Juan Cole: The Irrelevance of the Knights in a Global Society

Roundup: Historians' Take

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

Norwegian right wing Christian terrorist Anders Breivik spoke of being a member of the “Knights Templar,” and if anything is further terrorizing about Friday’s attacks beyond their own horror, it is the possibility that an organization was behind them or that there are other members of it as looney and violent as Breivik himself. Update: : Breivik warned Monday that 2 more cells of “our organization” were organized for further attacks. Is this his “Templars”? The name, of course, refers to the medieval order coming out of the Crusades.

Breivik visited Malta, where the remnants of the real Knights Templar, having turned their resources over to the Knights of St. John the Hospitaller, had run a pirate mini-state for a few hundred years in the early modern period. Breivik, from a Protestant background, advocated a return to Catholicism, but not to the really-existing current church, rather to a pan-Christian revival of a Crusade theocracy.

The Crusade, he insisted, was necessary because in ten years Muslims would be a majority in most of Europe and they were raping Christian girls. The fear of brown men raping Norwegian women is of course the ultimate in iconic racism, redolent of Jim Crow in the Old South.

The myth about rape in Oslo is debunked here. The argument has the form of bad statistics. It is alleged that Muslims are only 4% of the population in Norway but are responsible for almost all the rapes. First of all, the allegation is untrue. But consider this: most rapes happen in big cities, where anonymity affords more opportunity for subsequent escape. Immigrants are mostly in cities and are a bigger proportion of the urban population than they are of the general population. Then, rapists tend to be young, and recent immigrants groups are disproportionately young. Then, rape is more common in low-income areas, and, you guessed it, immigrants are poorer. So if you studied rape among poor urban youth, it may well be that Muslims commit fewer rapes than would be statistically expected, in that demographic group (the relevant one). Moreover, a lot of the victims of rape would also be poor, urban, young immigrant women.

This wicked fantasy that most European rapists are Muslim immigrants is a staple of the far right, and it has contributed to hatred and violence toward European Muslims. This theme, like many Muslim-hating canards, appears to have been started by McCarthyite Daniel Pipes, a far right Zionist who “watches” American academics that do not toe Breivik’s sort of line at an invasion-of-privacy enterprise ominously called ‘Campus Watch’; and given the turn to violence among people of Breivik’s stripe, it is only a matter of time until Pipes’s organization whips some kindred looney into a homocidal frenzy against those liberal, multi-cultural, Muslim-coddling professors– so like the people at the Labor Party meet on Utoya. And why would Pipes be writing about rape in Scandinavia anyway? It is because people who want to steal more Palestinian land think that they can run cover for the often fanatical and violent West Bank settlers by scaring white people into thinking Muslims in general are a threat and should be discounted, and that if they get kicked out of their homes they’re just getting what they deserve....

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