Throughout the Muslim world, from Morocco to Nigeria to Indonesia — and even occasionally in Western Europe and North America — Christians are being harassed, tortured, and murdered. Reuters reported in January 2012 that a hundred million Christians were being persecuted, while a few years earlier Britain’s Secret Service, M16, put the number closer to two hundred million. In November 2012 German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Christianity “the most persecuted religion worldwide,” a statement that elicited condemnation from many world leaders. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe estimates that a Christian is killed for his faith every five minutes.
History provides a large part of the answer. Islam, from its beginnings, in contrast to Christianity, promised its followers worldly success and prosperity. From Mohammed’s first raids, down through the centuries of conquests that followed, Islam has been a religion of victors vanquishing victims. Contemporary Muslim lands in the Middle East and Africa include what were once great centers of Christendom, such as Jerusalem, Alexandria, Damascus, Antioch, and Constantinople. Lest anyone forget, imperialism is not a Western invention.
Having conquered vast territory, Muslims then went on to dominate it by imposing the cruelties of Sharia law and dhimmitude, both of which reduce “infidels,” non-Muslims, to servile positions. Ibrahim provides examples of brutal conditions under Muslim rule during these early conquests when, “according to one medieval Muslim historian, over the two year course of a particularly ruthless Christian persecution campaign, some 30,000 churches were burned or pillaged in Egypt and Syria alone.” Under the Abbasid rule in A.D. 936, the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, believed to have been built atop the tomb of Christ, was burned down. Nearly a century later, Caliph Hakim bi-Amr Allah (996-1021) ordered the dismantling of what was left of the church, including the digging up of its foundations, in addition to the destruction of “Golgotha and the church of Saint Constantine as well as all the sacred grave stones. They even tried to dig up the graves and wipe out all traces of their existence.” Though apologists for Islam admit that Hakim was a madman, they coyly offer him as an aberration, implying that Christians suffered only under his rule. Not so, writes Ibrahim, for there is “no dearth of Muslim leaders throughout the whole of Islamic history that have persecuted Christians and their churches.”
Many of us in our youth read stories of medieval Europe in which “Mohammedans,” “Moors,” “Saracens,” and “Turks” were fearsome antagonists. When we got to high school and university, somehow that feature of European life played a less prominent role or was even absent from history courses. It seems, though, that our earliest stories were accurate, and Ibrahim provides a broad set of facts to support this.
In the first decades of its existence, Islam had conquered half the Christian lands in the world and appeared to be on such a roll that it would soon squash Europe into a single Islamic polity. “In fact,” Ibrahim writes, “Europe as we know it was forged in large measure by the Islamic conquests, which severed the Latin West from the Greek East, turning the once highly trafficked Mediterranean into a ‘Muslim Lake’ — so that, in the words of medieval Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, ‘the Christians could no longer float a plank upon the sea.’” Belgian historian Henri Pirenne makes the same point when he writes, “The classic tradition was shattered because Islam had destroyed the ancient unity of the Mediterranean” (Mohammed and Charlemagne, 1959).
In 1798 Napoleon invaded and handily conquered Egypt, in the heart of the Muslim world. This conquest was followed in the nineteenth century by other European powers subjugating and colonizing Muslim territories. These invasions traumatized Muslims, for prior to this their centuries-long winning streak intensified the triumphalism inherent in their religion. Muslims’ loss of confidence fell further as they witnessed close-up the power and dynamism of Western ideas and technology. Ibrahim quotes the late Osama bin Laden to the effect that “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.”
Muslims saw the West, synonymous for them with Christianity, as the strong horse, and they both feared and admired it. As Ibrahim writes with characteristic directness, “The reason for this admiration is simple: Islam, the quintessential religion of might makes right, teaches respect for power.” Some twentieth-century leaders like Mustafa Kemal Attaturk in Turkey, the Shah in Iran, and Gamal Nasser in Egypt attempted to emulate, at least in theory, Western ideas of nationalism, modernism, and secularization. During this time of Western confidence and hegemony, which extended to about 1950, Christians were tolerated in Muslim countries, and some even called this a “Golden Age for Christians” in the Islamic world.
Of course, some Muslims remained loyal to their old ways, but by the early twentieth century Western scholars saw Islam as “a spent force, an ideology on the wrong side of history.” That they would think this is understandable. After all, the much-extolled “secular city” had triumphed in the West, and it became difficult to imagine that the appetites for consumer items and sexual freedom it unleashed could abate.
But then the West began pulling up stakes in the Islamic world and elsewhere, while simultaneously adopting the religion of sentimentality as a replacement for Christianity. Soon, influential Westerners filled the air with mea culpas for their earlier imperialism and other alleged sins. Ibrahim shows in this book, as well as in his first book, The Al-Qaeda Reader, that the West’s orgy of self-criticism handed the Muslims all the propaganda weapons they required to rationalize the renewal of their attacks on the West. These rationalizations were so eagerly swallowed by our useful idiots that bin Laden poured it on even thicker by writing that the 9/11 attack was partly motivated by America’s failure to ratify the Kyoto treaty on climate change!
What few understood amid this confessional pose adopted by the West was that Islam sees imperialism as the normal exercise of power. So when Westerners began apologizing for what to Muslims were normal actions, Muslims’ respect for the West declined further. At the same time, they grabbed these propaganda clubs handed to them and proceeded to bash the infidels with their own words. Ibrahim argues further that this loss of respect spiraled downward into contempt when Islam saw “the new culture of sexual licentiousness, moral relativism, godlessness, and even the Western self-hatred that flooded Western societies in the late 1960s and 1970s, though they had roots going back decades earlier.” Sayyid Qutb, the twentieth century’s most renowned Islamic scholar and author of a thirty-volume commentary on the Koran, came to the U.S. in the 1940s. Though he had advocated that “Muslims should emulate Western science and technology,” visiting America radicalized him. Qutb insisted that, using Sharia law, Muslims must first clean up their own countries and then those of the rest of the world. Islamic supremacy and aggression, features of that old-time religion from the seventh century, were revived.
Nothing better exemplifies this revival than the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when Islam reasserted itself in the fiery leadership of the Ayatollah Khomeini and various bearded and morose mullahs who inveighed against “the Great Satan.” Their exaltation of Islam and loathing of America led to the overthrow of the Shah and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran — not only an act of war but also a repudiation of centuries-old international protocols. “Islam is back!” these actions screamed loudly, though many people saw them as isolated episodes, perhaps the last gasp of an antiquated ideology, rather than the harbinger of thirty-five years of terrorism. Still wallowing in ignorance, many Westerners dismiss Muslims’ ravaging and killing as merely an extended bad-hair day, a departure from Islam’s enlightened and peaceful past. But the truth is the reverse: The former period of tolerance toward Christians in Muslim lands is an exception, and the present attacks on Christians are the norm.
American and European opinion-makers in the universities, among the intelligentsia, and in the media began to demonize Western tradition in the 1970s and to favor “indigenous peoples” and any exotic “ethnic identity.” Thus came the growth of “multiculturalism” and “diversity,” categories implicitly justified as compensation for centuries of mistreatment. Unfortunately, many ethnic traditions include varieties of tribalism, sometimes expressed as racism or anti-Semitism. Via “noble savage” quackery, Western intellectuals broadened the pathway for once Westward-looking Muslims to return to their roots. History became a melodrama wherein the West is the villain and Islam the noble victim. Within these assigned roles, the true history of the relationship between the West and Islam reversed, with the West cast as greedy, violent crusaders who invaded peaceful, prosperous Muslim lands.
From such melodrama, Ibrahim reports, we get Robert Fisk, correspondent for The Independent, who follows this script of “spot the victim.” Fisk has criticized Christians for supporting status-quo candidates like Ahmed Shafiq in Egypt, not understanding that Christians are the victims and that jihadist alternatives to these regimes will kill Christians and burn their churches while imposing Sharia law. Former President Bill Clinton misreads the situation in much the same way when he relies on materialist explanations. “What’s fueling all this stuff,” he says, is “inequality and poverty.” When the Nigerian government uses force against the Boko Haram jihadist gang for killing Christians, Mr. Clinton preaches that such “violence” will not solve the problem. Violence, however, is the problem. From these ignominious examples, Ibrahim points to a pathetic irony: The Muslims presently persecuting Christians are themselves descendants of Christians who were persecuted by the same ideology and in the same terrible circumstances.
Raymond Ibrahim was born in America of Coptic Christian parents and has traveled widely in the Middle East. He has appeared before the U.S. Congress and on national radio and television, and he writes regularly for major newspapers and scholarly journals. His comprehensive description of the persecution of Christians by Muslims is extensively documented. While Crucified Again might not provide much comfort, it is necessary reading for those who wish to understand the dynamic that propels the Islamic threat.
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