Posts Tagged ‘Christians’

Pakistani blasphemy laws and minorities

November 6, 2014

Nasir Khan, November 6, 2014

This unthinkable and horrifying news of the breaking of the legs of  a working-class Christian couple and burning them alive by a large mob of Muslims in Pakistan shows the utmost inhuman acts in the name of religion in general and blasphemy laws of Pakistan in particular. (For details, see: It is also important to see that this was an extreme example of that social and moral degradation that prevails in Pakistan. The morbid disregard shown by some extremist or even some ordinary Muslims for crimes against the members of any religious minority, such as Christians, Ahmadis or Hindus, etc. is not frowned upon by many Muslims but is rather viewed as an act of devotion to God and the Prophet. Such is the lower depth of depravity that prevails in Pakistan and very many indoctrinated ignorant  people  rejoice over such acts of  unspeakable savagery in that  country.

But there is little ground to criticise only the ‘uneducated’ or ‘brainwashed’ people; many ‘educated’ people including many lawyers also support such blasphemy laws. For instance, in 2011 Mr Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab province, a secular leader and opponent of the unjust blasphemy laws, was killed by his own bodyguard because he had spoken against the ill-treatment of Christians and advocated the repeal of the blasphemy laws. It may come as a somewhat surprise to many people in the world that many people in Pakistan had zealously demonstrated in favour of the murderer and among such demonstrators were the Pakistani lawyers who wanted to stand by the murderer and protect the blasphemy laws!

Pakistani rulers and legislators imposed the blasphemy laws in a country where Muslim populace was religious but never morbidly extremist or intolerant of other faiths or viewpoints. However, the introduction of the blasphemy laws changed things drastically. They strengthened further the hands of the rightist and obscurantist forces in the land. Such laws could easily be used and exploited in matters that had nothing to do with religion as such. For instance, they provided a pretext, a cover-up to those who to settle their private conflicts or disputes could readily accuse their opponent of having said anything derogatory about matters covered by the blasphemy laws. Thus any Christian or the follower of any other minority faith can be falsely accused by anyone; it has been happening regularly. Once charged, their fate was sealed. There was little any such accused people could do to prove their innocence because the charge of blasphemy had already tilted the balance of justice against them. To the outside world such things may seem too primitive and stupid for a country in these times. But that’s how the things are in Pakistan. And the injustices ordinary innocent people suffer especially the religious minorities are getting worse in Pakistan.

What can the international community do to stop this savagery in Pakistan? Let me leave this question for consideration to other writers and activists also. In this context, I appeal to all human human rights organisations, individuals who defend human rights and political activists for their help and solidarity for a common struggle against the most frightening crimes committed in Pakistan against the ordinary people belonging to various religious minorities. As long as the present blasphemy laws are on the statute book such brutal crimes as we saw in the case of the inhuman murder of this Christian couple will not stop. The minorities of Pakistan are extremely vulnerable and they need our help and protection. There are many things that need to be done; to demand the repeal of the blasphemy laws in one of them because these laws are a flagrant violation of human rights and a sickening misuse of Islam, a great and noble religion of compassion and toleration. This matter should also be brought before the organs of the United Nations. All civilised people around the world have a moral responsibility to raise their voice against the violations of basic human rights under the blasphemy laws and the victimisation of religious minorities in Pakistan.

(The server to Humanrights.Asia for the link seems out of order now. But the tragic news can be read on this link:

Why Are So Many Christians Conservative?

May 19, 2010
How can people who claim to be followers of Jesus be political conservatives
By Mike Lux, AlterNet, May 19, 2010

When you are in the political world, you have decisions to make every single day about who you will try to help and who you won’t. In spite of the earnest quest of good technocrats everywhere, the simple fact is that there are only a few win-win solutions. Who you tax, who you give a tax break to, what programs you cut or add to, who you tighten regulations on, and who you loosen them on, what kind of contractors are eligible for government work, which school districts and non-profit groups get federal money, etc: these political decisions are generally not win-win. Instead, they mean that one group of people win, and one group of people loses. It is the nature of politics, and you can’t take the politics out of politics.

Malasian Church Bombings

January 12, 2010

Middle East Online, Jan 12, 2010

With respect to the use of the word Allah, it cannot be disputed that Arabic speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews have collectively prayed to God as Allah throughout the last fourteen centuries. Islam clearly grants respect to Christians and Jews. The need for interfaith dialogue in Malaysia is an idea whose time is long overdue, notes Anwar Ibrahim.

We are outraged by the tragic attacks on our Christian brothers and sisters and reiterate our unequivocal condemnation of the bombing of churches in Malaysia. Today’s attack on the oldest standing church in Malaysia, the All Saints Church in Taiping, is an attack on our nation’s heritage.

Continues >>

India: Violent Gods

August 2, 2009

A ZNet Book Interview

By Angana Chatterji | ZNet,  July 31, 2009

Angana Chatterji’s  ZSpace Page

A Book Interview on Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa

Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, “Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa” is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Violent Gods’is an exploration of Hindu nationalism in India today. It details the mobilization of Hindu militant organizations as an authoritarian movement manifest throughout culture, polity, state, and economy, in religion and law, and class and caste, on gender, body, land, and memory… across the nation. The book explores that ways in which Hindu cultural dominance is manufacturing India, an emergent empire, as a ‘Hindu-secular’/Hindu majoritarian state.

As a woman of postcolonial India, of Hindu descent, ‘mixed’ caste heritage, the book is a journey in speaking with history. In freeing itself from British dominion in 1947, the Indian nation was shaped, in great part, by the will of the Hindu majority. Hindu cultural dominance has substantially defined what constitutes the ‘secular’ and ‘democratic’ in India today. Accountability demands that those of us with privilege in relation to ‘nation’ speak up, intervene. Telling a story of Hindu dominance in India is an intervention, ‘telling’ is a call to action.

Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

This book maps what I have witnessed — the architecture of civic and despotic governmentality contouring Hindu majoritarianism and nationalism in public, domestic, and everyday life. It chronicles the sustained and unchecked violences against minority Christian and Muslim communities, Adivasis (tribals) and Dalits (former ‘untouchable’ groups), and women, as well as sexual identity groups and children.

The book is a genealogical exploration of Hindu nationalism in India, with an ethnographic focus on Orissa, in eastern India, where Hindu nationalism’s terror has been prevalent since the 1990s, and where planned riots against minority peoples were carried out in 2007 and 2008. The research was conducted between 2002-2008 in urban and rural settings across Orissa in 66 villages, 11 towns, and four cities. The book records spectacles, events, public executions, the riots in Kandhamal of December 2007 and August-September 2008, as we witness the planned, methodical politics of terror unfold in its multiple registers.

In writing the book, I have made eighteen research trips to Orissa, and engaged in advocacy work on the issue. In 2005-2006, I convened the Orissa People’s Tribunal on Communalism, which was targeted, and its women members threatened with violence, by Hindu militant groups. See Human Rights Watch:

The book is situated at the intersections of Anthropology, Postcolonial, Subaltern, and South Asia Studies, and asks questions of nation making, cultural nationalism, and subaltern disenfranchisement. As a Foucauldian history of the present, this text asserts the role of ethical knowledge production as counter-memory. Through situated reflection, experimental storytelling, and ethnographic accounts, it excavates Hindutva/Hindu supremacist proliferations in manufacturing imaginative and identitarian agency for violent nationalism.

What are your hopes for “Violent Gods”? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

At the release of the book in Orissa in April 2009, I was asked if the book would provide solutions for undoing Hindu militancy and dominance in India. Books, if we are so fortunate, complicate matters further. I remain hopeful that “Violent Gods” will energize discussion, debate, contemplation about India’s present and future, the role and violence of majoritarian states and groups globally, about privilege and subalternity, security, rights, and entitlements, about freedom and dissent. I remain hopeful that the many and powerful subaltern voices and narratives in the text will compel reflection.

The learning and advocacy that led to the book has engulfed and motivated me since 2002, and facilitated shifts in my thinking, empowered me to act, to take risks as an intellectual and activist. And, for people with prolific courage that supported its writing, with their stories, their lives, at risk of reprisal — I am grateful.

In India, we witnessed the ethnic cleansing of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in 1984, genocidal violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, calculated and sustained brutality against Christians in Orissa in 2007 and 2008, and the continued subjugation of Indian-administered Kashmir. On and on… We need to think, act, change. NOW.

“Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present” by Angana P. Chatterji, from Three Essays Collective, released March 2009. More information at:

To look inside the book:

Slaughtering Iraq’s Minorities

April 29, 2009

Layla Anwar, An Arab Woman Blues

28khaledalrahal.jpg, April 29, 2009

I don’t think you have read this in any of your news outlet.

Someone jumping from the 10th floor in some dump in Indianapolis is more important than the slaughter of the minorities in Iraq, in particular the Christians of Iraq whom you generously came to “liberate” along with others…

Two days ago in Baghdad, a Sabaen/Mandaen family was murdered in broad daylight. Their only crime was their religion.

Yesterday, 5 Chaldeans from Kirkuk were murdered in cold blood. They belonged to two families. They were just sitting at home, trying to keep safe. The names I was able to memorize are : Bassem, Mona and Suzanne.

The Chaldean Archbishop, Louis Zako issued a plea for the world to save the Christians of Iraq from murder. He textually said :

” This is a deliberate policy on the part of the government, they fail to protect us…they want us to leave Iraq. We are Iraqis through and through. This is our land too. I ask my congregation to remain steadfast and not to leave this land…”Z

Another archbishop from Erbil added – “Since 2003, our situation has deteriorated greatly. Persecution of Christians and other minorities first started in Basra, then Baghdad. In 2008, in Mosul (the Nineveh Province – North of Iraq), entire Chaldean and Assyrian families were kicked out from their homes. And today it is Kirkuk.
The government is not protecting us despite several of your pleas. The government refuses to give us information as to who is committing these murders even though it knows their identities. We are helpless. Someone help us please.”

Hundreds of Chaldeans, Assyrians, Sabaens/Mandaens, Shabak, Yazidis have been forced into exile since 2003.

The Christian population of Iraq has dwindled from 2 Million or so, to less than 600’000.

The Chaldeans were the first to embrace Christianity in the Middle East. Their history dates back to Babylonian times and some say they were the ones who built the tower of Babel. Their language is still Aramaic.

The Assyrians, another ancient minority, came about a 100 years after the Chaldeans. They too embraced Christianity.

Both Chaldeans and Assyrians are one of the oldest, most ancient communities in the Middle East.

They are the first surviving inhabitants/communities of this land. They are Iraq. Iraq is not Iraq without them.

During the reign of the “tyrant”, they and other minorities were the most protected and safeguarded.

Millions of Dollars were offered to the Christians of Iraq to build new churches, and they were allowed to practice their faith in all freedom. Ditto for the other smaller minorities.

Never, and I repeat never in the contemporary history of Iraq, and I defy anyone who will tell me the contrary, anyone belonging to a minority group — been harassed, discriminated or persecuted against because of their religion. Killing a Christian because of their Christianity was unheard of.

It took “Christian” America, the “Christian” West, to obliterate the oldest living people in the Middle East.

I wonder what Jesus Christ has to say about that ?

I find myself making another appeal. Seems to me that since 2003, we have done nothing but appeal to someone out there…

So am appealing again — In the name of Allah, God, Jesus, Mohamed…STOP the persecution, forced exile and killing of Iraq’s minorities.

They are part of us and we are part of them. We are one blood, running in the same veins. They are Iraq and Iraq is not Iraq without them.

Painting : Iraqi artist, Khaled Rahal.

Palestinian Christians Exodus

April 13, 2009

By  Khalid Amayreh | IslamOnline, Apr 12, 2009

“They can’t easily adapt to the hardships associated with the stressful situation stemming from the Israeli occupation,” Khadr told IOL.

BETHLEHEM — Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is losing many of its young Christians who, reeling under the yoke of the Israeli occupation and economic hardships, are seeking a better life abroad.“They can’t easily adapt to the hardships associated with the stressful situation stemming from the Israeli occupation,” Dr. Jamal Khadr, a priest at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told

In recent decades, thousands of Christians left the occupied West Bank for a new life abroad, especially in North and South America, Australia, Scandinavia and even Africa.

No precise statistics are available as to the exact number, though it is widely believed to be significantly high.

According to figures compiled by the UN, about one-tenth of the Christian population in Bethlehem and the adjacent towns of Beit Jalla and and Beit Sahour has moved in recent years.

Dr. Khadr, also a professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Latin Seminary, says most of the emigrants are young Christians who are distressed by occupation and crises.

They largely travelled to North America and Sweden, where usually some family members had previously settled.

Nabil Kukali, a professor of education and public opinion pollster, agrees that the stressful conditions under the Israeli occupation are forcing many young Christians to migrate.

“These young people want to build a future for themselves and this is very hard to do here,” explains Kukali, a Christian himself.

About 50,000 Christians live in the West Bank, Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip, according to MP Bernard Sabella, a former Professor of Sociology at Bethlehem University.

Christians make up less than 1.5 percent of the total population inside the occupied Palestinian territories, 10 percent of Israeli Arabs and slightly more than 6 percent of the world’s Palestinian population of more than 9 million.

Economy Factor

“Christian are more economically and in other ways, language, church and other connections, able to leave than…Muslims,” notes Qumsiyeh.

The tough economic conditions in the occupied territories, aggravated by the strangling occupation, are a major factor in making migration decisions.“Palestinian Christians are economically better off than most other Palestinians,” notes Khadr.

“They are generally accustomed to a certain pattern of bourgeoisie life.”

He insists that emigration is not confined to Christians and that Muslims, too, are moving out.

Khadr explains, however, that emigration within the Christian community is more conspicuous due to the small size of the community.

Mazen Qumsiyeh, an American-Palestinian professor of genetics and former academic at Yale University, says pressures on Muslims are just as daunting but Christians are more economically able to find a way out.

“Both are subject to the same pressures,” he told IOL.

“Christian are usually more economically and in other ways, language, church and other connections, able to leave than their fellow compatriots who are Muslim.”


Unsettled by the phenomenal shrinkage of their community, Christian leaders are trying to find ways and means to encourage mainly young Christian males to resist the temptation of emigration.

“The only way to prevent a further deterioration is by discouraging emigration and encouraging people to stay through lasting incentives,” a Greek Orthodox clergyman told IOL.

He added that the exodus has created a serious social imbalance.

“Today in Bethlehem there are two or three young [Christian] females for every young [Christian] male within the marriage age, and that is a real problem.”

Christian organizations in the West Bank, subsidized by Christian groups abroad, have been making strenuous efforts to encourage potential emigrants to stay home.

They are offering young Christians financial assistance in housing, education and in maintaining businesses.

Christian or mainly Christian institutions of higher education, such as the Catholic University of Bethlehem, also try to help in resisting the phenomenon of emigration.

“There is a real problem, and it won’t go away just by talking about it,” says Kukali, the education professor.

“I believe that the Palestinian Authority should create work opportunities here and enhance the overall psychological atmosphere.”

He notes that for some Christians, fleeing is just not an option.

“I was born here, my father is buried here, and my grandfather is also buried here. So I am staying here. I have no other homeland.

“I am Palestinian and will always be Palestinian.”

When faith uses force

September 30, 2008

Behind a new outbreak of violence against Christians in India lies a long-running campaign for Hindu cultural dominance

Protest in New Delhi against Hindu anti-Christian violence in India

An activist demonstrating in New Delhi against the violence of hardline Hindu groups against Christians in several Indian states, September 29 2008. Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Standing next to France’s President Sarkozy, the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh today made a heartfelt plea over the spread of anti-Christian violence in India. The sight of Hindu mobs smashing churches and prayer halls while Christians in the country are killed or left cowering under tarpaulin sheets in refugee camps is, as Dr Singh rightly described, a “national shame”. There are calls from within the ruling Congress party, which relies on the votes of Christians and Muslims in India, to ban Hindu extremist organisations such as the Bajrang Dal, which uses force when the force of argument fails.

There has been bloodshed on both sides. One Christian priest was “cut to pieces” in front of his wife. A Hindu priest was shot dead for campaigning against religious conversions. The violence, which has left nearly two dozen dead, has spread across six states. Even after the Pope intervened, the Roman Catholic archbishop of one of the worst affected areas in eastern India said the situation was “out of control”.

What lies behind this violence is nothing less than a struggle for the soul of India. Religion is deeply rooted in this country of one billion. The divine was fundamental in the creation of post-independence India. Unlike Europe, in India the Gods will not disappear in a blaze of rational thinking.

But views of God led to a schism in Indian nationalism. One side is rooted in secular thinking: that beneath the differences among India’s religions there is a common creed, a moral order articulated in the country’s constitution. Opposing this is the Hindu right. Their philosophy aims to unify the country under the banner of the majority religion. It sees the country’s post-independence constitution as an instrument forged by “pseudo-secularists”, which now needs to be updated to reflect the Hindu character of India.

Christians in India long pre-dated the British, who sponsored missionary activity with little success. In 1947, only 3% of the country was Christian. There’s an unmistakable tint to Christianity in India: the priests are mostly upper-caste Brahmin converts and the flock is mostly drawn from the country’s untouchable communities known as Dalits. Contemporary Hindu anger centres on the idea that India’s rise will see an explosion of Christians in the country – a takeover by a foreign ideology like that experienced by South Korea in the 1960s.

The Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata party, says it is against proselytisation through coercion, inducement, or by vilifying any faith. That conversion continues, therefore, and that it remains legal, drives Hindu groups into a bloody frenzy. By decrying the violence but remaining powerless to prevent it, the Indian prime minister exposes his strength and weakness. The Indian federal government could suspend state administrations – for failing to quell violence. This is the nuclear option of unseating a democratically elected local regime. Instead, the Indian prime minister chooses only speak up.

Martha Nussbaum, the noted American philosopher, draws a comparison with 1950s America where only a few groups such as the Ku Klux Klan would openly advocate violence, but “where the whole society was suffused with attitudes that … often condoned violence against African Americans, attitudes that clearly affected the behaviour of the police and other officers of the law”. This remark is telling because, in the southern Indian town of Mangalore, it was Christian churches that were attacked, yet the leaders of Hindu mobs walked free for days, untouched by the police.

The violence is the really about the clash within. Like the United States, India has never had a state-imposed religion. It has always had a tradition of sects and religious minorities, which coexist and compete with each other without suffering state persecution or patronage. Instead of trying to capture state power for the purpose of waging a cultural war, the Hindu right would do the country a service by reforming itself from within – promoting equality and unifying its own denominations and sects.

Religion’s role in India must be one of restraining passions, not inflaming them.

To keep up with Randeep Ramesh’s blog from India, go here.

Twin Terrors of the Holy Land: The Sexy Fundamentalist and a White-Haired Zionist

September 22, 2008

Robert Weitzel, Sep 21, 2008

Mention 9/11 to most Americans and the two numbers are considered sufficient to give meaning to that day. But mention 9/12, the day after when “terror” became our national mantra and the “smoking gun” brandished by a neocon-infested administration for its devilish designs in the Middle East and the numbers are meaningless beyond the platitudinous, “they hate our freedoms” and “God Bless America.”

Such platitudes, hawked ad nauseam by TV “faith-healers” and political snake oil peddlers, may act as a balm to soothe a body politic traumatized by the attacks on 9/11, but they do not explain—only obfuscate—the real causes that brought terror to our “blessed shores.”

Like many Americans on the seventh anniversary of 9/11, I turned to the Bible for an answer, a problematic move for an atheist such as myself. Predictably, I went straight to verse 9:11 in the Book of Revelation—the Bible’s most terror filled text—and found a short blurb about Abaddon the Destroyer; admittedly, an interesting coincidence, but not a “big picture” explanation.

However, thanks to Providence or serendipity, the very next verse, 9:12, was a godsend: “One terror now ends, but there are two more coming.”

Considering the last seven years, plagued to biblical proportion as they have been by the Bush administration’s criminal domestic and international response to 9/11, no prophet is needed to give meaning to the first half of Rev 9:12, while only a cursory vita review of the Republican and Democratic vice presidential candidates is needed to illuminate the rest of the verse.

John McCain will be the oldest man ever elected as a first-term president. He is also the fellow who made an enemy of the religious right in 2000 when he blasted them for “the evil influence that they exercise over the Republican Party.” McCain needs youth and sex appeal and religious right muscle to prevail. He needs Sarah Palin . . . who happens to be an “end times” fundamentalist.

Barack Obama will be the first “black” man ever elected president. He is young and inexperienced in foreign affairs. He is also not polling well among influential older white voters. Obama needs age and white hair and foreign policy muscle to prevail. He needs Joseph Biden . . . who happens to be a self-professed Zionist.

Behold the twin “terrors” of the Holy Land: a sexy fundamentalist and a white-haired Zionist.

Introducing Governor Palin to Master’s Commission graduates, a youth ministry whose vision is to “see young men and women who are not afraid to lead and are violent in their pursuit of righteous,” Ed Kalnins, pastor of the Wasilla Assembly of God church where Palin was baptized, told the audience that she is the “real deal.”

Pastor Kalnins is the same guy who believes that certain parts of the world are controlled by demons—guess which parts—and preaches an “end times” theology, the radical fundamentalist belief that the corruption of the Holy Land, that would be Muslims, Jews, sundry heretics and unbelievers, must be purified by God’s cleansing fire before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ can occur.

Knowing Palin is the “real deal” and that several of the churches she’s attended are associated with the likes of Christians United for Israel, a right-wing “end times” organization dedicated to leading the charge to Armageddon (beginning with the nuking of Iran), odds are good Palin embraces this apocalyptic vision.

Frederick Clarkson, author of “Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy” recently told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, “[Palin’s] well-documented belief that she’s living in the “end time” . . . and her interpretation of the Book of Revelation may be driving her public policy and particularly her foreign and military policy views.”

Palin clarified one of her foreign and military policy views for the Master’s Commission graduates by assuring them that the invasion of Iraq was “a task from God.” For a would-be vice president this policy view, one first held by medieval Crusaders as they whacked off Muslim heads, is a real diplomatic nonstarter for the 325 million Arabs living in the Middle East, not to mention the billion-plus Muslims worldwide.

But the mother of all diplomatic nonstarters among Middle East Arabs is a comment Joseph Biden, the current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Obama’s would-be foreign policy advisor, made during an interview with the Jewish-American cable network, Shalom TV, “I am a Zionist.”

Having a declared Zionist as the vice president of Israel’s most ardent—to the point of irrational—ally waves a shoe in the face of Arabs who are convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Zionism’s ultimate goal is to fulfill the 3000-year-old biblical mandate in Genesis 15:18 to reclaim the land between the Nile and Euphrates rivers as Eretz Yisrael, a territory that includes all or part of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, a slice of Turkey and upwards of 160 million Arabs.

Considering the brutal tactics used by a succession of right-wing Israeli governments—backed by U.S. dollars and military hardware—to secure the Vermont-sized “Eretz Yisrael-lite,” it’s little wonder that Arabs living within the biblical boundaries of Eretz Yisrael feel terrorized by Israel’s chutzpa and its 200 nuclear warheads and have long since elevated their terror alert to blood red.

Keep in mind that when a terrorized people lack a superpower ally and more sophisticated means, their only recourse is to throw stones or strap explosives to their backs or pack suitcases with mini-nukes and deadly microbes or hijack airliners with box cutters and visit their enemy’s “blessed shores” This is not to excuse it. This is not to condone it. This is to explain it.

Come November Americans will choose one of two “terrors” (since our political system allows only two choices): the Middle East in flames to fulfill a biblical “end times” prophecy or the Middle East in flames to secure a biblical Eretz Yisrael. Either way, 325 million Arabs will have an answer that will undoubtedly send a twinge of terror, and most likely rage, down many a “radicalized” spine.

If the Bible or patriotic platitudes or political snake oil continue to be the extent—or sincerity—of our search for understanding the cause of 9/11, we will sooner than later have two more numbers of national significance and another annual occasion for remembering and mourning.

Biography: Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience. His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He can be contacted at:

Review: Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms

April 22, 2007

“Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms” is a historical survey of centuries of distorted encounters between Christians and Muslims.

By Dr. Sahib Mustaqim Bleher

“Why then do you call him a prophet and a messenger of God, who was but a voluptuary, defiled to the very core, a brigand, a profligate, a murderer and a robber? Tell me, pray, what do you mean by prophecy and by apostle? God knows you would not be able to tell had you not been taught by the Christian!” But for its greater eloquence this late Byzantine polemic by Bartholomew of  Edessa differs little from today’s bile spat out against the prophet Muhammad and Muslims in general by the tabloid press in support of a wider political agenda. In Norway, a little further north from Denmark, where similar polemic was recently directed in pictorial form against the prophet in a series of cartoons, a Muslim historian, Dr Nasir Khan, has given us a very useful tool in understanding the mindset of the West when it comes to Muslims and their religion. His book “Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms” is a historical survey of centuries of distorted encounters between Christians and Muslims.

Khan does not hide his own leanings, and to claim complete neutrality would imply a level of dishonesty even for a historian, but he desists from polemicising himself, quoting instead extensively from original sources. If his book causes embarrassment for Western readers it is simply because their history is embarrassing and to be reminded of it may prove painful. For example, Fulcher of Chartres gives the following eye witness account of the Crusades at the end of the 11th century: “This may seem strange to you. Our squires and footmen … split open the bellies of those they had just slain in order to extract from the intestines the gold coins which the Saracens had gulped down their loathsome throats while alive … With drawn swords our men ran through the city not sparing anyone, even those begging for mercy … They entered the houses of the citizens, seizing whatever they found in them … whoever first entered a house, whether he was rich or poor … was to occupy and own the house or palace and whatever he found in it as if it were entirely his own … in this way many poor people became very wealthy.”

Khan does not sensationalise. As a serious historian he tries to offer explanations for how the negative stereotypes of the other came about, including probing into the social and economic causes. He starts his survey by giving a background to the development of early Christianity and its numerous, competing, sects. When Islam started to spread as a new faith from Arabia, Christians mainly viewed it as just another heresy from the officially accepted dogma, like Gnosticism, Manichaeism, or Nestorianism. Until Islam became viewed as more of a serious political threat their efforts against their own co-religionists with differing interpretations of what it meant to be Christian were much more pronounced than those aimed at Islam of which they knew little. However, Islam did not simply collapse and go away as predicted, and with taking Constantinople and pushing Christendom out of much of its previous territory became a serious contender. It was at this time, between the 12th and 14th centuries, that the misrepresentative image of Islam was created which still dominates the European psyche today. At the same time, due to the status afforded to Christians in the Qur’an as people of the book, the Ottoman rulers tolerated the practice of Christianity amongst themselves to a degree that at times emboldened their Christian subjects to openly challenge them and test the waters.

A similar arrogance was displayed in the 9th century by the movement of the martyrs of Cordoba who purposefully tried to blaspheme against the prophet in order to be punished and put to death. Their aim in instigating conflict arose from the deep worry that many Christians were drawn to Islam and its culture and sciences in spite of the bigoted image their church elders painted of it. Paul Alvarus, for example, observes at the time: “My fellow Christians delight in the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the works of Mohammedan theologians and philosophers, not in order to refute them, but to acquire a correct and elegant Arabic style. Where today can a layman be found who reads the Latin Commentaries on Holy Scriptures? Who is there that studies the Gospels, the Prophets, and the Apostles?” Again, this observation of more than a thousand years ago has surprisingly modern undertones in the fear of losing one’s own heritage to a more attractive, albeit misguided, culture.

Khan quotes Grunebaum summing up the Christian approach as follows: “When the Christian looked upon Islam, his primary task was not to study this phenomenon of an alien faith that seemed both akin to and apart from his own but rather to explain the unexplainable, to wit, the artful machinations by which Mohammed had won over his people to the acceptance of his absurd confabulations. There is always, evening the most aggressive and contemptuous discussions of Islam, an element of apologetic self-defence in the utterances of the Christian writers, almost a touch of the propaganda for the home front. It is as if only the most derogatory presentation of the despicable but powerful enemy could allay the suspicion that his case be stronger than it was wise to admit.” And he cites Southern describing their wilful ignorance of the religion of Islam: “They were ignorant of Islam, not because they were far removed from it like the Carolingian scholars, but for the contrary reason that they were in the middle of it. If they saw and understood little of what went on round them, and if they knew nothing of Islam as a religion, it was because they wished to know nothing … They were fleeing from Islam: it is not likely that they would turn to Islam to understand what they were fleeing from.”

Whilst criticising Islam for alleged loose sexual morals European capitals were awash with debauchery; whilst attacking Islam for its alleged warlike nature in contradiction to the peaceful teachings of Jesus, Christian rulers made ready for war against Islam. The reconquista was the beginning of the Christian counter-attack. The conquering Normans took Sicily and Malta back from the Muslims and the Spanish Catholics prepared for pushing the Muslims out of the Iberian peninsula. Meanwhile there were internal conflicts both in Europe and in the Muslim world. The Seljuk Turks pushed from the East into Byzantine and in their advance made inroads into the Christian Levante, eventually capturing Jerusalem. The Berbers of North Africa kept the Spanish attempts in check for some two centuries, but eventually had to recede back to Africa due to internal problems of dissension. When the Spaniards took full control under Ferdinand and Isabella they meted out merciless retribution to the infidels, the Jews and the Muslims. Those who escaped the decimation fled to North Africa and Turkey, which is how the famous Jewish city of Thessalonica became established within the Ottoman realm. The papacy in Rome started to press for the crusades with the purported objective of recapturing Jerusalem, but once stripped of the propagandistic justification, the real aims were mainly economic and political. When the first wave of Crusaders moved eastwards they were just as good at plundering the towns and villages of their own co-religionist allies as they were at destroying Muslim towns and villages in their path. Maybe today, we would call it “friendly fire”. The cruelty and barbarism of the crusaders contributed to a shift in the Muslim perception of Christianity and the goodwill previously afforded to the people of the scripture started to evaporate and be replaced by an enemy image.

Whilst the crusades proved highly profitable for the West, enriching cities like Venice, Paris and Turin, and provided the desired achievement of the conquest of Jerusalem, they remained very much a side show for the realm of Islam. The biggest threat to its existence came from the East in the form of the Mongol invasion begun under Genghis Khan. Initially they had marched through the Caucasus and southern Russia in their conquest of the world in which “all cities must be razed so that the world may once again become a great steppe in which Mongol mothers will suckle free and happy children.” They would have overrun Western Europe in the 13th century had it not been for the fact that Batu Khan, who had led the attack on Hungary, had to hurry back upon the news of the death of his uncle Ogodai (Genghis Khan’s son) in order to qualify as a potential successor. Europe was spared and the Middle East lay in the uninterrupted path of advance of the Mongols instead. The crusaders saw this as a divine sign and even tried to make alliances with the Mongols, but since they made such offers preconditional on their conversion to Christianity, they had limited effects. In the end the Mongols were checked by the Mamluks in Egypt and prevented the eradication of Islam, and over time the erstwhile enemy was converted and provided strength to the recovering Islamic caliphate.

With the failure of the crusades and the early beginnings of the Renaissances the Western hopes of conquering Islam gave way to a more conciliatory approach in the hope of converting Muslims to the gospel, placing emphasis, however, less on Church doctrine and scripture and relying more on philosophical arguments. Roger Bacon and St Thomas Aquinas, for example, represent this new methodology. For the centuries to come the Christian dominions remains fearful of the Turkish threat, and when Luther and Calvin led the revolt against Papal authority, they did, nonetheless inherit the same venomous antipathy for Islam. With the new intellectual freedoms gained in the reformation, however, Arabic learning also became popular in the West, and the early Western universities as well as the Western philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries seriously engaged with Arabic literature and sciences. Gradually the image of Islam became a little more complete and less distorted. This respite, however, was short-lived, since European expansionism once more opted for the military solution during the period of imperialism and colonialism justified polemically by social Darwinism calling for the need to convert and civilise the savages of conquered lands. Missionary activity flourished in this political climate.

After two savage world wars, powered by Europe’s industrial killing machine and unprecedented in human cost, the imperialist project faltered and former colonies were given a level of independence, replacing direct with indirect rule. Khan ends his book on a positive note, pointing to serious attempts by Church and secular establishments during the 20th century to re-engage with Islam on the basis of mutual understanding. When looked at a year after the publication of the book, however, it seems that this interlude was as short-lived as previous ones, and power politics and economics once again dominate the relationships between the post-Christian and Islamic civilisations. In their rhetoric the new crusaders in the White House and their allies in Europe and Australia draw on the same old worn-out clichés of the past. Nasir Khan’s book is an excellent resource to enlighten these confusing times by providing a historic backdrop against which they can be evaluated, and to my knowledge it is the first such attempt. It is an excellent exposition both for Muslim and non-Muslim readers and helps them in understanding both of the origins of modern polemics against Islam as well as their ultimate futility.

Nasir Khan, Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms – A Historical Survey, Oslo 2006: Solum Forlag, 487 pages.

Dr. Nasir Khan has his own blog at through which he can be contacted.

Mathaba Author Dr. Sahib Mustaqim Bleher is a German living in England, a Muslim and a pilot – in the oppressive neo-fascist climate of today, this means walking a tight rope. And it requires speaking out. He has done so through articles, pamphlets and books, many of which are available via his FlyingImam web site.

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