Friday, November 20, 2015

The World News Daily has published a piece by Burt Prelutsky that argues that, in order to stop the terrorist threat of ISIS, we need to we "remove ISIS from the face of the earth, hopefully as a joint effort with every other nation it has threatened or attacked, and that we then bomb Mecca off the face of the earth, not concerning ourselves in the least with collateral damage, letting the Muslims know once and for all that our God is far more powerful and, yes, vengeful than their own puny deity." He explains that, "It’s harsh, but they’ve been asking for it for over 1,400 years, and it’s time they got it."

So let's take a little look at exactly how "they've been asking for it." Starting 1,400 years ago, which would be when Muhammad still lived in Mecca and was only annoying his neighbors by preaching against the immorality of the ruling clans. Really, you have to go a bit forward in time before you can argue any sort of interaction at all between the Islamic and Christian communities, much less one that constituted "asking for it." 

I suppose you could start with the Umayyad Caliphates conquest of Byzantine Egypt in the 640s, as it was the first violent contact, it was roughly 1,400 years ago and the Byzantine Empire was technically Christian. Except that the Umayyad's went to Egypt on the invitation of the head of the Coptic Church, who begged the Umayyad's to free them from the tyranny of the Catholic Byzantines. As non-Catholic Christians living in a Catholic empire, the Copts were subjected to brutal forms of discrimination. It's hard to see how saving one group of Christians from discrimination by another group of Christians counts as "asking for it."
In fact, you really need to get to the Crusades before you can find any examples of Islamic aggression against Christianity as a religion or a civilization. And not even the First Crusade. No, it wasn't until the aftermath of the Second Crusade that any sort of anti-Christian ideas came into play.

See, in 1160, the Crusades were going pretty well for the Christians. They had control over Jerusalem and there were several prosperous and stable Crusader states in the Holy Land. That prosperity came from trade with the neighboring Islamic states, each of which had individually accepted the new political reality and treated the Christian states as they would any other neighbor. But in 1161, one Reginald of Chatillon-sur-Marne gathered a bunch of disillusioned Crusaders together and started attacking Muslim villages. They were upset that the Christian Crusader states had made treaties with the Islamic States and established peaceful relations instead of engaging in perpetual warfare. Reggie was imprisoned for his crimes, but when he was eventually released, he re-formed his band and started attacking pilgrims on the way to Mecca and eventually Mecca itself.

In response to these actions, and the Crusader States' failure to stop them, the Islamic world finally stopped seeing the Crusades as run of the mill acts of military conquest and began to see them as part of a religious movement that defined Christians and Christianity as an existential threat to Islam. The separate Islamic states put aside their quarrels with each other and united against the Crusaders under the leadership of Salah-al-Din. His recapturing of Jerusalem and defeat of Richard the Lionheart marked the end of the Crusaders' success in the Middle East and the beginning of the still ongoing mistrust between the two religions.

The idea that attacking Mecca would crush the Islamic spirit and prove the greatness of the Christian deity failed rather spectacularly 950 years ago. Instead of crushing the opposition, it united them in a cause that would endure for centuries. Believing that it would somehow work today is nothistory.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Marching into nonhistory

I've really enjoyed all the coverage of the Selma anniversary and am looking forward to more civil rights movement anniversaries coming up. But I've also been disturbed by one aspect of how they've been presented: all the images and events have centered entirely around the African-American roles and experiences. I'm not suggesting we should minimize the very real risks and sacrifices and efforts that African-Americans took on as part of that movement, or diminish their accomplishments, but neither am I comfortable with writing out the roles that white people played in that movement.

The story of African-Americans standing up and fighting for the basic rights that this country stands for is an important one. Portraying it purely as a story of black against white is both dishonest and detrimental. It's a story of an America that is and has been completely divided along racial lines, and it's not true. Remembering that there were a lot of white people who stood up and supported the African-American protesters of the 1950s and 1960s, marched alongside them and took those same risks, some of them dying for that cause, that is a story of an America that is bigger than racial difference, that is based on shared values and a common belief in the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people. It is a hopeful story, and it is true.

 In all the recent publicity, I haven't seen one public image MLK during the Selma to Montgomery march that wasn't cropped to cut out the white participants. These are the images I wanted to see, but didn't:


And then there's this guy:

There's nothing wrong with a community celebrating their own successes. But when they make the exclusion of the allies who helped them win their battles intrinsic to the narrative of those successes, they are practicing nothistory.