Holy war

The punishment should fit the crime, in the view of that literary master of cosmic jurisprudence, Dante Alighieri. So Mohammed, whose VIIth-century departure from Christian ways in Arabia, descended to that circle of Hell which encrusts the schismatics, where he was enchained and split lengthwise. His promise of carnal pleasure in the afterlife could be reviewed alongside his denial of the Trinity, and of the Passion of Our Lord, in the mediaeval view; and for various other reasons, “dialogue” with Islam was generally neglected.

The notion that a deceiving prophet had arisen among the Saracens was communicated to the Byzantine capital by Christians and Jews; but first the Armenians, and many others, were appalled by reports of civil wars, engulfing the Saracenic regions — on a scale even greater than when the Zoroastrians had invaded those regions. But “Allahu akbar!” — Muslim conquerors soon brought word to any of the neighbours who hadn’t heard. Spiritual conflict (“Jihad” to the Arabs) does not always result in material conflict, but given an unambiguously materialist faith (Communism is another example), it invariably does. The Utopia that has been conceived, must be imposed.

My own notion is compatible with what I believe was the eventual Franciscan response. In 1219, Saint Francis famously “went the distance” to Egypt to present the Gospel to the Muslim sultan, Malik al-Kamil, ahead of the Fifth Crusade — which had already reached Damietta, upon the Nile. Al-Kamil (known as “Meledin” to the Franks) was a brilliant man, himself juggling not only Christians but Mongol pagans and royal conspirators. But we must not forget that God has made all humans capable of what Christians are commanded to do. Saint Francis, we understand, was not treated ignobly.

Francis’ intention was not to negotiate a peace treaty, but rather to appeal to the heart of the Egyptian sultan. Francis did not hesitate to stake his life on this. His thinking was radical. If one’s religion does not exalt peace, over conquest, how will peace ever be achieved? If it exalts conquest, instead, so that peace can be obtained only when the world has been subdued, peace is an empty word.

Observe: peace must necessarily involve martyrdom — witness to the truth — as it did for Franciscans repeatedly in the Islamic realms. For in love we are still required to stake our lives, on the conversion of the warlike. Evangelism is not “an option.” Crusades must continue.