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August 24, 2003

Christianity: Religion of Peace?

It's always bizarre to hear commentators discussing "Islam" as a distinctly brutal religion compared to "Christianity" as if both had not existed for centuries, each engaging in a range of total barbarism combined with periods of enlightenment and tolerance.

Reading The Templars: The Dramatic History of the Knights Templar, it's a good reminder of why there is a long historic mistrust of outside intervention in the region and why Bush's initial description of the war on terror as a "Crusade" was so obscene.

Here is a passage from the book on the entrance of the Crusaders when they finally took over Jerusalem in 1099. On accepting surrender from the Muslim governor of the city, Iftikar:

[The Crusader leader] Raymond accepted the terms, took possession of the citadel and escorted Iftikhar and his bodyguard out of the city. They were the only Muslims to escape with their lives. Intoxicated by their victory, and still charged with the passions of battle, the crusaders set about the slaughter of the city's inhabitants with the same indifference to their victims' age or sex as had been shown more than a thousand years before by Titus's legionaries. Tancred's banner on the al-Aqsa mosque was not enough to save those who had taken refuge inside. They were all killed. The Jews of Jerusalem fled to their synagogue for safety. The crusaders set it on fire: the Jews were burned alive...When visiting the Temple Mount, [one participant] had walked up to his ankles in blood and gore.
Ancient history admittedly, although the mass murders by crusaders were repeated for centuries more.

Given that bloodbath committed against Muslims in the name of Christianity, wouldn't you think a bit more circumspection about the role of respective religious atrocities in the region is called for?

Update: BTW if you want to evaluate the relative brutality and tolerance of Christianity versus Islam over the centuries, think about this fact.

In Islamic lands, large number of Christian communities survived and even florished under Muslim rule-- Copts, Armenians, Orthodox, Maronite -- while Muslim areas reconquered by Christianity-- such as Spain and southern Italy-- were completely crushed or were forcibly converted, leaving almost no surviving muslim religious populations. About the only ancient communities of muslims in 20th century Europe were the Bosnian and Kosovar muslims brought under Christian control from the Ottomans early in the century-- and we know how those populations got treated.

Update: Ah, a little rightwing fisking by Marduk's Babylonian Musings who claims it's a myth that there was "Islamic tolerance for Christians and Jews." Now I of course said, for those who read the post, that Christians and muslims both engaged in a range of barbarism at various points at history, but the fact remains that essentially no muslims survived in Christian-dominated areas, while to this day there are millenium-old Christian communities in Islamic areas. Skip the competing books-- that fact speaks for itself.

Posted by Nathan at August 24, 2003 09:16 PM