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From McMecca to McJerusalem

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Jerusalem’s light rail run by Veolia. (Photo: Emil Salman via Haaretz)

Jerusalem’s light rail run by Veolia. (Photo: Emil Salman via Haaretz)

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

McMecca – that’s how Esther Bergdahl describes the newly gentrified Mecca that is arising.  She is horrified at the Skyscrapers where ancient monuments once stood. And that’s only the beginning.

McMecca is Islam updated for the Saudi militarized version of a religious modern world. What it has to do with Islam is the question of questions.

Here’s how Bergdahl describes Mecca’s emerging landscape:

Choose a city and imagine what it would look like if it was 95% razed and rebuilt in the course of 20 years. Think about all the history and culture that would be destroyed.

This dystopian vision isn’t hypothetical. Rather, it’s happening in Mecca, the Saudi Arabian city to which faithful Muslims embark on an annual pilgrimage. Mecca has lost the vast majority of its historical and religious landmarks to development. Centuries-old cemeteries, the houses of important figures, the sites of battles, the earliest mosques, the birthplace of Mohammed — all are gone or critically endangered as bulldozers destroy the city to build skyscrapers, malls and infrastructure.

Now behold gentrified Jerusalem. Look at the City of David and the military police everywhere. Judaism updated for the Israeli version of militarized Jewishness. Another dystopian vision that isn’t hypothetical.


McMecca and McJerusalem it is. Why should Saudi Arabia and Israel leave the retrograde Islam and Judaism they proffer around the world bereft of the super capitalist come-on that religion often becomes?

Think of Judaism and Islam today without capitalism and military power as their guiding light. Think of them without colonial powers at their beck and call.

And good, too, that the progressive Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue should get a good slap in the McMecca/McJerusalem face. It might awaken us to the fact that Islam and Judaism are no better or worse than other religions around the world.

Flee them all for your life, spiritual and otherwise. Go somewhere else – but where?

When all is lost don’t be fooled by the McChildren of Abraham as a point of religious rescue. There isn’t anything of substance there. Besides, you might end up endorsing the John Kerry’s McPeace Process. That would be a mistake of epic proportions.

Sure, I could go on and on but let me offer a last but not least – the McPalestinian Authority. The posturing of the Palestinian Authority is worthy of the leaders of our religions. At times one hopes against hope that the Palestinian leadership is genuine. However, that belief is constantly thrown into question. One day Palestinian leaders call for foreign occupation troops to demonstrate they want a secure Israel, the next day they threaten to close their offices to force Israel to take over their duties. Now they are (once again) back in unity with the Hamas leaders of Gaza.  Tomorrow they may be signing on the American dotted line.

Much of the world seems increasingly out of touch with reality. Are the powerful trying to create an alternative reality where “modern” means: Mecca becomes a tourist site where women can’t drive automobiles; a totally divided Jerusalem is united; Judaism that once saw ethics as the center is thoroughly embedded in ethnic cleansing and occupation. When the Pope arrives in the (un)Holy Land in May should we imagine that Christianity built on an unimaginable cycle of violence and atrocity has now become the uninvited servant of all?

No wonder committed people of conscience around the world are becoming unglued. For the various Constantinian establishments, people of conscience are more than troublesome – they seem to be verging on insanity. But insanity is in the eye of the beholder. People of conscience think that McMecca and McJerusalem is a form of madness.

Bergdahl suggests the Red Sea Las Vegas as another variation on the McMecca theme. Well, if you’re developing McMecca why not introduce the vices that are the underside of any monetized orthodoxy. Where better to hide corruption than under the Kaaba or the City of David or, for good measure, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was in the news this Easter as it has been ever since Israel conquered East Jerusalem. Christians had (Israeli police) trouble finding their way to worship.  Even a UN envoy was denied entry.

If you want to romanticize Jerusalem go ahead but promise you’ll read the chronicles of the crusaders of various religions as they stood knee deep in the blood of the designated infidels they slaughtered. Clearly, Palestinian Christians are taking it on the chin by the most recent (Jewish) conquerors. But, then, there are bound to be other conquerors marching down the Via Dolorosa sooner or later.

Strange, though, when the politics that surround these religions and pilgrimage sites are demilitarized, folks who want to worship in peace and harmony can be downright respectful of those with different religious beliefs. When there’s violence, religion takes up the sword.

The hope that modernizing Mecca and Jerusalem is the way out of religious – and political – strife is an illusion, especially when it is accompanied by a militarization that has no limits. But illusion is what we’re offered in our violent and unjust world.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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3 Responses

  1. Citizen
    Citizen on April 24, 2014, 12:35 pm

    OK, Mr. Ellis, so now let’s compare the relative actual power of Palestinian leaders as juxtaposed to those leaders of mostly Christian and Muslim nations. You work to make them the same and, in doing so, you do the Palestinian leaders a great injustice by making them all comparable, almost mirror images. While it’s true, the test of virtue is power, the Palestinian leadership has, comparatively, no power at all at the present time. Why are you fudging this reality by ignoring it in your latest piece here on MW? What’s your agenda? Please ask yourself why you did this. Thanks.

    • libra
      libra on April 25, 2014, 12:21 pm

      Citizen: Why are you fudging this reality by ignoring it in your latest piece here on MW? What’s your agenda?

      I think our McProphet’s message is that we may indeed be bad but we’re no worse than Burger King or Wendy’s.

  2. W.Jones
    W.Jones on April 24, 2014, 1:48 pm

    good, too, that the progressive Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue should get a good slap in the McMecca/McJerusalem face.


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