. It is a simple equations: if you are not us, you must be them. If you are them, you are the enemy and must be destroyed.

[Introduction, Page 5.]

The author in the concise manner talks about the different players in this cosmic war that are trying to bring the people of this world at each other throats. How the extremist elements among Christians, Muslims and Jews are playing their role on “behalf of God” and trying to wage an earthly battle that is fought at the plains of cosmos, where each side strongly believes that they are acting on “behalf of God,” where each side think that the God is on their side.

Aslan starts his first Chapter by talking about the origins of the extremist ideology among the Muslims. How the very legitimate struggle in the Jihad of Afghanistan (fought by Muslims from around the world funded mainly by the Western nations) changed the course of history for ever.  

Zionism and Israel:

What was more interesting was the history of Zionism that the author was able to summarize in his Chapter two “A Land Twice Promised.” It was interesting to learn that how the group of Secular Jewish people were able to make the idea of Israel happen and how they were able to get support from many European Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe.

Ben-Gurion argued the Jewish Nationalists to accept the UN Resolution 181 that divided the Palestinian lands into two separate and distinct states:

“I am certain we will be able to settle in all the other parts of the country, whether through agreement and mutual understanding with our Arab neighbors or in another way. Erect a Jewish state at once, even if it’s not in the whole land. The rest will come in the course of time. It must come.” [pg. 49]

Christian and Jewish Extremism:

Aslan also talked about how the Christian Right is participating in the Cosmic war. The us vs them was made very clear by the then US President Bush, who in his following speech after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 said “Either you are with us or you are against us,” bin Laden responded in the same way saying “[I say] either you are with the Crusade, or you are with Islam.” [pg. 62]

The Crusaders were told the same thing by Pope Urban II in 1905 during the Council of Clermont, that initiated the 1st Crusade:

“I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds…to destroy that vile race [the Muslims] from the lands of our friends” and “All those who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in the battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.” [pg. 63]

 The author went into the rise of the radical Jewish movement known as Zealots that can be very much be compared to the Kharijite movement among the muslims. The Zealots killed the Jewish priests who would not do enough in the society or oppose to their ideology. They targeted the Roman officers and thus were exterminated when the Roman legions were called to bring order to the region and dismantle the uprising. The Zealots and their leader Judas the Galilean were crucified.

The second reawakening of the Zealots was more brutal. They killed the priests that ordered the Roman law in broad day light along with the Roman officers (sounds very much like the Assassins of Hassan bin Sabaah). The Roman Army then took over Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and killed the members and supporters of Zealots and the Jews and Christians Jews were exiled.

A small band of the most ardent revolutionaries escaped to the desert and hunkered down inside an impenetrable mountain fortress west of the Dead Sea called Masada.”

After 3 years of Roman siege, when Roman armies breached the fortress they found everyone inside the fortress dead.

The last of the Zealots–husbands, wives, children, nearly one thousand should–had committed collective suicide, taking turns killing one another with knives and swords rather than surrender to Rome. Cosmic Warriors do not surrender.

Masada today is a popular tourist destination…Every year, Israeli troops from the Army, Air Force, and Sea Corps are, after basic training, marched to the top of the fortress of Masada–the place where, two millennia ago, one thousand Jewish revolutionaries took their own lives and the lives of their wives and children rather than surrender their independence–and sworn into the Israeli Defense Forces with the oath “Masada shall never again fall.”

The ceremony is symbolic…But symbols are slippery…for a new movement of radical ideological settlers and Religious Zionists who have revived the Zealot ideal in modern-day Israel, Masada mean something else entirely. [pg. 74-75]

The Near and the Far: Muslim Extremism

This chapter covers in detail about how the attention of the radicals in the Muslim countries moved from their local grievances towards their state (near) towards the greater the enemy-America (far). This chapter shows how the Jihadis interpreted the Islamic teachings in such a way that they made their own tweak understanding of Jihad an obligation on every Muslim. The Kharijite and Takfiri mindset reawakened just like the Jewish Zealots.

Abu Hamza al-Misri declared in his book Beware of Takfir:

“Those who believe in democracy and they vote and they don’t mind being elected or to make laws when they have a chance. These people are kuffar (plural of kafir). It does not matter how much worship they do or how many times they go to Hajj (pilgrimage), they cannot come an inch closer to Islam because of this action.”  [Aslan, pg. 104]

Al Misri declared vast majority of the Muslim population across the globe as outside the fold of Islam based on his tweak understanding of Islam. This went against the majority of the Ulema (Muslim Scholars in Islamic Sciences) who not only vote themselves but many times take part in the democratic political process indirectly.

These extremist who were preaching and were active independently, came to know each other when they fought the Soviet Union in the Afghanistan. When the Western nation didn’t do anything to rehabilitate the Afghanistan, the radical elements had plenty of time to share their ideology and find a broader and larger target-a target that will be agreed upon by radicals from different backgrounds.

So How to Win this Cosmic War?

Reza Aslan said and it makes sense that Cosmic War cannot be won. The Cosmic war is centuries old and so it cannot be won, but neither can it be lost. The only way that is sensible is to refuse to fight one.

I think that the governments and people who are sincere in having peace,  if they address the social issues of their people, and try to solve the global conflicts in a peaceful manner then the arguments of Radicals on any of the three sides will have less to no weight.

This is a great book on current events and in understanding this war on terror that seems to just escalating. It’s a very important and good read.

Source: Aslan, Reza. H0w To Win A Cosmic War. Random House, NY 2009.

2 Comments

Filed under America, Book Review, Umer Sultan

2 responses to “How to Win a Cosmic War by Reza Aslan

  1. jazakAllah, ur article made me want to read this book inshaAllah.

    ill add it to my summer reads inshaAllah.

    i really like ur blog mashaAllah.
    u seem to be interested in current events and politics mashaAllah🙂

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