The ever-egregious James Carroll outdoes himself with this outstanding display of historical distortion and obfuscation, “The war against Islam,” from the Boston Globe (thanks to all who sent this in):
AMONG THE factors leading to the French and Dutch rejections of the European constitution last week, none looms more ominously than the nightmare of antagonism between ”the West” and Islam. Many Europeans fear a rising tide of green, both within the continent and from outside it. Where once communists threatened, now Muslims do. A new wall is being built.
Muslims, meanwhile, see a flood of contempt in pressures on immigrant communities in European cities, in restrictions on Islamic expression, and in openly expressed reservations about Turkey’s admission to the EU precisely because of its Islamic character. Given escalations of the war in Iraq together with widely reported instances of Koran-denigration by US interrogators, such trends in Europe make the global war on terror seem expressly a war against Islam. The ”clash of civilizations” seems closer at hand than ever.
Notice how 9/11 doesn’t enter into this calculus. For Carroll it is as if the war in Iraq and “instances of Koran-denigration” were just acts of unprovoked aggression by the West.
To make sense of this dangerous condition, it can help to recall some of the forgotten or misremembered history that prepared for it, from the remote origins of the conflict to its manifestations in the not so distant past. As the story is usually told in Europe and America, the problem began when a jihad-driven army of ”infidel” Saracens, having brutalized Christians in the ”Holy Land,” threatened ”Christendom” itself with conquests right into the heart of present-day France. Charles Martel is the hero of primal European romances because he defeated the Muslim army near Tours in 733. But for Martel, Edward Gibbon wrote, ”the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford.”
“As the story is usually told in Europe and America…” Carroll is trying to get away with suggesting it didn’t really happen this way, although he doesn’t come out and say that. And why not? Because the historical record shows that it did happen that way.
Across subsequent centuries, in the European memory, Islam posed the great threat to the emerging Christian order. But was that so? Lombards, Normans, Vikings, forces from the Slavic east, and violent contests among Christians themselves all wreaked havoc in Europe, even in Martel’s time.
Threats to the emerging Christian order? Really? Lombards, Normans, Vikings: all already Christian or soon Christianized. The jihad threat was perceived as greater because it was greater: it would have entailed the utter destruction of Christian society, or, as Carroll puts it with sneer quotes, “Christendom,” and its replacement with Sharia. The Lombards, Normans, and Vikings never threatened to do anything remotely approaching that.
As I learned from the historian Tomaz Mastnak, the threat from the Saracens was one among many.
Militarily, yes. Culturally or religiously, no.
It was defined as transcendent only with the later Crusades, when Latin Christian armies set out to rescue that ”Holy Land” and roll back Islamic conquests. The crusading impulse presumed a demonizing of Saracens that was justified neither by the threat they actually posed nor by their treatment of Christians in Palestine.
“The crusading impulse presumed a demonizing of Saracens that was justified neither by the threat they actually posed…” So now we have it: Martel was fighting a phantom army. Gibbon was being hysterical. But what if Martel had lost at Tours? Where would the jihad armies have stopped? How much of Europe would they have had to occupy and subjugate for Carroll to acknowledge that the threat from them was genuine?
“…nor by their treatment of Christians in Palestine.” As it happens, I have just completed a book entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (coming August 8 from Regnery), and I did some research on this question.
What was life like for the Christians in Palestine in the years leading up to the Crusades? Let’s see: In 1004, the sixth Fatimid Caliph, Abu “˜Ali al-Mansur al-Hakim (985-1021) turned violently against the faith of his Christian mother and uncles (two of whom were Patriarchs) and ordered the destruction of churches, the burning of crosses, and the seizure of church property. He moved against the Jews with similar ferocity. Over the next ten years thirty thousand churches were destroyed, and untold numbers of Christians converted to Islam simply to save their lives. In 1009, al-Hakim gave his most spectacular anti-Christian order: he commanded that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem be destroyed, along with several other churches (including the Church of the Resurrection). The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, rebuilt by the Byzantines in the seventh century after the Persians burned an earlier version, marks the traditional site of Christ’s burial. The church had served as the model for the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Caliph al-Hakim commanded that the tomb inside be cut down to the bedrock. He ordered Christians to wear heavy crosses around their necks (and Jews heavy blocks of wood in the shape of a calf). He piled on other humiliating decrees, culminating in the order that they accept Islam or leave his dominions.
The erratic caliph ultimately relaxed his persecution and even returned much of the property he had seized from the Church. Thanks to al-Hakim’s change of policy, which continued after his death, in 1027 the Byzantines were allowed to rebuild the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Nevertheless, Christians were in a precarious position and pilgrims remained under threat. In 1056, the Muslims expelled three hundred Christians from Jerusalem and forbade European Christians from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. When the fierce and fanatical Seljuk Turks swept down from Central Asia, they enforced a new Islamic rigor, making life increasingly difficult for both native Christians and pilgrims (whose pilgrimages they blocked). After they crushed the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071 and took the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes prisoner, all of Asia Minor was open to them “” and their advance was virtually unstoppable. In 1076, they conquered Syria; in 1077, Jerusalem. The Seljuk Emir Atsiz bin Uwaq promised not to harm the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but once his men had entered the city, they murdered 3,000 people.
But I guess Carroll would say they all committed suicide.
Indeed, chronicles of the earlier period take little or no notice of the religion of Saracens. Religious co-existence, famous in Iberia, was a mark of other lands conquered by Arabs.
Yes, and it is mythical in Iberia, unless by “co-existence” Carroll means the co-existence of slave and master, beggar and king.
Europe’s initiating ”holy war” with Islam, that is, was based on flawed intelligence, propaganda, and threat exaggeration.
Carroll earlier alluded to “Latin Christian armies” attempting to “roll back Islamic conquests.” Did those Islamic conquests not constitute the initiation of “holy war” on the part of Muslims? Evidently not in the befogged mind of a dogmatic multiculturalist.
The poison flower of the Crusades, with their denigrations of distant cultures, was colonialism.
European colonies in the Middle East weren’t founded until hundreds of years after the conclusion of the last Crusade, and had no historical continuity with the Crusades. Nor did those colonies do anything to threaten the hegemony of Islam in the colonized areas, except press for the abrogation of dhimmi laws.
The dark result of European imperial adventuring in the Muslim world was twofold: first, the usual exploitation of native peoples and resources, with attendant destruction of culture, and, second, the powerful reaction among Muslims and Arab populations against colonialism, a reaction that included an internal corrupting of Islamic traditions. The accidental wealth of oil in the Middle East made both external exploitation and internal corruption absolutely ruinous. The political fanaticism that has lately seized the Arab Islamic religious imagination (exemplified in Osama bin Laden) is rooted more in a defensive fending off of assault from ”the West” than in anything intrinsic to Islam. The American war on terror, striking the worst notes of the old imperial insult, only exacerbates this reactionary fanaticism (generating, for example, legions of suicide bombers).
“The political fanaticism that has lately seized the Arab Islamic religious imagination (exemplified in Osama bin Laden) is rooted more in a defensive fending off of assault from ‘the West’ than in anything intrinsic to Islam.” Acceptance of this thesis depends on the reader’s ignorance of the 450 years of jihadist aggression that preceded the Crusades and obliterated the Christian cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, and which today’s jihadists consider to be the direct antecedent of their own efforts. Against what were the initial conquerors of Syria, Egypt, Constantinople, Spain and all the rest defending? What is the significance of the fact that today’s jihad terrorists hold to the same ideological and religious imperatives? You won’t find the answers by reading James Carroll.
Having forgotten the deeper history, nervous Europeans seem also to have forgotten how large numbers of Muslims settled in the continent’s cities in the first place. In the 1960s and 1970s, Turks, Arabs, and North Africans were welcomed as ”guest workers,” taking up menial labor with the implicit understanding that they could never hope to be received as citizens of the nations that exploited them. The rank injustice of a system depending on a permanent underclass was bound to issue in political resistance, and now it has, but with a religious edge.
There is no doubt that Europe encouraged Muslims to come. It’s all in Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia. Carroll doesn’t mention, of course, that these immigrants were also encouraged not to assimilate, and to hold tightly to their Islam — ignoring the fact that Islam is inherently political, a fact to which Europeans are just awakening today.
The point is that this conflict has its origins more in ”the West” than in the House of Islam. The image of Muslims as prone to violence by virtue of their religion was mainly constructed across centuries by Europeans seeking to bolster their own purposes, a habit of politicized paranoia that is masterfully continued by freaked-out leaders of post-9/11 America.
I doubt if Carroll has read a page of the Qur’an, or knows that Qur’anic verses such as 9:5 and 9:29 and many others are not just isolated, ignored religious texts, but have become the basis for an elaborate legal superstructure mandating warfare against unbelievers and endorsed by all the major schools of Sunni jurisprudence (as well as by the Shi’ites.)
They, too, like prelates, crusaders, conquistadors, and colonizers, have turned fear of Islam into a source of power. This history teaches that such self-serving projection can indeed result in the creation of an enemy ready and willing to make the nightmare real.
Carroll has worked hard to create his enemy — Western defenders against the jihadist threat — and make his nightmare real. If there weren’t so many people in government who believe as he does, he would be beneath notice.