Skip to comments.Crusades long gone, but jihad lingers on-Middle East analysis requires historical perspective
Posted on 08/11/2008 5:32:46 AM PDT by SJackson
A 19-year-old man is tortured and beheaded for a bad joke interpreted as blasphemy. A father is accused of killing his son because he converted to another religion. They are not Muslims but Christians, and the place is France in the mid-1700s.
There was a time when Europe often behaved in ways parallel to that of Muslim-majority countries today. Yet by the end of the 1700s, this was changing. In the first case cited above, the king and even Catholic bishops failed to save the unfortunate Chevalier de la Barre, but the outcry led to the end of such actions. In the second case, Voltaire led a campaign that saw Jean Calas's name legally cleared on the grounds that he was the victim of an unjust frame-up because he was a member of the Protestant minority.
It's true, then, that there are parallels between Western and Middle Eastern societies. But even leaving aside important doctrinal religious issues, the crucial difference between the two is that phenomena the West has left far back in the past continue to exist in Muslim-majority counterparts.
The Crusades ended eight centuries ago; jihad continues. And other critical differences differentiate between the two civilizations. One is that progressive opinion, intellectuals, governments, even many of the Christian churches themselves, fought for progress in the West. They didn't say "These are our sacred practices, our lifestyle and thus must remain forever unchanged." They didn't let fear of being labeled "Christianophobic" paralyze them. Another is that four centuries of rethinking, struggle and debate were needed to create contemporary Western democratic society.
Such processes have, at best, barely begun in the contemporary Middle East.
IT'S EXTRAORDINARY that much analysis of the region - possibly the most important intellectual endeavor of our times - is conducted in an ad-lib fashion based on the latest newspaper interview, underpinned with wishful thinking. Yet if we're going to be serious about this task, serious historical perspective is needed. Most should be based on the region's own distinctive past and world view.
But since people insist on making transregional analogies, here's a way of doing one. Consider the following statement: "The world is not ruled by an intelligent being." Instead, religion has created a deity who is a "monster of unreason, injustice, malice and atrocity."
Who said this - someone last week in the West? No, it was the French writer Jean Meslier in 1723. That statement, too hot to publish at the time, was a few decades later part of mainstream French discourse.
Oh, and by the way, Meslier was a lifelong Catholic priest.
THE BASIS of democracy began in 1215 in England with its Magna Carta. The battle to have a legitimately accepted division between religion and state was waged and largely won there in the Middle Ages. A basis was laid for secular-dominated society.
True, in the 1500s underground Catholic priests in England were tortured and executed, while Protestants in France suffered even worse. Yet at the same time, English universities were teaching the classical tradition which, in Italy, formed the basis of representational art. The works of Shakespeare and his fellow creators depended on this freedom, background and example. A basis was laid for a pragmatic, empiricist, utilitarian culture that stood on the scientific method.
That was the Renaissance, or rebirth. For the West, the great civilization of classical times was being rebuilt.
But Greece and Rome are not part of the Arab-Islamic tradition, where representational art is viewed with suspicion. The time before the coming of Islam is rejected with horror. To this day, secularism is almost a hanging offense in the Middle East; and democracy, as it is understood in the West, is deemed inappropriate. Much of Europe's cultural production in the 16th through 18th centuries could not be produced and widely accepted in the Arabic-speaking world today.
Of course, these things do appear, but usually as imports from the West, which raises suspicion and gives ruling forces - clerical and state - a strong incentive to demonize the West in order to limit the appeal of subversive ideas.
THE GREAT historian of France, Alfred Cobban, wrote that the new secular ideology triumphed there between 1748 and 1770, after already flourishing in Britain and the Netherlands. Even in the Catholic Church "the persecuting spirit was dying down." The English, Dutch, American and French revolutions were not triumphs of traditionalism, as in Iran, but of greater democracy. Many Westerners continued (as they do today) to be religious, but more open and tolerant.
This struggle between the old and new societies characterized much of the 19th and 20th centuries, yet the trend was steady. Perhaps fascism - and arguably communism - were the final reactionary movements, and World War II was the last struggle. Yet victory required 500 years of rethinking and education.
There's no such history in the Middle East, while several additional problems block movement toward moderation and democracy here. Whatever one thinks of specific Islamic doctrine as generally interpreted, the big problem is that it remains so powerful and hegemonic. Arab nationalism is anti-democratic, repressive and statist. Islamists seek a somewhat revised version of the eighth century, albeit with rockets and mass communication.
IT IS also worse because Middle East regimes and revolutionaries know Western history. They are aware of the fact that while pious Western philosophers and scientists sincerely believed open inquiry and democracy didn't threaten traditional religion and the status quo, they were wrong. Openness led to revolution and to modern secular-dominated society - a West with all the ills decried by those in religious, ideological and political power in the Middle East. They also know what happened to Soviet-bloc dictatorships that experimented with more freedom. And they know that accepting Western ideas makes people want to change their own societies.
On top of that knowledge, they have weapons, technology, new means of organization and communication to block any change that tries to make its way through persuasion or threat. This point applies as much to Iran's Islamist rulers as to Syria's pretend-pious ones or Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi monarchs.
FINALLY, it is worse because there's a powerful, growing movement - radical Islamism - posing an alternative to modernism. The question is not merely of tiny, marginalized al-Qaida but also the governments of Iran, Syria and Sudan; the Saudi regime; powerful mainstream societal influences, Hamas and Hizbullah; the Muslim Brotherhood, and many others.
In comparison, while there are courageous individual liberals, there's no real liberal party anywhere in the Middle East, no liberal-controlled media or liberal proselytizing university. In Egypt the only liberal organization has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.
So while the great majority of people want a good life for themselves and their children - while they breathe air, drink water and bleed when they are pricked - as they did in Ice Age caves, ancient Rome, medieval France, imperial China, Inca Peru and the central deserts of Australia - that does not mean everyone thinks the same, or that all societies and governments are basically equivalent.
Anyone who doesn't understand history is doomed to be battered by it.
The big difference is that it was never the policy of Christianity to do those things. These “atrocities” were usually politically motivated things, using religion as a pretext, and at times (including during the Spanish Inquisition, which the Pope tried numerous times to halt) even Church authorities could not prevent them.
One of the biggest mistakes in our understanding of Islam is to confuse the evil and in fact disobedient and non-Christian actions of a few supposed Christians with the officially established policies and laws of an entire religion, Islam, which is evil and violent not because of misinterpretation, but precisely because of its core beliefs and policies.
So, at BEST Islam is “only” 300 years behind the rest of civilization?
An other ‘BLAME THE CRUSADES’ article?
Lets go back a bit father in time. What was the CAUSE of the Crusades?
Oh, that’s right. The Muslim’s penchant for invading other countries and subjugating them.
Thanks Charles Martel for saving France.
Thanks El Cid for recovering Spain.
Thanks Serbia for saving Eastern Europe.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
Where are these men now that we need them to free these 57 states. I hope the new Crusades are more successful than the first ones were.
It is tragic and ridiculous that basically anti-Christian societies that persecuted, tortured and killed faithful Christians (for crimes like owning a Bible) are today portrayed as “Christian” in nature by the dominant media. There is this insanely ignorant mindset that all of Europe was always Christian for the past 2 millenia, so anything that has happened there was straight out of the Bible. In reality Christian influence, though profound, has been sadly more limited, and Christians usually a small minority of most of these cultures (secular ‘churchians’ being far more dominant.)
The mullahs in Tehran are not puling down satellite dishes because they think their version of Islamic doctrine is winning the “hearts and minds” of the citizens they rule.
One of the most abused elements when the ignorant discuss any issue today is the perspective of context and history.
That was over 200 years ago, for crying out loud!
A lot has happened in societal and political evolution in the last 200 years.
Except for islam; they are quite happy with the 7th Century, LOL.
Meanwhile, some loser societies linger in the 7th century. Just recently I read more about some "orthodox" Jewish sects which are just as scary as the muslims are.
In the West, such losers would be condemned and put down immediately, with the same enthusiasm as islam presently is.
Yep that’s right. First Crusade didn’t happen until almost 400 years of Jihad had passed from the gates of Paris, to Spain, to the Indian sub-continent, China, Asia minor - Christian, Jewish, Zorastrian, Hindu civilizations uprooted, dhimmiized, subjugated to the Jihad relentlesly. It was in fact the Eastern church and the Byzantine empire call for help as the Seljuk Turks were knocking at their doorstep already having subject some and cleansed other communities on their Jihad path, which caused the Western Church to bring together a force to counter the Jihad. Again, almost 400 years before the first Crusade ever appeared. Having said that, the Crusades in the end were not good particularly as one of them even turned on the Eastern Church and Byzantine empire by sacking Constantinople which act was probably responsible for the eventual successful Jihad against Constantinople by the Turks.
Yep. We should demand Constantinople back.
And Asia Minor as there were entrenched Christian communities and churches there for hundreds of years. With successive Jihads and the brutality of the Ottoman Empire there is only left around 1.5% of the population of Turkey as Christian.
Isn't that the truth. One need only to look at the foundational documents of each--the Bible, especially the New Testament vs. Koran and Hadith. Jesus taught a spiritual kingdom "or else my disciples would fight" (John 18:36)) which would eventually have effects on the political/material world. Now of course after the Church got mixed up into the state--with Constantine than into the Middle Ages, things got messed up, but none-the-less, even then, Christianity spread by force was the exception, not the rule. The Koran though assumed a worldly kingdom...not a spiritual one...spread and maintained by force.
Mohamed though was a bandit-general--who got his will by force of arms. The Arab armies invasions started immediately after Mohamed died, and the first 4 Caliphs--successors to Mohamed--were all assassinated.
Quite a different history, and scripture, than Christianity.