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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Prediction 8:  The Vatican demonstrating intolerance for the Muslims in Europe.  Possibility of the Pope speaking negatively toward the Muslim faith, its beliefs and the Qur’an.  He could conceivably call for a new "crusade" against Islam. 

Muslims vs. West top issue in 2005

Associated Press The No. 1 religious theme of 2005 ---- and presumably for 2006 and years beyond ---- is the faceoff between militant Islam and Western civilization, with its scriptural Jewish and Christian heritage.

That confrontation overshadowed Catholicism's changeover from Pope John Paul II to Pope Benedict XVI and Protestants' severe dispute about homosexuality and the Bible.

Stepping back from the daily headlines about terrorism, the question arises: What underlies this lethal global tension? Ohio University historian T. David Curp has an answer that turns explanations inside out.

"It is commonplace to claim that the Crusades scarred the imagination of the Muslim world for centuries," he wrote recently in Crisis, a Catholic magazine. Islamists and Arab nationalists regularly cite the medieval warfare between Christians and Muslims as a source for today's anti-Western views across the Mideast.

"This is simply incorrect," Curp asserted, noting that Princeton University's Bernard Lewis said Muslims actually had little interest in Western Christendom for centuries following the Crusades (apart from those directly involved in invading Christian territory).

Curp's key claim: "Radical Islam's protest against the West is not fueled primarily by aggrieved victimhood; it is nourished by an even stronger memory of how Islam's final victory over Christendom remained for so long a real possibility."

For about 1,000 years, the Muslim world experienced mostly expansion and military triumph. That era ended in 1683, when Muslims held vast terrain in eastern Europe and 140,000 Turkish troops nearly conquered Vienna, posing a significant threat for the West. But the Muslim invaders were defeated.

One might develop Curp's scenario this way: After numerous victories, Islamic lands suffered the humiliation of European colonialism, then the cultural weakness of independent Muslim countries extending to the present. That has created a psychological crisis for Islam.

Curp's retelling of the history explains the context that first created widespread Muslim-Christian combat.

Islam originally took the Holy Land in 638 and quickly vanquished large tracts of the former Christendom. This provoked no sweeping outrage, nor did Western Christians manage any concerted military counterattack until 1095, when Pope Urban II summoned the First Crusade.

What caused the pope's radical step?

During that turbulent epoch, Eastern Christianity's Byzantine Empire had finally broken with Western Catholicism and its pope. The Byzantines faced the greater Islamic military threat, but Western Catholics, too, were agitated about increased persecution of Christian pilgrims seeking to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem, which required them to travel through Muslim regions.

Meanwhile, the 10th-century Islamic preacher Ibn Nubata al-Fariqi developed a cycle of sermons calling for holy war ---- somewhat resembling Urban's later Crusade call ---- that had considerable influence on Muslim thinking in succeeding centuries.

Christians' situation in the East began to deteriorate militarily in 903 when Muslims sacked Thessalonica, the Byzantines' second-ranking city, and enslaved 30,000 inhabitants. In 931 they took Ankariya (present-day Ankara) and enslaved thousands more.

In 1064 the Turks seized the capital of Christian Armenia, slaughtering the populace and imprisoning 30,000 people. Then, in the climactic Battle of Mantzikert in 1071, the Muslims virtually crushed Byzantine military power. In Curp's telling, it was that disaster that provoked the Crusades in response.

The campaign in present-day Turkey "to expel, enslave or impoverish the region's Christian inhabitants" lasted 300 years, during which the population dropped by half. The once-thriving Christian area "became a wasteland under the rule of its new religiously intolerant and alien masters," he wrote.

Curp summarizes that climactic era: "The wars that Islam waged against Christendom ---- and Christendom's counterattacks, degenerated into remarkably dirty wars that often empowered the worst impulses in both faiths."

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