Monday, November 8, 2010

The Grand Inquisitor

The Times reported that two of the names on the bomb packages sent to synagogues in Chicago by Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen were addressed to famous Inquisitors who had persecuted Muslims in medieval times. Diego Deza, a successor to the infamous Tomás de Torquemada, was one of the names, and Reynald Krak “…is another name for Reynald of Châtillon—a French knight of the Second Crusade who wantonly killed Muslim pilgrims and was later beheaded by Saladin, the Kurdish warrior famous for his defeat of Western invaders in the 12th century” (“In Parcel Bomb Plot, 2 Dark Inside Jokes,” NYT, 11/2/10). It is curious that the terrorists sent bombs addressed to Inquisitors to synagogues, since both Jews and Muslims faced a common fate at the hands of the Inquisition. In any event, this strain of terrorism seems like something out of a Dan Brown novel in which the past itself actually plays a murderous role. But the curious element is the significance that centuries-old conflicts hold for the modern-day terrorist mind. This was particularly obvious in the massacres at Sarajevo during the Bosnian-Serb conflict, in which the place itself was so resplendent with both relatively recent (the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which precipitated World War I) and more ancient hostilities between Christians and Muslims. These conflicts seethed beneath the surface normalcy that had been cultivated during the Tito era, in which ethnicity was subsumed under the ideology of a benevolently despotic totalitarian state. Stephan Daedalus comments that “history is a nightmare,” and it always creates a shudder when one realizes how powerful historical memory is and how it’s passed on to generation after generation. Who would have thought that names like Reynald de Châtillon and Diego Deza could be on the minds of jihadists in Yemen, a country that, on the space-time continuum, seems light years from The Crusades?

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