Franz Schurmann / New America Media – 2006-09-18 21:27:48
(September 5, 2006) — The Bush Administration has taken to describing the war on terror as a prolonged struggle against Islamo Fascism. The message is clear — this war won’t end any time soon, and therefore shouldn’t be compared with, say, World War I, World War II or even the Vietnam War. This war is one likely to last well into the 21st century. Think “Cold War.”
In fact, the more appropriate analogy may be the religious wars which engulfed Europe and the Middle East beginning in the 6th and then again in the 16th centuries. Examining the causes of these conflicts, and their impacts, can help us consider what may lie ahead for our own century.
In the 6th century the Prophet Muhammad founded a religion, Islam, which changed the spiritual beliefs of many countries. In the 16th century, Protestants in Germany broke loose from the Roman Catholic Church, inflaming religious conflicts that eventually turned northern against southern Europe in the infamous 30 Years War.
Like Jesus in his time, Muhammad had only a few companions to accompany him when he fled from his birthplace in Mecca to Medina. Yet within a few years after his death, his successors had conquered huge parts of Africa and Asia. By the 10th and 11th centuries, these two regions had abandoned Nestorian Christianity — as those in what is now Afghanistan, modern Bangladesh and Central Asia abandoned Buddhism — for the new faith.
What accelerated the spread of Islam was the “rot” that afflicted the three great empires of the time — the Roman, the Persian and the Chinese. (Of these, only the Chinese survive to this day.) As politics stagnates, lack of conviction turns into belief, abhorring the vacuum.
The Roman emperor Diocletanius (243-316) was an early portent of that rot. Raised by the warm waters of the Adriatic Sea, Diocletanius preferred to rule from the Adriatic region, turning his back on Rome. He delegated Rome’s maladies to his friend Maximum, naming him as co-regent. Rome’s wealthy classes followed the imperial example and abandoned Rome in droves for “the Orient,” taking their wealth with them.
Two centuries later, two Chinese emperors, father and son, laid the foundations for the glorious Tang Dynasty. The two emperors created so many canals and water works that they all but eliminated starvation in China’s cities and countryside for several generations.
The genius of the Tang was so well known around the world that even the Prophet Muhammad during his days as a merchant in Damascus and Axum in Ethiopia became an admirer of “the third empire.” One of his hadiths (sermon) urges “those who seek wisdom, go to China.”
In England, the rot began with the War of the Roses in the latter part of the 14th century. While ostensibly a political fight between two royal houses vying for the throne, scholars still puzzle over why it unleashed such huge amounts of bloodshed among ordinary people. In the original “War for the Religion” (the Roman Church), Protestants were killed or driven out of France in the middle of the 16th century. Many fled to Germany, which consisted of small states.
If Protestant refugees stumbled into a Catholic state, they were lucky to have their lives. But all the Roman Catholic Church had to offer to remedy the rot was further persecution. Protestant convictions grew, destroying much of 16th century Germany and eventually pitting the southern against the northern powers.
Long before 9/11, America’s secular experiment with democracy was gripped by its own rot, exemplified when the country could not identify a winner of the 2000 presidential elections for an entire month, kindling a serious recession. When 9/11 occurred, the Bush spin doctors were quick to remind the world that everybody prays in the White House.
Far from a secular America confronting a radical religion, however, a resurgent Protestant Christian right has aligned itself with Zionist support for Israel to move the American political agenda. For the first time a US president has now identified the enemy as a religious force. And President Bush may well go down in the history books as the man who started the second 30 Years War.
Franz Schurmann is a professor emeritus of history and sociology and the author of numerous books on global politics.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.