Themes from Song of Roland still on Islamophobia hit parade

Themes from Song of Roland still on Islamophobia hit parade

by Sheila Musaji

It is no accident that one of Robert Spencer’s books is titled “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)”.  Much of his writing, and that of other Islamophobes expresses anti-Muslim memes that became widely spread in Europe during the Crusades.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui in An Analysis of Anti-Islamic Polemics gave an excellent overview of the historical development of anti-Muslim polemics in the West:

In a seminal essay on “Islam Through Western Eyes”, Professor Edward Said of Columbia University wrote, “I have not been able to discover any period in European or American history since the Middle Ages in which Islam was generally discussed or thought about outside a framework created by passion, prejudice and political interests. This may not seem like a surprising discovery, but included in the indictment is the entire gamut of scholarly and scientific disciplines which, since the early nineteenth century, have either called themselves Orientalism or tried systematically to deal with the Orient.”[2]

Truly, anti-Islamic polemics is older than the Crusades. Since the time of John of Damascus (c.675-c.749), Islam was depicted as a Christian heresy.  In his book De Haeresbius, John claimed that the Qur’an was not a revealed scripture but was created by the Prophet Muhammad (S) and that he was helped in his task by a Christian monk Bahira to use materials from the so-called Old and New Testament.[3]  As the Islamic Empire defeated the Byzantine Empire of one after another of its far Eastern Provinces, the negative portrayal of Islam became quite wild. This view is echoed by Hichem Djait, the distinguished historian attached to the universities of McGill and Berkeley: “Over the centuries Christian tradition came to look upon Islam as a disturbing upstart movement that awakened such bitter passion precisely because it laid claim to the same territory as Christianity.” [4]  Nicetas, of Byzantium, wrote a “Refutatio Mohammadis” (Migne P.G. cv), and Bartholomew, of Edessa, a treatise “Contra Mohammadem” (Migne P.G. civ), which reflected more about the emotional health of these Byzantine Christians than anything of real value.

Then came the Latin writers (in fact, priests) of the Middle Ages who got their information mostly from the Byzantine accounts, and from personal contact with Islam during the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula and the Crusades. Alvarus Paulus (d. 861) was the first Latin author to transform Muhammad into antichrist. Making use of the reference in Psalm 89, he algebraically substituted seventy years for each of the three and one half “times” and calculated that the end of Islam would come after 245 years of Islamic rule, that is, as he figured it, in the year 870 C.E.[5]  His friend Eulogius of Cordova (d. 859) similarly depicted Muhammad (S) as the anti-Christ, “a false prophet,” the coming of which Christ had foretold to the apostles. These Latin priests preference for the meager, debased, and distorted Latin version of Muhammad’s (S) life, which Eulogius found in Navarre, rather than from the fountainhead of the Qur’an and Muslim traditions is symptomatic of a xenophobic ignorance, which characterized early Spanish views of Islam in general. It would be an intriguing study to follow the development of the absurd fables that spread abroad in Europe during this period in which Muhammad (S) comes to be one of the three great idols - Mahomet or Mahound, Opolane and the third Termogond (in that order) - popularly supposed to be worshipped by Muslims.[6] 

Prof. Juan Cole of University of Michigan writes, “European civilization has long been perplexed and scandalized by Muhammad, who succeeded in founding a world religion that rivals Christianity. Most early Christian attacks on Islam actually depicted it as an idolatrous religion, one of the great black legends ever fostered. Islam is nothing if not single-mindedly monotheistic. The first Latin translation of the Koran, carried out in 1143 by Robert of Ketton, was incomplete and marred by sarcasm and even obscenity. Its motive was not understanding but refutation.”[7]

Among the ecclesiastical writers of the Crusade period Muhammad (S) was looked on as the arch heretic, a second Arius,[8]  worse than the first, and his legend was molded on that of the great legendary heretics, Simon Magus and the Deacon Nicholas. Dominican Friar Humbert of Lyons (d. 1277), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321),[9]  Nicholas de Cusa (c. 1443)[10] and others followed Johns footstep in portraying Islam as an inferior religion. Dominican Friar, for instance, said, ғNor did Mahomet teach anything of great austerity.[11]

The Italian scholar Professor Francesco Gabrieli puts it succinctly: “We find it in various versions, inconsistent in their content, but entirely consistent in their spirit of vituperation and hatred, in the writing of chronicles, apologists, hagiographers and encyclopaedists of the Latin Middle Ages; Guibert of Nogent and Hildebert of Tours in the eleventh century, Peter the Venerable in the twelfth, Jacques de Vitry, Martinus Polonus, Vincent of Beauvais and Jacobus, a Varagine, in the thirteenth, up to Brunetto Latini and his imitators, and Dante and his commentators.” [12]

...  As Christendom started losing ground to expanding Islamic empire, the vilification of Muhammad (S) became more vicious. To quote Montgomery Watt, “It is easy to see how this has come about. For centuries Islam was the great enemy of Christendom, for Christendom was in direct contact with no other organized states comparable in power to the Muslims. The Byzantine Empire, after losing its provinces in Syria and Egypt, was being attacked in Asia Minor, while Western Europe was threatened through Spain and Sicily. Even before the Crusades focused attention on the expulsion of the Saracens from the Holy Land, medieval war-propaganda, free from the restraints of factuality was building up a conception of ‘the great enemy’. At one point Muhammad was transformed into Mahound, the prince of darkness.”[14] 

The attitude of Protestants under Martin Luther[15] (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) was no less hostile from the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Already the Ottoman Turks had established themselves as Muslim Caliphs ruling vast territories in Asia, Africa and Europe. On May 29, 1453, Constantinople had already fallen to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. Twice, in 1529 and 1683, the Ottomans reached the gates of Vienna. So began a new period when the Church and the state cooperated, and “Muhammad, the prophet of the Arabs, came to be seen as the embodiment of Turkish monstrosity.”[16] Martin Luther’s attitude towards Islam is reflected in the following words:  “...[he] who fights against the Turks [Muslims]...should consider that he is fighting an enemy of God and a blasphemer of Christ, indeed, the devil himself….”[17]  He looked upon Muhammad (S) as “a devil and first-born child of Satan.” [18]

The ignoble task of vilifying Muhammad (S) then was shouldered by people like Raleigh (1552-1618),[19]  Hottinger (c. 1651),[20]  Marraccio (c. 1698),[21]  and Humphrey Prideaux (1648-1724).[22]  Most of these early works were bitterly hostile, inaccurate and prejudiced, telling us more about attitudes to Muhammad (S) than about Muhammad (S) himself.[23]  As to Muhammads (S) marriage to Khadijah, Prideaux, for instance, in his work of “gross bigotry” - Vie de Mahomet - wrote, “Mahomet (Mohammad) married Cadhisja (sic) (Khadijah) at five, and took her to his bed at eight years old.” [24]  Sir Edward Denison Ross has rightly observed: “For many centuries the acquaintance which the majority of Europeans possessed of Muhammadanism was based almost entirely on distorted reports of fanatical Christians, which led to the dissemination of a multitude of gross calumnies.  Then began the era of Orientalism, when disingenuous scholars, mostly passionate Christian polemicists, joined the fray to assassinate the character of the Prophet of Islam and demean his religion.” [25]  As Roger Du Pasquier has rightly observed, “One is forced also to concede that Oriental studies in the West have not always been inspired by the purest spirit of scholarly impartiality, and it is hard to deny that some Islamicists and Arabists have worked with the clear intention of belittling Islam and its adherents.” [26]  The motivation seems to have come from John of Segovia who pointed out that the Islamic threat of Muhammad (S) could only be crushed by an intellectual assault.[27]  Consequently, the Bibliotheque Orientale of Barthelmy d’Herbelot (written during the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 18th century), which was used as the most reliable reference on Islam in Europe until the beginning of the 19th century, made the most disparaging remarks about Muhammad (S).[28]  The first Encyclopaedia of Islam depicted ‘Mahomet’  as ‘Author and Founder of a heresy.’  In his book “History of Saracen Empires” (London, 1870), Simon Ockley (1678-1720), the celebrated English Arabist, dubbed him as “a very subtle and crafty man, who put on the appearance only of those good qualities, while the principles of his soul were ambition and lust.” [29]  George Sale (c. 1734), the translator of the Qur’an, titled The Koran (commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed), called Muhammad (S) a monster.[30]  In his essay Les Moeurs, Voltaire (c. 1740) said that even those who regarded Muhammad (S) as a great man knew that he was an impostor.

Only when Christians were able to defeat Muslims militarily and colonize their vast territories did this vilification get somewhat muffled, and apologetic writings in favor of Islam and its Prophet surfaced. ...

Dr. Jerald F. Dirks said in an interview:

Perhaps the best starting point for tracing Islamophobia in the Christian West is with Pope Urban II’s decidedly un-Christian statement at the Council of Clermont on 11/25/1095, when he branded all Muslims as “an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God” and urged the assembled knights and noblemen to “exterminate this vile race (Muslims) from our lands.”

In closing his rallying cry to annihilate all Muslims, which launched the First Crusade, he proclaimed, “Deus volt” (God wills it).  Since Urban II’s call for genocide against all Muslims, Islamophobia has permeated the troubadour songs of 12th-century France, e.g., La Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland), and the writings of such stalwarts of Western Europe as Dante, Chaucer, and Voltaire. More recently, even before 9/11, but reaching a fever pitch after 9/11, some well-known ministers of the extreme Christian Right have turned Islam bashing and the slandering of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) with the most outrageous of prevarications into what is practically a cottage industry. For example, on a 10/6/2002 broadcast of Sixty Minutes, Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a terrorist. Even more vitriolic was Rev. Jerry Vines statement that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a “demon-possessed pedophile.” At present, despite the efforts of mainstream Christian denominations to work for mutual understanding and respect with various Islamic organizations in interfaith dialogue, the anti-Islamic propaganda of the extreme Christian Right appears to be gaining ground.

The song of Roland (written about 1100 C.E.), at the time of the First Crusade, established many of the Islamophobic themes we still hear today.  The forces of good against the forces of evil.  Muslims as “the other”, the sneaky, treacherous, bloodthirsty, almost inhuman enemy who wants to take over the world.  The story told in the Song of Roland is a lie, and yet generations of young people who study this in school are for the most part unaware of that fact.  It may not be the truth, but it is an emotionally stirring example of effective, and dangerous,  propaganda that continues to influence perceptions of the Muslim “other” a thousand years after it was written. 

The Song of Roland was written about a battle that had taken place in Spain (actually in the Pyranees at Roncevalles Pass) centuries earlier.  The actual battle was between Franks and Basques.  And yet, by the time the Song of Roland was written it had become the French against the Saracens.  What happened?

C.T. Evans tells the actual story of the battle that the Song of Roland is supposed to represent: Charlemagne invaded Spain in 778 with the intention of seizing the city of Saragossa (Zaragoza) in northern Spain. On his way there, he had traveled through Basque lands, plundering, looting and pillaging as he passed. On Charlemagne’s return to France, on the afternoon of 15 August 778, Basques attacked his rear guard and slaughtered it to a man at Roncesvals (Roncesvalles, Roncevaux) somewhere in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain—the exact location remains in dispute. Einhard (775?-840), in his Life of Charlemagne, described the incident briefly in his notes on the Spanish expedition. According to Einhard, a few nobles were killed, including “Hrudoland, lord of the Marches of Brittany.” 

Spark Notes says

...  We cannot say for certain who wrote The Song of Roland, or when, or where, but evidence suggests that it was composed around the beginning of the twelfth century, centuries after Charlemagne’s reign. This was the time of the First Crusade against the Muslims in the Holy Land, directly inspired by Pope Urban II’s famous speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095.  ...  It is probable that the Song of Roland was written after this speech, for before this Turpin’s militant theology would likely have been considered heretical. The Song of Roland, born during this time, serves the Crusades as a powerful piece of propaganda. 

...  By the time that the The Song of Roland was written, more than three centuries after the events it recounts, Charlemagne had become a superhuman figure in the European imagination and a hero of romance; the stories of his exploits assumed the proportions of the fantastic. He provides an ideal base on which to build enthusiasm for the Crusades. While no one thought of going on a Crusade until centuries after his death, his figure as both a man of God, beatified and in some churches honored as a saint—he was thought to have been in communication with the angels and the direct instrument of God’s will on earth—and as fierce a warrior as any made his image an excellent symbol for the spirit of the Crusades. The bits of history that find their way into the The Song of Roland are remolded to fit the crusaders’ world-view. The massacre at Roncesvals becomes much more than a mishap; it becomes a drama of good and evil, a demonstration of the wickedness of betraying the Christian cause.

While in Einhard’s chronicle, the Frankish soldiers are ambushed by Gascons, a group of Christians hostile to Charles’s empire, in The Song of Roland, they are ambushed by Saracens, the medieval European term for Arabs, and, by extension, all Muslims. This helps the crusaders of the twelfth century all the more easily see the situation of the Franks in The Song of Roland as applicable to their own. Charlemagne’s conquest of Spain becomes a model for their own conquest of the Middle East. Roland, Turpin, and Olivier become their own glorious forefathers, demonstrating the ideal of the holy warrior, who serves God and his king with the same fierce loyalty; the portrayal of the Saracens, on the other hand, demonstrates the blatant evil of the Muslims, the enemy they will meet and fight in the Middle East. The final product of the epic poem has everything to do with the needs of the twelfth century and very little to do with the events of the eighth century; however, one of the needs of the men of the twelfth century was to find a heroic model for their own mission in the past

A brief description of John V. Tolan’s book Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination provides some insight on the time that The Song of Roland was written:

In the first century of Islam, most of the former Christian Roman Empire, from Syria to Spain, was brought under Muslim control in a conquest of unprecedented proportions. Confronted by the world of Islam, countless medieval Christians experienced a profound ambivalence, awed by its opulence, they were also troubled by its rival claims to the spiritual inheritance of Abraham and Jesus and humiliated by its social subjugation of non-Muslim minorities. Some converted. Others took up arms. Still others, the subjects of John Tolan’s study of anti-Muslim polemics in medieval Europe, undertook to attack Islam and its most vivid avatar, the saracen, with words.

In an effort to make sense of God’s apparent abandonment of Christendom in favor of a dynamic and expanding Muslim civilization, European writers distorted the teachings of Islam and caricatured its believers in a variety of ways. What ideological purposes did these portrayals serve? And how, in turn, did Muslims view Christianity? Feelings of rivalry, contempt, and superiority existed on both sides, tinged or tempered at times with feelings of doubt, inferiority, curiosity, or admiration. Tolan shows how Christian responses to Islam changed from the seventh to thirteenth centuries, through fast-charging crusades and spirit-crushing defeats, crystallizing into polemical images later drawn upon by Western authors in the fourteenth to twentieth centuries. Saracens explores the social and ideological uses of contempt, explaining how the denigration of the other can be used to defend one’s own intellectual construction of the world.

When Muslims raise the issue of the existence of this sort of propaganda, that today we call Islamophobia, we are most often accused of trying to stifle dialogue (confused with polemics) or to undermine free speech (confused with incitement), or told simply that we are whining in order to make ourselves into the victim rather than the perpetrator of all that is wrong with the world.  We are even told that Islamophobia is a “myth” or that it is a reasonable position to hold.

Negative perceptions don’t exist in a vacuum - they affect our perceptions, and may lead to prejudice, discrimination, unequal treatment, injustice, and even violence.  When our negative perceptions become entrenched they often allow us to justify and explain away actions that would otherwise be unacceptable.  And, when our focus is only on finding examples the prove our pre-existing point, we tend to see only the negative and nothing positive about the group that we perceive in a negative light.

Emotional, stereotypical propaganda about “the other” may be useful for stirring emotions and encouraging people to go to war, but it works against establishing peaceful relationships. 

In the introduction to a series of articles I wrote titled A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism, I said:

Our society is whirling down a spiral of violence of which terrorism is the face, that is currently at the front of our minds.   There is a growing exploitation by religious extremists, political extremists, nationalist extremists, etc.   All of these share a “religious” element in that they are all convinced that they are God’s agents to bring about and enforce their “right” belief on everyone else, and that they, and they alone - know the “right” way.  This “religious” element is particularly dangerous because it is devoid of spirituality.

More innocent lives are in danger today than in any previous period of history.  The entire world is in danger.  We are at the beginning of a new century and a new millenium, and it is possible that we will not complete either without destroying ourselves.

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

We are violent,  not only with each other but with the environment, and even with our spiritual selves.  We are one human race but isolate ourselves from each other through fear, suspicion and selfishness.  We have broken our ties with the natural order and with each other.

I very much like the term Tikkun ‘te-kun’ “to mend, heal and transform”. This is also the basic theme of Islam. The very name Islam comes from Salaam which means “to be intact, unbroken, sound and complete.” The purpose of Islam is to heal the brokenness in our relationship with God as well as with fellow human beings and other creatures of God. ... The purpose of religion is to provide identity, to bring integration, mending, healing and transformation. We must transform ourselves from mere self-existence to pro-existence, from merely living for ourselves to living for others. We must treat others as we want to be treated by others. ... Today we have broken relations, broken hearts, broken trusts and broken homes, broken buildings and towns. We must see how to change this situation. How to bring real Tikkun and real Salaam.” Healing Our Brokenness, Muzammil Siddiqui

Our beliefs may be different but our suffering and sorrow are shared.

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place. (Rumi)

Too often, we excuse “our” violence and condemn “their” violence (whether individual or state) in the name of ethnicity, culture, politics, self-defense, religion,— but, no matter the “reason” or excuse, the end result is the same, more death and destruction. 

Terrorism is only one aspect of this widespread violence.  Currently it is most commonly associated with “Islamic terrorism” although this is an oxymoron just as much as “Christian terrorism” or “Jewish terrorism”.  The truth is that TERROR HAS NO RELIGION!  There are lots of reasons given for why terrorism has become so common in our times, and why in the last few years the perpetrators so often seem to be Muslims.  Most commonly this is attributed to either a response to policies or an inherent flaw in Islam.  This “either/or” critique is an over-simplification of a complex issue.  Is there something wrong with religion,  something wrong with our political policies, or is there more to the issue?

It is of course true - as Shabbir Akhtar has noted - that powerlessness can corrupt as insistently as does power. But to comprehend is not to sanction or even to empathize. To take innocent life to achieve a goal is the hallmark of the most extreme secular utilitarian ethic, and stands at the opposite pole of the absolute moral constraints required by religion.  There was a time, not long ago, when the ‘ultras’ were few, forming only a tiny wart on the face of the worldwide attempt to revivify Islam. Sadly, we can no longer enjoy the luxury of ignoring them. The extreme has broadened, and the middle ground, giving way, is everywhere dislocated and confused. And this enfeeblement of the middle ground, was what was enjoined by the Prophetic example, is in turn accelerated by the opprobrium which the extremists bring not simply upon themselves, but upon committed Muslims everywhere. For here, as elsewhere, the preferences of the media work firmly against us. David Koresh could broadcast his fringe Biblical message from Ranch Apocalypse without the image of Christianity, or even its Adventist wing, being in any way besmirched. But when a fringe Islamic group bombs Swedish tourists in Cairo, the muck is instantly spread over ‘militant Muslims’ everywhere. ... At this critical moment in our history, the umma has only one realistic hope for survival, and that is to restore the ‘middle way’, defined by that sophisticated classical consensus which was worked out over painful centuries of debate and scholarship. That consensus alone has the demonstrable ability to provide a basis for unity. But it can only be retrieved when we improve the state of our hearts, and fill hem with the Islamic virtues of affection, respect, tolerance and reconciliation. This inner reform, which is the traditional competence of Sufism, is a precondition for the restoration of unity in the Islamic movement. The alternative is likely to be continued, and agonising, failure. Islamic Spirituality: the Forgotten Revolution, Abdal Hakim Murad

As an American-Muslim I feel moral repugnance towards terrorism and violence, and at the same time I feel concern and frustration for what is happening to Muslims (and others in the third world) daily. Because the legitimate grievances of some have been hijacked by criminals as a pretext for terrorism does not de-legitimize the concerns.  The issues still need to be addressed..  Much of the world suffers from oppression, occupation, tyranny and injustice.  We cannot stop terrorism without first working to end the injustice.

“Until we can sympathise with the victims of terrorism regardless of their nationality, skin colour or religion—whether they are Egyptian or British, Palestinians or Israelis, Iraqis or Americans—all of us are in store for a great deal more anguish. Our ability to empathise with “the Other”, whoever he or she may be, to see the world from a different perspective, to feel other people’s pain, share their grief and understand their injustice, better enables us to address the misunderstandings, as well as the practical problems, that divide us. By acknowledging the legitimacy of other peoples’ grievances, their disappointments and frustrations, we demonstrate to the world that we care not only about ourselves. We also come to see the world differently and act in it accordingly. Recognising our common humanity is the first step towards creating a better future for all of us: a world with less violence, less suffering and possibly even less terrorism. It might make us collectively safer. It will also make us more human.” Double Standards, Samer Shehata

Mainstream American Muslims are in a unique position to act as a bridge between two cultures.  We are also in a very difficult position in that we are under suspicion and are marginalized in our own country for being Muslims, and also tanted by the extremists for being the “wrong” kind of Muslims.

Most of us say that we believe in one of the great faith traditions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism - all of whom teach brotherhood, justice, mercy, tolerance, compassion, the highest ideals to which humanity can aspire. But, it would seem that if so many people held such beliefs and followed such teachings we would see the practical results of that belief - somewhere. And, when we look around us at the condition of humanity and the planet there is no light shining from anywhere which reflects the results of establishing a real society based on actually following these teachings which we say we believe in.

The Crusades, the Inquisition, blatant Colonialism, outright slavery are in the past, and yet the mentality which brought these about is still prevalent. We still have too many people who are so strongly committed to their own beliefs that they are willing to see others die for those beliefs and too few who are so strongly committed to their beliefs that they are willing to give their own life for those beliefs!

Looking at the state of the world it would not be unreasonable to conclude that all of these belief systems are a failure. Or, we might conclude, as I have, that the failure is with us - because we lack either the courage or the vision or the commitment to act on those beliefs.

Now is a good time to test those beliefs, because at the same time that we are realizing that we have economic, social and environmental problems that are global in scope. At the same time that we face these global problems, the systems we have depended on have failed us. We are witnessing the collapse, or at least the redefinition of established social, political, economic and ideological systems worldwide. Colonialism (political or spiritual), apartheid, communism, materialism, nationalism, capitalism, sexism, racism, any of the systems which saw one group of human beings versus another, or all human beings versus nature are collapsing or being challenged.

They have failed because instead of being based on a belief in God and a commitment to act and order our lives based on that belief they were based on the small dreams of small people who had made themselves small by their own definitions of themselves. There is no justification in any of these belief systems for what we have done or what we are doing. It is we who have defined ourselves as members of a particular race, tribe, ethnic, religious, political or linguistic group to the exclusion of others who do not belong to the same groups. It is we who have defined the essential element of ourselves not as human beings but as members of these categories. It is we who have created systems that were also based on these small definitions, and these systems have failed.

We have tried every violent means as a solution to our differences, too often even in the name of religion and it has gotten us nowhere. We have walked our separate roads and when our paths crossed that meeting has been marked most often by. violence, intolerance and injustice.

We have now come to a point in history where it is obvious that all partial solutions have failed. We have a situation in which it is possible to imagine the total destruction of the world as we know it - either through nuclear war or through continuing destruction of the environment. We rea1ly are between a rock and a hard place.

I believe that it is time for all of those who believe in GOD, who believe that there is a purpose to this life, who believe that we are responsible and accountable for our actions to see this crossroads we are at as an opportunity to take the first steps on a new road that we can walk together in peace.

In America we may have the greatest opportunity to see this possibility become a reality. We are just beginning to realize that we have become a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious society. We used to think of ourselves as a melting pot - but that concept implies trying to change people, to make them all the same, to homogenize them. It won’t happen, and it can’t be done without damaging the human spirit. Perhaps if we discarded the idea of being a melting pot in favor of a mosaic we might be able to begin making connections. A mosaic not only accepts the fact of difference, it requires difference, it rejoices in difference, it uses difference. The different colors, textures and shapes together create something more beautiful and powerful than any single element could.

Each generation has had to make choices, but for most of the course of human history those choices were limited to a relatively small area of impact (individual families, clans, tribes or ethnic groups). This generation faces what may be the biggest challenge - because the choices we make may have global impact. The choices of our generation may be the choices that will define our future as a species on this planet.

I hope that we will write new songs based on mutual respect and an awareness of our common humanity, and not continue down this path of mutual villification and violence. 


An Analysis of Anti-Islamic Polemics, Dr. Habib Siddiqui

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass

Holy War in The Song of Roland: The “Mythification” of History by Mark Dominik

Interview with John Feffer about his book “Islamophobia 2.0”

Islam through Western eyes, Edward Said

The lies of Islamophobia, John Feffer

The New Anti-Semitism, Daniel Luban

Notes on the Song of Roland, C.T. Evans

The Song of Roland Revisited,  Steven Laffoley

Two contemporary descriptions - describing the battle between Franks and Basques

The Utility of Islamic Imagery in the West: An American Case Study, J.A. Progler - Part I - Part II