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John Feffer

John Feffer

Posted: April 13, 2010 09:01 PM

The Really Really Long War

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Let's imagine that the Cold War was a detour. The entire 20th century, in fact, was a detour. Since conflicts among the 20th-century ideologies (liberalism, communism, fascism) cost humanity so dearly, it's hard to conceive of World War II and the clashes that followed as sideshows. And yet many people have begun to do just that. They view the period we find ourselves in right now -- the so-called post-Cold War era -- as a return to a much earlier time and a much earlier confrontation. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq aren't discrete battles against a tyrant (Saddam Hussein) or a tyrannical group (the Taliban). They fit together with Turkey's resurgence, the swell of Muslim immigration to Europe, and Israel's settlement policy to form part of a much larger struggle.

Welcome to Crusade 2.0.

For those who see Islam as a civilizational threat, the key dates aren't 1945 or 1989 but rather 1683, 1492, 1099, and 732. The very mention of these watershed years stirs the blood of the modern-day crusader. In 1683, thanks to the intercession of the Polish cavalry, Christian forces beat back Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Vienna, preventing Islam from spreading to Western Europe. In 1492, Christian armies recovered all of Spain from Muslim rulers. In 1099, during the first Crusade, the European army seized Jerusalem. And in 732, Charles Martel led the Franks in a victory over the forces of the Ummayad Caliphate, ensuring that Islam would not spread beyond its conquests in Spain.

Today, many Europeans are enlisting in a modern crusade. They see the threat of 732, with Islamic immigrants coming in from North Africa and bringing their culture and customs -- like the mosque and the veil -- to secular France and multicultural Switzerland. They see the threat of 1683, with Turkey planning to join and then take over the European Union. And they stand with Israel to protect Jerusalem from the demands of Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world.

In defense of their crusade, they point to acts of terrorism committed by Islamic fundamentalists (the 2004 Madrid bombings, the 2005 London bombings), occasional acts of violence (the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, a rash of honor killings), the fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie, and so on. These incidents, they argue, add up to a pattern: an attempt to destroy the Judeo-Christian world, reestablish the caliphate dismantled by Ataturk in 1924, impose sharia law, and turn the world into a version of Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Although Muslims represent only 3-4 percent of Europe's population, today's crusaders see the outlines of Eurabia emerging, a Muslim takeover of the continent through shrewd politics and inexorable birthrates. A "civilization of dhimmitude," Bat Ye'or calls the endpoint of this strategy, in which "subjugated, non-Muslim individuals or peoples...accept the restrictive and humiliating subordination to an ascendant Islamic power to avoid enslavement or death." Muslims will conquer "Europe's cities, street by street," the Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell argues in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe.

This isn't just the opinion of a few intemperate pundits. A surprisingly large number of Europeans simply don't like Muslims. More than 50 percent of Germans and Spaniards "rate Muslims unfavorably," the Pew Global Attitudes Project diplomatically reported. The recent Swiss referendum banning future construction of minarets has proved quite popular among those polled in other European countries, writes Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Jeanne Kay.

"The populist right doesn't hold a monopoly on the clash-of-civilization narrative in Europe," she continues in Europe's Islamophobia. "Parties of the moderate right have jumped on the Islamophobia bandwagon to gain political capital from the sordid national identity debate. They are sometimes even joined by social democrats under the banner of liberal values. Mainstream politicians most often invoke 'Enlightenment' values to stigmatize features of Islam. In the Netherlands, the alleged incompatibility of Islam with the country's historic gay-positive culture is a critical argument in anti-Islamic rhetoric. But co-opting liberalism is particularly prominent in the debate over the veil in public spaces, a hot issue across Western Europe."

Islamophobia isn't even a dirty word in Europe. Novelist Martin Amis displayed a prejudice worthy of his father Kingsley's infamous anti-Semitism when he declared in 2006 that "the Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. Not letting them travel. Deportation further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or Pakistan." Even before September 11, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee proudly declared, "I am an Islamophobe." As journalist Peter Osborne wrote, "Anti-Semitism is recognized as an evil, noxious creed, and its adherents are barred from mainstream society and respectable organs of opinion. Not so Islamophobia."

Islamic extremists have certainly committed crimes. So have extremists of other faiths. But no one, as far as I know, has recommended the deportation of Christians and the strip-searching of people who look like they're from Iowa simply because of the Oklahoma City bombing or the killing of abortion providers.

The question here is whether Islam as a religion poses a threat to Europe or to the United States. Outspoken atheists like Christopher Hitchens have argued that all religions pose a threat to humanity. But the arguments of atheists aside, Islam isn't a threat unless you adopt the crusader mentality. Put simply, intolerance and bigotry lie at the root of Islamophobia -- that and a thousand years of protracted conflict and bloodshed.

Here in the United States, fear of Islam ranks considerably lower than in Europe, according to the aforementioned Pew poll: 23 percent of Americans view Muslims unfavorably. But fear of an Islamic planet has clearly trumped fear of a Black planet: we elected Barack Obama, but only after he made strenuous efforts to ensure the electorate that he was a good, church-going Christian. Remember what John McCain said during the presidential campaign when a member of his audience accused Obama of being an Arab: "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man." Excuse me? I didn't realize that "decent family man" was the antonym of Arab.

"As a young American Muslim raised in this country, I'm not sure whether America is willing to truly incorporate Muslims or merely assimilate us," writes FPIF contributor M. Junaid Levesque-Alam in Muslims in America, "whether the nation views us as a potential pillar or a probable fifth column. Fine phrases about freedom cannot, after all, gild the discrimination, suspicion, and occasional outright hostility we have faced here amid the sustained neoconservative assault of the past decade."

It wasn't long ago that American Jews asked themselves the same questions. In the Pew survey, anti-Semitism was very low in the United States (only 7 percent of Americans had unfavorable views of Jews). In Europe, however, anti-Semitism has gone hand in hand with Islamophobia (46 percent of Spaniards and 36 percent of Poles viewed Jews negatively). For Europe, at least, the two intolerances have often intersected. In the first crusade, for instance, Christian forces engaged in a wave of attacks against Jews on their way through Germany and in the retaking of Jerusalem. Later, the re-conquest of Spain in 1492 coincided with the expulsion of the Jews, both events meriting more attention at the time than the travels of Columbus.

The seven crusades that lasted from 1096 to 1291 weren't just about Christians versus Muslims. In the Fourth Crusade, for instance, Christian forces attacked fellow Christians during the sack of Constantinople in 1204. "For three days and nights, the Crusaders murdered, raped, looted, or destroyed everyone and everything they could get their hands on. Untold thousands perished; many more were brutalized, maimed, left homeless," writes Colin Wells in Sailing from Byzantium. "In the great church of Hagia Sophia...looters stripped the silken wall hangings, smashed the icons, tore apart the gold and silver furnishings, and then brought mules inside to load with booty. Some of the mules slipped and fell, unable to regain their footing on the blood-slicked marble floor."

Today's crusaders, in their attacks on Islam, would have a hard time rivaling the murderous destruction of their predecessors. But they can still do serious damage -- and not just to Muslims. In trying to "save" Western civilization, they will end up, like the looting crusaders in the Hagia Sophia, fouling the wellsprings of their own tradition and making a mockery of their professed values.

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