Let me tell you a story. It is all about the historical beginnings of the terms “holy war” and “genocide.”
From the birth of Islam in 610 C.E. until this day, Muslims all over the world have been among the first victims of genocide. More than ten million have been murdered, tortured, and raped throughout history because of their identity and beliefs. Historical records indicate that the Spanish Crusades and Inquisition (912-1272) resulted in two million Muslims being slaughtered. Another two million were massacred during the European Crusades between 1095 and 1272 and the Mongols murdered two million more between 1219 and 1260 in India, Persia, Iraq and central Asia. During the African slave trade to the Americas, about two million Muslim Africans perished at sea or died of torture at the hands of brutal colonial masters. During the quarter-century from 1932 to 1957, an estimated two million Muslims perished in the Vorkuta concentration camps in the Russian Arctic.
“Genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law,” states the December 9, 1948 UN Resolution 260 (III). Numerous crimes of this kind were committed supposedly in the name of God and are justified by religion. “Rather than being an act of faith, genocide is a political strategy to ensure the obedience of the masses and the advancement of the private agendas of the ruling elite.”
In the annals of history, the Christian Crusades provide a unique and tragic example of how one person, the Catholic Pope Urban II of Rome, exploited religion for his own political power and control. His rallying cry was “Holy War” to save Christians from the infidel (non- believers) and free Jerusalem.
It was the Pope who first coined the term “Holy War” or was it “Jihad?” to mobilize public support for both his unstated goals — to stop bloodshed among the Christian communities of Europe, and to install himself as the head of the Church, in which he would claim to represent God’s ultimate authority on earth. Thus the Crusades, which would last for 200 years and slaughter two million Muslims, flared from a spark lit by one man who was looking for a way to make himself the supreme figure in the Christian world.
On November 27, 1095 Urban delivered his master plan for “The Crusades” to an immense crowd that gathered for his much-anticipated announcement. He called upon Christian warriors and every other Christian male to take upon themsleves the divine duty of saving their brethren in the East from infidels and restoring Jerusalem to the Church, “the spiritual (and therefore the physical) centre of the Universe.”
The people of Europe responded to Pope Urban’s call to “take the road to the Holy Sepulchre, rescue that land from a dreadful race.” They were promised that “whoever for devotion alone, not to gain honour or money, goes to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God can substitute this journey for all penance.” They could kill, pillage, rape and loot and still go to paradise, as long as they were on their way to restore the holy city of Jerusalem to the Church.
The first army of crusaders for this “holy war” was a group of Europeans from Germany, Italy and France, an unofficial army that set off on its march to Jerusalem with no real plan, except the knowledge that this was a “Holy War,” and they were to use any and all means to achieve their goal. For example, Peter the Hermit’s mission ended in 1096 after he and his men had pillaged, massacred, tortured and raped the inhabitants of Anatolia, a city in which the majority of the inhabitants were Christians who had lived in peace under the Muslim rule for generations. The Turks later wiped out the followers of Peter the Hermit and that ended Peter’s ill-fated Crusade of the People.
The first official Crusade “Holy War” set out in the autumn of 1096 and headed for Constantinople. On June 2nd, 1098, the Crusaders took Antioch and by nightfall “there was not a Turk left alive in the city… all the Muslim population had been slaughtered.” The Crusaders then sent a letter to Pope Urban saying that they had “transferred the whole city of Antioch to the Roman religion and faith.” In reality, however, they had not “transferred” anyone — they took the faster route and simply wiped out all the Muslims.
The next city attacked was Maarrat Al-Numan. Lord Norman Bohemond Tarentino promised sanctuary to all those who surrendered to him and assembled at a specific location. Large numbers of Muslim inhabitants surrendered, but were horribly betrayed, for Bohemond’s men slaughtered them all the next day in the hall where they had assembled.
The Crusaders finally reached Jerusalem, and after a long struggle at its walls, managed to break into the city on July 15th, 1099. They poured in, “falling on the Muslim and Jewish defenders of the city like the avenging angels of the Apocalypse.” For three days the Crusaders ruthlessly slaughtered Jerusalem’s 30,000 inhabitants. About 10,000 Muslim men, women and children had sought sanctuary in Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is adjacent to the Haram Al-Sherif or the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest place of Islam. Tancred, Bohemond’s nephew, promised immunity to the Muslims in Al-Aqsa and his banner was raised above the mosque, but again the Muslims were betrayed, for Tancred’s men slaughtered everyone within the edifice in cold blood. Jerusalem became a portrait of death painted in Muslim blood. Numerous accounts of that time describe the city streets awash in blood up to people’s knees.
This marked a horrific end to 461 years of Muslim rule in Jerusalem, from August 20, 638 C.E. when Caliph Umar Ibn-Khattab had established his reign of peace. In complete contrast to the approach of the Crusaders, Caliph Umar promised “security, to each person and their property: to their churches, their crosses… We shall not destroy their churches nor impair any of their contents of their property… We shall not compel the people of Jerusalem to renounce their beliefs and we shall not do them any harm.”
Arabs who came to Jerusalem with the Caliph Umar built their Mosque their new homes in unoccupied areas of Jerusalem. In this way, the three monotheistic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — were able to co-exist and prosper under correct Isalmic law.
Thus the genocide of Muslims was not a religious war, but a political movement motivated by the elite to control land, resources, and people. The Pope exploited religion to incite hatred against “others,” not “like us,” to establish his political authority. This scenario was to repeat itself for hundred of years, during which many more genocide campaigns were mounted against Muslims in Europe and in the Middle East.
To-day, as we enter the 21st century the same religious rhetoric of political ambitions against Islam that once fuled the energies of the Crusades is still alive and well in the heart of civilized Europe and North America. When Muslim Bosnia, in former Yugoslavia, declared its independence on April 15th 1992, Orthodox Christian Serbs raped, mass- murdered and tortured innocent Muslim men, women and children — not unlike what the Christian Crusaders had done to the Muslim inhabitants of medieval Jerusalem.
“It is a reality that war in Bosnia was direct result of that crazy idea to create a Muslim republic on the soil of Yugoslavia,” said Serbian president Milosevic in an interview with ABC. He repeated the same in Kosovar and now the Russians are using the same excuse to committ genocide in Chechnya. Present-day genocides of Muslims are occurring in Bosnia, Iraq, Chechnya, Palestine, China, Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Mrs. Valiante is national vice-chair of the Canadian Islamic Congress. She is a professional family counselor who recently visited Palestine as part of a fact-finding medical team. While there, the team visited refugee camps, health care clinics, hospitals, orphanages, local and international charities and women’s refugee centres, and spoke with social workers and local Palestinian families.