A clash of religions: 622-2007 (J.P. Roux)

September 11, 2001 rather quickly caused an explosion of the releases of works devoted to Islam (the "civilization") or to Islam (religion), with very different quality and goals… Some were pamphlets, of others from popularization companies, and finally others from more scientific works. The place of ideology was important and, admittedly, most of these books were not intended to portray Islam (or Islam, therefore) in a positive light. While some were written by non-Islamic scholars, others are not, but not necessarily from a benevolent or even neutral perspective.

Among them Jean-Paul Roux, recently deceased. He was an eminent Turkologist, a former pupil of Claude Cahen, former director of research at CNRS and former professor at the Ecole du Louvre, where he taught Islamic art.

A clash of religions

The attacks of September 11 seem to have been a shock also for this historian, "a loyal Christian and respectful of the other" if we quote the back cover of the book we are going to talk about here. From his foreword, Jean-Paul Roux evokes the almost daily attacks by fundamentalist Muslims since the early 2000s, and the occupation of two Muslim countries (Iraq and Afghanistan) by Europeans and Americans. He then sets out to summarize what will be his approach, namely to show that the conflict between Islam and Christendom is centuries-old, has existed since the very emergence of Islam. We should immediately note the ambiguity of the work's subtitle: Jean-Paul Roux speaks of Islam with a small "i", which he opposes to Christendom with a small "c"; however, commonly, Islam is used with a capital "i" to designate "Islamic or Muslim civilization", a term that can be put at the same level as Christianity (with a lowercase or uppercase "c"), while l Islam with a small “i” should be compared with Christianity, both denoting a religion. Is this confusion voluntary? Impossible to answer with certainty, even if the title itself speaks of two “religions” and not of “civilizations”.

In fact, this is the heart of the problem because "A clash of religions" is indeed part of a "civilizational" approach, opposing two blocs defined by their religion. This is not a new angle, on the contrary, it is even the most common, even in the fifth grade school curricula. The difference is that Jean-Paul Roux sees the relationship between these two civilizations from the almost unique angle of the conflict that would cross the Ages. Thus, the battle of Poitiers, the capture of Constantinople or the Algerian war, not to mention the current conflicts, are all in the same bag, in the same logic of this secular conflict between these two religions. Roux quickly brushed aside any remarks about the periods of peace, of exchanges, which they deemed exceptional, insisting that "elsewhere" there was at the same time a continuing conflict. All possible political, economic and cultural data are also overlooked, since religion is said to be the center of all the motivations and the main (even unique) explanation of each of the wars he discusses.

A civilizational and comparative approach

In addition to the “civilizational” approach, a “comparative” approach with an essentialist tendency is added between a Christianity / Christianity on the defensive, sometimes naive and pacifist, and an Islam / Islam which is immediately conquering and offensive, much less tolerant. , with an emphasis for example on the warlike verses of the Koran. We can see it from the cover pages, where Jean-Paul Roux chooses five quotes which summarize the general angle of his remarks: two of the Gospels (John and Matthew) which condemn violence and call for peace (" I leave you in peace, I give you my peace ”,“ All those who use the sword will perish by the sword ”), two of the Koran openly warriors and calling for martyrdom (“ Go to war and fight with your goods and your people ”,“ Those who were killed in the path of Allah […], He will bring them into paradise ”), and finally one of John Paul II, a little“ intermediary ”, on the just war ( "To be legitimate, defense must be undertaken in such a way as to cause as little damage as possible and, in particular, to spare the life of the adversary as much as possible").

The author therefore sets out, in a long chronological account, to cover nearly 1,400 years of history through the lens of this religious conflict, on a global level. Obviously, each moment is summed up as quickly as possible, even if one can find some interest in the chapters on Asia or Russia, but also in those on the Turkish and Iranian world, of which Roux was a recognized specialist. We notice with astonishment the almost total absence (a quick allusion at the end of the book, where Roux admits that the approach is voluntary) of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or a little before the birth of Zionism and the very opposition. early to this one from the Islamists. Yet we know the importance of the "Palestinian problem" in Islamist propaganda, so why not talk about it? Even though the initiators of September 11 put it at the center of their motivations, and assimilate "crusaders" (Westerners) and Jews ... Consider the history of the world and especially the conflicts of today solely on the basis of a religious conflict between Islam and Christianity, by "forgetting" the stakes of the creation of Israel is astonishing ...

For the rest, if Jean-Paul Roux does not deny the exchanges between the two civilizations, nor even the contributions of Islam to the Christian West, for him they are not essential and incommensurate in their importance compared to the conflicts and religious issues. Above all, what is striking is the vocabulary chosen: first, the use of the term “invasion” to define what is more commonly called “conquest” in a historical process, when we speak of the campaign of the Arabs after the death of the Prophet until the end of the 8th century and the maximum development of the Muslim Empire, from Spain to the Indus; the use of terms such as "multitude", "looters without faith or law", the insistence on "massacres", "intolerance", ... are also surprising in what is intended to be more of a historical work than a essay or pamphlet.

It is the conclusion (which is not one according to the author) that drives the point home of the tone of the book, and its objective: to warn of the danger that Muslims represent today. And this beyond Islamist terrorism. Jean-Paul Roux is alarmed not only by conflicts and attacks, but also by the "fantastic fertility of Muslim homes" (p 370). His position on the presence of Muslims in “Christian land” is also ambiguous: he does not deny the possible integration, but notes all the same that they do not give up being themselves, and wonders if they actually become Belgians, English or French. He continues by agitating the "positive" ("the civilization of Islam was brilliant") and the "negative" while always insisting on the differences in values ​​between Islam and Christianity (despite their common roots), the former refusing "the loan. usurious, [prohibiting] certain foods and alcoholic beverages, [advocating] the separation of the sexes, [basing] the family on polygamy and the repudiation of the wife by the husband; [the second accepting] that money bears fruit, [thinking] that all food is lawful, that the sexes can live together, [understanding] that marriage is indissoluble. »(P 370)! This opposition is symptomatic of the whole book. In the opinion of Jean-Paul Roux, cohabitation is therefore impossible between "Christians" and "Muslims". Likewise, he is sorry to see the Christian faith so moribund, when the Muslim faith would be in full power, and mocks the loss of Christian values ​​(which among other things would promote patriotism) to the detriment of the cult of consumption and enjoyment. , and the mistaken belief in Europe. The end of the book actually looks like a sermon, hoping that Muslims would one day be touched by the message of the Gospels ...

Its conclusion is hardly optimistic however, the victory of Islam in the West being possible thanks to "immigration and fertility" (p 373), not to mention conversions. We must cite the last two paragraphs of the book in full, so as not to distort the author's words:

“Throughout history, the immense Muslim expansion has taken place through holy war, massacres, intolerance, the will to conquer, to lead, to impose oneself, through colonization, in the same way only through tolerance, the radiance of his faith and his mystique, the attraction exerted by the human qualities of these most humble practitioners. And all this to work simultaneously on different paths but leading to the same goal.

Muslims, on the other hand, hope - they believe so - that they will make the Shariat (sic) reign over the old western lands of Christ, on those lands that Christians have defended, from where they have sometimes driven them; Muslims hope and believe that they will conquer them as they conquered the old eastern lands which were all Jesus' own, and where they won the war. 46 years ago, an Algerian journalist who interviewed me on one of my first books told me: “We are taking our revenge on the battle of Poitiers. In the year 2000, France will be Muslim. He was sinning out of optimism. It's not yet the case, but can we blindly think that it won't be tomorrow? "

To conclude ourselves, we will ask ourselves if Jean-Paul Roux was not finally on a crusade with this work, which he opens with this dedication: "Like everything I have done in my life, for good, s' it was, or bad, like all my work, I dedicate this book to God ”.

J.P. ROUX, A clash of religions: the long war between Islam and Christianity (622-2007), Fayard, Paris, 2007, 459 p.

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