But Who's Counting?

The “Global North” is where most Sightings readers live

By Martin E. Marty|June 18, 2018

The “Global North” is where most Sightings readers live. In his new book Crusade and Jihad (Yale, 2018), historian William R. Polk includes in this neighborhood China, Russia, Europe, Britain, and America, plus, presumably, “et cetera.” His subtitle is The Thousand-Year War between the Muslim World and the Global North. We can let experienced and reliable reviewer Malise Ruthven do some reporting and reflecting on the book.

Right off, Polk reports that “between 1884 and 1908 the Belgians are estimated to have killed at least twice as many natives as the Nazis killed Jews and Roma—some ten to fifteen million people.” Moving on, he reminds us that our fellow “Northerners” from Portugal, when on India’s Malabar coast, heard Vasco da Gama order “the ears, hands, and noses of some eight hundred Muslim merchants and seamen cut off.” Next we learn of nineteenth-century Britishers who “execut[ed] Indian rebels by having them ‘strapped over the breeches of cannon and blown to pieces—preferably in sight of an Indian audience.’” Polk: “The less outsiders knew about the natives … the more likely they were to favor the use of violence.”

King Leopold II of Belgium ruled long ago, but, slightly closer to us in our time, “Winston Churchill, the great British war leader, bears responsibility for three million deaths by starvation in 1943.” As for Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, who thrived early in the last century, Ruthven reports that the British—including Ruthven’s own grandfather, who fought against the Somali leader in 1900—“dismissed Hassan as a religious fanatic bent on resisting their ‘civilizing mission.’” That campaign “was the action that led to the creation of the RAF [British Royal Air Force],” and was copied by other Global-Northern nations who would inflict “atrocities from the sky on mainly Muslim peoples.” A photograph of Spanish Special Forces members in Morocco shows that they “would usually cut off the heads of captives, parade them on bayonets, or carry them as souvenirs.” Earlier, in 1825, the Dutch had killed about 200,000 Javanese to protest their protests and rebellion.

So far we have been reporting on Ruthven reporting on Polk reporting on Europe, but, as Ruthven observes, “America comes off no better.” Photographs of American committers of massacres against Muslim villagers in the Philippines, we read, “would not look out of place in a Holocaust museum.” When in 1902 a Senate committee asked how all this fit in with the ideals of civilized nations, Brigadier General Robert Patterson Hughes replied, “These people are not civilized.” Author Polk judges that the “civilized” Northerners were motivated by greed, chiefly for gold. Many of the militant actions by Muslims in our time, then, can be seen as “the revenge of the South.” Notes Ruthven: “It is a salutary reminder that the brutality exhibited by ISIS in its notorious online videos is far from uniquely Islamic in provenance.”

One more sample: Under the sanctions imposed following Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, around “half a million Iraqi children are said to have died—‘more than the number killed in the bombing of Hiroshima.’” Polk reports that when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked about that, she answered, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” Polk pictures readers trying to process a sentence like that about the deaths of children in Europe or America.

In fairness, Ruthven, following Polk, mentions some mitigating factors in the moves of the Global North against the Global South, including some humane actions and interventions. But in the end peoples of the Global North and South are left to reexamine our histories and consciences—and our theologies. Why write books and reviews (and columns) about all this in our past? Surely not out of self-hate. Instead? One cannot change the past by repenting. But, as we have said before, with repentance comes a “change of heart.” Perhaps learning about and from the stories of crusades and jihads can induce a change of heart among “Northerners” and “Southerners” alike. So we go on reading and reviewing and reporting.

Image: Foot and hand of child dismembered by soldiers, brought to missionaries by dazed father. From photograph taken at Baringa, Congo state, May 15, 1904. | Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule (P. R. Warren, 1905)

Martin E. Marty (PhD’56) is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.

Sightings is edited by Brett Colasacco (PhD’18). Sign up here to get Sightings by email. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.