Imams Attempt to Silence an Historical Warning
Ace of Spades discusses Imams’ threatening reaction to the Pope’s criticisms of Islamic sanctions of violence to further the case of Islam.
Yet, there is another possible motivation behind Islamic anger at the Pope’s censure of jihad. The Imams’ obvious efforts to counter criticism from an international leader are consistent with previous strategies to maintain control of public opinion of Islamic religious beliefs. Yet, their reaction could also be rooted in consternation that the Pope’s message quoted the emperor of the extinct Byzantine Empire. By doing so, the Pope highlighted an often forgotten historical memory to world attention.
While most Americans know little about the Byzantine Empire, it is significant that most Islamic leaders rarely mention the Byzantines, their important geographical predecessors, when referencing the history of the Middle East. This oversight could be interpreted as either discomfort at publicly recognizing that Islam built their early empires by destroying a pre-existing Christian/Roman empire, or perhaps, as a worst case scenario, it is outright duplicity. This reaction could indicate that any widespread memory of Byzantine challenges the heart of modern Islamic accusations directed at western civilization. Islamic pundits decry western ingratitude for Islamic contributions to technology and science and non-recognition of Islamic contributions to culture, but, in particular, the invasions of European crusaders into Muslim lands.
While Islam made contributions to technology and the arts, Middle Eastern Muslims often appear to believe such innovations only originated from Islamic culture. This oversight distorts historical realities.
Much of Islamic science was founded on the earlier major discoveries of the Greeks preserved in the great Byzantine* libraries in Constantinople (Istanbul) and Alexandria. Yet, the Islamic world often fails to acknowledge their debt to these ancients or to the Byzantine Christians, as the keepers of the classical knowledge, during centuries where it nearly disappeared elsewhere. Nor do they show embarrassment that many of their great mosques, such as the Hagia Sophia, were actually built by the Byzantines as Christian cathedrals. These cathedrals were forcibly converted into mosques when Constantinople became victim to violent Islamic conquest. Of course, any request to return holy sites to their original owners would be met with absolute fury and stony denial of any legal rights of Christians to their stolen religious properties.
The irony of modern Muslims criticizing European crusaders, who attempted to duplicate earlier Islamic actions, should not be overlooked. Moreover, while other extinct empires are normally remembered and studied by their modern countries, it strikes me as quite odd that discussion of the Byzantine Empire does not frequently occur in those Middle East and Islamic countries built on its ashes. After all, Europe doesn’t ignore the Roman Empire although it was once conquered territory in its Empire. ** Contemporary world opinion should ponder what Muslims would gain by eradicating the memory of an extinct empire within our modern discourse.
Considering this history, it is reasonable to argue that Imams would perceive that public consideration of the opinions of a Byzantine emperor could mature into a potential threat to Islam’s reputation as a “religion of peace”. As a result, the modern world may now contemplate the fate of an empire which feared, with good reason, that Islamic beliefs which advocated military aggression would translate into terrible conquest. This fate reminds the world of the methods by which Islam gained its legal and religious claims to Middle Eastern lands and elsewhere; by the bloody conquest of a pre-existing Christian empire.**
The Byzantine emperor had rational reasons to view Islam as a violent, evil force. He was not expressing irrational ignorance and bigotry. His people watched parts of their empire torn away (which at one point included much of the ancient Roman Empire, including northern Africa) and devoured by Islamic armies, until their beloved city, Constantinople fell under the sword of Islam in 1423. Modern governmental leaders would be wise to consider that this huge empire was unable to protect itself against conquest due to its internal political discord.
*Byzantine was also known as New Rome or the Eastern Roman Empire. It was a blend of the Roman/ Greek/ Asia Minor civilizations
** Another question to consider is if Islamic conquest was a factor in the widespread lost recognition and knowledge of the great early Hindu Indian empires until modern time. The great Hindu culture was subjugated to Muslim rule after several violent invasions
*** Byzantine’s views would have been echoed by the Persian peoples, and the peoples in regions of modern Spain, the Balkans and India... These were large regions inhabited by highly civilized populations, whose invasion and conquest was validated by the teachings of the Qur'an
Update: Ann Althouse exhorts critics to get their message out. "Good thing Benedict shook that message loose, because it hadn't been getting around enough"