Tag Archives: subtle propaganda

A Culture that Honors Martyrdom

Sometimes you’re reading along, internally nodding your head, and then you hit that one sentence, that one clause, that sets your nerves clanging. A clause like this one: “…particularly in a Middle Eastern culture that honors martyrdom…”

The article is otherwise great and I recommend you read it, Why Dissidents, Freed From Prison, Often Choose the Path of Most Resistance. But that clause is what inspired this post, which looks like it’s going to end up much longer than I originally thought it would.

A month or so ago I had a post mentioning the Shi’a Muslim holiday of Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, who died in the Battle of Karbala. He was not killed over his Muslim faith, as he and his army were fighting other Muslims, but because his supporters were fighting with the Umayyad Caliph Yazid’s supporters over who was the rightful Muslim ruler. So he was not a martyr to his religion, but to his nation.

The Sunni Muslims don’t even have a martyr figure at all. Christians, however, have a whole bunch of them. A calendar full of them and much, much more. I think you could even fairly say that crucifixion imagery amounts to honoring martyrdom.

Martyr is a word we don’t use much in the US. It’s kind of old-fashioned, definitely churchy. Wikipedia has a page on Christian martyrs:

The lives of the martyrs became a great source of inspiration for the Christians and their lives and relics were greatly revered. Second century Church Father, Tertullian wrote that “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”, implying that the willing sacrificing of the martyrs lives leads to the conversion of many more.

Here’s a skimpy list of Christian martyrs.

Today I learned there’s something called a martyrology, which is a is a catalogue or list of martyrs arranged in the calendar order of their anniversaries or feasts.

Islam has nothing like this.

I’m seeing an amazing difference of opinion on how many Christians have been martyred lately, from an estimate of over 170,000 per year to just a few thousand a year. Here’s a notable quote from this page:

Have there been more martyrs in this century than in all others combined, as the current quote suggests? During this century, we have documented cases in excess of 26 million martyrs. From AD 33 to 1900, we have documented 14 million martyrs. So, yes, this quote is correct.

On the other hand, martyrdom has been on the decline for the past decade. The current rate is 159,000 martyrs per year — down from 330,000 per year at the height of the cold war.

I also found the site of this organization, the Voice of the Martyrs, (web address ‘persecution.com’) that wants to, among other things

emphasize the fellowship of all believers by informing the world of atrocities committed against Christians and by remembering their courage and faith.

Wikipedia’s page about martyrs even included a high school student at Columbine High School, who rates as a martyr apparently because she was asked if she believed in God right before she was shot.*

But enough about the church kind of martyr (although you wonder why this isn’t enough yet to conclude that the US has a western culture that honors martyrdom). An astute colleague pointed out to me that in the US we use the phrase “ultimate sacrifice” instead.

When you look at it that way, we have two national holidays honoring martyrs, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and monuments all over the country honoring those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice. Many other countries have national holidays to honor their soldiers who have died in war, and many of those countries call that holiday Martyrs Day.

Here are a few of the countries who have a national Martyrs Day: Panama, Albania, Burma, Armenia, Vietnam, India, Tibet, Israel. One of those is in the Middle East, anyway, but I don’t think it was what the author had in mind when he mentioned the Middle East culture that honors martyrdom.

Anyhow, that’s how one little clause led me to hours of Googling. In an otherwise very nice article, there was one little niggling phrase that was aimed at making Arabs seem strange, harsh, brutal. Wanting us to think Arabs are not like us, they don’t value their lives, they don’t love their children as much as we do. Backing up the arrogant assumption that we have evolved a little bit more than those people over there who dress like George Lucas’s Sand People.

As serendipity would have it, a friend sent me the link to this article today. From it:

I wish more Americans had an opportunity to get to know Muslims. Then they would not be susceptible to the silly anti-Muslim propaganda that is floated by some right-wing Christians.

Muslims are good folks. One fellow e-mailed me quite convinced that Muslims lop off the heads of every infidel they meet. I’ve been a guest in the homes of many Muslim friends, and the only thing they lopped off were extra servings of lamb.

Racism is a monstrous injustice because it imposes a stereotype on millions of innocent individuals. The only real solution is education and broad experience.

Disclaimer: I know that Arab doesn’t equal Muslim and vice versa.

*Apparently this has been debunked, and the girl who was asked if she believed in God survived the Columbine shootings.
Special last-minute bonus link: Which Pope am I?


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The Crusades – Crescent & The Cross

I recently watched this History Channel three-hour movie. Before I rented it I read a couple dozen reviews on Netflix. It was funny how many reviewers were angry that it showed the Crusaders in a bad light some of the time. They felt the program dwelt more on the Crusaders bad behavior than the Muslims’. I took that with a grain of salt, because having already read The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf, I was already familiar with the Arab view of the Crusades.

I disagree with those reviewers. While the Crusaders were portrayed in a worse light than we are used to, the program wasn’t kind to the Muslims. First of all, every actor portraying a Muslim character was unattractive. Call me superficial, but I think a subtle thing like that makes a difference. What was weird was that I kept seeing actors who looked like attractive Arab men to me, but then it would turn out they were portraying Crusaders or Christians.

I’m sure most people who watched this program were surprised to hear of the cannibalism that occurred that at Ma’arra (معرة النعمان) an incident that was sandwiched between the wholesale slaughter of Antioch and the wholesale slaughter of Jerusalem. I was surprised myself when I read about, in fact, it didn’t even sink in until the second time I read it.

From Wikipedia:

One of the crusader commanders wrote to Pope Urban II: “A terrible famine racked the army in Ma’arra, and placed it in the cruel necessity of feeding itself upon the bodies of the Saracens.”[citation needed]

Radulph of Caen, another chronicler, wrote: “In Ma’arra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.”[1]

These events were also chronicled by Fulcher of Chartres, who wrote: “I shudder to tell that many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked, but when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it with savage mouth.”[2]

Many authors suggest that the crusaders’ behaviour was not really born of their hunger but fanatical belief that the Muslims were even lower than the animals.[citation needed] Amin Maalouf in his book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes points out the most crucial line for such belief among the Muslims: “Not only did our troops not shrink from eating dead Turks and Saracens; they also ate dogs!” by Albert of Aix.

The portrayal of Saladin seemed like a bit of a hatchet job. They portrayed him as a hale and hearty man, when the Arab historians say he was frail, and they skip over everything that leads to his being thrust into leadership of Cairo after the former strongman is killed, because he (Saladin) is perceived as the weakest of the possible choices and therefore the least threat. Then they allude to how Saladin’s rivals and enemies kept fortuitously dying, as if Saladin as a young lad was the evil genius behind this. It was reminiscent of the famous Clinton death list (I don’t know if this is the most up-to-date version, but I know there’s already an Obama version circulating).

The Arabs realize that Saladin got a lot of lucky breaks. But when Frederick Barbarossa, King of Germany, the most powerful Christian king ever to embark on a Crusade and a huge threat to Saladin, drowned in a freak accident while fording a river, even the most ambitious spinmeister couldn’t find a way to pin it on Saladin.

Speaking of whether the program portrayed the Crusaders unfairly, I found it interesting that the scene of Saladin’s soldiers cutting off the heads of Templars and Hospitallers after the battle of Hattin and the scene of Richard I’s soldiers cutting off the heads of 2,000 hostage Muslim soldiers were almost identical.


On Monday, July 6, two days after the battle, the captured Templars and Hospitallers were given the opportunity to convert to Islam. According to Imad al-Din, only a few accepted, although those that did became devout Muslims.

The executions (one of only two executions of prisoners ordered by Saladin) were by beheading. In an act of solidarity, many of the captured crusaders wrongly claimed to be Templar knights, forcing Saladin’s men to behead them as well [7]. Saint Nicasius, a Knight Hospitaller venerated as a Christian martyr, is said to have been one of the victims.[8]

“Saladin ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics, each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais, the unbelievers showed black despair” – Imad ed-Din, Saladin’s Secretary [9]

That was in 1187. In 1191 (from Wikipedia):

Richard had kept 2,700 Muslim prisoners as hostages against Saladin fulfilling all the terms of the surrender of the lands around Acre. Philip, before leaving, had entrusted his prisoners to Conrad, but Richard forced him to hand them over to him. Richard feared his forces being bottled up in Acre, as he believed his campaign could not advance with the prisoners in train. He therefore ordered all the prisoners executed.

By beheading.

The program never even mentioned Saladin’s famous benevolence in sparing conquered people, which led to his eventual downfall.

You wouldn’t want this documentary be the only thing you know about the Crusades, but it does a pretty good job. After all, the Crusades in the Holy Land lasted almost two hundred years, and this was a three-hour program.

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