Fifty years of mis-education in American schools culminates when a lawyer provides a laundry list of myths to justify claiming the existence of a Christian ISIS.
A couple of days ago, the internet was abuzz with excitement because Qasim Rashid (Twitter name @MuslimIQ), an attorney and Muslim, claiming to have received a Direct Message from a “white supremacist” about the absence of a “Christian ISIS,” gave him a purported laundry list of Christian sins. It’s an impressive list of sins . . . if, as to many of the claims, one is ignorant about history and can be bamboozled with sophistry. Otherwise, well, not so much.
Because Rashid is not alone in his ignorance and, indeed, comes by it quite honestly considering the misinformation floating about, I thought it would be useful to go through the list of his accusations against Christians to correct out-and-out errors and to put factual statements in their proper context. One of the most important contextual points is that ISIS defiantly makes clear that Islam drives its conduct. That is, we’re not talking about bad actors who happen to be Muslim. Instead, we’re talking about Muslims who march under the banner of their faith to justify their bad acts.
Given the ISIS context, for Rashid to have properly rebutted the question about a “Christian ISIS,” he should have returned with examples of Christians who use their faith directly to justify their acts. It’s cheating to identify bad actors who happen to be Christian but whose conduct is not justified by, or in fealty to, their faith.
I’m not trying here to attack Rashid personally. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice man and a good lawyer. It’s just that he summed up in a small space so many misrepresentations and misunderstandings about Christianity that he provides a perfect framework within which to challenge those errors. Also, I’m not trying to defend horrible things such as the world’s slave trade, the deaths of aboriginal populations around the world, white supremacy, or anything else. I’m just saying that, subject to a few exceptions that can be roughly analogized to Christian versions of ISIS, most of Rashid’s comparisons are inapt.
Having said that, here’s Rashid’s Twitter list, which I’ve broken into segments so as to address each assertion separately. First, to give context, here is Rashid’s own introduction to his DM conversation:
And here’s the subject-by-subject breakdown:
The slave trade was utterly vile. It was also the norm across the world throughout human history until white Christians in England (including its American colonies) began to take a moral stand against it. That stand was so effective that, today, there is no slavery in the Christian world. There is, however, significant slavery today in the Muslim world:
In which Muslim-majority countries does slavery remain a problem? Here’s an alphabetical listing of this phenomenon, with additions as appropriate:
* Afghanistan: Mostly concerns boys.
* Mali: Arabs and Touareg own blacks.
* Mauritania: Slavery remains a major institution. Nov. 11, 2013 update: For current developments and some pictures, see “Mauritania Confronts Long Legacy of Slavery.”
* Oman: A Human Rights Watch report, “‘I Was Sold’: Abuse and Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers in Oman,” documents the circumstances of some foreign laborers in that country that it calls “at the very least dangerously close to situations of slavery.” (July 13, 2016 update)
* Pakistan: Mostly a rural phenomenon.
* Saudi Arabia: Despite a 1962 law banning the practice, it remains in place. A leading theologian even states that to reject Shar’i slavery is not to be a Muslim.
* Sudan: Chattel slavery returned in force with civil war in the 1990s.
*Yemen: As in Saudi Arabia – a 1962 legal abolishment has not been fully effective.
The above list was last updated in 2014. It does not include ISIS’s open dealings in sex and other slaves.
But Rashid was talking about the Transatlantic slave trade. Fine. Let’s talk about it. It definitely took place, but there are a few things one needs to know to contextual it:
It took place in a time when the whole word dealt in slaves. Every part of it. And the world did so because it had always done so. There was nothing uniquely Christian about the slave trade.
The slave trade was possible only because non-Christian Africans were complicit with it. They used the slave trade to dispose of their enemies, while making money for themselves. The white slave traders never penetrated into the heart of Africa, the areas from which the slaves came. Fellow Africans brought their enemies to the marketplace.
At African ports, European traders did not deal directly with Africans. Instead, they dealt with Muslim middle men.
African slavery was a commercial matter. When it came to slavery in the New World, Europeans first attempted to use Indians and Irish, both of whom died too easily, the Indians from exposure to European diseases and the Irish from malaria. They turned to African slaves, not to save souls, but because the Africans were better able to survive disease, starvation, and abuse across the demanding climates in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the southeastern British colonies in North America.
Christianity did not drive the African slave trade. In fact, many slave holders were hostile to bringing African slaves to Christianity because they had a vague feeling that it was wrong to enslave fellow Christians. They also understood that Christianity had a strong egalitarian streak and were concerned that it would give their slaves ideas. Certainly, the story of Exodus was a threat to every slave holder. That the slaves sang “Go down Moses” was not accidental.
The only role that Christianity played in the slave trader was that many of the slavers, if asked their faith, would have identified themselves, without irony, as “Christians,” never mind the messages in both the New and the Old Testament about slave revolts and our common humanity. It’s absolutely true that the white Christians thought themselves superior by virtue of their whiteness and Christianity — but they did not engage in 400 years of slave trading in the name of their Christian God. They were just doing what people had done since time immemorial — using enslaved human labor for their profit.
The African slave trade has to be balanced by comparing it to the Muslim slave trade. The two overlapped, although the Muslim slave trade lasted for 1,300 years, not 400. Millions of Europeans and Americans vanished into the Muslim world (which is why, many years ago, I knew a blue-eyed, blonde haired, fair-skinned Muslim young man). Because Muslims were enjoined under the Koran from enslaving each other, they had to look outside their own lands for a traditional source of labor. (As an aside, the word “slave” comes from “Slav” — as the Slavic lands were a fruitful source of kidnapped, forced labor.) Wikipedia has a decent summary of the slave trade:
The ‘Arab’ slave trade is sometimes called the ‘Islamic’ slave trade. Bernard Lewis writes that “polytheists and idolaters were seen primarily as sources of slaves, to be imported into the Islamic world and molded in Islamic ways, and, since they possessed no religion of their own worth the mention, as natural recruits for Islam.” Patrick Manning states that religion was hardly the point of this slavery. Also, this term suggests comparison between Islamic slave trade and Christian slave trade. Propagators of Islam in Africa often revealed a cautious attitude towards proselytizing because of its effect in reducing the potential reservoir of slaves.
Arab or Islamic slave trade lasted much longer than Atlantic or European slave trade: “It began in the middle of the seventh century and survives today in Mauritania and Sudan. With the Islamic slave trade, we’re talking of 14 centuries rather than four.” Further, “whereas the gender ratio of slaves in the Atlantic trade was two males to every female, in the Islamic trade, it was two females to every male,” according to Ronald Segal
In the 8th century, Africa was dominated by Arab–Berbers in the north: Islam moved southwards along the Nile and along the desert trails. One supply of slaves was the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia which often exported Nilotic slaves from their western borderland provinces, or from newly conquered or reconquered Muslim provinces. Native Muslim Ethiopian sultanates (rulership) exported slaves as well, such as the sometimes independent sultanate (rulership) of Adal .
For a long time, until the early 18th century, the Crimean Khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly 1 million and quite possibly as many as 1.25 million white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast of North Africa.
On the coast of the Indian Ocean too, slave-trading posts were set up by Muslim Arabs. The archipelago of Zanzibar, along the coast of present-day Tanzania, is undoubtedly the most notorious example of these trading colonies. Southeast Africa and the Indian Ocean continued as an important region for the Oriental slave trade up until the 19th century. Livingstone and Stanley were then the first Europeans to penetrate to the interior of the Congo basin and to discover the scale of slavery there. The Arab Tippu Tib extended his influence and made many people slaves. After Europeans had settled in the Gulf of Guinea, the trans-Saharan slave trade became less important. In Zanzibar, slavery was abolished late, in 1897, under Sultan Hamoud bin Mohammed. The rest of Africa had no direct contact with Muslim slave-traders.
Forced — brutally forced — conversions to Islam were common.
I’m not excusing the Atlantic slave trade, which was a vile, degrading, utterly evil practice. I’m just pointing out that it was a completely normal thing in the pre-modern world, where slavery had existed since the dawn of humankind; that the trade was not driven by Christianity; and that it was Christianity that brought it to an end in the West. Kind of the un-ISIS.
There are a few ideas tangled up in the above sentence: genocide; Christianity; and Manifest Destiny. Let’s tease them out.
First, “genocide” is a very specific idea, which encompasses the deliberate effort to wipe out an entire race. And it is true that, within the first few years of European contact with the Native Americans, around 90% of the Native Americans died. Except that wasn’t genocide, unless Mother Nature was getting in on the act.
The indigenous people in North and South America died because they had no resistance to the myriad diseases the Europeans brought with them, especially small pox. And in a day and age before germ theory, both the Native Americans and the Europeans can be forgiven for believing that the Europeans had a better God than the Native Americans did. Had it been otherwise, they reasoned, the Europeans would have died from Native American diseases. As it is, the worst that seems to have happened to the Europeans is that Syphilis made its way to the Old World.
While there were certainly practitioners of the philosophy that came down to us as “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” that philosophy was not carried out under the banner of Christ. Is was one grounded in racism, land hunger, and fear (since the Indians, when roused, were formidable opponents who did their best to kill white settlers).
Second, Christianity. That’s a big subject vis-a-vis the Native Americans, so there’s a lot to unpack here.
As mentioned above, when disease ravaged the Native American populations, that gave Christianity a big boost. What also helped was that, compared to a lot of the Native American religious practices, Christianity looked like a good deal.
It’s been common since the 1960s to paint Native Americans as peaceable people who were at one with nature. That’s certainly true for some of the tribes, but it’s certainly not true for others, including many of the most famous Native American populations.
Take, for example, the Aztecs. They were the Nazis of the Native American world. Like the Nazis, they were in many ways a polished, sophisticated society. They were also at constant, brutal war with their neighbors. When their growing population stripped their region of animal protein, they found a new use for their war captives. Instead, of slavery, they switched to cannibalism. To celebrate one king’s coronation, over a four day period Aztec priests cut the hearts out of over 80,000 living prisoners of war.
What few realize, thanks to inadequate instruction in our schools, is that three-hundred Spaniards were not able to defeat the Aztecs alone — something that’s true despite the fact that Montezuma, who viewed the white-skinned, red-haired Spaniards as the fulfilling of a prophecy about the end of his reign, refused to put up a fight on his own behalf. The Spaniards prevailed because surrounding tribes backed them in the attack against the Aztecs. For those tribes, destroying the Aztecs was equivalent to the Allied victory against the Nazis in 1945.
Other tribes were just as brutal as the Aztecs. The Apache were renowned for their brutality to those few whom they captured, rather than killed. Favorite torture were to roast captives over a slow fire or to flay them alive.
The European soldiers in the New World — Spanish, French, or British — were also brutal. After all, they came from a world in which public executions were considered entertainment, along with bear-baiting, and watching mentally ill people chained to walls in “lunatic asylums.” They had no compunction about brutalizing the indigenous people they came upon.
The Spanish and French, however, brought with them priests who did believe that the Native Americans were souls who could be saved. True to their time and the cultures, the priests did not believe the Native Americans were equal to the Europeans. But they patiently tried to convert them with stories of a benign God who died to save human kind and who took upon himself the pain of the world. In comparison to torture and cannibalism, Christianity looked good — not to mention the fact that the swath of destruction wrought by European diseases seemed a sign their own gods had abandoned them.
Put another way, the soldiers weren’t selling Christianity and the priests who came in their wake weren’t selling pain and death. In other words, again, not ISIS.
Third, Manifest Destiny was not a Christian genocidal concept. It was a European concept. It was a sense of endless possibilities concept. It was a commercial concept. It was a racist concept. It was a greed, and dream, and desire, concept. And yes, for some Christians, it was a sense that God had determined that they would populate the New World. Manifest Destiny was also not a universally accepted concept in America, with many viewing it as a pernicious, racist, and greedy land grab.
More significantly for purposes of this discussion, it was not a “let’s kill all the Indians in the name of our Christian God” concept. Certainly, there were Americans, most notably members of the new Democrat party under Andrew Jackson, who loathed the Indians, and were happy to screw Native Americans in business deals or to kill them if necessary. Jackson embodied this concept, being a double-dealer and a killer. All of this was, of course, consistent with the racial obsessions that have always characterized the Democrat party.
For the most part, though, there was no deliberate effort to kill or enslave Indians. Instead, there was the painful, inevitable clash as a fast-growing modern culture (modern by the standards of the day), encroached on territory that stone age cultures (which the Native Americans were) occupied. It was going to end ugly, no matter what, an ugliness made worse when the United States government put its strength behind the European American settlers and against the Native Americans.
Again, I’m not excusing what happened. I’m just saying that it was not a “Christian ISIS” movement that destroyed the Native Americans. It was a centuries’ long amalgam of disease, greed, human immigration, politics, arrogance, duplicity, racism, and all sorts of other stuff, some innocent or neutral, most bad. To the extent Christianity played a role in it, the Christians as often as not were the ones trying to save the Native Americans from the depredations of their fellow Europeans.
The history of the Australian aborigines parallels closely that of the Native Americans: Disease, greed, racism, rapid European immigration, etc. There was no specific Christian pilgrimage against the Aborigines. No large movement waved a Bible to justify the aboriginal destruction. It was, instead, the disastrous meeting of two cultures, with the culture that carried the deadly bacteria and modernism bound to succeed.
I should reiterate (I probably can’t say it enough), that I am not defending what happened to the Aborigines, although I do excuse Europeans, in a pre-germ theory era, of intending to kill 80-90% of the population through disease. I’m just saying that this was not a Christian ISIS movement.
You could call the Salem Witch Trials a Christian ISIS moment because it had religious fanatics attacking the people in their own community. Others have contended that it was economic warfare — town versus country — with a Christian gloss to justify the vendettas that played out. That doesn’t matter, though. It was still cruel killing and slaughter under the banner of God.
At the end of the mania, twenty people had been executed and five had died in prison. Americans since then have been profoundly embarrassed by what happened there. Arthur Miller gave the embarrassment a whole new cast when he used it as a metaphor for the McCarthy era.
ISIS’s death toll is higher, as is the overall death toll for those who have marched under the Muslim banner over the centuries. In India, estimates are that the Muslims, over a span of several centuries, killed 80 million people, with untold numbers converted at sword point. ISIS models itself on that tradition.
I’m not a fan of the Crusades myself, given that one of the things the Crusaders liked to do, both on their way to the Holy Land and once in the Holy Land, was to slaughter Jews. Having said that, the informed person understands that the Crusades were not an offensive war. They were, instead, a defense war.
The Papacy initiated the Crusades in the 11th century in response to the fact that the dynamic new Muslim faith, inspired by Mohammed’s exhortation to Holy War, had conquered 2/3 of the Christian world. While North Africa and the Middle East had once had vast, thriving Christian communities — the oldest Christian communities in the world — those communities were dead and gone. Those Christians and Jews who survived were either enslaved, converted (and still enslaved), or functioned as second class citizens, subject to all sorts of taxes and regulations.
Not only had the Muslims conquered entire nations before the 10th century, the reality was that, by the 11th century there was no indication that the Muslims were done conquering territory. They had a strong foothold in Spain that was to last until 1492 and were making frequent forays against Europe. Moreover, even if they were unable to conquer European lands, the Muslim dynasties kidnapped thousands of Christians, taking them back to the Muslim world as slaves.
When the Muslims began pressing against Constantinople, which was the remnant of the ancient Christian world, Christians in Constantinople (which you know as Muslim Istanbul) sent out panicked SOSs. Eventually, the Western Christians responded and began to mount their Crusade. As the Spanish correctly said of their efforts in Southern Spain, it was not a war of “conquest,” it was a war of “re-conquest,” which saw them trying to recover lands and peoples that Islam had conquered.
If you want to get a sense of the Muslim conquest of formerly Christian lands, this video is helpful:
The Crusades, therefore, were not an ISIS style-offensive war; instead, they were a defensive war. That doesn’t excuse the Crusaders’ excesses. It was a brutal age and they acted brutally. In their defense, the Muslim troops against which they fought were equally brutal. It was not a delicate age.
To put things in their proper place, the Crusaders were not ISIS-style initiators of a war of conquest. It was the Muslims who were the ISIS-style initiators of a war of conquest. Christians just did a counter strike.
Rashid has a point about the Lord’s Resistance Army because its leader, Joseph Kony, is a cultist who claims to fight under a Christian banner. To that extent, it can be called a Christian ISIS. Having said that, despite its reference to the Bible, the LRA’s precepts and practices do not bear any relationship to the Bible.
The LRA’s origins and the current war it wages seem bound more tightly to tribal warfare unique to the African community in which it exists than to either the New or the Old Testament. Thus, Christianity seems to have been an identity that Kony seized, rather than an ideology in which he and his followers believe and that they practice.
I don’t know of any Christians outside of LRA’s acolytes who support it in any way nor of any who can point to Biblical passages that justify the LRA’s conduct. Most certainly the LRA is not part of a world wide movement that encompasses ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab, and a variety of regional Islamist militias, all of which are dedicated to, first, regional conquest and, ultimately, worldwide conquest, thereby creating a worldwide Islamic caliphate.
The “Christian Militias,” or Anti-balaka, are another group tight closely to a unique time and place in Africa. In 2013, Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia, a Muslim, led a successful Muslim rebellion in the mostly Christian Central African Republic. He ended up taking power, but infighting quickly developed, and his government collapsed, leading to his resignation in 2013.
The anti-balaka forces were Christians and animists who rose up against Djotodia’s rule. Within a short time, they were engaged in active warfare with Djotodia’s troops, wars powered by both sectarian conflict and battles over land. (The battles are kind of like the farmers v. the cowboys in Oklahoma, with the Christian farmers objecting to the depredations of nomadic Muslims.)
As seems to be the norm when any battles take hold in Africa, the combat never stops. There are no working peace treaties and no definitive losses or victories followed by permanent cease fires. Instead, the two sides just move deeper and deeper into all sorts of brutality. Reports out of the Central African Republic are sparse, but there are stories of the Anti-balaka forcibly converting Muslims or cutting off their heads. To the extent that the Anti-balaka claim Christianity to justify their actions, they can be called a Christian ISIS.
Again, though, it’s worth pointing out that the Anti-balakas are extremely localized, that their ties to the Christian faith and Christian doctrine are tenuous, and that no Christians outside of their little region support them or their ideology. They are not one branch of a broader movement, as is the case for ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab, the Taliban, etc.
Moreover, it has to be said that there is, sadly, something peculiar to Africa about the way in which no wars are ever won. Instead, they are just fought until all the men are killed; all the women are raped or dead; all the children are raped, conscripted child soldiers, or dead; and the entire countryside is laid waste.
I have to part ways with Rashid strongly about the claim that white supremacists are the “largest terror threat” to American security. They’re simply not.
Since September 10, 2001, Muslim terrorists, acting in large-scale coordinated attacks, such as 9/11; smaller scale coordinated attacks, such as the Boston Marathon and San Bernardino; and innumerable individual attacks, in which the attacker explicitly identified himself as a soldier of Allah, such as Fort Hood or the Orlando shooting, have killed 3,141 Americans on American soil. Christian militias and white supremacists have not.
The Obama administration felt very uncomfortable tagging Muslims as terrorist practitioners, worried that identifying a subset of Muslims as terrorists in the name of their faith would lead to all Muslims being identified as terrorists in the name of their faith. I won’t discuss whether that fear was warranted or not. I will simply point out that, in service to this concern, the administration attempted to substitute other hate groups as the ones Americans should shun. The numbers do not support this approach.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, to which the Obama administration looked, has had a hand in this inaccurate approach to terror groups in America. It characterizes as a “hate group” every entity with which it disagrees. It also does fancy accounting in order to inflate the number of such groups. And it gets confused by fake hate crimes. Oh, and it lies. I fully understand that people would get caught up in the SPLC’s world view. Despite its bad practices, it still has a decent reputation and that means people have no impetus to examine whether its claims are accurate.
When it comes to characterizing dangerous groups, I’m going with the group that has the actual body count, rather than the one that . . . well, doesn’t. (And don’t say Timothy McVeigh to justify the claim that Christians kill lots of Americans. He did have a high body count but he did not do it in the name of Christianity. It was, instead, an anti-government act.)
Also, as the McVeigh example proves, Rashid is committing the fallacy of conflating bad people who call themselves Christians, with bad people who explicitly justify their bad acts by pointing to their Christianity. White Supremacists point to bad racial ideas, not to their religion, to justify their ideas. Fortunately, they have almost no traction in America. There are maybe 5,000 white supremacists active in the US, out of a population of 300 million.
There is no recording of Bush saying “God told him to invade.” Instead, it’s a hearsay statement from Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath, who claimed in 2005 that, back in 2003, Bush said to both him and Abbas that “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.”
I don’t see Shaath as a reliable source, especially because he was speaking when Progressives, his political allies in America, had turned defiantly against the war, about events that allegedly occurred two years before. Moreover, the notion that Bush, who was no fool despite the media’s efforts to paint him that way, would have said something so impolitic and overtly Christian to two Muslims whom he had no reason to trust defies credulity.
In fact, speaking to a more reputable source — Bob Woodward — Bush spoke on the record in the usual Christian terms about praying to the Lord for strength. Regarding the war itself, he had this to say: “I’m surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that.”
In other words, all Bush’s verifiable declarations were those of a man who is a Christian, but not of a man marching under a Christian banner to justify his conduct. Instead, Bush operated under the entire non-religious notion that, if Muslim nations ruled by tyrants could be brought to democracy, they would no longer be terror sponsoring threats. Bush’s theory worked off of the fact that democracies seldom go to war with each other.
Bush’s approach was a pipe dream, although one that might have been realized had Obama not, immediately upon entering office, undone the military victories that the United States had achieved in both Iraq and Afghanistan. By doing so, Obama created the vacuum that ISIS filled — explicitly in Islam’s name.
The above statements are all wrong in the same way: All three entities were and are bad organizations, peopled by evil people, but none of them are organized under the banner of Christ. Indeed, the Nazis, as all educated people know, were incredibly hostile to Christianity.
To the extent Hitler had an affinity for any religion, he admired Islam, which supported his views about genocide against Jews and about endless wars of conquest, with the people of the conquered nations either being killed or enslaved. However, true to his bizarre racial beliefs, Hitler thought that Arabs were a sub-human race who just happened to have stumbled upon an admirable, manly faith:
During a meeting with a delegation of distinguished Arab figures, Hitler learned of how Islam motivated the Umayyad Caliphate during the Islamic conquest of Gaul and was now convinced that “the world would be Mohammedan today” if the Arab regime had successfully taken France during the Battle of Tours, while also suggesting to Speer that “ultimately not Arabs, but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire.” Hitler said that the Germans would have become heirs to “a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and in subjugating all nations to that faith. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the German temperament.”
According to Speer, Hitler stated in private, “The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”
Similarly, Hitler was transcribed as saying: “Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers […] then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies the heroism and which opens up the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world.”
KKK and Aryan nation members may identify as Christians, but they justify their ideas and acts under the banner of racism, not Christianity. In addition, the SPLC’s hysteria notwithstanding, they’re marginal groups without any meaning in America. Their numbers are somewhere around 5,000, in a nation of 300 million people. They are not laying waste to vast territories nor are they mounting devastating terrorist attacks in escalating numbers across Europe and America, all in the name of Christ.
Rashid put together a useful list of misinformation and misunderstanding about slavery, European history, New World history, Christianity, genocide, etc. I don’t fault him. He seems to be a young man and this is what Americans (and most world citizens) are taught. Still, it’s wrong and it needs to be created. The only way to get rid of bad, erroneous information is to drive it out with actual facts.