“England’s Forgotten Muslim History” – The New York Times

Isolated from Europe, Elizabeth I turned to the Islamic world.

This is only one story among many in the complex relationship between Europe and Islam. It is also a reminder of a time when it was the Islamic World was a beacon of toleration in contrast to intolerant Europe.

To read the full story go to: England’s Forgotten Muslim History – The New York Times

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“Studying the 30 Years War Gives Me Hope about Our Religious Wars” | History News Network

Like the historian Wayne Te Brake I think the wars of religion that occurred in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can teach us something about the current conflicts in the Middle East. However, I have to disagree with his optimism concerning the current cease-fire in Syria.
Brake points to the well-known settlements to the European conflicts: “the Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555), the Edict of Nantes (1598), and the Peace of Westphalia (1648).”  While admitting that these were the result of a “grudging consent” rather than “the acceptance of explicit blueprints for a pluralistic future,” he sees in them hope for peace in the Middle East. This may be true in the long run, but the analogy between the current situation in Syria and the above peace settlements fails to take into account some important differences.
First, I think its’ important to note that the first two of the above peace settlements did not last. The breakdown of the Peace of Augsburg resulted in the Thirty Years War and the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV, unleashing a new rounds of violence. It was only after the idea of toleration was accepted as something desirable that we began to see permanent peaceful relations between the various religions in Europe. This is why Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration was so important. Locke was not the first, or the only person, to advocate in favor of toleration, but his influence in changing people’s attitudes about religious diversity that made him such an important figure in the West.
In the conflict zones of the Middle East today there are few, especially those in power, who are willing to accept even a grudging toleration. Without this there can be no lasting peace. The peace in Europe was enforced by powerful states, who despite not accepting toleration as a good were willing to enforce policies of toleration because it was in their interest to do so. The wars had taken such a toll in lives and treasure that a politique policy became necessary. This willingness, or even the ability, to follow a similar policy in Syria, the Islamic State, or Iraq is missing. And even if they get to the point of accepting a grudging toleration in the name of stability, it will not be permanent until there is a change in world view.

Read the entire article here: History News Network | Studying the 30 Years War Gives Me Hope about Our Religious Wars

The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War

“The Pope Is Coming to Get Us — At Least That’s What We Used to Think” | Edward T. O’Donnell

It’s easy to forget our anti-Catholic past with six Catholic Supreme Court Justices (Alito, Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, and Sotomayor) and a significant Catholic presence (30.7%) in Congress.  “But it was not that long ago that word of the impending arrival of a pope on the shores of the United States would have triggered bloody riots and a call to arms. Indeed, for most of this nation’s history Americans saw the Pope as a sinister and dangerous leader who was determined to destroy America’s experiment in republican government,” as Edward T. O’Donnell reminds us.

It’s hard to over state the significance of this change in attitude. But rather than attribute this change to “the strength of religious tolerance in modern American society” in general, as O’Donnell claims. I think it has more to do with demographic changes (thanks to large numbers of Catholic immigrants) and the realization on the part of conservative Protestants that they have a lot in common with Catholics, who have become allies on many issues dear to Protestants. But for whatever reason, the new-found tolerance of Catholics is encouraging for the future of religious liberty.

The history of anti-Catholicism sentiment should remind us that the fears that drive intolerance are usually grounded in falsehoods and prejudices, not reality. Therefore, we should always be skeptical of  malicious claims hurled at any group. They are often false. And besides, we should treat individuals as individuals, not as representatives of a particular group.

And as O’Donnell reminds us, “we must not delude ourselves into thinking our work is done on this front [toleration]. For the history of United States makes clear that this tradition of religious tolerance is one that has evolved and expanded over time to include many faiths initially deemed beyond the pale, including not just Catholics but also Jews, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We would do well to keep this in mind as recent immigration continues to expand the nation’s religious diversity. This is especially true in the case is Islam, a religious tradition that polling data reveals many Americans view with fear and hostility not very different from that reserved for Catholics a few generations ago.”

Read the entire article here: The Pope Is Coming to Get Us — At Least That’s What We Used to Think | Edward T. O’Donnell