American politics has become positively medieval

It's crusaders v. jihadis all over again.

Protesters carry signs in English and Spanish during a march in favor of abortion rights, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(RNS) — After the European forces of the First Crusade seized Jerusalem in 1099, it didn’t take long for Muslim writers to recognize that the Europeans were engaged in their own kind of jihad. 

In 1105, a Syrian scholar and preacher named Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami presented the capture as the culmination of a Christian assault on Islam that had begun a decade earlier with the Norman conquest of Sicily and the Frankish invasion of Islamic Spain.

“They continued zealously in the jihad against the Muslims,” al-Sulami wrote, “until they made themselves rulers of lands beyond their wildest dreams.” He likewise understood that this assault represented a self-conscious effort on the Christians’ part to recapture territory lost to Islam in the centuries after Muhammad.

The Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade may not have been beyond the wildest dreams of America’s religious right warriors, but it represented the culmination of a half-century’s effort to, as they understand it, recapture cultural territory that had been lost to the opponents of their values.

Once upon a time, women were chattel, homosexuals were in the closet, abortion was against the law and public school teachers led their students in Christian prayer. And white people were in charge. Making America great again, whether à la Reagan or à la Trump, meant recovering a reasonable facsimile of that Holy Land.

Meanwhile, for those on the other side of the Great American Culture War, what seemed like an ineluctable march toward victory, emblemized by the Supreme Court’s recognition of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, was forced into a u-turn by the court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. Under the circumstances, it was time to saddle up.

“There can be no crusade without jihad, and no crusade without countercrusade, or jihad, making for an historical continuum that is reciprocal and mutually dependent,” writes historian Paul Chevedden.

Yes, there are other issues that divide the country politically — immigration and climate change, to name just two. But when it comes to partisan politics, what sets pulses to racing are transgender and BLM and wokeness and DEI and, above all, abortion. Even as Republican-controlled states legislate away access to abortion, Democratic-controlled ones are expanding it. 

Sooner or later, though, the reciprocity and mutual dependence come to an end. In medieval Palestine, the numbers were against the Christian jihadis. Within a century, Muslim forces recaptured Jerusalem and, a century later, the entire crusader state went under.

In America today, the pro-choice side has the numbers, and wherever the fight has been conducted on the electoral battlefield, it has prevailed, most recently in last week’s landslide victory over an anti-abortion candidate for the swing seat on Wisconsin’s supreme court.

Republican pols are beginning to panic, but for the moment they seem incapable of repressing the zeal of their crusading pro-life troops. At this rate, it won’t take a century for the American Jerusalem to be returned to something like its pro-choice status quo ante.

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