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‘Deep divide’ between Christians, Muslims is inaccurate

Published: 2/3/2020 10:31:24 AM

Steve Pfarrer’s review of the Clark Art Institute’s “Arabesque” (Jan. 23) opens by stating that “For much of the last 40 years, there has been frequent discussion about the deep divide between the Islamic and Western worlds, particularly how people in each view their counterparts. And tensions between the two of course go back centuries, to the time of the Crusades and the battles fought between Christians and Muslims for control of Jerusalem and other sacred sites in the Mideast.”

This often-repeated claim about the perennial “deep divide” between Christians and Muslims is, however, inaccurate. In fact, scholarship of the last 40 years or so has established quite the opposite to be the case: interactions between the Islamic world and Christendom during the pre-modern period were characterized more so by co-existence, compromise and continuity.

Muslims and Christians traded goods and ideas, shared sacred and commerical spaces, and sometimes even married one another. It is true that these encounters sometimes also resulted in destruction and bloodshed, but it was politics, rather than religious difference, that lay at the heart of these conflicts.

The “deep divide” that Pfarrer alludes to owes much more to the geopolitics of the early twentieth century, when European powers partitioned much of the Middle East along communal lines. The legacies of these colonial-era traumas continue to reverberate in that region (and beyond) today.

Yael Rice


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