How the Media Misconstrue Jihad and the Crusades
By Timothy Furnish
Mr. Furnish, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, World History. Georgia Perimeter Collge.
It's axiomatic among historians that winners write (or sometimes rewrite) history. How strange
it is, then, that on the topic of Jihads and their Western analog [equivalent], the Crusades, the losers in the
post-1492 struggle for world mastery (the Islamic world) and their willing spinmeisters (academics and media pundits)
are currently foisting their ahistorical [non-historical] views on the rest of us.
i) that jihad almost always means "moral self-improvement in order to please God" and, on the rare occasion that it does take martial form, it only does so as a desperate defensive measure against the Christian West; and
ii) that the history of Christian-Muslim
interaction is almost entirely one of invasion and exploitation of the latter by the former, exemplified by the
3) U.S. News
and World Report's cover story "The First Holy War" (April 8, 2002) does likewise, claiming that "during the Crusades, East and West first met--on the battlefield."
The so-called "greater jihad," which emphasizes conquering one's sins, is actually
a minority Sufi (Islamic mystic) view that is based on an untrustworthy, probably forged, tradition. Throughout
most of Islamic history most Muslims, lay and scholar alike, have understood "jihad" in its Arabic dictionary--and
the Bin Ladin--sense of "holy war." (a)
The Arab Muslim armies attacked and conquered Byzantine Christian territories in Syria and Egypt and, a bit later, Arab-Berber Muslim forces conquered the formerly Roman, but still Christian, cities and towns across North Africa and into what is now Spain and Portugal, ruling there for seven centuries.
Muslim armies invaded the Frankish Kingdom, later to become France. In 732 they were defeated by Charlemagne's grandfather, Charles Martel.
Over the next three centuries the Sunni Muslim Seljuq Turks further dissected the Byzantine Empire,
beginning a process that would be completed by their cousins the Ottomans, who conquered Constantinople in 1453
and ruled southeastern Europe for centuries.(b)
"This land has always been ours?!" That would have been news to the two major erstwhile denizens [inhabitants at the time] and rulers of the Holy Land, Jews and Christians (not to mention Romans, Persians, Assyrians, Philistines, Canaanites, etc.).
Muslims didn't conquer what is now Israel/Palestine until the mid-7th c. CE. And, as mentioned
earlier, jihad existed in Islamic theory and practice long before the Crusaders showed up in the Middle East. The
reason it took so long (almost two centuries) for the Muslim world to expel the Crusaders was NOT lack of a militant
ideology but rather lack of a sufficiently strong and determined state--a deficiency which the Egyptian Mamluks
rectified in the 13th c. CE.
The Crimean War of 1854 prompted a jihad against Russia. The Ottomans fought World War I as an openly-trumpeted holy war against the British, French, Russians and (later) Americans. Now, one might argue that by the 19th century Ottoman jihads were merely a cynical, defensive propaganda ploy by the leadership of a tottering Islamic empire.
Perhaps. But when the leading political (sultan-caliph) and religious (shaykh al-Islam) figures
of the planet's most powerful Islamic state call something a jihad, should we not take them at their word? Furthermore,
it is worthy of note that far more people (mainly Armenians) died as part of that last Ottoman jihad against the
Russians than died in all of the Crusades combined.(d)
Yet, as Carroll observes, "if the impact of the Crusades 'created a historical memory' for Muslims, why isn't the historical memory created among Christians by the Muslims conquests of the previous five centuries worth mentioning?" To that could be added: why aren't the Ottoman conquests and jihads of the subsequent six centuries worthy of report?
Indeed, for centuries Christian Europe lived in fear of "the Turk" and Luther even had a prayer specifically asking for deliverance from the Ottomans. 1683 is a lot nearer to our time than 1099. Attacks have not been all from West to (Middle) East, and it is high time the "Muslim street" received the solid food of historically accurate teaching rather than the milk of Islamic propaganda.
This is not merely a tu quoque spat [you also outburst] but a matter of accurately and fairly addressing the issues
that divide the civilizations produced by the world's two largest faiths, Christianity and Islam.(e)
What prevents this argument from becoming much ado about nothing are two things:
1). that Osamah bin Ladin and his ilk have been playing the "Crusades" card for a decade now,to no small effect; and, what's almost as disturbing,
2). many American college students have internalized the neo-Marxist, "blame the West first"
attitude, presented in high school history classes, along with the requisite guilt. Garbage in, garbage out then
Once again Islamic history is whitewashed and the hundreds of Muslim attacks upon, and conquests
of, Christians and Christian territory are unquestioned or even glorified. Once again, Muslims and non-Muslims
are force fed a false view of history, from which they then construct a false view of reality: one in which the
Christian West has always been the aggressor and the Islamic world the supine [peaceful, passive] victim.
And being critical of Western civilization, they automatically defer to non-Westerners when it comes to defining their own concepts, such as "jihad." Most journalists are rather ignorant of history but they do have some vague idea that European-American civilization has oppressed and exploited the rest of the world, particularly Muslims; this makes media types sympathetic to non-Westerners.
None of this, of course, excuses such drivel as PBS, A & E and U.S. News have produced lately. And in fact "it would be funny, this journalistic malpractice, if it didn't buttress the convictions of the natics…." And, I might add, reinforce the anti-Western prejudices of our own young people.
(a) Daniel Pipes, "Jihad and the Professors," Commentary (November 2002). Douglas Streusand, "What Does Jihad Mean?" Middle
East Quarterly (September 1997).
(c)Thomas Madden, "Crusade Propaganda," National Review Online (November 2, 2001).
(d)Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789-1923 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1996), especially chapter 6, "Jihad and War Propaganda: The Ottoman Jihad Fatwa of November 11, 1914"), pp. 55-57.
(e)For examples in the immediate wake of 9/11, see Alan Philips, "Ill-chosen Word [Crusade] Fuels Claims of Intent to Wage War on Islam," Daily Telegraph (London) (September 18, 2001); Eric Black, "Christian Crusades are Bitter Chapters in History of Islam," Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (October 21, 2001); Jonathon Phillips, "Why a Crusade Will Lead to a Jihad," Independent (London) (September 18, 2001).
(6)Quoting Carroll, "Myths of the Crusades Hard to Kill.”
This article has been resourced from History News Network, article 1178.
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