Global Resilience Solutions > Category:ideology

The Story Trap

Storytelling is a basic human quality. We are incapable of understanding our world without forming stories to understand it. Sharing stories is a basic function of community and culture. But when control of those stories becomes a tool used by those in power to induce us to think and act in a certain way, we need to be more conscious than ever of how stories affect the tone, the actions and the liberty of a society.

Dividing Stories

In America today, as in many Western countries, the political function of story is largely to divide, to suppress constructive dialogue and to encourage polarisation of the public. This is seen as useful not only by the politicians but by pressure groups of one sort or another who advocate ideologies.

Consider some of these stories which you may have heard:

“Those damned communists are socialising our healthcare and destroying the best medical system in the world!”

“First the government wants to take away our guns, and then our freedom!”

“America won’t be safe until law enforcement/ intelligence agencies have enough powers and/or until sentences are harsh enough!”

“All those corrupt investment houses and companies are too big to fail, so we’ll bail them out while talking about how the corrupt one percent is ruining the economy.”

“Uncontrolled immigration is destroying America.”

“It’s intolerant to oppose morally bankrupt positions and practices if they come from an ethnic minority.”

These positions have all become so engrained, so obvious and absolute to those that hold them and so reviled by those who don’t that it is almost impossible to have a productive discussion on any of these points. Objective facts that don’t fit the narratives, sometimes even on both sides of the political spectrum, are pushed aside. Consider the “too big to fail” argument that arose during the Global Financial Crisis. Bailouts weren’t accompanied by sufficient reforms to accountability, nor by a responsibility on the part of the private sector to help those affected by their poor decision-making. Foreclosures and other financial catastrophes continued to afflict the general public, while Wall Street and the major corporations learned that the taxpayer would always bail them out.

The free market phobia of regulation on the one hand and the Obama administration’s naive willingness to shield economic actors from the consequences of their actions in the name of the public good on the other resulted in a solution that solved nothing. One set was trapped by free market ideology, the other by interventionism. The few honest free market advocates on the right who were willing to let the market decide who failed, and those on the left who wanted to seriously address the problems of income inequality and a marketplace captive to the interests of the corporate few, not only got no serious hearing, but couldn’t have had a meaningful conversation with each other if they had. Each was a captive of its own stories, libertarian economics on the one hand and socialism and its successors on the other, neither of which was adequate to address the problem at hand. Each story was by reflex completely exclusive of the other.

Unifying Stories

In many other parts of the world, and indeed in many ethnic and ideological communities, the problem is not that stories are used to divide, but that they are used to enforce unity and intellectual conformity. In the words of Salman Rushdie in the video below, you are told not only what the story is, but how it is to be interpreted and how it is to be told. Any departure from that norm, any attempt to think differently about the story, becomes a punishable heresy.

The results of this line of thought over the past fifty years of Islamic fundamentalism has been the complete suppression of open discussion and debate throughout the Islamic world. Worse, going back to the point about political correctness above, it has forced the non-Islamic world to accept the same, unquestioned, strict interpretation of Islamic belief, threatening anyone who would question the sacred and unchangeable stories of Islam with anger, ostracism and death. At the same time, this tight control of the meaning of the Islamic story creates inherent biases as to what Muslims are supposed to care about. Cartoon in a European newspaper- outrage! Salman Rushdie writes a book- outrage! Muslims killing and oppressing other Muslims, let alone religious minorities in their own countries- yawn. The One True Story creates a unifying identity not only though conformity of belief, but through conformity of anger.

The same principle applies to unifying political stories. In Russia, for example, it is a criminal offense to “misrepresent” the Great Patriotic War- World War II to us. To misrepresent means to depart from the official line, which not only justifies Stalin’s repression and the occupation of Eastern Europe as necessary to counter Nazi Germany and subsequent “Western aggression”, but also airbrushes certain things out of the history books, such as the extremely bad behaviour of the Red Army in Eastern Europe and especially Germany after the victory.

The Great Patriotic War is a touchstone for Russian national unity, and as such becomes politically useful in supporting certain narratives, especially those that justify political repression and military intervention in what Russia calls the “near abroad” as countermeasures to continued Western aggression or perceived attempts to keep Russia down. These same narratives serve as a distraction from the disastrous state of the economy and other domestic problems, as nationalist narratives often do in many countries.

When Story Becomes Ideology

Stories are a necessary part of human life. Without them, we could not understand our world. But we have to beware of stories that are used to divide, to suppress, to prescribe anger. Beware also of stories that can’t take questions or allow meaningful discussion with other points of view. It happens everywhere, from Capitol Hill to places of worship to the mass media to the halls of academia. The stories you subscribe to are up to you. You owe it to yourself to make sure that you don’t sell out that freedom.


Shall We Dispense with the Bullshit? Welcome to the TRUTH about the Crusades…

Given that hardly a week goes by when some commentator, either Muslim or sympathetic to Islam, doesn’t use the Crusades as a shorthand for Western imperialism and encroachment on the Arab world, it’s high time for a reality check. What were the Crusades, what was their historical context, and should they really be such a byword?

We don’t often do posts like this one. However, a key element of human resilience is distinguishing truth from fiction and knowing when you’re being manipulated. Granted, not always an easy task in the modern world, but this is one subject on which we can definitely set the record straight…

The Big Picture

Let’s have a look at that phrase, “the Arab world.” For more than half of the first millennium A.D., there was no such thing. Until Islam comes on the scene in the seventh century, Arabs lived in Arabia. Egyptians, Syrians, Berbers, Assyrians and various other ethnic groups inhabited what we now think of as the “Arab world”. None of these nations were genetically Arab nor did they speak Arabic.

The inhabitants of Egypt and Syria, for example, were by this time largely Orthodox Christian (a mix of Chalcedonians and Monophysites) and spoke Coptic and Syriac respectively, with Greek as a second language – the “lingua franca” of the time.

This is illustrated below – a map of the Mediterranean world as it was in 600 A.D. The vast majority of the Mediterranean coast was, as it had been for centuries, part of the Romano-Hellenistic world.

Byzantine_Empire_600AD

 

Less than a century and a half later, the Islamic caliphate had conquered the ancient Syrian, Egyptian, Persian and Berber cultures, getting as far as Spain and Constantinople. For the remainder of the first millennium, the East Roman Empire fought doggedly with the Islamic invaders, temporarily retaking Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine before a series of invasions by the Turks, an Islamised people native to the Asian steppe, made the continued defence of those provinces impossible.

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Meanwhile in the West, the Islamic Moors established a caliphate in Spain and invaded the Frankish Empire as far as Tours in northern France before being driven back, but this was not an end to Moorish and Arab attempts to conquer European lands. In the tenth century, immediately prior to the Crusades, much of Italy and southern France was under Muslim occupation or attack. From the early ninth to the late eleventh centuries, the history of Italy was dominated by the problem of Islamic invaders. In Spain, the struggle lasted until 1492.

viking_magyar_and_saracen_invasions_in_9th_and_10th_century_europe

In fact, the fundamental problem with many modern attempts to interpret the Crusades is the arbitrary start date of 1095, as though suddenly and for no apparent reason other than religious fanaticism, Christians simply decided to invade a peaceful Middle East.

In fact, Jerusalem had been captured by the Muslims only twenty-five years before, and Antioch, the great metropolis of Syria, in 1084. When the Eastern Emperor, seeing Muslim armies advancing into Asia Minor across from his capital, made his appeal to the Pope for military aid, it was out of desperation. The way that Rome, itself recently on the front lines, reacted was to treat this military request as a rallying cry for the liberation of the heartland of ancient Christianity and of the Christians living under the Muslim yoke. A Europe tired of being constantly on the defensive for nearly four centuries was ready to start taking land back from the invaders.

As you may have noticed from the third map, the tenth century was not a good time for Europe. What we mistakenly call the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome were a time of comparative continuity of Roman law and institutions in many places. After the Muslim attacks on Southern Europe and the Viking attacks in the north, this changed, and the feudal order as we remember it took shape out of the ashes. The Normans, descendants of the Vikings and just as ruthless despite their ostensible conversion, took the opportunity to seize a leading role in Western Christendom, not only conquering England, but leading both the reconquest of Italy and many elements of the Crusades.

In this new and more vicious atmosphere, the Crusaders did commit numerous atrocities, including the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the brutal Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during which they murdered much of the city’s population and destroyed much of its cultural heritage. You’ll notice many of the Crusaders’ atrocities were inflicted on other Christians, however.

And atrocities were certainly something they had in common with their enemy. During the initial wave of Islamic conquest, the populations of Fayum, Tripoli, Cyprus and many other places were massacred. In Spain, Muslim policy in the tenth century was to execute all adult males of any city that resisted and to sell the remaining population into slavery. The Muslim reconquest of Antioch saw the murder of 16,000 Christians and the enslavement of over 100,000. As late as the nineteenth century, many large-scale massacres of already-subjugated Christians are recorded, from the extermination of the population of the island of Chios to blood-baths in Lebanon and Bulgaria.

Nor was the Islamic taste for violence limited to Europe or the Middle East – it has been estimated that Islamic conquests butchered some eight million people in the Indian Subcontinent alone.

Over the next few centuries, the tide of the struggle would wax and wane repeatedly, but eventually enthusiasm for the cause waned, and the Christian Crusader states fell.

The Islamic Jihad, however, was by no means done. By 1453, the East Roman Empire was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks after a long and bloody struggle. History remembers the Sultan’s act of obeisance before Agia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and tends to forget about the long massacre that was going on at the same time. Ottoman expansion on the European continent continued until 1683, when the Ottoman army was defeated at Vienna.

Re-evaluating the Crusades

To say that Muslims when they conquered in the name of their Prophet were simply men of their time and Crusaders the villains of history doesn’t hold up under the larger picture: Islam from its very inception was a force that conquered territory from others and converted their populations by force or by loss of civil rights and heavy taxation.

Christianity, on the other hand, “conquered” the Roman Empire by persuasion, example and appeal to noble and higher principles of love and compassion. Yet Christianity itself was nearly wiped out: Europe itself was subjected to a continuous, relentless whirlwind of inconceivable violent assault by Islam… for over one thousand years.

Part of the Muslim anti-crusader narrative has been that the ignorant bloodthirsty Western knights came in and destroyed the high culture of the Islamic world, rich in art and science. Of course, the high culture to which they are referring was appropriated from the conquered and forcibly converted nations who had created it in the first place. The culture of the Persian, Roman and Hellenistic worlds, not to mention the ancient cultures of Egypt and Syria, fell into Muslim hands through conquest. In short, the argument that Islam represented a more elevated civilisation than that of Western Europe is entirely misleading.

Their anti-crusader rant allows the Muslims to play the victim, a tactic that usually succeeds in garnering the sympathies of the gullible. Historically, though, the Crusades were a few comparatively small blips in a millennium-long campaign of relentless Islamic violence directed against Europe.

So if anyone ever tries to tell you we should be more “sensitive” to Muslim “concerns” because of the terrible things “we” did to them in the Crusades, you’ll now be able to set the record straight.

You’ll notice that many of the facts we’ve exposed you to here, including what’s on the maps, are not things you heard much about in school: Spain was once ruled by Muslims? Vast tracts of present day France and Italy were once under their control? They fought their way to very gates of Vienna? Yes, all true. And the European civilisation that gave birth to so much of what we hold dear survived by the skin of its teeth.

Sad to say, but the bulk of our population is ignorant of history. Because of that, they’re actually taken aback by the demonic cruelty and hate exhibited by today’s Islamic jihadists. If they knew history better, though, they wouldn’t be even mildly surprised.

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




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