Not-so-holy ‘Holy Wars’


In reading about Gordon, I was fascinated by the dismantling of steamers and their reassembling further upstream to avoid the Nile’s cataracts.

In reading about Gordon, I was fascinated by the dismantling of boats and their reassembling further upstream to avoid the Nile’s cataracts.

In his latest book, Dave Andrews contends that the ‘Jihad of Jesus is the sacred nonviolent struggle for justice.’ He identifies representations of Jihad and Jesus in both not-so-holy ‘holy wars’, and sacred non-violent struggles. Along the way, he seeks to ‘dis-arm’ these two Words – ‘Jihad’ and ‘Jesus’, and reconcile them to each other while also reconciling these Words to those of us who have lost our access to the best they can offer.

While reading his book, I considered the street signs around me. Which of them memorialize ‘holy war’? Which of them memorialize sacred, non-violent struggles?

A ‘holy war’ may be recognizable in the siege of Khartoum in 1885 in the conflict between Major General Charles Gordon and a man claiming to be the ‘Mahdi’, Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah.   Gordon announced to the people of Khartoum ‘I come without soldiers, but with God on my side to redress the evils of the Sudan. I will not fight with any weapons but justice.’  However, it wasn’t long before Gordon was calling for British troops to come and ‘smash up the Mahdi’. In the mean time, the Mahdi invited Gordon to become a Muslim and surrender to him, saying ‘If you will deliver yourself up and become a follower of the true religion, you will gain honour in this world and in the world to come, and in doing so you will save yourself and all those under you. Otherwise you shall perish with them and your sins and theirs shall be on your head.’

Kitchener features in this story. He was part of the failed attempt to rescue Gordon from the siege. Over a decade later, he emerged victorious in the Battle of Omduran. Kitchener is subsequently remembered for his roles in the Boer war (for example in relation to Breaker Morant and concentration camps), and World War One, including Gallipoli. His is the famous face on WWI army recruitment posters.

There may be many other memorials to violent, sacred struggles in Brisbane’s streets. Before I move on to memorials of sacred non-violent struggles, I want to propose a ‘type’ of street sign that may be suggestive of a sacred struggle. These signs are often green in colour. They include a name that is recognizable as British in origin and another name that is characterized, loosely, as ‘Aboriginal’. These signs may be our clearest memorials to sacred struggles, if we can identify the relationships between the two words.


sylvan coottha

The irony of the above sign is that the English word ‘sylvan’ is a reference to a wooded area. For a short period of time, the place now known as Mt Coot-tha was called ‘One Tree Hill’ by English-speaking people  (see earlier blog on war memorials). The references to ‘wooded’ and ‘un-wooded’ are clear and contrasting references to a struggle over the land.  (BTW, I believe Mr Land was a butcher.)


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