Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The history of Islam and the West has been one of unwavering antagonism and seismic clashes, often initiated by the followers of Muhammad. By the standards of history, nothing between the two forces is as well documented as this long war. Accordingly, for more than a millennium, both educated and not so educated Europeans knew—the latter perhaps instinctively—that Islam was a militant creed that for centuries attacked and committed atrocities in their homelands, all in the name of “holy war,” or jihad. In the words of Konstantin Mihailović, a fifteenth century Serb who was forced to convert to Islam in his youth and made to fight as a slave-soldier for the Turks until he escaped: “the Persians, the Turks, the Tatars, the Berbers, and the Arabs; and the diverse Moors… [all] conduct themselves according to the accursed Koran, that is, the scripture of Mohammed.”
This long-held perspective has been radically twisted in recent times. According to the dominant narrative—as upheld by mainstream media and Hollywood, pundits and politicians, academics and “experts” of all stripes—Islam was historically progressive and peaceful, whereas premodern Europe was fanatical and predatory. Or, to quote the BBC, “Throughout the Middle Ages, the Muslim world was more advanced and more civilised than Christian Western Europe, which learned a huge amount from its neighbour.”
The reason for these topsy-turvy claims is that “Who controls the past controls the future,” as George Orwell observed in his 1984 (a dystopian novel that has become increasingly applicable to our times). It is, therefore, unsurprising to discover that the greatest apologia for politically active Islamists and their Leftist allies—and the first premise for all subsequent apologias for Islam—is purely historical in nature.
Recall, for instance, the most popular and oft-asked question to arise after the September 11, 2001 terror strikes: “Why do they hate us?” Unbeknownst to most, this question presupposed—indeed, was heavy laden with—a historical point of view that had been forged over decades and largely remains unquestioned, even by critics of modern Islam: Because Islam was tolerant and advanced in the past, this entrenched perspective holds, its current problems in the present—authoritarianism, intolerance, violence, radicalization, terrorism, etc.—must be aberrations, products of unfavorable circumstances, politics, economics, “grievances”—anything and everything but Islam itself. Simply put, if they did not “hate us” before—but were rather progressive and tolerant—surely something other than Islam has since “gone wrong.”
Nor is it much help to argue that the Koran and hadith make it clear that Islam is inherently intolerant thanks to the widely entrenched notion that everything—especially old scriptures—is open to “interpretation.”
From here one can see the importance of safeguarding the current narrative of a historically “advanced” and “tolerant” Islam vis-à-vis a historically “backwards” and “intolerant” Europe.
I myself experienced firsthand just how important controlling this narrative is for political Islamists. After the U.S. Army War College invited me to lecture on my last history book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “CAIR”—an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorist funding case in U.S. history—and its leftist allies launched an “unprecedented” attack on me and the War College. They issued—on two separate occasions—press releases, hysterical petitions (presenting the War College—even me, an ethnic Egyptian—as “white supremacists”), and made several direct calls to and met with the heads of the War College—all in an effort to get my talk canceled.
In the end, they failed, in part because the National Association of Scholars sent a petition letter to then president Donald Trump—signed by over five thousand people, mostly university affiliated academics; ten congressmen also came to my support. More to the point, and as retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Allen West, who also came to my support, explained, “not one sentence of his recent literary project [Sword and Scimitar] was mentioned by these Islamo-fascists [as being wrong].”
When CAIR and its “woke” allies realized that their attempts at academic censorship had failed, and that I would speak anyway, they urged the War College and it agreed to allow another historian to present a “counterview” in response to my lecture. This was John Voll, professor emeritus of Islamic history at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (See here for how this renowned apologist misrepresented and whitewashed Islam’s history of terror vis-à-vis the West.) Unfortunately, and despite the fact that the War College videotaped my talk (objectively summarized by a reporter here), and informed me that, like all of their talks, it would be posted online, it was never published.
At any rate, why did CAIR and its allies launch such an attack on me in the first place, especially considering that they did not respond similarly to my other books which I also lectured about in other worthy venues—books that dealt with current and hot topics (e.g., Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians and The Al Qaeda Reader)? Why instead did they go after a book that revolved around, of all things, “ancient history”—and with such vehemence, at one point desperately insisting that if I am allowed to lecture on it at the War College, American servicemen would get so riled as to start massacring Muslims on sight?
Because they too know what is at stake; they too know that “who controls the past”—which they are determined to continue doing—“controls the future.” So long as the people of the West accept as a first premise that Islam was historically and for centuries an advanced, enlightened, and tolerant force—especially in comparison to Europe—so long must all the violent and terrible things currently being committed in its name be chalked up to other factors—territorial disputes, grievances, economics, education, politics, and/or “lack of jobs” to quote the Obama White House—never Islam itself.
Such logic is admittedly sound—but only as long as its first premise remains unchallenged. For those, however, who become acquainted with Islam’s true history vis-à-vis the West, there is no “why do they hate us?” or “what went wrong?” to explain away. Rather, the obvious becomes painfully clear: the Muslim world’s present is, sadly, an extension—often a mirror representation—of its past.