SOURCE: Especially after the terrorist strikes of 9/11, Islam has often been accused of being intrinsically violent. Many point to the Koran and other Islamic scriptures and texts as proof that violence and intolerance vis-à-vis non-Muslims is inherent to Islam. In response, a number of apologetics have been offered. The fundamental premise of almost all of these is that Islam’s purported violence—as found in Islamic scriptures and history—is no different than the violence committed by other religious groups throughout history and as recorded in their scriptures, such as Jews and Christians. The argument, in short, is that it is not Islam per se but rather human nature that is prone to violence.
So whenever the argument is made that the Koran as well as the historical words and deeds of Islam’s prophet Muhammad and his companions evince violence and intolerance, the counter-argument is immediately made: What about the historical atrocities committed by the Hebrews in years gone by and as recorded in their scriptures (AKA, the Old Testament)? What about the brutal cycle of violence Christians have committed in the name of their faith against both fellow Christians and non-Christians?
Several examples are then offered from the Bible as well as Judeo-Christian history. Two examples especially—one biblical, the other historic—are often cited as paradigmatic of the religious violence inherent to both Judaism and Christianity and usually put an end to the debate of whether Islam is unique in regards to its teachings and violence.
The first is the military conquest of the land of Canaan by the Hebrews (c. 1200 BC), which has increasingly come to be characterized as a “genocide.” Yahweh told Moses:
But of the cities of these peoples which Yahweh your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—just as Yahweh your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 20: 16-18).So Joshua [Moses’ successor] conquered all the land: the mountain country and the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as Yahweh God of Israel had commanded (Joshua 10:40).
The second example revolves around the Crusader wars waged by Medieval European Christians. To be sure, the Crusades were a “counter-attack” on Islam—not an unprovoked assault as is often depicted by revisionist history. A united Christendom sought to annex the Holy Land of Jerusalem, which, prior to its conquest by Islam in the 7th century, was an integral part of Christendom for nearly 400 years.
Moreover, Muslim invasions and atrocities against Christians were on the rise in the decades before the Crusades were launched in 1096. For example, in 1071, the Seljuk Turks had crushed the Byzantines in the pivotal battle of Manzikert and in effect annexed a major chunk of Byzantine Anatolia (opening the way for the eventual capture of Constantinople centuries later). A few decades earlier, the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim desecrated and destroyed a number of important churches—such as the Church of St. Mark in Egypt and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—and decreed several even more oppressive than usual decrees against Christians and Jews. It is in this backdrop that Pope Urban called for the Crusades: