Archives for posts with tag: Islam

Now that the incident in Paris is a few days old, I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts about it.

I was struck by a tweet sent out by Michael Deacon of the Telegraph. It made me rethink this dreadful incident.

I agree.

In the end, the terrorists probably didn’t care much about drawings of Muhammad or the insult to Islam. What was more on their mind was attacking something that we in the West hold very dear; in this case, freedom of expression. This was something likely to provoke a response aimed at the wider Muslim community. With the fire-bombings of mosques and the bolstering of anti-immigrant marches, they succeeded in getting the reaction they expected. Our culture holds other things in high esteem: tolerance, sexual freedom, secularism, Christianity, the right to vote. We should expect attacks on them too.

Contrary to some official statements, the jihadi death cults DO have something to do with Islam. But no more so than the Shining Path and the Khmer Rouge were related to socialism, or the Nazi terror emerged from nationalism. It’s not inevitable that religion – even ideology – will create death cults. All they do is to provide a fertile background from which a death cult narrative can emerge. Despite how deep the flaws in the underlying philosophies, we can’t blame all adherents of an ideology for the emergence of nihilistic terrorism from within.

We need to make a very clear distinction between Islam and the jihadi death culture. Jihadism is a narrative, a story that has been carefully concocted to deny its adherents their basic humanity. It’s a story that places themselves as the victim, fighting against a conspiracy of epic proportions, where everyone on the outside is the enemy – men, women and little children. It’s a narrative that appeals to a certain personality and a certain mindset. Even when people are born into the most desperate of circumstances, it is not inevitable that they will radicalise into death cult adherents.

While countering the social circumstances that create fertile recruitment grounds for jihadism, we need to combat that narrative. One way to do this is to show alternatives from within the community itself. We need to celebrate and support Muslim successes and the essential humanism that is as much part of their community as it is ours. Now is not a time to alienate our Muslim compatriots. It’s a time to embrace them. They are as much victims of this horror as we are, if not more so.

I’ve just finished reading a marvellous historical book: Thomas Asbridge’s “The Crusades – The War for the Holy Land”. There are many things to love about this work. It presents a very coherent narrative all the way through, explaining the key events and the important sequences clearly, without relying on military jargon. It brings many of the protagonists to life, giving you a sense of their inner workings, motivations and weaknesses. It also presents a picture of life through the eyes of the different combatants, providing explanations for sometimes inexplicable actions. Covering almost 200 years of history and a host of different characters, this is no easy thing. I would thoroughly recommend it.

In some ways, the book is not really about the Crusades at all. The book’s focus is the Crusader states of Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli and Jerusalem; from their establishment to their demise in the late 1200’s. Some Crusades, such as the Second and Fourth Crusades, are barely mentioned and the machinations of popes and princes in Europe take secondary place to the key events in the Levant.  A large section of the book is taken up with the events from 1100 to 1192, when crusading was a relatively minor aspect of life in the “Outremer”.

The role of religion is explored in the book. Unquestionably, religious devotion inspired legions of Crusaders to travel to the Holy Land, provoking a reciprocal commitment to jihad within the Muslim population. It was secular pragmatism, however, that sustained the Crusader states over much of their lifespans. Christian princes formed treaties and alliances with their erstwhile enemies, while cross-cultural trade and commerce flourished in the Near East during this time. Political changes were often a function of practical concerns, brought about by shifting alliances and crises of leadership. Religious idealism, as a force for change, was markedly less effective. Attempts by the clergy to organise their own expeditions usually ended in abject failure, costing the lives of many Crusaders while meriting barely a footnote in the history of the region.

Most of the people in this story lived short, brutal lives. If battle didn’t kill them, illnesses such as cholera and dysentery did the job. Irrespective of whether you were Christian or Muslim, you would have been lucky indeed to reach the age of forty. Children grew up quickly, if they made it to their teens at all. From the many massacres detailed in the book, life was cheap in the extreme. The inhabitants of a besieged city, once fallen, could expect no mercy. Even the elite did not have it easy. Kings and sultans at the height of their powers often succumbed to illnesses or murderous intrigues at a comparatively young age, prompting vicious power struggles amongst remaining family members. Slavery was rife and punishments were exceedingly cruel. How these conditions motivated people to live their lives, sacrificing all for the dreams of salvation, we can only guess.

Although Asbridge was eager not to make connections between the Islamic / Christian culture wars of today, I feel that an altogether different, more enduring parallel can be made between then and now. I was struck by a sense of familiarity reading about characters such as Baldwin I, Saladin, Richard the Lionheart and Louis IX. Despite a gap of nearly one millennium, these individuals came across as surprisingly modern to me. It struck me that they were not unlike modern businessmen, with interests to protect, opportunities to exploit and competitors to fend off. The elites operated in a relatively lawless world, similar to the modern corporate landscape, differing only in the amount of blood spilled. Their levels of strategic insight would put many an MBA to shame. These leaders benefitted greatly from advances in technology such as trebuchets, crossbows, navies and Greek Fire, while setting up information systems using messengers, homing pigeons, spies and an elaborate network of express couriers, in the case of later Malmuk rulers. I can’t help but think, were you to transport Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch or Steve Jobs back to these times they would have readily donned a suit of armour, leading their armies into battle. When it comes to business, some things never change.

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