Conflict with Islam

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Topics: Islam Views: 6135

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.

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."

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. As I learned from the historian Tomaz Mastnak, the threat from the Saracens was one among many. 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. 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. Europe's initiating ''holy war" with Islam, that is, was based on flawed intelligence, propaganda, and threat exaggeration.

The poison flower of the Crusades, with their denigrations of distant cultures, was colonialism. 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).

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.

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. 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.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Boston Globe.

  Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society
  Topics: Islam
Views: 6135

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Older Comments:
Mr Clark, you bother to put post some questions, in light of them being genuine I'll try to answer to some of your dilemmas:

1)"There have also been acts of predjudice and violence against non-muslims in Islamic countries."

Maybe, Mr Clark, maybe, however it didn't come unprovoked, as well as you know yourself, westerners went to the Muslim lands with a well planned agenda:"convert the Muslims to Christianity, use any means you see fit." I know it because I was subjected to it myself. Before that, I admired Christianity and Western culture. Don't ask me now.

2)"Why cant christians build churchs in Saudi Arabia?"

Saudi Arabia unlike USA is a totalitarian kingdom where human rights given to mankind in the Quran are abused on daily basis, in this the two countries resemble to each other. Now, the king of Saudia restricts citizenship only to Saudi born Arabs of Arabian ancestry. Those, Mr Clark, are Muslims par exellence! They need no churches, they worship the Lord in mosques! USA on the other hand is the ancestral land of the worshipers of Manitou. The early settlers when declairing the independence of USA called the the place,"The Land of the Free". These are the reasons for anybody of any religion to be free to build his house of worship in US. Namely, US is the land of the free, in other words, the land of anybody,"E pluribus unum." On the other hand, Saudia is the land of the Saudi Arabs which historically are Muslims. There is no place for church in the comparison, savvy?

3)"Why are there violent bombings against christians, jews and others in Islamic countries."

When did you last watch the news? Besides Muslims are pacifists, Muslim means by interpretation, Pacifist. Muslims didn't retaliate only when repetitive attacks came from them, in Muslim countries under the oppression of the West.

4)"Why happened to over 1,000,000 Armenians slaughtered by muslim Turks?"

They could be in heaven, they could be in hell, God knows it b

Good article, but over simplistic. While there has been much anti-Islamic predjudice and actions in Europe, USA etc.... There have also been acts of predjudice and violence against non-muslims in Islamic countries. Why cant christians build churchs in Saudi Arabia? Why are there violent bombings against christians, jews and others in Islamic countries.

Why happened to over 1,000,000 Armenians slaughtered by muslim Turks?

For the life of me, for all the horrors of Gitmo, Abu-Gharib, and the like why do muslims only see the evil of non-muslims? I really dont get it.

well...history has told us that for the most part.a super power always is abit on the evil side, and it needs to create enemies to stay in power. Make a huge mess, make people angry then find a solution is a time tested formula for mantaining power.If not islam then the west would most likely make the orientals an enemy, if not them then maybe the africans, if not them then animals would be evil doers who must be dealt with.


I think this article was right on.

An analytical article.The world History is evident that lot of blood-shed hs been caused due to prejudice view about a particular community, people or religion. A phobia is created by a particular class for harvesting personal benefits. Various tools are used for this purpose and exciting Religious sentiment has been one of the effective to hypnotise the mass. Throughout the Islamic history no mass killing is reported. Even when Islam entered in Europe, they have given ample proof of mutual respect. One can refuse but can not deny history of Undulus(Spain). It was just reverse when it was recaptured. History has preserved the record of treatment given to Jews & Muslims. It is really suprise that worse is happening in this civilised world by the most civilised people. No doubt, Europe welcomed their incoming guests during it's renassiance, which resulted in prosperous Europe. Now their narrow thinking is ready to close their door on the world, the devasting result is waiting their fate. May God save us from this prejudice view, which is making the world a hell. Thanks - sarfaraz

The point is very true, but just one thing for the muslims if Europe can get united, and America can be united why not the Muslim Nations? why cant we have our own Union as the Holy Prohet has taught us to be one community. We should also live as what the teachings of Islam are. The moment we do that we will be victorious!! May Allah give us the strenght and lead us to the right path.

How do you account for the Jemaah Islamiyah (an al-Qaeda branch) that is active in South East Asia ? They have been responsible for all sorts of terrorist bombing in the ASEAN region. Just last week they bombed a town in Indonesia The problem lies with Political Islam and its obsession for an Islamic State. These people resort to violence and terror once they realise that they can never win by democratic principles.