It was sometime in 2009 that celebrated American journalist Gareth Porter sent me an image from Afghanistan where he had gone to do a story on the locals-NATO forces relationship. The photo, included in this blog, later made to internet and was widely circulated. It shows the members of the Special Forces from the Canadian and American contingent wearing a badge that says “Pork Eating Crusader” in both English and Pashto. When I first saw the photo, I was too stunned for a couple of days to even react. In a long conversation with Gareth Porter later, I came to understand the very psyche of West that has pitted it with the world of Islam and vice-versa. Why, even after a millennium, that imagery on that badge remains relevant. Why, in spite of all the assurances by the Western political class, do the soldiers fighting on the ground treat the war against terrorism as the war against Islam?
The part of the answer is hidden in today's date. After all it was the same day in 1095 that after persistent appeals by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I's to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to “help him resist Muslim advances”, the first batch of Roman Catholic Crusaders under ununified command clashed with the Turks to save their Eastern Orthodox brothers with whom they had little love lost. The world came to call it The Crusade.
But The Crusade as an episode in history is very different from how it unfolded on the ground. And believe me, it was very complex. That its impact is so vivid on the minds of Middle-Eastern Muslims does not come as a surprise. Figure this out. For years, Eastern Orthodox Christianity considered Roman Catholicism and the seat of Pope as a heresy. But after their empire starter shrinking, they joined ranks with the Roman brothers to take on Sunni Turks who in 1071 had virtually cut the route of pilgrimage towards Jerusalem. When the crusade started, the lines started getting blurred. Several small Muslim princely states at more than one occasions joined ranks with Crusaders against the Turkish power. Similarly, at several occasions, Christians from Levant sided with the Turks to dispel Crusaders. All this when Sunnis were after the life of Shia Fatmids and Sunni Kurds. Meanwhile, Hassisins, a group of demented Shia Muslims, who were responsible for the origination of word 'Assassin' were waging against Sunni Turks and Arab princes what was definitely worlds first instances of suicide attacks. Saladin Ayubi, the hero of Islam, a Kurd who convincingly defeated the Crusaders and won Jerusalem for Islam, was also targeted by Hassisins. In fact, he was so afraid of them that he left Cairo.
Now do your maths. Does it look like a simple Christianity versus Islam battle? Far from it.
But what are the undercurrents that still dominate the narrative in this part of the world? Quite many. The West accuse Islam of Pan-Islamism and maintain that it is because of this Pan-Islamism that localized issues, such as say Occupation of Palestine or massacre of Bosnian by Serbs become a global issues. Juxtapose this argument in 1095 and this is what the West did. Islam at that point of time was hardly organized to take up issues affecting Muslims in any part of the world. The phenomenon was started by Christians themselves who rallied Crusaders of every nationality to march against Turks. Agreed Jerusalem was a binding force for the Christians, but the same argument is valid for the Muslims too. However, apart from the Turks and the Arab population that was affected locally, none of the Muslims came to fight against the Crusaders.
Such was the impact of this phenomenon that Muslims in the Middle East, even now, fail to distinguish between the policies of one Christian state from another and treat them as a group, herd, to say the truth. For them, to differentiate between the foreign policy of Germany from that of say Britain is almost impossible. It's in the psyche. And the West has done nothing to make them think otherwise.
Only last month, a visiting high rank Iranian official asked me in all seriousness. “I can understand why the US and Israel is after us. We are at an undeclared war. Their action is legitimate and so is ours. What fails my understanding is why European Union is after us. What harm have we ever done to them? What enmity do we have with Czech Republic or Poland or Austria? Why are they eager to please the Americans and the Zionists?”
In the following month I posed the same questions to several of my European diplomat friends. No one had an answer. Their lack of answer only strengthens the Muslim belief that the West is inherently against Islam.
On the other hand, there were positive interactions as well. During the era of Crusade, the Islamic civilization of the Middle East was way ahead of the Western civilization in science, art, economy, medicine or organized administration. Naturally, the interaction also meant that Crusaders and other Christians learnt from them. The interaction was fulfilling and productive. Today, the relationship has turned. While the world of Islam withers in stagnation, the West has surged ahead. The argument posted by Western intellectual these days is that the hypocrisy of Islam is evident by the fact that the world of Islam is inherently anti-West while they have no qualm adopting Western technology. Surprisingly, they forgot the history in just one millennium. What they forget is that parallel world of positive interaction that survived during the Crusade still survives. It has just reversed its course. And this is no hypocrisy.
For many in the Muslim world those American forces with that badge will be seen as Crusaders. For many in the West, the Muslim immigrants will be seen as threat. The West's neo-colonialism can keep fighting with al-Qaeda and their ilk. They are just a small actor in a long history. They ultimately are a blip on the radar. They will survive in different forms in millennium to come as they survived the last millennium. But it is in the survival of this alternative interaction that the salvation of the West and Islam lies. It is this alternative, parallel interaction that needs to go on.