Saturday, February 6, 2010

Turning History Into a Politically Correct Cartoon

By Barry Rubin

Historians have long known that treating the past as if it were the present—thinking people acted, spoke, and thought the same way; that conditions were parallel; that problems were identical—is the surest way to misunderstand the past. Historical times must be dealt with on their own terms though, of course, understood in the context of larger trends.

One of the main intellectual mistakes of our current era is to teach students that all times are basically the same and that all can best be judged by the dominant contemporary ideologies of Political Correctness, multiculturalism, and "progressive" leftism masquarading as liberalism.

Instead of being the result and beneficiary of historical struggles who owe a debt to the past, people today are told they can be ingrates, benefitting from their ancestors struggles for freedom and democracy while deriding them for being imperfect, laking the great moral superiority, total knowledge, and absolute truth of contemporary smugness.

In addition, they are taught to demand that contemporary standards be applied to the past, thus branding their ancestors as racist, sexist, et cetera.

This kind of narrow teaching—prevalent in Western education especially after the murder of Western Civilization courses—is not only a form of arrogance but also of systematic indoctrination. If you don’t understand how silly ideas were developed and rejected in the past or how the process of reform worked or the cost of self-righteous ideologies like the ones prevalent today, then you don’t comprehend much about how society and the world works.

These reflections are further prompted by reading about a new book which, according to the description offered by the publishers, “provides a critical analysis of forms of Islamophobia throughout history and in the present, from anti-Islam movements in the Middle Ages and the ‘Turkish threat’….”

The transparency of the propaganda exercise can be easily seen by the absence of anyone writing or teaching about the history of Islamic “Christianophobia.”

Well, history actually happened and it didn’t just involve people standing around and being bigoted. The “phobia” in Islamophobia means “fear,” and these were not merely imaginary fears and conflicts.

The Crusades were the result of a civilizational war in which Islam was advancing and taking over formerly Christian-ruled territories. There were a long series of wars in Spain and Portugal between Christians and Muslims. Of course, even in Spain there were alliances among specific Christian and Muslim nobles against other Christian and Muslim nobles. History is complex and that’s why it must be understood in its own right and not distorted by preexisting ideological premises.

The Turkish, more accurately Ottoman, threat was real. To put the words “Turkish threat” in quotes as if it were some mythical propaganda scheme thought up to fool the masses is absurd. As far west as Slovakia, towns were under Ottoman attack from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. Vienna was twice besieged. Muslim forces engaged in Jihad also seized Russia for a time and arrived as far west as Poland.

It is vital as well to understand that “Christian” and “Muslim” did not then represent just religious beliefs but were principal markers of political identity and loyalty as well.

This does not mean Christians were always right or behaved well (a criticism not only permissible nowadays but practically mandatory) but neither did the Muslims (which is speech that is discouraged and even slandered or made criminal). But this is history we're talking about, not a morality play nor a parable for proving that Political Correctness and multiculturalism are right.

Such an orientation can be reduced to a comedy skit in which two Christian peasants, riddled with arrows, are running away from Ottoman warriors engaged in Jihad swinging their scimitars and in hot pursuit. One peasant is saying to the other: "The trouble with you is that you're Islamophobic."

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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