9/11 – 100 Years On

By Hugh Goddard

It will be very interesting, in 100 years time, to see whether 2001 has entered the list of significant anniversaries in the long history of conflict between Christians and Muslims.

“9/11 – 100 Years On” is the sixth article in the series, Ten Years After 9/11.  The full original version appears in Political Theology 12.5.

By Hugh Goddard

It will be very interesting, in 100 years time, to see whether 2001 has entered the list of significant anniversaries in the long history of conflict between Christians and Muslims.  Obvious entries which already figure in that list include 634 (the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem) and 636 (the battle of the Yarmuk between the Arabs and the Byzantines); 711 (the first Muslim expedition into Spain) and 732 (the battle of Tours or Poitiers between Muslim Berbers and Arabs and the Franks under Charles Martel); 1071 (the battle of Manzikert between the Byzantines and the Seljuk Turks), which led to the establishment of Seljuk rule throughout most of Asia Minor); 1085 (the reconquest of Toledo by Alfonso VI of Castile); 1099 (the Crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem) and 1187 (the battle of Hattin between Saladin and his Crusading opponents); 1389 (the battle of Kosovo, which led to the conquest of Serbia by the Ottoman Turks); 1453 (the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans); 1492 (the reconquest of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella and the final end of Muslim rule in Andalucia); 1526 (the battle of Mohacs, an Ottoman land victory, leading to the partitioning of the Kingdom of Hungary and laying the foundation for the first Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1529);  1571 (the battle of Lepanto, a naval victory over the Ottomans by the Holy League of Spain, Venice, and the Papacy); 1757 (the battle of Plassey, opening the doors for the establishment of British power in India); 1798 (Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt); 1917 (the British occupation of Jerusalem) and 1920 (the French occupation of Damascus); and 1993 (the destruction of the ancient bridge in Mostar by the Bosnian Croats) or 1995 (the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica).

According to Anthony Pagden (Worlds at War, OUP 2008), even this impressive list is only a small part of the much longer, 2,500 year, struggle between East and West which includes the battles of Marathon (land, 490 BC), Thermopylae (land, 480 BC) and Salamis (sea, 480 BC), and the destruction of Persepolis by Alexander the Great (330 BC), to which one might add the battle of Carrhae (53 BC, between Rome and the Parthians) and the long struggle between Rome and Sassanian Persian Empire, which culminated in the Sassanian conquest of Jerusalem and much of the eastern half of the Byzantine Empire in 614.

If, in 2111, the year 2001 has been added to this list, it will probably be as much because of some of the immediate consequences of the event, particularly the occupations of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), the bombings in various European cities such as Madrid (2004), London (2005) and Glasgow (2007), the NATO operation against Libya (beginning March 2011), and the killing of Usama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan (May 2011) as because of the events of 11th September 2001 themselves.

Embarrassment among many Christians about the paraphrase of the New Testament by President George W Bush in his statement ‘You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists’, to the Joint session of Congress on 20th September 2001 (cf Matthew 12:30, ‘He who is not with me is against me’), gave way to considerable relief with the election in November 2008 of Barack Obama, with his far greater experience of the World of Islam, on the basis of his own autobiography, and considerably more nuanced approach to the Muslim World, as exemplified in his speeches in Cairo in June 2009 and Jakarta in November 2010.  Even the President, however, is not able to control the activities of citizens of the United States such as Pastor Terry Jones, whose threat to burn a copy of the Qur’an in public on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, in September 2010, was not carried out, but who, according to some news reports, has subsequently carried out a burning of a kerosene-soaked Qur’an, in private, in March 2011.

The shooting of (Sikh) Balbir Singh Sodhi in Arizona, along with the attempted shooting of a Lebanese-American and some of the members of an Afghan family, who were all Muslim, on 15th September 2001, by Frank Roque, together with the murder of (Coptic Christian) Adel Karas in California on the same day and the  shooting of (Hindu) Vasudev Patel by Frank Stroman in Texas, a few days later, also illustrate the problems of religious and sartorial ignorance in the US, and of right-wing extremism in particular. More recent events in Norway, with the bombing in Oslo and shootings on Otoya Island by Anders Brievik towards the end of July 2011, also illustrate the tragic potential of right-wing ultra-nationalist sentiment in a European context, given his manifesto’s visceral distrust of multiculturalism in general and Islam in particular.

Worldwide, many problems remain, with events in the first six months of 2011, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, making abundantly clear the tensions and difficulties which exist within many Arab societies, not least about the role which it is appropriate for religion to play, and the two assassinations which have taken place recently in Pakistan, that of the (secular) governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January 2011 and the (Roman Catholic Christian) Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, in March 2011 illustrate some of the problems, both political and religious, which exist in that country.  In Europe the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands (2004), the controversy about the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad (2005), and the lecture by Pope Benedict at Regensburg (2006) serve as three examples of some of the issues, political, religious and cultural, which exist in that continent.

There are two key universal issues which all of these events over the past ten years highlight.  Attitudes towards religious diversity, both internal and wider, are extremely important for the future all over the world. Secondly, the relationship between religion and the state, and particularly the use of state power to further or enforce particular religious policies, is again now a universal issue.

Professor Hugh Goddard is the Director of the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World in the University of Edinburgh (www.alwaleed.ed.ac.uk). He was previously Professor of Christian-Muslim Relations in the University of Nottingham, and is the author of Christians and Muslims: from Double Standards to Mutual Understanding (1995), Muslim Perceptions of Christianity (1996), and A History of Christian-Muslim Relations (2000).

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