The last attempt in Christianity to conquer the world through Jihad or Holy War was the Crusades. The Crusades were the beginning of the unraveling of the attempt by Christianity to create a worldwide religious state or government based on religion in a hope that it would in so doing gain the power to evangelize to the world and bring everyone to Christ. Islam today faces the same dilemma Christianity faced many years ago. Like Christianity, some Islamic movements hope to spread the message of the Holy Koran throughout the world and some believers would hope to do so through a global Islamic government that would be powerful enough to gather the faithful using politics as a tool for conquest. Like Christianity did with the Crusades there are eminent people in Islam who believe the only means for achieving this is through Jihad.
The Crusades had the reverse effect. They destroyed the institutional fabric of the most powerful organized Christian body at the time, the Catholic Church. Instead of greater power the church attracted great mistrust which contributed to the later resolve in politics for there to be separation of religion and state. There was a time when Christianity visa vie the Vatican held immense wealth, lands, power over political establishments, over governments and kingdoms, even over Kings and Queens in the same way Islam does today predominantly in the Middle East. A consequence of the Crusades and proximity to politics is that Christianity inevitably lost all this wealth, power, influence and territory. Today the Vatican, though a recognized state, is not a political institution, it is the administrative seat of the Catholic Church and its focus has returned to the true and the original purpose of the Gospels, which is to win hearts, minds and souls for Christ. Christianity would have diminished further had it not let go of the Crusades, reinvented itself, relied on public relations instead of militancy and gone back to its original purpose. By doing this the Vatican today is one of the most spiritually stable, wealthiest, most respected and influential Christian organizations in the world with more than a billion faithful. Eminent leaders in Islam can study this process for its leaders gain insights into the strategic management of religion.
The militancy of the Crusades dealt a tremendous blow to the quality, spread, power and wealth of Christianity. If the Crusades had been avoided and the focus of the tremendous wealth and power at the time had remained on winning the hearts, minds and souls for Christ for example through charity, tending to the poor and disadvantaged, investing in profitable businesses to improve the lives of the community and in ventures that would raise funds for the disadvantaged there would be far more Christians in the world today. It should be understood that the damage created by the militancy of the Crusades wreaked havoc on Christianity and it is the very same kind of damage that militancy of Jihad will have on Islam. The Crusades teach one very important lesson. The power of religion is not in having direct control of government; in fact religion should distance itself from political power and political office and should swear never to desire it. Religious institutions on earth are the ambassadors of faith, they are essentially public relations institutions (PR) between mankind and God. This means they work to win hearts and minds, which is PR in itself, which is the work of religion. Each individual has the right to choose which belief or faith they dedicate themselves to, consequently winning a soul for God is not the responsibility of religion but the onus of the individual. When a person chooses to be a Moslem, a Christian or Jew, this is their personal decision. The role of religion is not to force people to believe, but to continuously strive to magnanimously win their hearts and minds to God regardless of their denomination or faith by teaching and preaching the holy scriptures. Consequently intolerance, especially religious intolerance practiced by any faith is a blasphemy. It is unacceptable in faith as it entails that the ambassador, in this case religion or the church ignores the rights of the individual and no longer represents the will and motives of the One who sent them to establish the requisite PR on earth.
Hamas in Palestine, the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, Isis in Iraq, bombings in Kenya, Boko Haram in Nigeria, war in Syria show that like Christianity during the Crusades, Islam is spending immensely on power, wealth, political influence and on militancy. Leaders of Islam around the world need to observe what happened to Christianity as a consequence of the Crusades and ask themselves, is this the right strategy for us? Will this strategy strengthen Islam or weaken Islam in future as it weakened Christianity. The true power of religion resides in winning the hearts, minds of humanity of which war, fear, insecurity, intolerance and conflict become blasphemous to the purpose of religion as an ambassador of God’s holy word. These are the exact opposite pursuit and should remain the preserve of politics which is more suited to handle and subdue these vices. Intolerance is inimical to religion as it is an attempt to stifle individual liberty. God desires mankind’s love as a willing choice of the individual, not a coercion that subtracts from the sanctity of one’s faith; which is antagonistic and draws in distrust. Islam and those who wield its wealth in an attempt to finance militancy and influence the world should try to avoid making the same mistakes Christians made through militancy observed in the Crusades. It is a strategy that provides small gains, but significantly greater future losses that may eventually erode the gains of a religion. Changing strategy and reinvention is vital for survival and self preservation. Leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela would have failed to achieve their objectives against oppressors had they not understood this and changed course. Eminent leaders of Islam similarly, need to re-evaluate the path chosen to spreading the holy word and its tenets as the path that espouses militancy may eventually be inimical to Islam.
For Hamas, intolerance directed toward humanity is intolerance all the same. There is nothing to be gained from showing intolerance for Israel or Jews made through clinging blindly to statements such as “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth” or that a Palestinian State and Israeli State cannot live side by side; this is childish, inhumane and it goes against the values of genuine religion – it is therefore not only inhumane it is anti-Islam and will undermine Islam. Therefore, it is not a strategy a wise leadership would follow or encourage. It fosters fear, fear encourages conflict and war is inimical to a true religion as it runs counter-productive to the life-blood of true religion which is to win hearts and minds. Black people do not take kindly to being discriminated against, often they are quick to anger, but this is due to their history. Similarly, Jews do not take kindly to being threatened with violence or oppression, often they are quick to anger, but this too is due to their history. The question here is not – how many times Hamas and Palestine have petitioned the United Nations, or how many times you have complained to the UN Security Council. None of these appeals will be what secure peace and prosperity for the Palestinian people. Hamas needs to ask itself - what has it done to win the hearts and minds of Jews and the Jewish nation of Israel? This is what faith teaches you. One might say why ask Hamas this question? Is Israel not the more powerful military and aggressor who must be asked such a question? But you are mistaken. Israel is not more powerful than the rest of the world combined. Sometimes there is great strength in being weak and there is significant moral authority in being small. Martin Luther King had to win the hearts and minds of his protractors, Mahatma Gandhi had to do the same, Nelson Mandela achieved victory not through militancy but by winning the hearts and minds of his perceived protractors. Mahatma Gandhi had faults. Scrutiny of some of his writings does reveal that even a person as accomplished, disciplined and apparently broad minded as he was can fall into the trap of conventionalism that finds it fashionable to harbour racist and discriminatory attitudes to those they believe are their lessors be it by race, caste, ethnicity or class. It is dangerous pitfall to say and believe you love everyone except Jews or Blacks or Asians and so on. To this day people and institutions continue to fall into this trap. It is this kind of emotive pitfall of conventionalism where even respectable people and institutions practice discrimination like a fad that needs to be avoided. We have learned enough about Gandhi to know that he would certainly have retracted many of the inappropriate comments he made in order to rise above them and we ourselves should not stoop so low as to believe nothing can be learned from his legacy or that his attitudes could not change. Similarly, Hamas and the Palestinian authority need to avoid conventional attitudes, strategically rise above themselves and learn to genuinely win the hearts and minds of Israel and the Jewish nation as in doing so they will inadvertently win over the hearts and minds of the international community. Palestine cannot allow itself to view Israel as its “enemy” and must understand this genuinely; in the same way Nelson Mandela did not allow himself to view the Whites in South Africa as his enemy. The enemy for Nelson was Apartheid, not White people. In doing this he liberated his people. He was smart and intuitive enough to make this distinction and consequently played a key role in leading his people to liberty. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority need to do the same with Israel. When two children run to their mother to complain about how the other is being abusive, their mother cannot indiscriminately side with one child against the other. Similarly the UN often finds it difficult to solve this protracted conflict. Israel and Palestine can live side by side as political states in peace and prosperity, but it is Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that need to reassess their PR to develop a charm offensive, not one pushed indirectly through the UN, but directly at Israel and the Jewish people; to genuinely win their hearts and minds. If Hamas and the Palestinian Authority do this they will discover peace and prosperity that will be permanent and eventually most of their demands will be handed over willingly by Israel. The strong wind like an aggressor or Jihadi will make a man cling ever more strongly to his jacket, while the strong sun with its PR will make him take it off gladly, so says Aesop. Israel also needs to begin to support making economic independence in Palestine and the Gaza strip a reality; as long these territories cannot fend for themselves they must look for a benefactor. If that benefactor continues to desire aggression then the rockets being fired into Israel will never cease. Israel therefore has to prioritize the economic growth, development and economic emancipation of these territories allowing the two states to one day cooperate economically. This mutual economic coexistence is fundamental for long term peace since it reduces any negative external interference in the regions peace and prosperity. As neighbors and regional custodians of Jerusalem there are innumerable ways Israel and Palestine can work together economically, religiously and politically without either nation losing its strong identity. However, to get there they need a whole new approach, a new mind-set, a new way of thinking, new trust, new strategy and to be genuine in what they seek. A Palestine in continual conflict with Israel does not help the Arab or Islamic world gain influence in the region or further its interests, neither does it help the international community find peace.
Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christ. Christ is an important prophet of Islam. He is also of Jewish descent. By 2020 there are expected to be 2.6 billion Christians in the world, each one of them longing for the opportunity to peacefully and safely see the birthplace of Jesus. Israel and Palestine are geographical custodians of this treasure of Christianity, and it is not by chance. PR requires that the beliefs of others be tolerated, respected and understood for what they mean to those who have made a choice to walk the path they are on. God is love, and tolerance is one of the greatest expressions of this emotion any individual, organization and government can espouse; Israel, Palestine and Hamas are no exception. The conflict and misery you bring about is by your own hand, your own limited way of thinking, your own intolerance, your own inability to sit at the table with your perceived enemy and see that between you, you have in your possession one of the most coveted gifts, an invaluable boon for tourism more lucrative than oil, gas, gold and silver, a geographical asset many nations have not been blessed to have custody of. By allowing others to take the road their faith has taken them on any religion, organization or government is inadvertently winning hearts and minds to itself. Leaders with insight will know this. Palestine today should be one of the wealthiest states in the Middle East, its citizens should be enjoying a standard of living equal and even better than that enjoyed in Switzerland, better even than that enjoyed by residents of Dubai. Their lives should this very day even as you read these words be the envy of the world. This wealth has already been placed in your hands. The same peace, wealth and prosperity would be enjoyed by Israelis today. But you yourselves first have to open your eyes and learn to see that two wrongs do not make a right.