Ashley Belohlavek: How Is This A Thing?: The Judeo-Christian Narrative and the Clash of Civilizations

[Just a friendly trigger warning: I mention [white] supremacy, the KKK, ISIS, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and World War II, and similar historical events/hateful concepts]


There is this incredibly odd troupe that Islam is anti-Semitic in nature. The biggest reason this is absurd is that Muslims themselves are Semites. But more importantly, Muslims have had a long history of supporting their Jewish brethren in times of terrorism and brutality from differing religious factions. There is, however, an undying narrative created after World War II by Christians that in actuality, Christians have historically been close allies of Jewish people and that Muslims have often been intolerant and hostile towards Jews. Considering the era in which this narrative was born, it is valid to suggest that this narrative was created specifically because Christians had spent much of the Holocaust sitting on the sidelines and afterwards were feeling guilty that they hadn’t done more and so they created this fiction in order to defend themselves and steer the blame towards a scapegoat: Muslims. I will be outlining the origin of this misconception, analyzing how it has continued to survive for so long and explain why it should clearly be ditched.

According to the man that coined the phrase “Judeo-Christian Narrative,” Richard Bulliet, this narrative was created in an effort to soothe feelings of guilt and insecurity in Christians. Bulliet’s idea is that Christians panicked when the war was over and it came time for them to explain why they had waited so long to act when they knew Jews were being slaughtered and terrorized in Germany and they did nothing (he specifically says the Holocaust was an undeniable way of trying to exterminate the Jewish population altogether, but it didn’t work).

While Christians themselves have perpetrated much violence in the name of religion, many western cultures have somehow managed to sculpt this villainous image of Muslims as extremists and evildoers and they ignore the incredibly good deeds initiated by Muslims because it simply doesn’t fit their narrative. For example, the Spanish Inquisition. At the time, Spain was controlled by Catholic monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, who then decided to force Jewish people to convert to Catholicism, be expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, or die. Of course, this was not the only point in history when Christians openly discriminated against Jewish people and forced them to bend to their will or die, all for the sake of some twisted idea of supremacy. During this period of inhumanity, along with the Holocaust during WWII, Muslims opened their doors to their Jewish brethren and offered them refuge from their deadly homelands. Despite this act of kind, Christians have managed to spin a tale of denial, claiming that they have always been there for their Jewish brothers and sisters and that Muslims are the true enemies. How we can forget the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust is beyond me, but backing up this preposterous narrative requires a blatant disregard for pure facts and memories of recent history. We cannot forget the parts of history that we regret or that make us look bad. We must take accountability for our actions, and this narrative is a clear example of denial and a lack of maturity and allyship, not to mention a lack of humanity and decency.

We’ve spent so long looking at examples of how this narrative doesn’t add up, but we can also get a better idea of how this narrative has managed to stay alive for so long by critiquing arguments for why Muslim and Judeo-Christian civilizations cannot mesh peacefully. Of course, I find this sentiment absurd, but many people truly believe that Islam and Christianity are two worlds apart, enough that Muslims are too far gone to be able to coexist with the flawless Christian society of the West. This idea is commonly known as the “Clash of Civilizations,” which implies that the West and Middle East each have their own civilizations or societies that simply cannot see eye to eye.

In today’s age of Islamophobia and irrational fear of Middle Eastern cultures, this narrative is truly at its peak, parading this idea that Islam and Shari’a is apocalyptic and must be stopped. In our world that is intensely divided, we desperately need to realize that no religious group as a whole is the enemy. Extremism in born in every religion, not just certain ones. Just as there as those who pose as Muslims calling for the deaths of non-believers, claiming they act in God’s will, there is also an entire portion of the Bible that has countless examples of the encouragement of violence and even murder. You have ISIS, but you also have the KKK. One cannot cite one and ignore the other. In other words, this narrative is used to demonize an entire group of people, over 1 billion ordinary people, and it has absolutely no historical or factual precedent; it is pure fiction and denial.

This hypocritical view of the two religions can be seen in media on a local and a national, mainstream level as well. The Eagle Rising, a Christian news source, devotes an article to the study of “Why Judeo-Christian Culture is at War with Islam.” So, right off the bat, there is this implication that there are two sides, one with Jews and Christians and their opponents are Muslims. The author of this particular article cites passage from the Bible and the Qur’an, showing opposing viewpoints, though they are completely out of context. For example, the article continuously cites Bible passages with “Love Thy Neighbor” sentiments or their how they value life at all costs, but then they refer to passages in the Qur’an saying “We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers,” and “Believers, do not make friends with any but your own people.” Let’s be real, here; we’ve all heard some truly dreadful passages from the Old Testament too, far worse than these Qur’an passages. Of course, this is not to say that implying ostracizing those of differing beliefs is alright either. But the problem with this clash of civilizations argument is that it is extremely biased and narrow-minded. From this Christian man’s perspective, he is choosing to see the good and love in his own religion, yet he is failing to acknowledge the same in Islam and he is specifically picking out the passages that are the most condemnable. But clearly, with modernity and the passing of time come progression, change of heart and growth. Muslims today do not read the Qur’an in the same way that they did in Prophet Muhammad’s age, just as Christians today don’t read the Bible in the same way that it was read during the Crusades, for example. The questionable passages from both of these holy books are open to interpretation and religion is what people make of it. A violent person’s religion will be violent and a good person’s religion will be loving and accepting. To state that the entirety of Islam calling for the rejection of non-Muslims and the use of conversion by force is to completely miss the teachings of Islam and it is a truly ignorant analysis.

It is also notable how much Christians try to distance themselves and Judaism from Islam as though they have nothing in common, when in actuality, they mostly have the same or very similar values. Something Christians fail to recognize is that Muslims actually do believe in the teachings of the Bible as well as the Qur’an. The major differences between Muslim and Christian opinion of the Bible, however, is that Muslims don’t accept the idea of the Holy Trinity and they believe in Muhammad as the last Prophet, not Jesus Christ. Otherwise, they do accept the word of the Bible as valid. It is very curious how Western culture has demonized Islam so much that they immediately accept slanderous comments about Islam as true. During YouTube social experiments in Germany, Toronto, and New York City, people would disguise the Bible with a cover of the Qur’an and would read passages to strangers and ask them what they thought about them. In each experiment, all of the people interviewed disavowed the passages and were disgusted with what they implied, and most of them were shocked to find out that the passages were actually from the Bible. Many people who took part acknowledged that no matter what holy book we’re talking about, they all have some archaic ideas that no longer fit into the society that we want for ourselves today and times have changed.

The key to realizing why the clash of civilizations is a one-sided narrative is that every religion is flawed. Nothing is perfect and we must all learn from each other and learn from our mistakes. It’s not that two different religions can’t work in harmony, it’s that they must respect each other in order to coexist peacefully. Even Huntington himself, the man who coined this whole “Clash of Civilizations” idea, says that, “Differences do not necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean violence.” Huntington’s mistake, however, comes immediately after when he says, “Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.” Huntington’s statement is not wrong, but he ultimately suggests that even though violence is not imminent, it occurs so often that peaceful coexistence is a hopeless cause.


Works Cited:

Bulliet, Richard. “Islamo-Christian Civilization.” Lecture at Columbia University. March 9, 2010.

Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (1993): 22-49. doi:10.2307/20045621.

Dowling, Paul. “Why Judeo-Christian Culture Is at War with Islam.” Eagle Rising, 2014.