The Islamic State’s Ultraviolence Has Much in Common With Christianity’s Past and Present

Most Christians today are ignorant of the violence their religion has brought to bear against Muslims and Jews. Pictured: Siege of Antioch. (Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia)

Most Christians today are ignorant of the violence their religion has brought to bear against Muslims and Jews. Pictured: Siege of Antioch. (Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia)

On Friday we posted about a Foreign Policy in Focus piece in which Hannah Gais wrote about how Islam is just a handy tool that militants use to battle oppression. We asked: Once and for All, Does Islam Play Too Fast and Loose With Violence?

In the New York Times, Susan Jacoby addresses another example of religious violence: the Crusades. In her article, she’s not writing about atrocities that Christians wreaked against Muslims, but just as they were starting out for Jerusalem at the beginning of the first Crusade in 1096, upon Jews.

This account highlights several elements analogous to the actions of modern terrorist groups. These include attempts at forced conversion; the murders of women and children; and the imposition of financial penalties on coerced converts who try to remain in their homes.

… The message from the medieval past is that religious violence seldom limits itself to one target and expands to reach the maximum number of available victims.

Ms. Jacoby then points out:

Thomas Asbridge, director of the Center for the Study of Islam and the West at the University of London, commented in this newspaper that “we have to be very careful about judging behavior in medieval times by current standards.”

It may be a mistake to say that today’s Islamist extremists, most notably the Islamic State, has one foot in the 13th (or an earlier) century or that they are perpetrating the same type of violence as was performed on them during the Crusades. First, most of their violence is committed against fellow Muslims. Second, it might behoove us to avoid characterizing their behavior as atavistic and instead view it as a phase that Christianity already passed through. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that Christianity, in the form of Western or American armed forces, could well pass through that again ― or has just done so in Iraq and still does via drone attacks, as well as bombings against the Islamic State that kill innocents.