Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't say Crusade

One of my concerns over the recent attacks on Libyan targets by "Western" allies is that the sight of Westerners bombing Muslims again would strengthen the Islamist Crusader Narrative.

This is the idea that a Christian West is attempting a new Crusade against Muslims by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting Israel, backing anti-Islamist dictators like Hosni Mubarak and so on. This grossly simplistic narrative is applied to complex events, ignoring modern secularism, the divisions between Catholicism and myriad Protestant churches and the pro-peace mutterings of modern Popes. It is ludicrous, but the narrative gained strength in 2001 when US President George W Bush made the following comment:

This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. And the American people must be patient. I'm going to be patient.

Bush failed to recognise that "crusade" had another meaning for some Muslims than the one he had intended. Here the word had changed to any campaign or moral cause. Here we can refer to Batman as the Caped Crusader: a man wearing a cape who seeks to make the world better. But some Muslims remembered the word as the medieval invasion of the Middle East by European Christians.

Today I woke to a thread on a Pakistani Orkut community entitled: "Why do the Crusaders still attacking Libya?" Throughout the thread some Pakistanis mock the idea of attacks on Libya being a "crusade", but others repeat it, one saying:

In these crusade wars, jews and hindus are allies of christians.... did you ever hear of Bush's speech about crusades?

So it seems that the Libya intervention is already being interpreted in terms of the Crusader Narrative by some observers. Since this narrative promotes a violent Islamist resistance to the perceived crusade, it seems deeply counter-productive to give it strength.

7 comments:

  1. I'm find it hard to understand how people can think of western intervention into the middle east as being crusades in the medieval sense. The west propagates one of the worst Islamic regimes - Saudi Arabia. Not to mention all the weapons sold to these countries. Check out the article in the Guardian (remove spaces):

    h t t p : / / w w w . g u a r d i a n . c o . u k / c o m m e n t i s f r e e / 2 0 1 1 / f e b / 2 0 / t e a r g a s - f o r - t y r a n t s

    I suppose the west is just trying to make the fight fairer!

    These 'crusade' arguments amuse me because the religious revel in the belief that they're being victimized. No one loves a martyr more than a religious zealot. Look at the pope who feels that catholics are the most persecuted group in the world. I somehow feel he wishes this was true. Maybe that's why the main persecutor of catholics in the world is the catholic church.

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  2. One of the motivating factors for bin Laden was the presence of the US military in Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists despise the Saudis because of their alliance with the US and because of perceptions of corruption (moral and legal) among the Saudi elites. The whole thing is crazily complex, which is why these simplistic narratives are so powerful, cutting through reason and evidence to deliver compelling world views.

    For example, see how often the US has gone to war on behalf of Muslims: Kuwait attacked by Iraq, Bosnia by Serbia and Kosovo by Serbia too. The US also spent years criticising Russia for its violence in Muslim-majority Chechnya. Muslims and Americans have common rivals in Burma too, and possibly China.

    Yet all that is ignored by fanatics (on both sides) who seek this mad simplistic Crusader Narrative. Online I've come across Westerners who also talked about the "War on Terror" as a war on Islam, freely using words like Crusade. Which seems CRAZY to me!

    Totally agree that victimhood is a powerful attraction. I see this in a great many political movements (feminist, socialist, conservative, nationalist, etc.) but I suppose it's particulary useful for violent groups. If people can convince themselves that they're already being victimised, it becomes easier to justify "defensive" aggression.

    Cheers for the comment! Off to hit the sack now, shouldn't be getting worked up thinking about global politics before bed :P

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  3. "No one loves a martyr more than a religious zealot."

    "If people can convince themselves that they're already being victimised, it becomes easier to justify "defensive" aggression."

    True!

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  4. "Online I've come across Westerners who also talked about the 'War on Terror' as a war on Islam, freely using words like Crusade."

    Some of these Westerners argue that Crusades were a defensive retaliation against Muslim conquests. They completely ignore the fact that they waited like 400 years (!?!) for retaliating and that the Crusaders had no interest to protect their Christian brethren in Anatolia and elsewhere.

    Obviously they have never heard about the 4th Crusade when the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, causing Byzantine Empire to weaken and divide. And also they kept the captured territories for themselves - Antioch, Edessa, etc. [with the exception of Nicaea] - instead of returning them to the Byzantines. [Despite promising that they would in return of logistic support!] So much for defending Christianity against Muslims! They arrived to the region as conquerors as much as the Muslims 400 years before them.

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  5. PS: Thanks for sacking Constantinople by the way. It would have taken longer to conquer Byzantines if these Crusaders had not screwed them over like that. Cheers :D

    Anyway, sorry about the history babbling. Old habits. You're right. Don't say Crusade.

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  6. Cheers for the comments, Umut! And that's a good point about the Crusaders freeing things up for the Turks!! xD

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