Sunday, July 13, 2008

On July 12, 1191: Acre fell to the Crusaders

Al-Jazeera reminds viewers: "Today in History: Acre falls to the Crusaders"
Raymond Ibrahim

Amidst the images of suffering and slain Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghanis, the internationally (in)famous Arabic news station al-Jazeera today had an interesting five-minute segment that it played over several times: the fall of the Muslim city of Acre to the Crusaders, which after a nearly two-year siege, occurred on July 12, 1191.

While the narrator was more or less objective regarding the facts of this battle—though much more emphasis was placed on the “atrocities” committed against the Muslim inhabitants of Acre than anything else—it was clear that it was being tied up with what was happening in the rest of the Islamic world: the hated Crusaders were back again, doing what they’ve been doing ever since the Crusades. Continuity was established. Millions of Arab viewers were reminded.

More interesting is the taken-for-granted Arab/Islamic epistemology that this anecdote reveals. While al-Jazeera portrays itself as a “secular” entity—at least the Western attired news-anchor teams, with their suits, ties, and female unveiled heads, would imply—it was a given that its viewers would empathize. The proof of this is that the opposite scenario would never occur: consider the general reaction of Americans or Europeans if, between news headlines mini-documentaries aired saying things like “Today in history Constantinople and the Hagia Sophia were conquered and defiled by invading Muslim forces,” elaborating the ruthless and barbarous treatment the Christian inhabitants of Constantinople experienced at the hands of the Muslim Turks?

What if on their respective anniversaries, Western news stations made it a point to remind viewers that, today in history—Arabia, or Syria, or Persia, or Egypt, or North Africa, or Spain, or Central Asia, or Anatolia, or the Balkans—fell to the sword of Islam, with all the gory details? Surely Western viewers, in general, would certainly find such “reminders” offensive and better left unsaid.

Not for al-Jazeera, however; and not for Muslims in general. They zealously cling to their past. Indeed, Islamic history—especially all the “wrongs” committed against Muslims in ages past—seems to be familiar to the average Muslim youth. Osama bin Laden himself, though no great scholar, in his speeches and writings reveals that he has a prodigious memory concerning both the former glory of Islam as well as the indignities it has been made to suffer at the hands of the Crusaders and their descendants—modern day Westerners, whom he, and almost every other “radical,” refers to simply as as-Salibin: “the Crusaders.”

The fusion of religion and politics in the Arab world is further attested on Arabic “secular” stations such as al-Jazeera by the fact that the Western-looking anchor man or woman normally initiates the program by saying something distinctly Islamic, such as “Salaama ‘alikum,” or “Bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim,” (“Peace unto you” and “In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful,” respectively). Imagine how awkward, not to mention “offensive,” Westerners would find their favorite news-anchor beginning today’s headlines with “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, amen”?...



At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say that this was very well written. Also, the points you made are absolutely true. In our Old Testament we have "An Eye for An Eye." In our new Testament we have, "Turn the other cheek. The Koran, basically, says an "Eye for an Eye x7." What I mean by this is that if you insult or harm in any way a member of a particular family and/or sect, for 7 generations they have the right to retaliate against you for what you did to them. That is why they remember every indignity against the Muslims as a whole and then individuals have their own battles. Therefore, there will never be any peace in that part of the World. And George "W" Bush felt God told him he could bring peace to a people that believe this?

Basically though I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your post and how well written it was.

Liberal Lady

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I can't take credit for writing this piece; its author is Raymond Ibrahim. I posted it because I think it's something SF progressives need to consider. Even supposedly secular institutions like Al-Jazeera feel obligated to establish their Islamic credentials on their newscasts.

At 4:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I intended to leave a comment noting that historical winners (European Christians) typically don't feel the need for long and aggrieved historical memories, whereas historical losers (in recent times and relevant to this case, Arabic-speaking Muslims) do tend to nurse such memories. It is MUCH more sensible to ascribe the historical memory of present-day Arabs to this difference, than to some kind of essential difference between Europeans and Arabs.

This is especially true because there are so many obvious counterexamples. The Christian Armenians have an immensely powerful (and bitter) historical memory, and so do the Serbs (who were willing to conduct an unprovoked genocide over it). Until quite recently the Irish had pretty powerful (and violent) historical memories too, and they even speak English! Maybe these tendencies have more to do with the specifics of history than with OMG THEY'RE BROWN AND CRAZY AND WANT TO KILL US!

Anyway, that was what I was going to say, until I noticed that you have a category called "Islamic Fascism."

There are actually some relevant cultural differences on top of the historical differences; Arab-Muslim culture does endorse murderous revenge somewhat more than Armenian Christian culture does, although Christians in Serbia, Germany, Spain, England, and New England obviously found it easy enough to conduct murderous rampages anyway. But it's probably futile to try to discuss such differences sensibly and evenly with someone who has adopted the right-wing "Islamic Fascism" "concept" hook line and sinker.

So never mind.

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having decided to walk back from that total brushoff just a bit -- (adopting the "concept" of Islamic Fascism is a worrying indicator, but hardly definitive proof, of a mind hopelessly adrift in right-wing foolishness) -- I'll offer this up for more serious comparison. Do you have any reason to believe that these "islamic greetings" at the beginning of al-Jazeera broadcasts are meaningfully different from having all our politicians say "god bless america" at the end of every appearance, or having "in god we trust" on all our currency? do you really know enough of arab culture to know what these expressions mean in context? after all, both jews and arabs use the word "peace" as their greeting (shalom/salaam); does that mean these are wimpy, dovish, hippie-infused peoples who fear conflict and fail to defend themselves?

And if you dont really know what these expressions do and do not signify, then was it a good idea to rebroadcast this piece?


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