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When, in our turbulent day, we hear of a “clash of civilizations,” it’s easy to imagine an unbridgeable chasm between the Islamic world and Christendom stretching back through time. But such assumptions crumble before the drama that unfolds in this book. Two Faiths, One Banner shows how in Europe, the heart of the West, Muslims and Christians were often comrades-in-arms, repeatedly forming alliances to wage war against their own faiths and peoples.
Here we read of savage battles, deadly sieges, and acts of individual heroism; of Arab troops rallying by the thousands to the banner of a Christian emperor outside the walls of Verona; of Spanish Muslims standing shoulder to shoulder with their Christian Catalan neighbors in opposition to Castilians; of Greeks and Turks forming a steadfast bulwark against Serbs and Bulgarians, their mutual enemy; of tens of thousands of Hungarian Protestants assisting the Ottomans in their implacable and terrifying march on Christian Vienna; and finally of Englishman and Turk falling side by side in the killing fields of the Crimea.
This bold book reveals how the idea of a “Christian Europe” long opposed by a “Muslim non-Europe” grossly misrepresents the facts of a rich, complex, and—above all—shared history. The motivations for these interfaith alliances were dictated by shifting diplomacies, pragmatic self-interest, realpolitik, and even genuine mutual affection, not by jihad or religious war. This insight has profound ramifications for our understanding of global politics and current affairs, as well as of religious history and the future shape of Europe.
Almond, an associate professor and Islamic specialist at Georgia State University, draws on a multitude of sources to create an alternate history of interactions between Christians and Muslims in Europe over 800 years, boldly concentrating on "unity and collaboration instead of friction and division." His approach shows how Muslims were a vital and regular part of Europe and its true history, not the European history he believes is being "airbrushed" to exclude Jews and Muslims. Almond's examples prove his point; he cites Muslim and Christian sharing of languages, cultures and lifestyles throughout Europe, the use of Muslim-style florals and geometric design in European church architecture of the 13th century and, of perhaps the utmost significance, leaders who sought the aid of Muslim armies when their country was being invaded. Reports during the Crimean War testified to cooperation and even warmth between Christian and Muslim soldiers. Muslims were also on both sides in the battle for Constantinople in 1453. Even the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 has been overdramatized to create or emphasize a "clash of civilizations" paradigm. Almond chastises those who promote stereotypes-such as the "Terrible Turks"-and suggests that the goal of such government and media-propagated mythologizing is to use Muslims to distract from problems within modern-day society and governance. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Posted August 6, 2009
Ian Almond shows with much conviction that the convenient omission of Muslims from Christian armies - and vice versa - in historical records is not an isolated incident. This collective amnesia reflects a view of history that is similar to driving a car in a thick fog without much visibility ahead or behind. Mr. Almond came to the realization that the writing of history was not like climbing a hill from which one could acquire an expanding view of an increasingly bigger area. Most people do not learn more and more about themselves. They modify their history continually.
For this reason, Mr. Almond invites his audience to (re)discover through his selection of five military conflicts that Christians and Muslims occasionally fought on the same side against people of their own faith for one or more of the following reasons:
A. There were times when impeding invasions or assaults brought together communities which otherwise felt little sympathy for one another. For example, Christians made up more than 50% of the 'Ottoman' army marching against the Hapsburgs during the siege of Vienna in 1683 C.E. This observation becomes 'understandable' when readers consider two facts: 1) Hungary's Protestants resented the colonial attitude of the Catholic Hapsburgs. Furthermore, the lot of Hungarian peasantry was that of serfs whose living conditions were atrocious.
B. Another related reason is the hatred of a common enemy. In the second half of the 11th century C.E., two of the steadiest coalitions arose between on one hand, the Christian kingdom of Leon-Castile and Muslim Zaragoza, and on the other hand, the Christian kingdoms of Aragon and Catalonia and Muslim Lerida. These alliances rose as a result of the 'Balkanization' of Muslim Spain in the Taifa period as the kingdoms of both faiths positioned themselves to attain supremacy over one another.
C. The economic promise of material gains was another powerful motivator to fight together with people of another faith. This materialistic attitude often resulted in a kind of emotional investment. After their deportations from Sicily to the town of Lucera in Southeast Italy in 1224 C.E., many Muslims went to Palestine with the Christian army of Frederick II for the ultimately peaceful, but temporary 'lease' of Jerusalem.
D. Affections, marriages, curiosity, and inexplicable attractions and fascinations between elites also pushed Muslims and Christians to form alliances. At the end of the first half of the 14th century C.E., Byzantine Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos became the first basileus to acquire a Muslim son-in-law, i.e., Umur of Aydin, a Turkish ruler. This relationship was born not only out of the needs of realpolitik, but also out of a personal sincerity between both men.
E. Finally, the existence of a shared culture, a common language or set of values was a factor in making possible for Christians and Muslims to fight as comrades-in-arms against people of their own faith. Michal Czajkowski (who converted to Islam) and his regiment of 'Polish Cossacks' fought for the Ottomans against the Russians during the Crimean War (1853 - 1856 C.E.).
To summarize, Mr. Almond invites his audience to go beyond the populist 'clash of civilizations' between Christianity and Islam by realizing that history is often not as simplistic as propagandists on all sides want them to believe.
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Posted August 10, 2009
I've read 50 pages and I'm enjoying myself. I like the bibliograpghy, footnotes, and at the end of each chapter there are the works that Ian Almond used. The aim which is stated a number of times is a just and noble one. He mixes current news and takes good swipes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.