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Jun 2002 Journal

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Cross, Crescent and Star of David

At the time of the Crusades, Europe was to all intents and purposes Catholic. The Crusaders thought they had a passport to heaven as they inflicted atrocities on Jews and Muslims alike. The waning of the Age of Faith saw the rise of nation states driven by purely dynastic interests. Catholic France didn't scruple to ally itself even with Mohammedan Turks or German Protestants to advance its interests at the expense of similarly Catholic Spain and Austria.

Protestantism was diverse. Lutheranism reinforced princely power, while Calvinism weakened it. Nonconformist sects drew inspiration from the Old Testament, which benefited the Jews. The Pilgrim Fathers may have created a narrow killjoy civilisation in Massachusetts, but ever after religion and the state were kept separate in America.

Meanwhile, Catholicism was the cement which bound together some nations, like the Poles and the Irish, struggling for sovereignty. Paradoxically, the very same Catholic Church opposed the unification of Italy because it made the Pope a 'prisoner in the Vatican'.

In the Great War the Pope actually favoured the Central Powers because the Allies comprised Protestant Britain, secularised France and Orthodox Russia. In Germany (and Britain), meanwhile, Catholic minorities vied with the Protestant majority in patriotic fervour.

During that war also a great split occurred in the Muslim world. The Sultan of Turkey's claim to spiritual dominion over the whole of Islam ended when the Arabs rebelled and embarked on the tortuous road to independence. At the same time, the intra-Jewish rift between Zionists and anti-Zionists intensified with the issue of the Balfour Declaration. During the subsequent rise of Fascism, Catholic and Protestant church leaders across the continent allowed themselves to be enrolled in a war, not merely against atheistic communism, but also against secular democracy. In some countries, e.g. Slovakia and Croatia, Catholic prelates actively promoted the Final Solution. The Vatican's record during and immediately after the war, when it assisted Nazi mass murderers to escape justice, left an indelible stain.

Postwar antisemitism in East European countries - Catholic and Orthodox alike - received a boost from the perceived link between Communism and Jews. At the same time, the Muslim world reacted to the creation of Israel with outbursts of frantic Judeophobia. In Palestine itself the nationalist leadership, once exercised by the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, passed into secular hands. With the exception of the Saudi Kingdom, all Arab states hitched their enmity to Israel to the engine of secular nationalism.

This changed with the Iranian revolution of 1979, which accelerated the growth of Islamic fundamentalism throughout large swathes of Africa and Asia. Meanwhile in Europe Pope John XXII and the present incumbent embarked on the task of making amends for the huge historical wrong the Church had done to the Jews. However, the Vatican's inability to 'jump over its own shadow' is demonstrated by the attempt to canonize Pius XII (appropriately dubbed 'Hitler's Pope' in a recent biography).

The latest developments in the triangular relationship between Cross, Crescent and Star of David involve fundamentalists both in the Middle East and the West. Though bin Laden's star is waning, the cult of suicidal martyrdom has spread into Palestine, and the clergy-led Hamas may one day pose a Taliban-like challenge to the Arafat regime. In America, meanwhile, fundamentalist Christians who view Israel's possession of the Holy Land as the fulfilment of divine prophecy have become a major force within George W Bush's Republican Party. Even in the latest EU disagreement on policy towards the Middle East conflict, Catholic Spain and France adopted a more hard-line anti-Israel stance, while Protestant Britain and Germany voted against a boycott.
Richard Grunberger

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