Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The New Medievalists

As you may recall, when Pres. Bush, in the early days after 9/11, mentioned a "crusade" to protect American interests, much of the world went ballistic:

President Bush's reference to a "crusade" against terrorism, which passed almost unnoticed by Americans, rang alarm bells in Europe. It raised fears that the terrorist attacks could spark a 'clash of civilizations' between Christians and Muslims, sowing fresh winds of hatred and mistrust.
I've been thinking about that a lot lately, and have a few observations to make about who the new crusaders really are. First, a little bit about the word "crusade." As the American Heritage dictionary notes it originates with the Latin word crux or cross. That is, its origin is rooted in Christian imagery. A capital "C" crusade was, says the dictionary, "Any of the military expeditions undertaken by European Christians in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims." So far so good. But in the 700 years since the last capital "C" Crusade, the word has taken on another, small "c" meaning: "A vigorous concerted movement for a cause or against an abuse." Only the most resolutely obdurate would attempt to charge that Bush was using the capital "C" meaning (a religious Holy War), as opposed to the small "c" meaning. Of course, as is so often the case in political discourse, meaning and intent matter little. Second, having established the different meanings attached to the word crusade (or, if you will, Crusade), I want to develop a theory that there is a Crusade out there, but that it is not originating in the Western World. It is, instead, a product of the fundamentalist Islamic world and, like the first Crusades, it is rooted firmly in Medieval ideology. To begin with, Islamists are not shy about their religious Crusading purpose. As Robert Spencer points out in the side bar on his "Jihad Watch" web page: the spread of Islam, by violent means if necessary, is a central tenet of the religion:
Jihad is a central duty of every Muslim. Modern Muslim theologians have spoken of many things as jihads: defending the faith from critics, supporting its growth and defense financially, even migrating to non-Muslim lands for the purpose of spreading Islam. But violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history. Many passages of the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad are used by radical Muslims today to justify their actions and gain new recruits. No major Muslim group has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, which denies unbelievers equality of human rights and dignity, is available today for anyone with the will and means to bring it to life.
This is not just Mr. Spencer talking. Modern Islamist preachers are not shy about their goals, including their intention to bring fundamentalist Islam to Americans, by fair means or foul:
The Muslim population in this country is not like any other group, for it includes within it a substantial body of people—many times more numerous than the agents of Osama bin Ladin—who share with the suicide hijackers a hatred of the United States and the desire, ultimately, to transform it into a nation living under the strictures of militant Islam. The receptivity indeed was greater, but still the idea of an Islamist takeover remains unrecognized in establishment circles – the U.S. government, the old media, the universities, the mainline churches.... In suburban Rosemont, Ill., several thousand people attended MAS’ annual conference in 2002 at the village’s convention center. One speaker said, “We may all feel emotionally attached to the goal of an Islamic state” in America, but it would have to wait because of the modest Muslim population. “We mustn’t cross hurdles we can’t jump yet.” [From a Daniel Pipes article posted by Robert Spencer.]
If this isn't a Crusade, I'm not sure what would fit that definition. But why do I say it's a medieval Crusade? Well, first of all, there's the manifest religious impulse driving it. That is, contrary to Communism, it's not merely a political ideology. That's a bit of a sophistic distinction, though, because I've often thought of Communism as religion with a God. No, what strikes me more about Islamist Crusades is that, in this hypermodern age, so much of the Islamic population lives a life consistent with medieval times. For example, as ~rich over at Beef Always Wins pointed out, Islam prohibits paying interest. As ~rich also points out, this is an economic prohibition that "comes in mighty handy for keeping your subjects poor, with little chance of improving their lives." In the Middle Ages, too, the Church barred charging any interest. Fortunately for the economic development of the Western world, this proscription was observed in the breach, and the medieval world was able to use the Jews as a cash source. (The Jews were an especially good cash source for medieval kings because, after borrowing massive amounts of money from the Jews, and promising to pay interest, the kings could conveniently kill or expell the Jews, an early form of debt cancellation.) The modern aversion in Islam to paying interest is not, of course, the only thing that makes them the last of the Medievalists. Their punishments for religious failings are also still rooted in the Middle Ages. These punishments include beheading, chopping off hands, gouging out eyes, removing tongues, stoning (the last being positively Biblical). Click here for a recent article about punishments in Iran; click here for a description of medieval civil and religious "justice." I don't think I need to provide a link to the Islamists' current obsession with beheading. And yes, I know we still engage in capital punishment in America, but we've at least dressed it up in modern scientific garb (somehow to the modern mind, lethal injection is more humane, and certainly less bloody, than a beheading). I'm also pretty sure that no American state has recently ordered stoning, eye removal, or hand removal as a punishment for some perceived religious violation. What's also consistent between Medieval Christianity and modern fundamentalist Islam is the belief in the rewards of the afterlife that animates the willingness to face death here and now for a religious war. In Jonathan Phillips' fascinating book, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, he points out that the inducements for a crusader were twofold: "the afterlife and money." (p. 36.) The former was not just an idea of some green meadow and angels with wings floating around:
It is difficult to overstate the medieval preoccupation with making good the consequences of sin and avoiding the eternal torments of hell. One historian has described it as 'the most guilt-ridden age in history', where sins of violence, lust, greed and envy were never far from the thoughts and deeds of its people. *** Yet a crusader could -- if he confessed his sins -- be absolved from all his misdeeds. [p. 36.]
The engine powering the Medieval Crusaders into battle was their run from the Devil, just as the engine powering the modern jihadists is their absolute faith in those seventy virgins (or raisins). That is, both Medieval man and Islamic man use religion, not only as a support in day-to-day life, but as an animating force for violent religious war. And, because it's time for me to wrap up, I'll end on a more superficial level (with pictures, yet), comparing the fact that both Medieval women and Islamic women tend to share the same clothes (something especially clear when one compares nuns' garb to a modest Muslim woman in robes and hijab). Here (on the right) is the Medieval nun: And here's the modern Islamic woman: The Middle Eastern Scholar Bernard Lewis wrote a very interesting book called What Went Wrong? : The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, in which he commented that modernity in the Islamic world was truly only skin deep. The Middle East has co-opted much Western technology (especially in the area of weapons) without co-opting our mind-set. From the modernists' perspective, a Medievalist with a nuclear weapon is a very scary thought. UPDATE: Just learned, courtesy of Little Green Footballs, that most American mosques contain Saudi sponsored anti-American propaganda, aimed at turning America into an Islamic country. Click here for a link to the .pdf document.