Christianity has always had an institutional hard-on for Islam. The Christian fixation for Islam is nothing like its unhealthy obsession with Judaism. While Christianity’s relationship with Judaism is a bit of a sick fascination, a mixture of love, dependence and hate, its relationship with Islam has always been one of hate, never of love, and certainly never of dependence. Christianity depends on the Jewish Bible – a garbled translation of which stands in as the Christian Old Testament – but the Qur’an came later and has never been anything less than an abomination in Christian eyes. Judaism rejected Jesus but Islam embraces him and ironically, is hated for it. Jesus is savior for Islam as for Christianity, and will return, just as he will return for Christianity – but for Muslims he is not God.
Christianity, in the 7th century, had the world at its feet. It had succeeded in disempowering if not completely destroying Paganism in the Roman Empire and was busily working its will among the Germanic tribes in Western and Northern Europe. Zoroastrianism ruled in Persia but the Zoroastrians were not interested in converting the world, leaving Christianity without any significant rival. But Christianity was its own worst enemy. Had it been a healthier religion, Islam would have met rejection at the borders of the empire, but orthodox Christianity was so intolerant that it had succeeded by the time of Mohammed in completely alienating Christian minorities all up and down the eastern Mediterranean littoral as well as Egypt and North Africa. The irony of Christianity’s triumph is that so many Christians in those areas welcomed the Muslims as liberators.
Had Christianity been less intolerant, there would in all likelihood have been no need for Crusades because the tide of Islam might well have been swept back into the desert. It is true that a long and exhausting war between Rome and Persia contributed to Islam’s early success; neither empire was in a position to resist the Arab invaders whatever their religion, but a native population not disaffected by intolerant policies would have been more likely to resist and to rally behind imperial forces. Apologists can argue that Christianity did not destroy the Roman Empire, but the simple fact is that it did exactly that.
So instead of resisting the new religion Christianity got its institutional ass kicked all the way back across North Africa and into Spain and then into Southern France before rallying, and Arab armies besieged Constantinople again and again trying to force passage into Europe from that quarter. And it had only itself to blame. Nor did it learn any lessons or draw any proper conclusions from the experience. One Byzantine attitude was to refuse even to look at Islam at a separate religion, insisting that it was instead a Christian heresy. The Qur’an could not, of course, be a revelation from God since it contradicted the Bible in things like the Trinity and Jesus’ crucifixion, so the influence must be Satanic if anything at all. Not a helpful reaction at all, and not one to stir any attempts at genuine analysis of the religion. It is always much easier to hate than to understand.
And Christianity proved itself quite good at the hating game. It hated Judaism because the Jews not only rejected but killed Jesus (or so they said) and it spent the first few centuries of its existence demonstrating that hate again and again, at every opportunity. Jews, as much as Muslims, were victims of the Crusades, as were other Christianity, like Eastern Christians, who were considered heretical because they did not follow the teachings of the Church of Rome. Stray Pagans met a similar fate. Anyone not the proper kind of Christian was to be killed – not only killed but killed in order to pave for the murderer a path to heaven. Killing a non-Christian meant salvation for the killer. When did Jesus say that, exactly? He didn’t; but the Pope did, and fanatical Christians responded just as he intended. What better way to get a bunch of thugs to go on Crusade? So much for Jesus making human sacrifice unnecessary; so much for Jesus wiping away sins. They had to be wiped away all over again with Muslim blood.
Makes you wonder why Jesus bothered getting himself crucified at all.
You would think so many centuries after Mohammed that Christians would be better able to separate themselves emotionally from Islam and examine the religion and its chief tenets rationally. Thomas Jefferson did but Republican candidates have no interest in doing so. You would think the similarities would be apparent. But fundamentalists are still teaching mindless hatred of Islam. Islam, it would appear, is as big a threat as it was in the seventh century. Why is this? What is there to hate? Does it make so much difference that Muslims have different beliefs? Why should that matter at all?
Fundamentalists will tell you that those Muslims are trying to force everyone to be Muslim. But there is no evidence of that in the United States. Muslims are quite happy to live in the United States because like everyone else, they are free to practice their religion. And that same religious freedom means everyone is free to practice theirs, which means there is not and cannot be any threat to anyone’s religion because nobody can be forced by anybody else. Fundamentalists decry Sharia law while celebrating Mosaic law and not only celeb rating it, but forcing the rest of us to obey a bastardized version of it as well (no Christian actually follows Mosaic Law). Why it is okay to force everybody to obey a set of laws nobody is really obeying anyway but it’s not okay to force people to obey a set of laws that is nearly identical has not been adequately explained.
After all, the crime is the same – that is, forcing anybody to believe something they don’t want to believe. Wrong is wrong, whatever the subject being forced, isn’t it?
So why can’t fundamentalist Christians simply live and let live, content in the knowledge that according to the Constitution, neither their set of religious laws nor the Islamic set of religious laws can be the law of the land? Everyone should be happy, free to follow their own religion and their own set of religious laws without interference from anybody else, but also unable to force those laws on anybody else. It seems a very happy set of circumstances, and it was meant to be. It’s how the Constitution wants things to work.
Muslims in this country by and large seem content with the set-up. I am never accosted at my door, in my yard, or in Wal-Mart parking lots by Islamic missionaries wanting to hand me literature or witness for Mohammed. I am not seeing my liberties threatened by Islamic legislators. Muslims have never held my Paganism against me, or promised me hellfire. The only threat to American religious liberties comes from Christian – not Muslim – legislators. But I am supposed to fear Islam? Why? Because those Christian legislators tell me that Islam is threatening the liberties they are themselves busy threatening.
This Christian obsession with Islam was unhealthy a millennium-and-a-half ago and it is just as unhealthy today. As Ron Paul likes to point out, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum hate Muslims, and this hate is more than personal idiosyncrasy, it is institutional in the GOP as it has long been in Christianity. And for as long as Christianity holds the GOP in thrall, that hate will be also be institutionalized on a government level, which is a betrayal of everything the Founding Fathers fought for. Embarrassing as is that idea to thinking Americans, the thought that U.S. foreign policy will be fashioned around that hatred and thus crippling the cause of world peace, is far worse.