Fighting Theocracy

The National Post has published an untitled essay by John Robert Gallagher:

John Robert Gallagher was a Canadian who volunteered with the Kurdish forces in northern Syria to fight ISIL. He was reportedly killed in a suicide bombing Wednesday. This is an unedited essay [which] may contain content objectionable to some readers but is presented in its entirety to fully explain his reasons for going to war.

Gallagher volunteered to fight against ISIS to fight theocracy using guns not words:

For decades now, we have been at war. This war has been unacknowledged by our leaders, but enthusiastically proclaimed by our enemies. . . . Someday historians will look back and marvel at how much effort we put into deceiving ourselves about the nature of this conflict, and wonder how we convinced ourselves that it was not even taking place. . . . Like the American Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War, this war is about ideas as much as it is about armies. Slavery, fascism, and communism were all bad ideas which required costly sacrifice before they were finally destroyed. In our time, we have a new bad idea: Theocracy.

Theocracy is the biggest threat to human emancipation now that the the 20th century threats: communism and fascism, have been defeated:

Theocracy isn’t just as dangerous as fascism; it’s the model of fascism, and all totalitarianisms. Communism said ‘instead of god, the Party.’ Fascism said, ‘instead of god, the Nation!’ Theocracy simply says ‘God.’

Gallagher is correct when he says,

We are all on the front lines of this conflict, whether we know it or not. We can measure the causalities not only in the body counts of deadly terror attacks, ‘mass demonstrations,’ embassy assaults and assassinated artists; we can also measure it in the terror produced among cartoonists, satirists, publishers and booksellers, news media and educators who are being prevented from doing their necessary work of maintaining the machinery of the enlightenment. Not only have we all been threatened; in many ways we are all already casualties of this war.

Gallagher goes on to reveal a portion of his own fight for freedom from religion’s influence:

I was raised in a fundamentalist religious environment. If today I have any intellectual or spiritual existence worth fighting for, it is because it was impossible for the religious forces in my life to have their way and shield me from the assaults of reason and conscience. They could teach me that evolution was a lie, but they couldn’t prevent me from reading about it or prohibit the public schools from teaching it. They could tell me blasphemy was a sin, but they couldn’t prevent me from sneaking Monty Python and South Park. The mechanisms of society, in other words, gave me the tools by which I could make myself free. They saved my life.

and asks,

Who safeguards the social machinery now? Only an overbred political elite and intelligentsia who burble about the urgent need to never give offense. This is not only a disgraceful failure; it is a national emergency.

Gallagher was “prepared to give [his] life in the cause of averting the disaster we are stumbling towards as a civilization;” he was reportedly killed in Syria in a suicide bombing on Wednesday, November 4.

Maybe that’s why the last paragraph of Gallagher’s essay appears to echo the voices in John McCrae’s First World War poem,

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep . . .

Gallagher concludes by saying,

With some fortitude and guts, we can purge the sickness that’s poisoning our society, and come together to defeat this ultimate evil. I’ve been fighting this battle in one way or another for my entire life. I hope for success. The rest is in the hands of the gods.

What is not clear is why he leaves any portion of the fight against theocracy “in the hands of the gods,” any gods.

5 thoughts on “Fighting Theocracy

  1. Too bad he “gave” his life. He was a very good writer who had ‘vision’ and he obviously understood a lot about the world. Not so much what to do about it.

  2. I can appreciate Gallagher’s courage, and I certainly don’t object to fighting the Islamic State, but his notion of a global, inescapable clash of ideas seems overblown to the point of absurdity. Having been “raised in a fundamentalist religious environment”, as he puts it, he appears to have swapped his childhood fundamentalism for an equally overzealous belief in a simplistic and dogmatic version of Enlightenment thinking. There’s a lot more to our society than “a very basic philosophical principle” that the world can be understood through the use of reason, and we don’t need to defeat all theocrats everywhere in order to keep theocracy well away from our doorstep. Real wars are fought between nations and armed factions with specific goals and interests, not between ideologies, and defeating one of those forces doesn’t eternally “discredit” its preferred ideas any more than Sparta discredited democracy by winning the Peloponnesian war. Gallagher died like a soldier, assuming the reports are true, but it sounds as though he was drawn to the battlefield by some truly ridiculous illusions.

  3. “With some fortitude and guts, we can purge the sickness that’s poisoning our society, and come together to defeat this ultimate evil.”

    I’m willing to let some of this slide because ACTUALLY fighting on the front lines of a war demands a certain mindset, but there is really no place in rational civilized democracy for “ultimate evil” rhetoric. You may need to convince yourself enemy soldiers are evil, in order to go on killing them, but evil is just a magical nonsense word. We are not better, when we dehumanize others, not being ‘evil’ actually demands the opposite.

    • Hitchens might have argued that ‘religion’ was the ultimate evil. Are there any other categories of evil to compare this to? The young men that get killed, known as: soldiers, or in some cases: as cannon fodder, or simply as: foreign insurgents, are not the ultimate evil. It is the ideas that they are dying for that are evil. Just how evil are the individuals who are financing these atrocities? You may conclude they are pretty evil but they’re still not the ultimate evil; they only are motivated by the ultimate evil.

  4. It takes a lot to create that mindset necessary to enthusiastically kill the enemy. We witnessed how ISIL went about this.

    Many of us wonder why this is a war North America should involve itself in. Europe is just across the Mediterranean from the war zone.

    Canada has pledged a lot of support for the extremely expensive F35 (I believe it is called) aircraft that is under development as an answer to the advanced Russian MIG fighters. The fighter aircraft we have already deployed over there are of the same focus.

    What is unsettling about this is: these advanced fighter-bombers are not very good at close combat infantry support which is so crucial in the conduct of that war in Syria.

    My point is this, we are arming ourselves for a struggle with the former Soviet Union and at the same time we are conducting a war against an enemy who is driving around in Toyota pickup trucks, brandishing small arms.

    Canadian Atheists are doing the most essential job of ridiculing foolish thugs who support various versions of theocracy. At the same time the international community (where in hell is the UN?) has to bring theocratic war criminals to justice.

    It probably starts with the procurement of effective equipment to do the job. We are probably (every nation who realizes war crimes are becoming unacceptably common) spending way too much on the continuation of cold war strategies.

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