Selective History

One hardly expects the British Broadcasting Corporation to present an objective or comprehensive picture when it addresses the Middle East. But a recent BBC radio documentary may set some sort of record for myopia.

The second installment of a series entitled “The Crescent and the Cross” aiming to examine “turning points in the relationship between Christianity and Islam” focuses on the Third Crusade.

Not long after the death of Islam’s founder, in the early 7th century, Muslims captured parts of the holy land, including Jerusalem. But Jerusalem, the documentary text explains, “had great religious significance not only for Muslims but for Christians too.” And thus were born the marches of death and destruction known as the Crusades. In 1099, Christian soldiers took the city.

At the end of the 12th century, after nearly a century of Christian rule, Jerusalem was re-conquered by Saladin, Sultan of Egypt. Pope Gregory VIII called for a Crusade – the third – to retake the city, and Richard I of England (“the Lionheart”) captured much of the Holy Land but stopped short of asserting Christian rule over Jerusalem, negotiating a treaty with Saladin that allowed Christian pilgrims to enter the city. All of this is dutifully reviewed by the program.

The Crusades, of course, had great impact on Jewish communities as well. Thousands of Jews in communities along the Rhine and the Danube were massacred by participants in the first Crusade; and Jews fought and fell alongside Muslim defenders of Jerusalem when the Christians invaded. Unknown numbers of Jews were slaughtered in subsequent Crusades as well. But the documentary’s concern, as per its title, is the Christian/Muslim nexus. Jewish victims of the era’s wars, no matter their numbers or the hatred directed toward them, are regarded by the program as peripheral casualties.

What is remarkable, though, is that while the documentary amply describes the conflicting claims of Muslims and Christians to Jerusalem it somehow neglects to note that the original revered edifice that stood in Jerusalem – what initiated its veneration as a holy city – was the Jewish Temple. The BBC treats the Temple’s site as if it came into being ex nihilo in the Byzantine Period.

The myopia morphs into truly monumental chutzpah with the documentary’s droll observation that today “the Crusades are seen by many Muslims as evidence of unceasing Western aggression against their faith,” and that since “it is the Jews who control most of Jerusalem… many Muslims see that as a continuation of the crusaderism.”

The microphone is then offered to Dr. Mohsen Youssef of Birzeit University, who endorses that view and adds a prediction: “It took the Muslims 200 years to get rid of the crusaders; many Muslim people believe that they will defeat Israel in much less time than 200 years.”

And so, an ignorant but attentive student of the BBC will conclude from the network’s history lesson that Jerusalem is sacred to Christians and Muslims, and that adherents of the two faiths have fought over it for centuries. He will further be given to understand that the city has been usurped in our own day by Jewish newcomers who, understandably, are regarded by the Muslims who held it before 1967 as new crusaders.

What our novice historian won’t have been taught is that the Jewish people, too, have an ancient connection to the Holy Land and the Holy City – in fact, an older and stronger one than anyone. Neither Christianity nor Islam, after all, even existed when the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem functioned for centuries as the focal point of the Jewish people. And over the centuries since, no Christian or Muslim ever prayed even once, much less thrice daily, that G-d “gather us to our land” and “return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city,” or that “our eyes see Your return to Zion.” No, only Jews have ever done that; only Jews, in fact, have been doing that without interruption for thousands of years.

The ugly icing on the rancid cake whipped up by the BBC consists of the sentiment conveyed by the sole Jewish speaker featured in the installment, a professor at Hebrew University.

Asked about the fact that Arabs identify contemporary Jews with the crusaders of the Middle Ages, his response provides the installment’s final comment. “It is nonsense,” he responds. “What is the relevance of what happened 800 years ago to the present?”

The professor thus dismisses history as bearing no pertinence to the present. He is, of course, astoundingly wrong, and is given the last word by the documentary not to promote his point of view but rather to expose his utter cluelessness. The BBC knows well that the import of the past on the present is both real and critical.

What it somehow misses, or chooses to ignore, is that history extends farther back than 800 years.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered without charge for personal use and sharing, and for publication with permission, provided the above copyright notice is appended.

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9 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    OK, now that we see this problem with the BBC (again), what do we do now if they are set on misrepresentation? Merely trying to acquaint them with the facts is insufficient, since they freely ignore or distort known facts.

  2. Garnel Ironheart says:

    This is completely consistent with the world’s actions towards Yerushalayim. The Muslims can be seen as impartial guardians of the place, so can the Vatican but not them Jews!

  3. Leah says:

    IMO I would give this one over to Honest Reporting. Yes, it is most likely that the documentation will still get to the unknowing and uncaring at university campuses, yet we should not say,”oh well, too bad” and let it slip thru…… if some outlet like HR could make a counter documentary that would be aired this may help somewhat.

  4. Nachum Lamm says:

    The crescent wasn’t a symbol of Islam until centuries after the Crusades. So much for history…

  5. Nathan says:

    From where I stand, what seems more relevant is why people who consider themselves to be loyal members of the Jewish people continue to purchase Israel-bashing publications like the New York Times.

    Like all bad habits, it is difficult to stop doing, and the Jews who purchase that anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism newspaper stubbornly resist logical arguements which demonstrate why is is wrong to read that newspaper.

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    I sometimes read the NY Times to find out what is happening. It actually has real news. Of course, there is a bias in any paper but we try to use our brains. There is an arrogance on the left, but also a very strong antipathy to science and truth on the far right. If you feel more comfortable with the “know nothings” just be thankful that you live in a democracy where your rights to make up your own mind are protected. Don’t assume that Israelis can have many political points of view, but Americans must all identify with one view. The extremists on both sides are true believers that their solution will solve Israel’s existential dilemna. Israel is in a precarious position and the far right policies just engender more anti-Israel feeling. Tjat does not mean that the far left policies wouldn’t hasten a tragic end. It’s a real mess and we have to rely on the One Above to miraculously help our little Medina survive in this very dangerous world.

  7. L. Oberstein says:

    Now, to the British TV program. The Europeans have no idea what to do with Islam. Islam is a religion that has kept women subjugated and encourages a way of thinking that has kept a large segment of the planet backward and torn by strife. The myth that it is a peaceful religion is wishful thinking. There is a difference between a person who believes in “mult-culturalism” and one who is too obtuse to see Islam for what it is.It is not another flavor or religion, it is a danger to humanity and most of all to the millions of oppressed women who suffer physical mutilation, lifetime bondage and neglect by husbands who can marry multiple wives without even informing the previous wives. Honor killings are rampant, not just in Somalia and Saudi Arabia but in Europe and the USA. The stupid British are putting their heads into the sand and also they are anti-semites.
    If one worries about Israel’s viability,as I do , this is just a prelude to when Europe is overtaken by those who have not yet entered the modern world. There is a war against civilization and we are not willing to admit it. Read any book by Muslim women on what life is really like in these countries and even in Europe in their closed areas of residence.

  8. another Nathan says:

    The brilliant anthropologist Edmund Carpenter commented in the 1970’s about a book The Family of Man, which was trying to show: “that there is absolutely no difference between people. Though people differ in color & creed, they all love, quarrel, protect their children, etc., exactly as we do.” Dr. Carpenter made the incisive observation: “The message is clear: we should love them because they are like us. But that statement has its questioning brother: what if they aren’t like us?”
    The BBC, the New York Times, and other mainstream media are falling all over themselves trying to prove that the others “are like us” despite all the evidence to the contrary. They tell us to love the other, even though the other is trying to kill us.

  9. Ori says:

    It appears that a lot of Europeans see the west bank as a new Sudetenland, and Israel as a whole as a Czechoslovakia (in the 1930s). A regrettable sacrifice somebody else (not them) will need to make to keep the peace.

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