How important, really, is history to current affairs? Do events from the 7th century—or, more importantly, how we understand them—have any influence on U.S. foreign policy today?
By way of answer, consider some parallels between academia’s portrayal of the historic Islamic jihads and the U.S. government’s and media’s portrayal of contemporary Islamic jihads.
While any objective appraisal of the 7th century Muslim conquests proves that they were just that—conquests, with all the bloodshed and rapine that that entails—the historical revisionism of modern academia, especially within Arab and Islamic studies departments, has led to some portrayals of the Muslim conquerors as “freedom-fighters” trying to “liberate” the Mideast from tyrants and autocrats. (Beginning to sound familiar?)
Today’s approach to teaching the history of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century is something as follows: Yes, the Mideast was Christian, but local Christians helped Arab Muslims invade and subjugate their countries in preference to Christian Byzantine rule, which was oppressive due to doctrinal disagreements over the nature of Christ. Hence, the Muslim conquerors were actually “liberators.”
This perspective, as with many modern Western perspectives concerning Islam, is a product of modern day epistemic distortions, chief among them: 1) repackaged narratives of the “noble savage” myth—yes, 7th century Muslim invaders were coarse, but had elevated ideals, including a fierce love for freedom and religious tolerance in comparison to Christians of the time (not to mention now); and 2) entrenched political correction that seeks to whitewash the true history of Islam followed by the uncritical acceptance of Islamic apologetics, some of which border on the absurd.
Of course, before the Islamic “liberator” thesis had become mainstream, historians such as Alfred Butler, author of The Arab Conquest of Egypt, had this to say about it:
Even in the most recent historians it will be found that the outline of the story [of the 7th century conquest of Egypt] is something as follows: …. that the Copts generally hailed them [Muslims] as deliverers and rendered them every assistance; and that Alexandria after a long siege, full of romantic episodes, was captured by storm. Such is the received account. It may seem presumptuous to say that it is untrue from beginning to end, but to me no other conclusion is possible. [emphasis added; pgs. iv-v]… Continue reading to see how all this “ancient history” affects modern day understandings of the jihad