SHADO BLOOD W OF A Y PAST; for Centuries, Islam and Christianity Were Locked in a Brutal Conflict Most Have Forgotten. the Horror, a Top Historian Argues, Is That for Jihadis It's as Real Today as It Was in the Middle Ages

Daily Mail (London), November 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

SHADO BLOOD W OF A Y PAST; for Centuries, Islam and Christianity Were Locked in a Brutal Conflict Most Have Forgotten. the Horror, a Top Historian Argues, Is That for Jihadis It's as Real Today as It Was in the Middle Ages


Byline: SATURDAY by Tom Holland ESSAY

THE grievances of the Islamic terrorists who have brought carnage and bloodshed to the streets of Paris twice this year reach far back into history.

In their minds, it is not simply wanton violence, but the continuation of a struggle which has raged for more than a millennium. That is what Osama bin Laden was talking about when he warned the Muslim world back in 1996 that 'the people of Islam have always suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusader alliance'.

Today, ISIS nurtures its resentments in a similarly poisonous manner. In the gloating communique it released after the terror attacks in Paris last week, France was condemned, in decidedly medieval terms, as the capital of 'the Cross'. This is because jihadis see themselves as being engaged in a war as old as Islam itself: a struggle for global supremacy against Christianity.

Such a reading of history reflects the undoubted fact that both religions have long cast themselves as being destined to prevail across the entire world. The tensions between them, then, are hardly surprising.

There were Christians in the Middle Ages who believed Islam to be nothing more than a heretical plagiarism of their own faith, and Muhammad a giant, jewel-encrusted idol. In a corresponding spirit, the Islamic holy book the Koran accused Christians of having corrupted the Bible. In the early 7th Century, when Muhammad embarked on his prophetic mission to found Islam, the vast majority of people in the Middle East were Christian.

YET by 650 AD, fewer than 20 years after Muhammad's death in 632 AD, Arab armies had conquered most of the Middle East, and brought huge numbers of Christians under their rule. The emergent empire grew fat on taxes levied upon those who had been conquered.

What, though, of those Christians who refused to submit to the Arabs? The Byzantine Empire - effectively the eastern portion of the Roman Empire - still held out, although it lost Syria, Palestine and all its North African provinces.

By the 8th Century, 100 years after the death of Muhammad, it was becoming clear that the Islamic caliphate that had been established was not, after all - as Muslims had originally hoped - destined to conquer the world in one fell swoop.

Though they had swept westwards to Morocco and eastwards deep into central Asia, Arab armies had still experienced the occasional rebuff.

Their most formidable foes, as they had been from the very beginning, were the Byzantines, whose capital, the great city of Constantinople, ranked as the bulwark of Christendom.

Twice besieged by the Arabs, it twice stood firm, such that its enemies came to regard their war with the Byzantines as a grinding stalemate: one that might well endure for numberless generations.

Unsurprisingly, then, during the 8th Century, Muslims began to conceive of the world as divided between the House of Islam and a Christian 'House of War', sinister in its disbelief, obdurate in its defiance of the message of the Holy Koran. Sayings became attributed to Muhammad which cast warfare in the cause of the Muslim god as a duty of the Faithful, such as: 'I was ordered to fight all men until they say, "There is no god but Allah".' Slaughtering Christians was cast not merely as an option for dutiful Muslims, but as a positive obligation. One veteran of warfare against the Byzantines gave a blistering retort to a battle-shy friend who had boasted of his peaceable pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina. 'Your worship is mere play. For you the fragrance of spices, but for us the fragrance of dust, and dirt, and blood flowing down our necks - which is altogether more pleasant.' Meanwhile, in the west of Europe, Christian kings were struggling to reconcile Christ's teaching to turn the other cheek with their own martial instincts. They had little choice.

Arab pirates swept the coasts of Italy and southern France, plundering entire provinces for human booty, while in Spain, Muslims had conquered an empire that left the peninsula's Christians confined like wolves to mountains and barren plains. …

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SHADO BLOOD W OF A Y PAST; for Centuries, Islam and Christianity Were Locked in a Brutal Conflict Most Have Forgotten. the Horror, a Top Historian Argues, Is That for Jihadis It's as Real Today as It Was in the Middle Ages
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