Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft

Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft

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Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft

This book of non-fiction written by Andrew Wheatcroft, interprets the history of conflict between Christendom and Islam. Wheatcroft demonstrates deep sense of morality from both Christian and Islamic perspective and writes about how it is created and how it is sustained. He goes further into the relationship between the two religions, in order to find the answer to the ultimate ‘reason' of their constant misunderstandings. Religion is known as a set of beliefs, values, and practices that are lead to bring ‘positive' attitude and understanding towards life. However, when various groups own a distinct form of belief, they tend to have strong opinions against each other that lead to corruption. In many cases, religion is among one of the principle sources of major conflict over centuries. Even today, the society is facing issues that involve religious matters, despite the fact that it has been repeated over and over again. This especially points out to the current war against Iraq, where suicidal attacks are caused under religious beliefs and organizations. In this book, the author determines the human rejection towards other religious society and argues on how the dark past repeats itself in the present and will continue to encircle the past if unless they are confronted.

The book begins with the Battle of Lepanto (a.k.a. Corinth) in 1571, which mark a defining moment of struggle between the Christian-Muslim relations. Organized by the pope, 600 of the Knights of St. John and 8000 of some men were commanded to protect the island of Malta from the Moslems. This battle was set in the Mediterranean Sea, where both Leagues owned a well-trained army with incredible tactics, carrying numerous amounts of weapons on vessels. The distinction of the two leagues was determined by the type of weapons they used, which also represented the level of secularization. The galleass, (a large, fast, heavily armed three-masted Mediterranean galley) was "remarkable not for its technology, but for the ease with which it was created, adopted, and immediately used in battle."(p.14) Such weapon like crossbow however, was unaccepted by the pope, which demonstrates a fast paced secularism, shown by ignoring the Holy rules of Christianity. In contrast, the Muslim army took innovation as a serious matter for argument that could even lead to resistance. Thus, they used traditional weapons known to the Qur'an (sacred text of Islam), which were swords, spears, lances, bows, and arrows.

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In Islam, "good Muslim soldier was the man who leaped into the breach or on to the deck of an enemy vessel without armour and only the strength of his arms to protect him."(p.14) Hence, weapons like guns and artillery were considered cowardly, although those were necessary components. As a first priority their aim was to fight in the right way with pure honour, despite the fact of winning or losing. The result to this Holy war was victory towards the Knights of St. John, with the death toll of approximately 7,500 as opposed to 20,000 Ottoman losses. After the secular triumph over the Muslims, the story turns to earlier history on the Islamic conquer of Al-Andalus in eighth century, where a division of the Berbers, (natives of the mounted region of North Africa who recently conversed to Islam), and the Arabs invaded Spain, where a large Catholic Christian population were already established. These integral communities of Al-Andalus were set into separate boundaries for Arab, Berber Christian and Jewish under the Islamic rules, and each zones remained isolated in one region, and integrated in the other. This was the most peaceful period for all Christians, Muslims and Jews, where they lived together with no major dispute against each other. This however, began to corrupt over the centuries, when a constant shift occurred between the minority and majority populations of Christians and Muslims. This lead to a conversion of Christians, resisting Islam during the ninth century in Muslim Cordoba, and in Christian Spain throughout the sixteenth century, from old Kingdom of Granada. As a result to this ‘power shifting,' the Christians eventually overthrew the Islamic society by expelling the descendants of the ‘Moors' in the end. During this process, the Moors experienced limited freedom, and terrible treatment of forced conversion towards Christianity. The aftermath of the Christian conversion was followed by the war between the Crusaders and the Turks. In 1099, the Crusaders headed East to Jerusalem, to recover the Holy Land undertaken by the Muslims. Both sides were well prepared, and had gathered large number of armies. The quantity however, clearly exceeded the amount of Muslim armies, which was an obvious disadvantage for the East. As the two leagues approach, the difference in the style of combat was noticed. The Western style was "based on a close combat, on the impact of an armoured knight riding at full speed at his enemy, often with his retinue around him."(p.178) The Crusaders usually fought from horseback, using spears and long straight sword as opposed to the Turks, which "usually stood off from a distance, before darting in at speed to deliver the coup de grâce."(p.178) They were highly skilled on using bow and arrows, which were specially made (layers of horn and sinew) to be able to even pierce through iron helmets. This tremendous Holy battle, ended with the Crusaders' triumphant capture of Jerusalem. Finally, the novel turns to the ‘Balkans', where issues of money, taxes, land, jealousy, and greed created a constant violent dispute, clashes, and invasions between empires, which continues throughout the twentieth century.

Throughout, Wheatcroft ‘deeply' described the endless struggle between the Islam and the West in an extremely vivid manner. His effort of researching all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States that took more than ten years of his life is very impressive, considering the amount of expert knowledge put into this single book. The intense imagery of narration on the battle of Lepanto especially brought excitement and impact to the reader's mind. When Wheatcroft explains the situation of every battle, his detailed information absorbs the readers into the world of Christian/Islamic history. One of the weak points that were seen in this book is his use of words. Wheatcroft often used ancient languages, and terms that were particularly known to specialists, which gives disadvantage to ordinary readers. Another point is that the texts were ‘overly detailed.' Because his details go so deep, the story becomes dragging and somewhat repetitive in certain spots. Despite these factors, Wheatcroft had clearly demonstrated the hatred and misunderstandings of both religions, and captured the difference and similarity of the two distinct religious societies. However, although he tried to portray certain ideas from both perspectives, it is overall, clear that there is a Christian/Western bias (which is not surprising). Such bias is seen in the Western documents and quotes (printed in small texts), which exceeds in the number of Islamic documents/quotes. Another is recognized in descriptions that many times, were written from the ‘Western' perspective. Cruel words like "violent", "savage," "enemy," and "evil"(etc) were often pointed out to Muslims, and not as much to the other way around, even though the author's intention is to tell how both religions were equally cruel to each other. One of the positive approaches that Wheatcroft took was that he exposed the "buried" history of the long periods of Muslims and Christians living together side-by-side. This brings impact to since most of people in the West today, fears and alienates Moslems, from hearing news of suicidal attacks, terrorism and other horrible events that were caused by this religious group. Considering the current situation of the society, this story that unfolds the backgrounds of the historical events, gives a better understanding and a bigger perspective towards the readers. This investigation not only uncovered the veil of ‘religion' that hid the truth of secular/ political aims and matters, but it also represented the idea of ‘reproduction.' The story tells the audience, that a very old world order of conflict between the Christian and Muslims are being repeated again in another kind of form. Such facts are seen today on the war in Iraq, where the relationship between America and Iraq identifies similarities between the Crusaders and the Turks. Wheatcroft proves this by pointing out some of the speech said by American President, George W. Bush. In one of his lines spoken in his answer to a journalist's question five days after 9/11on the South Lawn of the White House was: "…This is a knew kind of- a new kind of evil. And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."(p.334) In this line of speech, Wheatcroft particularly emphasized the word "crusade" and wrote that it "signified the struggle of Good with Evil." He believes that the curiously loaded words of ‘evil,' ‘crusade' and ‘terror/ism/ist' equally acquire to the horror and fear that the Turk and Tartars experienced during the Holy war against the Crusades. Many other modern facts that attributes to the ancient world were constantly brought up in this book, which gives a thorough understanding of the relationship between ancient and modern society. Wheatcroft overall, captures the essence of human behavior and rivalry from a various point of view and believes that as long as the language of ‘evil' and ‘crusade' is used, and the attitude is not changed, the past sustains to repeat itself.

As many critics say, this book is phenomenal in terms of how it is related to the modern world. Wheatcroft's outstanding accomplishment on gathering incredible amount of information has changed perspective towards the aspect of ‘religion' and its society. He open-mindedly covered the issues of the previous Islamic and Christian conflict in a new way, by tying those issues into the current society. Although the book goes in to many ‘extra' details, the story gives a well-rounded knowledge of the historical events and their backgrounds. For those who are interested in knowing the relationships between Islam and Christendom and are concerned about how they affect our world today, are recommended to read this non-fiction.
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