Written by Phil Guarnieri Friday, 01 February 2013 00:00
Even though the struggle between Christianity and Islam began 14 centuries ago, its violent and persecutory vestiges still haunt us. While Christianity, for example, is the fastest growing religion in the world, it is also the most oppressed and molested of all the religious faiths. For those killed around the world for their religious beliefs, 75 percent are Christians. Even as Christianity explodes among the denizens of Africa and Asia, attempts to muffle and eradicate it grow with alarming speed. The building of churches and seminaries in Arab lands are forbidden; Christians are slain with impunity in Nigeria; 600,000 to 1 million Coptic Christians, despite the presence of the American military, have fled Iraq fearing for their lives. There is not extant a single Christian church in Saudi Arabia; a mass exodus of believers in Egypt continues unabated to safer pastures and postulates of the Christian faith are languishing in the prisons of Pakistan for no crime other than observing the tenets of their religion.
The roots of this onslaught penetrate deep into the ancient soil of history and it has sowed and reaped homicidal storms throughout the centuries. Moreover, there is no indication whatsoever that these fiery eructations have been exhausted. Apportioning blame is one of the charges of historical reflection, but too many historians and pundits hesitate to produce honest evaluations either because of multiculturalism, fears of ethnocentrism or suspicions of all things Western to analyze with detachment the antecedents of this clash of cultures.
It has become something of a self-conscious, albeit ludicrous preoccupation regarding the lengths some analysts will go to elude the truth if they cannot reconcile it to blaming their own culture. Even today some academicians cannot admit that the proximate cause of WWI was German militancy and aggression. They like to think that the “Great War” was purely the product of miscalculation precipitated by an unwise arms race. Henry Wallace, who was vice president during FDR’s third term but fortuitously not in his abbreviated fourth term, blamed the United States for the Cold War even though pursuant to the Yalta Conference the U.S. sustained free elections in once occupied territories and massively demobilized its military. Still, Wallace (Claire Booth Luce memorably and devastatingly called him Joseph Stalin’s Mortimer Snerd) blindly maintained that the United States was, in effect, the Archimedean lever that tilted the globe into the Cold War.
So what are the facts concerning Islam? First and foremost, it is one of the great world religions having contributed, in important ways, to the advancement of civilization. There is no gainsaying that millions of Muslims are good, decent and law-abiding people, aspiring to brotherhood and human fraternity. The chasm between Western Civilization and much of the Muslim world has been attributed to the West’s unshakable friendship with Israel, the culture’s all-embracing secularism and modernism and, clearly, America’s vaunted military power visible throughout the Middle East. While all of these no doubt contributed to Arab resentment, none can be said, in the face of any refined analysis, to be the basis of its origin, nor can it be said with any confidence that if these arrangements were different, Arab antipathy toward the West wouldn’t exist.
Any understanding of Islam must begin with Muhammad, the founder and greatest influence on Islam, who was not only a prophet and a teacher, but also a soldier and a conqueror. As a result, any examination of Islam cannot but emphasize its unfettered military dimension. While religious tolerance is a mainstay of Islam, indeed laid down by the Quran, it sees other religions as inferior, especially those that are not monotheistic —- which includes Christianity whose Triune God (Muslims seeing the distinction between personhood and nature as a sophistical theological contrivance) is deemed as nothing other than ersatz polytheism.
The upshot was that by the 8th century, Militant Islam was on the march. Like a gigantic blast of wind, everything in its path was swept clean away; its armies overran the infidels in Palestine, Syria, Egypt and the North African Coast all the way to Morocco. Western Christiandom seemed ripe for the taking as the Umayyad, the first great Muslim dynasty, struck at Europe north of the Pyrenees. On a road between the two towns of Tours and Poitiers in 732 one of the most consequential battles in history was fought when Charles Martel, the Frankish Statesman and military leader, decisively defeated the Arab army. In the aftermath of this macro-historical battle, many more conflicts would arise including several Crusades. But the Crusades as Bernard Lewis, the most outstanding student of the history of Islam observed, were a brief but important interlude in a long history of Jihad. It was a counter-offensive against the much longer and relentless Holy War the Muslims had waged against Christianity four centuries earlier.
The Theocracies of the Arab world present an inherent danger not only because of the aspects of its millenarian, apocalyptic theology, but also because their government and religion are inextricably wedded. The war between the Catholics and the Protestants in the 17th century devastated Europe, but it also led to a philosophical and political evolution resulting in a separation between church and state that divided power, enlarged personal freedom and relegated belief to the private domain of the conscience. It was in this way that the West resolved the bloody crucible of religious strife. It is a revolution of thought that we can only hope for and one, I am sure, Christians throughout that troubled region are praying for.