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Worth a read. Excellent article: The roots of anti-Muslim bigotry

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cali Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 10:58 AM
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Worth a read. Excellent article: The roots of anti-Muslim bigotry

By James Carroll
April 4, 2011

LAST WEEK, Senator Dick Durbin convened a special Senate hearing to look into anti-Muslim prejudice in America, a move that some took to be a counter to Representative Peter Kings earlier congressional hearing about the extent of radicalization of American Muslims. There is evidence that Muslims in the United States are disproportionately discriminated against (according to Justice Department figures, 14 percent of religious discrimination cases involve Muslim institutions, while Muslims make up 1 percent of the US population). But pervasive negative attitudes toward Islam go far deeper into the American psyche even than these manifestations suggest, for contempt toward the religion of Mohammed is a foundational pillar of Western civilization. That it is unacknowledged only makes it more pernicious.

European Christian imagination jelled as European, as Christian, and as imagination around the mythic 732 triumph of Charles Martel over infidel Muslim forces in a battle near Poitiers, France. That may seem like an eternity ago and a world away, but still-powerful attitudes that show up in suspicions of widespread Muslim radicalization were generated then. In epoch-shaping chansons de geste celebrating Charles Martel, Islam was portrayed as nothing less than the anti-Christ. So resonant was its defeat, that Charles Martel was empowered as the effective founder of cohesive European social structures, with his lineage (through his grandson Charlemagne) extending even to present-day royalty.

Edward Gibbon famously shuddered at the thought that, but for Charles Martel, the Koran would be taught to the circumcised at Oxford instead of the New Testament. (It seems not to have occurred to Gibbon that, had the Poitiers battle gone the other way, Oxford, which dates to 1167, might have been founded years earlier by, say, disciples of the great Muslim scholar Avicenna, who died in 1037.) From early on, Western civilization understood itself positively against the negative foil of Islam, a polarity that was institutionalized during the decisive centuries of the Crusades. That Christendom failed to liberate the Holy Land from infidel control only made permanent the fear and hatred of Islam.

Meanwhile, as is always true of bigotry, Europeans knew very little about actual Muslims. The Koran dates to the seventh century, but there was no Latin translation of the sacred text until the middle of the 12th century. The first approximately objective account of Islam and the prophet, in the phrase of the theologian Hans Kung, did not appear in Europe until the 18th century a book that was promptly censored by the church. None of this stopped Christians from assuming they knew what Islam was, right from the start. Taking the movements impressively rapid spread into Asia, across Africa, to Iberia as the result only of violence (jihad, which in Arabic means spiritual effort, was misunderstood), Christians entirely missed the key factor that generated the religions astonishing appeal.

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Democracyinkind Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 11:23 AM
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1. Interesting points about Martel...

Although there is a strong argument to be made that the general "Western" view of Islam was crafted during the Enlightment, and not during the middle ages. Although the article does make a strong argument for earlier influences.

The meme of "civilized" Europe vs. "Barbaric" Islam in its modern form is mainly a product of the American and French revolutions and has alot to do with diplomatic representation etc. I'd say that the assymetrical frame that we use in order to construct islam today is a direct continuation of the "new diplomacy" of the French, American (and later) English Empires. Jrgen Osterhammel has written about this ectensively, also, there is Said who makes the same general points (minus historical detail)... There's been tons of publications about the emergence of post-revolutionary European diplomacy and the construction of Islam in the last years, mainly coming from France. Although I only have a marginal interest in this topic it proved very enlightening.

Thanks for posting.
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