I acknowledge and respect the many Muslims who feel that their religion is being hijacked (I chose the word carefully) by a bunch of extremists that do not represent ‘their’ religion. I acknowledge and respect the many Muslims who abhor violence and would rather themselves die than be responsible for the death of another. I acknowledge and respect the many Muslims who are just trying to go on with their lives and who live in fear that there will be a backlash against everything Islamic that would put them in harm’s way, and I pray with them that that sort of retributional violence may be avoided.
|The Kabah in Mecca|
However, in the wake of the horrible Paris massacre, carried out by Islamists with ties to Al Qaeda and ISIS, I have heard one time too many a reporter, a columnist, a pundit, a government spokesperson say that these people are not Muslims (one prominent reporter referred to them as 'Activists') and that this sort of behavior in no way reflects the religion of Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace, etc, etc. Speaking as an historian, this is bullshit.
Even the briefest acquaintance with Islamic history will affirm that Islam as an historical movement is a spectrum. Describing one aspect of Islam does not mean you have therefore described it all. Think ‘Christianity’ in terms of complexity. Mohammed himself was first a military leader; in today’s words he might even be described as a warlord. And 7th century warfare was not pretty (if it ever was). Islam spread almost exclusively because of its military success, which was stunning. Islam went from just another tribal religion to exercising control first over the Arabian peninsula, and then over much of the former Roman empire, as well as expanding east and north to Persia and the Indian subcontinent. Jihad is taught in the Koran as an obligation for every Muslim. The fact that there are some Muslims today who wish to interpret Jihad as an interior 'struggle' does not negate the fact that almost all Muslims everywhere from the beginning of Islam until now understand Jihad to be struggle for Islam against the non-Muslims. Indeed, there has always been within Islam an aggressive jihadist element, just as there has always been an impetus to impose Sharia law. The history of the past 1300 years is full of accounts of conversion being forced upon conquered peoples at the point of the sword on pain of death, of Sharia law being rigorously imposed, of Muslims who dare to convert to Christianity being hunted down and killed, and of Christians suspected of evangelistic activity meeting a similar fate. That there are Muslims today who are insisting that all of these things be done should surprise no one. This is not aberrant extremist behavior, historically speaking.
|The rout of the Crusader army at the Battle of Hattim by Saladin|
Muslim Caliphs, Sultans, generals and other political leaders could be magnanimous, allowing Christian and Jewish communities to exist in relative peace, though as second-class citizens and with a heavy tax burden as a means to encourage conversion. There is Koranic sanction for this, in that both Christians and Jews are declared to be People of the Book, and thus not to be treated as common pagans/idolaters (who were not to be tolerated). But it never took much provocation for the authorities to resort to outright persecution, or at least to turn a blind eye when Muslim zealots rampaged against these communities, in much the same way as has happened to the Coptic Christians in Egypt during the past several years. Much of the persecution takes place at the local, neighborhood level, out of sight of the world media. It only takes one note pushed under the door threatening to slaughter your entire Christian family unless you leave within 2 days. This has happened again and again to Christian families in Iraq, for example. And this goes a long way towards explaining why the population of Christians in a number of Middle East countries has plummeted recently (Iraq, Syria and Palestine come to mind).
|Mamluks (military class who ruled Egypt 1250-1517) in battle|
In fact, the most egregious atrocities committed by Muslims in the name of their religion this year all have antecedents in Islamic history, even in the past century. During and after WWI, whether one wants to describe it as a genocide or not, Armenians who happened to be Christians were slaughtered in their tens and hundreds of thousands by Turks who happened to be Muslims. In the same way not long afterwards, Greeks who happened to be Christians were slaughtered and driven out of Turkey by Turks who happened to be Muslims. In both cases there were many factors at work motivating the actions of the persecutors. But to deny that religion is one of them is to be willfully blind to the actual history.
|Armenian Church of St. Gregory, dating from 1215 in NE Anatolia, Turkey |
A monument to something bad that happened to Christians at the hands of some other people.
It seems such a shock to Westerners that people could be doing these sorts of things in the name of their religion. We work so hard at being nice - at least, officially. We want desperately to assume that these people are starting from the same place that we are, in terms of valuing human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. But Islam is not about rights, or being nice; it’s about bringing the entire world under the dominion of Allah. Only then will the world experience peace. But it will be a peace that reflects Islamic values and exists under Islamic laws. 'Islam' itself means 'submission', which should give observers a clue as to which direction this train is headed. Moreover, there is a longstanding stream within Islam that is willing to undertake whatever means are necessary to accomplish this goal. And if one looks at the history of the expansion of Islam, they (the Jihadis) have been very effective.
My purpose here is simply to call out the Western media myth that Islam is a peaceful religion. Radical jihadism is described by many of these media people as the exception that proves the rule. But when we see this sort of behavior happening in the US, in France, in the UK, in the Netherlands, in Spain, in Italy, in Canada, in Norway, in Germany, in China, in Russia, in Algeria, in Egypt, in Libya, in Ethiopia, in Somalia, in Kenya, in Tanzania, in Uganda, in Nigeria, in Niger, in Cameroon, in Chad, in Sudan, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iran, in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Gaza and the West Bank (Palestine), in Israel, in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia, in Yemen, in Dubai – at what point will the media and Western political leaders begin to accept that this may not be just an exception?
|Persians in conquest mode|
And for my Muslim friends – help me understand how you navigate the spectrum of your own religion? If you are on the ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ side, what are you going to do about the many people who also claim to be Muslims and who find justification for their violent activities in the same Koran you recite? I have heard too little Muslim discussion about this, which makes me wonder if either a) Moderate Muslims are afraid of the Jihadi Muslims; or b) Moderate Muslims actually agree with the aims, if not the means, of the Jihadi Muslims. Maybe there are more options that I am not aware of.
|And not so long ago in the Netherlands. Just saying.|
The Western world needs to wake up to the fact that today’s Muslims are not behaving in ways that different from their historical norm. Islam has never been a religion of peace, and it certainly is not attempting to be so today. The Western world also needs to wake up to the reality that Islam does not play by Western rules, is not interested in Western values, and has a different goal in mind when it comes the purpose of human history. Only when the Western world begins to understand Islam on Islam’s terms will the nations and peoples of the West be in a position to respond effectively to what appears to be yet another building wave of Jihadi Islam.