I have sworn upon the Altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man (Thomas Jefferson)
And thus they were prepared (Alma 2:12)
The Book of Mormon sounds the warning. Alma Chapters One and Two have the answers.
Alma, in his secular role as Chief Judge of the Nephites, a free people, pronounces the following judgment upon Nehor, a religious extremist who silences anyone who gets in his way:
"And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction" (Alma 1:12).
"Therefore thou art condemned to die, according to the law. . . acknowledged by this people" (v. 14).
A decade or so ago we would have strained to "liken this scripture unto ourselves."
Alma 1 in east London?
"Producer Randall Joyce. . . tells 60 Minutes Overtime that seeing extremists on the streets of London, trying to impose Sharia law on total strangers, was 'a very strange experience. You keep kind of looking around to remind yourself where you really are'" (60 Minutes Overtime, "Recruiting for ISIS," http://www.cbsnews.com/news/recruiting-for-isis-60-minutes-2/).
You no longer know where you are. You are not in fact any longer anywhere you know.
A proselyte to extremism from Hinduism--we will not say a convert to Islam, which is a religion of peace--a certain Abu Rumaysah, together with "his associates" "have set up so called 'Sharia patrols' to go out and discourage behavior that they deem un-Islamic." Rumaysah soldiers east London armed to the teeth with "hard speeches," even against non-Muslims (see Doctrine and Covenants 124:116). Two youths, lazing by their bikes and drinking a beer, politely nod, as they manage to mumble a submissive: "Okay, okay." A young woman, subjected to his seething anger, as he shouts and afflicts her "with all manner of words" (Alma 1:20), bristles: "It's Great Britain! We must have rights." "It's not Great Britain!" he shouts back. Abu Rumaysah has big plans for the UK, though today he lives in Islamic State controlled Syria. There Sharia patrols enforce by the sword.
"Walking through London with Rumaysah you experience an alternate reality where there is no compromise and all conversations are one sided." "Okay, okay." Assertiveness--"great boldness"--was Nehor's trademark: it's what garnered all the attention, popularity, and cash. He was a large man, "noted for his much strength" and for bold, sweeping theological declarations about universal salvation and the rejoicing and freedom which that good news surely must bring--a certainty for which he stood ready to kill (v.2). He could charm or intimidate on a moment's notice: "bearing down against the Church" or against anybody else holding to a different view about the nature of liberty or that lacked poise, status, or money (v.3).
Strolling to his church to preach had the feel of a Rumaysah patrol. The moment Nehor chanced upon Gideon, pathetically "stricken with many years," though yet famous for his defiance of a royal despot, "he began to contend with him sharply" just to draw an audience. When Gideon, as a member of a free society, expressed his own views about the "words of God," Nehor, moving from sharp words to sharp sword, cut him down at once (v. 7-9). He justified the act, pleading "for himself with much boldness" (v.11). Others, obviously, were to blame for insisting on holding to their own ideas about religion in his presence. Gideon represented the old-fashioned norms of morality and valour. How foolish of them--bigots and sinners all--not to change their ideas in the face of Rights, Rightness, and Righteousness.
Within five brief years, the burgeoning followers of martyr Nehor had become sufficiently powerful and organized to attempt control of the government. When they failed, through intense persuasion, to a) win the "voice of the people," they naturally b) turned to the sword. The "Order of Nehor" lost the gamble, but many died on both sides (Alma Chapter 2).
Alma knows the "awful arithmetic" of freedom: "In one year" "thousands and tens of thousands" perished; "the slain were not numbered, because of the greatness of their number;" "Now many women and children had been slain" (3:2, 3, 26). Just so, "in one year," the "Order of ISIS" has swept through the Middle East and North Africa.
Abu Rumaysah, speaking to CBS reporter Clarissa Ward in October 2014, tells us five times what he wants to see, that is, what he wants to see in your future and in mine.
"Rumaysah: Ultimately, I want to see every single woman in this country covered from head to toe. I want to see the hand of the thief cut. I want to see adulterers stoned to death. I want to see Sharia law in Europe. And I want to see it in America as well. I believe that our patrols are a means to an end" ("Recruiting for ISIS," CBS News 60 Minutes).
This is "to contend sharply." The manner of speech, "verbal jihad," is best exemplified by Anjem Choudary, the leader of the east London extremists. Choudary, following a pattern common to many extremists--Osama Bin Laden is the foremost exemplar--pursued a dissolute life before converting the entire world to an unendurable legal straitjacket (see Graeme Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants," The Atlantic Monthly, March 2015). The sinner, cloaked now in piety, from head to toe, but never able to shake the past or atone for his own sins, strikes out at millions in a fruitless attempt to suppress the irrepressible. If you mean to stop a Nehor, that's where you need to strike--his Achilles' heel is guilt. And what is yours? Guilt is also the card he so studiously plays against you.
But enough of the human condition. Ms Ward wishes to interview Choudary for CBS 60 Minutes, but Choudary will not be put to the question. He accuses Ms Ward of lying and of inciting murder overseas. "You have blood on your neck," he oddly declares. No argument is necessary and he summons no evidence. That's laughably passe. His gushing words--"afflicting them with all manner of words"--constitute neither conversation nor debate. And, sadly, his steamrolling works best on those who play fair and thus "are not proud in their own eyes" (Alma 1:20).
Of course, such verbal dicing works best when the slicer notes how very low the would-be interlocutor measures-up on the scale of violent arrogance, where one cheats to win. To argue with him at all, says Ward, would be at once to lose the game. She is right, according to all tenets of civilized behavior--and she is stunningly wrong. A pose of fairness and a show of restraint--biting the lip--only readies Choudary for an endless "verbal jihad," as he himself labels his studied rhetorical technique. "Verbal jihad" best describes Choudary's open disregard for the religious and civil rights of others, including most Muslims, and his triumphant crowing about how even the winds and the seas play on his side. Here is no journalistic encounter. Any encounter with Nehor leaves either both dead or one exasperated, and thus on the borders of conversion. Alma shows a deft psychological touch in these telling verses.
To so afflict "with all manner of words," says Alma, is cruel and unrelenting religious "persecution" (Alma 1:20). If indeed persecution, then does it not ultimately amount to an injurious and illegal violation of others' religious and civil rights? So it is--consider the wording of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen--but even Alma says it must be borne with patience, for "a strict law among the people of the Church" forbids any member to "arise and persecute" anyone (v.21). The humble followers of God's words and ways, though never silenced, must bear all. We "share our personal witness with conviction and love" and do not contend (Elder Robert D. Hales, "Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom," Conference Report, April 2015). Such restraint in the face of provocation proved impossible for many hardfisted Church members in Alma's day, but the leaven of sober steadiness inevitably promotes civil discourse everywhere. Should he find you by the way, Nehor has the right to say what he will. Heroic Gideon "admonished" him "with the words of God" (v.7)--and what else could one say in the teeth of such biting winds?--and the admonition proved prophetic, that is, after Gideon's own sudden death.
As for every "proud" soul else, to "contend warmly," then "to smite one another with their fists" and, ultimately, with swords, will be the inevitable result anyhow (Alma 1:22). This is what Choudary would "like to see." This is what ISIS really wants. Should you find yourself among the many "proud," seething with righteous indignation, Uncle Choudary wants you! Come and fight with us. Such all-encompassing recruitment embraces all, partisans and unbelievers alike. By means of the media interview, Choudary inexorably recruits us all. There is no escape for the red-blooded soul, and Choudary knows it, and he knows it triumphantly. When we cannot "withstand" him--and we cannot--we must then stand with him. We stand and fight with him, for him, by him--the semantic niceties matter not at all. Meaningfulness is suspended in the world of apocalyptic extremism (see Graeme Wood, "What ISIS really wants," The Atlantic Monthly, March 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/).
Choudary grants interviews neither to explain himself nor to debate but as an occasion to dominate. He condemns no act of persecution no matter how cruel or unusual. The word games seem churlish and childish, but the will to dominate seeks out a weakening individuality. Ward describes his fast-talking manner as an attempt to dominate her from the beginning. Just so with Abu Rumsiyah who demanded, in violation of Ward's own rights and values, that Ward "cover up!" Ward "withstood" Abu Rumaysah, after a fashion: "That's absurd!"; but there is no withstanding Choudary, a past master of verbal shaming--never mind who he addresses and never mind his inadequate English. Choudary puts blood on your "neck" with stunning equality of opportunity.
Should the United Kingdom allow Sharia patrols or like public and ritualistic verbal domination and shaming? Should such be broadcast on television or, worse, on the Internet? Where will it lead? Just how large has Choudary's audience become? (Or, in hopes of radicalizing children and teens, how small?) Is not his every word an act of recruitment for multitudes of enforcers? And what are his financial resources? Forget al-Baghdadi, Choudary, safe in free London, is the face of religious persecution today, afflicting by word and promising the sword. Should you find yourself a humble believer in God, pure in heart and committed to serve your fellowman, that sword is first meant for you.
We cower easily of late. Choudary's move "to take the law into his own hands is deeply frightening to most British people." We have forgotten Jefferson: "I have sworn upon the Altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." We should swear a spot of eternal hostility today. If not to protect the mind from tyranny, from trampling and from patrolling, of what value remains law? Where is our moral courage?
Alma promises but one outcome to allowance of a domineering and inevitably enforced priestcraft: the tension and agony so generated will, one way or another, "prove [the] entire destruction" of any free people. Entire leaves little room for imagination. Alma's answer? Priestcraft is neither shari'a nor din (religion). Choudary incites enforcement of priestcraft by word, by blow, by sword. He entices to violent crime at home and abroad. His path leads to the Wasteland not to the Well.
Authorities detained Anjem Choudary soon after the Clarissa Ward interview "on suspicion of being a member of a proscribed or banned organization. . .and encouraging terrorism" ("Recruiting for ISIS"), but he walks free today. Law must stop Choudary now.
We move on to Alma Chapter 2.
Like the Nephites, we must be "aware of the intent" of those who wish to "deprive" us of our "rights and privileges" today (Alma 2). Then we will be "prepared to meet them." Like the Nephites, we can reaffirm our laws and rights "by the voice of the people," "every man according to his mind" (see Elder Hales, Conference Report, April 2015). Alma, ever the realist, knows such assemblies and voting perforce bring out "much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another." Such have their due place in a free land: even "wonderful contentions" in organized assemblies and polling, held by the lawful voice and will of people "throughout all the land," trump the private battles of fists he so roundly denounces.
So determined in unity, with "every man" knowing his rights and "his mind," "throughout all the land," we will then "be prepared to meet" whatever else those with "intent to destroy" may offer, whether babblings, or riot, or terror, or war. We will have leaders, awake, "aware," and "prepared," "to lead [us] to war." The scriptural promise is: "they began to flee before them."