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Clearly, blaming innocent people at prayer for their deaths at the hands of a right wing zealot crossed all the boundaries.But Anning’s view of Islam does echo an historic Western emphasis on the use of force in Islam as an explanation for its success.
Since its beginnings in the Arabia of the 7th century CE, the religion of Muhammad the prophet had pushed against the borders of Christendom.
Within 100 years of the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, an Arabian empire extended from India and the borders of China to the south of France.
Muhammad was, on occasion, imagined not as the ambitious, profligate impostor of old but as a “silent great soul”, a hero who spoke “from Nature’s own heart”, as Thomas Carlyle called him.
The Dublin University Magazine described him in 1873 as “one of the greatest ever sent on earth”. The increasing cultural and global political power of the West rendered obsolete the traditional fear of being overwhelmed by Islam.
The success of Christianity, having renounced the sword, was due to divine favour. This Western image of a benign, peaceful Christianity against a malevolent, violent Islam was a mythical one.
With few exceptions, its proponents ignored both the violence that often went along with the spread of Christianity and the religious tolerance that often accompanied the extension of Islam.But the myth did reflect the deep-seated Western horror, always potent in the collective imagination, of being literally overrun by the fanatical hordes.In the 19th century, however, attitudes did begin to change.Militarily, early Islam was undoubtedly successful. Since that time, for the Christian West, regardless of the Islamic precept and practice of religious tolerance (at least as long as non-Muslims did not criticise the prophet), Islam has remained often threatening, sometimes enchanting, but ever-present.Indeed, the West created its own identity against an Islam that it saw as totally other, essentially alien, and ever likely to engulf it.He is clearly wildly out of step with mainstream public opinion in Australia.A petition with more than 1.4 million signatures has been delivered to Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Australia’s first Muslim senator.The doctrine of Jihad (holy war), declared The Quarterly Review in 1877, “is not so dangerous or barbarous a one as is generally imagined”.Islamic cultures now came to be seen as spheres of Western patronage, secular and religious.Cut to the 21st century and a post-imperialist age, and Muslim nationalisms are again on the rise, not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but in Indonesia, India and Pakistan. The myth of Islam as essentially violent has re-surfaced.But, interestingly, it has done so in a different way.