How the Media Misconstrue Jihad and the Crusades

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Furnish, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, World History, Georgia Perimeter College.

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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, 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 views on the rest of us.

That view, a two-sided coin of deceit, consists of the following contentions: 1) 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 2) that the history of Christian-Muslim interaction is almost entirely one of invasion and exploitation of the latter by the former, exemplified by the Crusades.

As examples, consider these recent propaganda gems:

1) MSNBC, in a segment discussing the new PBS video "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" (Dec. 18, 2002), runs a graphic explaining that the true definition of jihad is "the struggle to please God."

2) History Channel/A & E's recent (summer 2002) "Inside Islam" special presents the Crusades as the first violent struggle between Christendom and the Islamic world.

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."

4) History Channel/A & E's (otherwise fine) 1995 video series "The Crusades" (hosted by former Monty Python member Terry Jones) has Salah al-Din, the Kurdish Muslim leader who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders, telling Richard the Lion Heart that "this land has always been ours" and it also avers that jihad only developed as a response to the rapacious Crusades.

5) The PBS video "Islam: Empire of Faith" (2001) presents Islamic military expansion, both pre-modern and Ottoman, as natural and understandable and never calls it by its true name: jihad.

Such examples could be multiplied many fold, if every self-styled expert on Islam who has been interviewed by any American newspaper since 9/11 were adduced. But sticking with the five aforementioned contentions, what is wrong with each of them?

Re: 1) As Daniel Pipes and Douglas Streusand so convincingly point out, jihad does NOT mean primarily "the struggle to please God" but indeed--as both Islamic doctrinal writings (especially al-Bukhari's ninth c. CE collection of Hadith, or traditions) and Islamic history demonstrate--"holy war." 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 Bin Ladinesque--sense of "holy war." (1)

Re: 2) & 3) As Vincent Carroll so eloquently explains, only a historical ignoramus--or, I would add at the risk of redundancy, a tendentious PBS editor --could produce the claptrap statement that the Crusades marked the first time Islam and the West met on the battlefield. Islam began with one man in Mecca and, within less than two centuries, encompassed territory from the Iberian Peninsula to the Hindu Kush. This expansion did not happen peacefully. 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 and 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.(2)

So the Crusades, far from being the first time Muslims and Christians fought, were actually merely the first time that Christians, after four centuries of defeats, really fought BACK.(3)

Re: 4) Salah al-Din's quote -- "this land has always been ours" -- seems almost an Islamic version of the old Soviet Brezhnev Doctrine: once you go Communist--or in the case at hand, Muslim--you cannot go back. "This land has always been ours?!" That would have been news to the two major erstwhile denizens 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 admittedly-nasty 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.

Re: 5) The Ottomans had as one of their long-term, explicit goals the complete conquest of Europe and often declared jihads in order to further this agenda. In 1529 and 1683 their holy wars took them to the gates of Vienna. In 1828 they declared an (unsuccessful) jihad against the Greeks' attempt to gain independence. The Crimean War of 1854 prompted a jihad against France and 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.(4)

Two questions, to conclude: Why are influential segments of the American media perpetuating and, indeed, promoting, historically inaccurate views of two major post-9/11 issues: Jihad and the Crusades? And, more importantly, why does it matter?

To answer the second question first: it matters because peoples' view of history shapes their cultural and political views. We Americans are constantly reminded to pay attention to the "Muslim street," lest we callously provoke those millions for whom, allegedly, the Crusades of almost a millennium ago are still festering wounds. 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 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.(5)

Ultimately, of course, modern Americans are in reality no more responsible for the Crusades than, say, modern Mongolians are for the Eurasian depredations of their ancestor Genghis Khan; less so, in fact (since many Americans are descended from societies which had nothing to do with the Crusades). 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 holds sway.

Regarding the Jihads of the last 14 centuries, the useful idiots at PBS and MSNBC also present an ahistorical view but take the opposite tack from that vis-à-vis the Crusades: rather than maintaining that the majority's erroneous view is accurate, in the case of the Jihads the apologists claim that the majority view of jihad as "holy war" is not the real one and that a minority, suspect view is to be preferred. 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 victim.

Why? Why do educated, allegedly objective members of the media attempt to inculcate such distorted views of history in Americans' minds? Several theories come to mind. One is that the leftward tilt of the media predisposes them to a critical view of the West, in particular in the realm of religious matters. Many in the media being themselves irreligious, are appalled by putative Christians fighting a holy war like the Crusades. 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 fanatics…." And, I might add, reinforce the anti-Western prejudices of our own young people.

(1) Daniel Pipes, "Jihad and the Professors," Commentary (November 2002). Douglas Streusand, "What Does Jihad Mean?" Middle East Quarterly (September 1997).

(2) Vincent Corroll, "Myths of the Crusades Hard to Kill," Rocky Mountain News (April 6, 2002). For a complete listing of Islamic conquests, see Paul Fregosi, Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998).

(3)Thomas Madden, "Crusade Propaganda," National Review Online (November 2, 2001).

(4)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.

(5)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…."



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Richard Kalk - 4/22/2006

I recently watched a PBS special called "Empires - Holy Warriors". It was made in 2005. I learned some interesting bits of history from it about some of the men involved and what they were like. Nevertheless, I was uneasy about how the Muslims seemed to be portrayed in a more positive light and the "Crusaders" in a more negative light. I know from reading history that the Muslims started their conquests of Christian lands back in the 7th Century and that their goal was to take over all of Christendom and force the Muslim religion upon the world. So how is it that it is the fault of the Crusaders that we have these problems with the Muslim world? No, the Muslims were the aggressors and still are.
We all know the Crusaders did some very awful things like killing the Jews along the way, but the Crusades were, for the most part, in defense of Christian lands being conquered by the Muslims.
The Media needs to be held accountable for accuracy when they want to tell of historical or religious events. I am very glad that Mr. Furnish is holding them accountable by exposing their false presentations of history. Thank you, Mr. Furnish.

da - 12/10/2003


Non Yabiz - 11/6/2003

What a bunch of crap; unless Jihad is accomplished with state sanction or is totally spiritual it IS terrorism. As to the Crusades; the Muslims tried to invade the West; now we are allowing them to do it.

Common Sense Government - 10/17/2003

If you have read any of Dr. Furnish's other works, you would quickly realize that it is his style to take one isolated point and make a broad, sweeping generalization about it.

Nun Yabiz - 10/12/2003

The Crusades were fought because once again the Muslims were trying to take what didn't belong to them.
Documents much older than the Qu'ran make it CLEAR; Ishmael and his sons were NOT to have the land of Israel.
It is an IMPOSSIBLILITY that the "furthest mosque" was in Jerusalem because NO mosque existed there at the time the Qu'ran was written (nor was it EVER mentioned if you say it was "revealed" until once again the Muslims wanted to steal what didn't belong to them.)

Nathan Machula - 6/17/2003

The actions of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim were some of the main reasons cited for the call to take up the cross by Pope Urban II. Before 1000 AD, Christians were allowed passage to make pilgrimages to holy sites in Jerusalem and Palestine. This practice was ceased, Christians were persecuted, and many were killed. In 1009 AD al-Hakim destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Treatment of Christians (including Egyptian Copts) improved significantly under the subsequent Caliphs. In 1048 the church was rebuilt by the Byzantine Emperor Monomachus. Later, the Crusaders made several additions to the church.

At the same time, there was fighting in Spain, although not strictly Muslim vs. Christian.

My point is, there were many events in recent memory to fuel religious fervor against Muslims, definitely more recent than 300 years.

Nathan Machula - 6/17/2003

The "fundamental duties" you refer to are not outlined in the Quran. They are derived from it, but the 5 pillars of faith of Islam were not formulated until after Mohammed's death.

Greg - 4/24/2003

Perhaps we all read the same article. However, most of the posts here have seemed to miss the entire point of this article.

The point (IMHO) which Dr. Furnish attempts to convey is that the youth (even a lot of the no-longer-young) of this nation get the majority of their historical information, specifically on issues of this nature, from the major media outlets. These organizations continue, more and more, to spout the PC (politically "correct") views rather than the HC (historically correct - notice the lack of quotes) when dealing with issues which might just piss people off. In fact, I've heard nothing out of these guys which contradicts this PC view.

The dangers of this include the fact that, at some point, the youth are going to become the leaders of our society. If we continue to innundate them with misinformation and half-truths, how will they be able to confront these types of issues with any shred of clarity, specifically when the truth of history slaps them in the face - inevitably at the most inopportune moment? Adding to this is that the misinformation they've received is specifically proclaiming that the "West" is to blame for the majority of the world's problems. Our future leaders will be tripping over themselves to be the first to make reparations to make up for our "gross misconduct."

Fact is, if the media (again, I'm referring to the mainstream outlets) will not stand up and allow the HC viewpoint to be presented, who will? High schools can't, or perhaps simply refuse to, for fear of the repercussions that often arise when issues even remotely related to religion are discussed. Information sources which do deal in the truth (such as this forum) are often difficult to find (I've just this moment visited this site for the first time - I happen to be a student of Dr. Furnish - no, he didn't tell me to post, nor did we discuss this article in class). Parents are often as misinformed as their children (this has been going on for years).

JMW - 4/23/2003

This article is right on the money. College students need to get their head out of the gutter and start cherishing the Western World he or she lives in. The media; well, enough said about them!

Tim Furnish - 1/19/2003

I made a slight error in what I said about the Ottoman jihad during the Crimean War. That declaration of holy war was actually only aimed at the Russians. It was during the Greek War of Independence that the Ottomans included the French in their jihad. Sorry about that, chaps.

Sean Conley - 1/17/2003

Tom, thank you for your compliment!

I feel that perhaps the scope of what Dr. Furnish so eloquently stated was missed in our replies. His description of the issue is that the media, and in turn, our scholars, are missing the boat on what the muslim jihad is about. I agree that to take Islam as a whole and make a caricature of them is a sad thing to do. I do belive that was the point of the article. Our so called "Free Media" seems to report on what the social impact of the jihad is, as opposed to what the historical and, by rights, the religious definition of the jihad is. Dr. Furnish further states that not only is the definition clear, as well as dangerous, but it is used for all intents and puposes, as a blanket cover for any atrocity committed by the extremists. True, the "greater jihad" is used to show the struggle to please god, but it has been twisted to become the militant jihad we are struggling against today.

Again, I think the point Dr. Furnish was making was that our media is the culprit of the confusion. They can be extremists too!

Jim Grumblatt - 1/16/2003

I would just like to commend the author for elucidating historical analysis in a not-so-friendly political environment. The fact of the matter is that conquest in the name of Allah has been the mainstay of Islam since its foundation. The astonishing military accomplishments of seventh century Muslim armies are nearly unparalleled in the course of human history, and they provide overwhelming testimony to the martial character of Islam especially in its infancy. It is not by some inexplicable coincidence that with the exception of Spain, which engaged the Moors in an epic, unprecendented 800 year struggle, no territory subjugated by force of Muslim armies has ever emerged from its unyielding dominance. "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet". To pronounce this creed was for many a life-saving act; to renounce it once it was professed meant certain death. Despite many admirable qualities of the Islamic creed, Islam's martial historical record cannot be denied. Thanks for the article. Jim Grumblatt BS History Kansas State University

J. DONR - 1/16/2003


Please site where Dr. Furnish (or Daniel Pipes for that matter) states that the Crusades were "sweet blameless men fighting in self defense against a uniformly evil agressor."

Thank you.

J. Donr

Richard Dyke - 1/16/2003

And further, Tom, the whole history of it does not matter in a significant way to today's turmoil. I respect Muslims, as I do Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., but if history is appropriate here for anything, it is in pattern rather than who has been aggressive or defensive or owned what turf in the past. The pattern of history shows that there are lunatic fringes in every age willing to die for their ideas and take as many of us along with them as they can. One could almost argue that if they didn't have an issue, they would buy one. Extremist Muslims, extremist Christians (remember we have abortion clinic bombings and at least one abortion doctor assassinated here) simply must be dealt with. There are a few people out there who can not be reasoned with and who would rather die rather than accept things as they are. Most of us may not like everything, but we tolerate it. Zealots in every age think God justifies their killings. I don't think so and I would guess most people don't think so. Certainly governments don't think so.

If I were bin Laden or a Palestinian suicide bomber, I would be worried about whether I am really going to get those 70 virgins in Heaven for my deed. God is all knowing, and He probably realizes that every deed has a reaction and a suicide bombing may, for example, result not only in the killing of the target, but even members of the perpetrator's own group once the wounded government responds. How will bin Laden answer before God that his bombing of the Twin Towers also directly resulted in the killing of thousands of his own followers in Afghanistan. (Hard to answer; that's why zealots rely on the young to do the killing. They haven't reasoned that far yet.)

Tom - 1/16/2003

Sean, your reply is eminently rational and non-dogmatic. That's what I'm hoping for. I am sick and tired of reading on the net cartoonish idiocy from people like Pipes who insist on depicting an entire people, civilization, a 1400 year old religion with a billion believers (who are incredibly diverse in their degree of faithfulness, historical experience and so on) as a caricature. That is my complaint. I agree that any definition of "jihad" must include its more extreme forms and reject any attempt to reduce the concept to a feel-goody notion palatable to the public. But people like Furnish only want to focus on the extremist form of "jihad," and arrogantly dismiss the non-violent interpretation.

His article seemed highly selective to me. He cites a few selective media sources and then generalizes his argument to brand the entire media as proffering what is in his view an inaccurate view. The western media I've been watching and reading has hardly been kind to Islam. To the contrary. But then to some people ANY attempt to explain Islam from anything less than a position of hatred automatically brands you as unworthy of attention, and probably a supporter of bin Laden.

I seriously doubt Furnish would've written such an article if these same sources he cited reduced "jihad" to mean ONLY violent struggle and nothing else, nor if they characterized the Crusades as TOTALLY in self-defense against an unremitting aggressor, undeserving of any condemnation whatsoever

I do not subscribe to his view of the Crusades at all. I do not for one moment believe that the Crusaders were sweet blameless men fighting in self defense against a uniformly evil aggressor.

Sean Conley - 1/16/2003

Well Tom, it seems that we must forget the past in order to forge a more beneficial future? Nonsense.

Lets take this apart in a systematic way:

1) Black vs. White (or, us versus them, with us as the perfect saintly oppressed).
Hmm. Yes, both sides of ANY conflict always believe that they are right and perfect in the eyes of god. "Blah blah blah, we will prevail, yadda yadda yadda, god is on our side." Ya know what? ALL religions have periods in their history that show them to be evil. Christianity - The Spanish Inquisition, the Infallibility of the Papacy, etc. Muslim - The Armenian genocide, the slaughter of missionaries, etc. No one here is without blemish or stain. Yep, we are all evil and all of us have history. Your position here is weak, and makes little sense. Dr. Furnish never said that we were saintly, just that the lack of research by the media is creating a false historical viewpoint.

2) Christian West vs. Muslim East. If this was the Warner Bros. Version, I would completely expect to have Hassan yelling "HASSAN CHOP!" as he rushed my easily recognizable Bugs Bunny suit. But this is just not so. Yep, both ideologies were created in the east. Your point of the "Christian West" being conquered by an eastern religion is True. Just don't forget to add the "Muslim West" as well, as you started to do earlier in the paragraph. Stating it as you have, it appears that the "West" is ONLY Christian. As far as stamping out the "pagan" religions of the indigenous peoples, I will not have discourse there, as "Manifest Destiny" is one of the saddest idealogues ever created, but it was not only done by Christians.

3) Stalinist Pablum? Yeah, most stuff on TV is pablum, and it does seem to have the revisionist feel of a Stalinistc purge.

Overall, your attacks on Dr. Furnish seem to stem from your dislikes of Daniel Pipes. If this is so, please take your comments to Mr. Pipes. Dr. Furnish quotes from sources other than Mr. Pipes. Any stinging barbs for those authors?

Best Regards, and please, keep reading and debating! I eagerly anticipate your response!

Tom - 1/16/2003

Firstly, anyone who cites Daniel Pipes as a credible source of historical scholarship automatically disqualifies himself as a serious, careful scholar. He instantly identifies himself as an ideologue, pure and simple.

Like so much of the idiocy passing for serious analysis about the history of the so-called "Christian West" and the so-called "Muslim East" since 9/11, this article reduces a very long and complex interaction into a Warner Bros. cartoon of black hats and white hats. One side is always, always, unremittingly, timelessly, forever and ever and ever and ever, unchangingly the evil aggressor. Their viewpoint and concerns and responses are ABSOLUTELY NEVER EVER EVER EVER to be given any weight or legitimacy, not one single shred of credibility. Their viewpoint is ALWAYS, ALWAYS a pack of self-serving lies, they are ALWAYS uniformly the Dark Super-Villain whose humanity and complexity and dignity are to be dismissed in their totality. Any attempt WHATSOEVER to question this cartoon is to be dismissed out of hand immediately.

While the other side is of course the ALWAYS TOTALLY blameless, spotless Beacon of Light that is ALWAYS in the right about EVERYTHING, never EVER to be questioned or criticized or disbelieved.

This is scholarship?

What is ironic about so much of this moronic, Stalinist pablum that passes for debate is the ridiculous notion that Christianity and Judaism are western religions. They are not. In fact, these two EASTERN religions successfully imposed themselves on the West, wiping out indigenous European cultures and religions in the process. If we are to reduce this historical debate to one of purely *extremist religious* conflict (which is sheer stupidity) then we must face the historical fact that this so-called purely religious conflict is one between religions all originating from the same region of the world, all originating from the same culture and people, whose practicitioners have far more similarities than they have differences. The so-called "Christian West" is in fact a culture taken over by an Eastern culture.

For those who prefer to artificially manufacture and twist history to suit their own ideological dogma of ignorance and bigotry, for those who absolutely delight in and NEED to indulge in the Evil Other v. the Wonderful, Saintly We (out of some primitive emotional desire for a people to Hate), there is thus absolutely NO NEED for scholarship, for research or books to read or TV specials to view or discussions to engage in. Why read anything about this history when all we need to know is that They have always been the Evil Aggressor and always will be, and We are the Saintly Innocents, and always will be. Why even debate? Why even study? Why read anything?

Rod McCaslin - 1/16/2003

Couldn't Dr. Furnish's argument concerning the soft pedalling on the use of the term *jihad* also be used concerning the term Crusade? Osama bin Laden and similar militant islamic fundamentalists use the term crusader when referring to Europeans and Americans. Nevertheless, in recent times the word as used by Christians and non-christians has taken on a less violent meaning than its historical origins imply, eg- the Billy Graham Crusade, the Crusade for Children, the Breast Cancer Crusade, the Patrick Crusade, et al- for the most part non-violent/humanitarian endeavors. Using Dr. Furnish's argument, an Islamic fundamentalist would be right in suspecting these programs as covers for Western violent expansionism since historically the term Crusade was used by various Western leaders to justify their imperialist aims.

Thomas Mackie - 1/15/2003

Thank you Dr. Furnish for writing on the pre-crusade years of Islam. I am not even a midevalist but I knew the battle between West and East goes long before the Crusades. Numerous PBS specials and shows have passed the edge of propaganda when dealing with Islam. Who writes their scripts?

Richard Dyke - 1/15/2003

I enjoy reading the views of historians and history buffs and the public on HNN, but my take on this article is that history is not too helpful in understanding the Osama Bin Laden and friends' current jihad against the West, except in terms of repeating some historical patterns.

First, no political power on earth is ever blameless or saintly, or they would not be a "power." Bin Laden's group is a tiny enclave with extreme religious views and murderous intent, and they should be dealt with accordingly, as has been done through history. Action begats reaction. The murder of 3,000 Americans in the Twin Towers can never be justified and force has and will be met with force. When you have Muslims like Osama Bin Laden who feels justified in killing thousands, or Saddam Hussein who offers the families of suicide bombers $25,000 for their deeds, or (let's hit closer to home) right-wing Christians who think they can kill people because they don't like legal abortion, then these people have to be dealt with. And it is not going to be pretty, as it never is. It surprises me that so many people think the Palestinians are completely without sin, hapless victims of the Jews, when this same group attempted to annihilate the Jews in 1948 in the first Arab-Israeli War because Jews were streaming into Palestine. The Powhatans tried to annihilate the Europeans in in the colony of Virginia in 1622 for largely the same reason--concern that they were being overrun. Both Palestinians and Powhatans paid a dear price to a "Pearl Harbor" style attack. No, No, none are without sin, and people who use history or other justifications to cover their deeds misunderstand that ultimately and about everywhere, no one has controlled from the very beginning. History is the story of waves of people overcoming other waves of people, who overcame still other waves of people, and students should be taught the patterns of history, rather than history as justification. In short, as Mr. Furnish points out, our often incredibly uninformed media push a political line that is often against our own culture and political system, seeing others as victims and us as perpetrators. Harold Pinter's recent comments are along this line, suggesting that the West and the United States in particular, is a bully because of our real concerns about developments in Iraq. He fails to put his comments in either a solid historical or political context. Mr. Bush can ill afford the luxury of ignoring very serious developments in the Middle East that are a threat to American security. The public would have his head if he did, and he knows that.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/15/2003

Thank you for your responses. I learned something from each of them.

I did reread Furnish's article, and his argument concerning the use of the Crusades is more nuanced than I had first perceived. (The facts that others brought up were also important.) And, again, I agree that too many of the attempts to (rightly) show that Islam is not simply about violence have gone way too far. We need sharp criticism of such simplicities and mistakes.

But I still think that Furnish does some questionable over-simplification himself by flipping the Muslims into the agressors and Christians into defenders.

Up to the Enlightenment, both religions believed in the unity of Church (or Mosque) and state. Depending upon time and location, both had periods of toleration and terrible cruelty. Both attacked and defended. I am not sure that this was entirely even, but I do not possess the knowledge to decide who attacked whom most.

As far as the stated Ottoman desire to conquer Europe in the name of Allah up to the end of WWI, that is true, but the fact needs to stand in context with the considerable efforts of Christian nations of the same period to conquer in the name of God, the state, and the economy. There is a lot of blood being spilled by both sides.

And again, I am not sure that the different meaning ascribed to "jihad" can be termed as legitimate and illegitimate. In any event, it is more important to know what Muslims actually believe, and I think that varies far more than the writings of Mullahs would indicate.

I know that in discussions like this, generalizations are unavoidable, but I think that many of the generalizations being tossed into the public, are so simplistic (and so often stated with such a deep tone of contempt--whether for the West or forIslam) that all they do is create satisfaction among those that agree, anger among opponents, and confusion everywhere else.

Having said that, I know that a mooshy sort of "we are all killers, we are all saints" rhetoric can create its own problems and misconceptions, particularly when trying to figure out what we should do next.

Still, in times of high emotion, it is useful to look at the facts carefully and interpret them carefully and to not add more anger than the facts require.

Alec Lloyd - 1/15/2003

The causes of the Crusades are many and far too complex for a single article. Indeed, historians still debate this.

However, at their core, they were defensive in nature. In 1071 the main Byzantine field army was utterly destroyed at Manzikert. As a result, central Anatolia (and its vital recruiting grounds and population centers) was lost to the Muslims. The heart of the Byzantine Empire was gone.

In desperation, the Byzantines appealed for aid. Evidence suggests they wanted nothing more than some mercenaries and money, perhaps some small allied contingents. Instead, they got a holy war.

Manzikert itself was a defensive battle to repel invaders, but you won’t see that anywhere, either.

Bill Heuisler - 1/14/2003

Mr. Chamberlain,
You wrote, "Over 300 years lies between the Battle of Tours and Pope Urban's call for the First Crusade."
Have you forgotten The Byzantine Empire? Belisarius and other Byzantine Generals and Emperors defeated Vandals, Ostrogoths, Huns, Bulgars, Greeks and Persians to rule the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. When Heraclius concluded peace with the Persians at Ctesiphon in 628 all Persian conquests were returned to them and the Holy Cross was restored to Jerusalem. But peace in the Middle East was shattered only a few years later when the Arabs under Abu Bakr burst from their Arabian homeland and began to fulfill the Sixth Fundamental Duty set forth in the Koran: Holy War.
From the defeat of Theodore, brother of Emperor Heraclius between Gaza and Jerusalem in 634 to the total subjugation of Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, North Africa, Spain, the multiple sieges of Constantinople, taking the Balkans and the eventual attacks on Vienna, Arabs/Moslems were constantly on the attack before, during and after the Crusades.
The Crusades were futile reaction to ceaseless Arab aggression.
Arab aggression was reaction to the teachings of Muhammad.
Bill Heuisler

donkates - 1/14/2003

If you have read Prof. Furnish correctly, your criticism is not amiss. But I bslieve you have misread him. As I understand the article, all he is saying is that various politically correct American apologists for terrorism (or mitigators thereof) have solemnly asserted that Islam never attacked Christian nations and assumed or suggested that the Middle East and N. Africa are "Muslim" areas. The simple fact is that the entire area from most of modern Turkey and the Middle East all the way to the Atlantic coast of Africa were Christian until conquered by Islam in the 7th and 8th Centuries. By the same token, the Crusades were a Christian attempt to conquer them back.
Lest you have any questions: 1) I am not a Christian or a Christian apologist; 2) I have no difficulty conceding that 7th-8th Century Muslim conquerors were at least marginally more civilized and less brutish than the Crusaders (who were, in their treatment of ordinary people, loathsomely murderous); and 3) as between brutal despotisms, I could care less what their religion or lack thereof is.
Today (though not as late as the 20th Century) there is no comparison at all in either relative brutality or free and popular government between the West and the Islamic nations. The worst European or even Latin American nations are at least equal to the best Islamic nations -- today. As an historical matter, to read the history of Islam is to be steeped in hideous brutality. Ditto for the history of Christianity. A pox on both their houses.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/14/2003

Furnish makes one good point. The relationship between the term "jihad" and violence has been soft-pedaled. He is right to point that out.

However, he takes this to an inaccurate extreme by suggesting that it is never used by Muslims to mean a more personal struggle or "self-improvement."

Terms, particularly religious terms, can change in meaning over time, or mean different things to different people in the same religion and at the same time.

Given the testimony that these documentaries and articles have utilized to support their more pacific definition, either there is a grand conspiracy of liars, or this usage is fairly widespread as one meaning of "jihad." The flaw in these pieces is in not admitting that other more violent meanings don't have legitimacy.

As for the Crusades as a counter-attack, that is a stretch. Over 300 years lies between the Battle of Tours and Pope Urban's call for the First Crusade.

Also the first Crusade was not about pushing back boundaries in response to attacks, but about going near the heart of the Islamic World and capturing a hunk of it.

To my knowledge there were no Islamic actions preceding Pope Urban's call that required taking Jerusalem--or slaughtering its inhabitants--as a response.

Again, I am not arguing that the actions of the West in the Crusade provides moral justification for slaughter today.

I am arguing that looking back to the time of Crusades and finding them to be self-defense is as much bad history as the documentaries and articles he denounces.

In short, Furnish does no good to the discussion of Islamic-Western relations by simply taking the distortions of one group of comentators, turning them on their head, and spinning out unnuanced and inaccurate statements of his own.

All that does is add a new layer of distortions to a discussion that simply begs for clarity.

Steven May - 1/14/2003

It should be such a simple part of a journalist's methodology to get the facts on such relatively exotic stories as Middle Eastern religion, culture, and history. Why write from the hip? Why should a Ph.D. have to post the corrections when the journalists could have contacted him (or a similarly qualified expert), before they posted their stories? Thanks for the clear additions and corrections.

don kates - 1/13/2003

Without at all trying to undercut this erudite essay, I have one minor quibble. The author, Prof. Furnish, seems to assume that the misrepresentations re "jihad," pre-Crusades aggression by Muslims against Christian lands, etc. stem from political cor-
rectness by liberal apologists in the media. While that may be true in numerous cases, I think it hides a greater -- and even more significant -- truth. I would bet Prof. Furnish that if we could discover the truth would find more media types who are making the comments he rightly deplores out of gross ignorance of the relevant history of the Middle East which Prof. F is discussing.