How White Supremacists and Islamists exploit the Middle Ages


I’ve tried to avoid this topic but with comments from white supremacists appearing on social media channels linked to this blog, I need to make my position crystal clear on the relationship between the Knights Templar, white supremacists and Islamist-inspired terrorists.

Knights Templar were not white supremacists

That unfortunately hasn’t stopped groups in my native United Kingdom like the English Defence League adopting Templar symbols and mottos as their own. White supremacist marchers who stormed Charlottesville in 2017 employed imagery referencing the Holy Roman Empire and the Templars. The words Deus Vult  and Saracen Go Home were recently sprayed on a mosque in the town of Cumbernauld, Scotland and extreme right groups in northern Europe and the United States can be heard yelling Non Nobis Domine.

Anders Breivik was not a Templar Knight – he was a murderous psychopath

This might all be ignorable if the consequences weren’t so potentially fatal. On 22 July 2011, Anders Breivik killed eight people in the Norwegian capital by detonating a bomb and then made his way to a summer youth camp where he gunned down 69 teenagers. On YouTube he had posted a rambling manifesto covered in Templar imagery and ranting about the need for a crusade. I blogged at the time that this murderous sociopath had zero in common with the Knights Templar.

Differences between the Knights Templar and white supremacists:

  • The Knights Templar were not loners or sociopaths. They were a military order endorsed by kings, princes and popes. The Templars ran agri-businesses (huge farms to finance the crusades), banking operations and were high level political advisers. They were not bedsit bombers or hate filled cranks.
  • Turcopoles were local Middle Eastern warriors who joined the Templars as auxiliaries. They were often Christians whose families had been Christian for longer than many families in Europe.
  • In one recorded incident, the Templars admonished a Christian who was trying to stop a Muslim praying in the Al Aqsa mosque, which was rebranded the Temple of Solomon while Jerusalem was under crusader control.
  • The Templars were respected by their Saracen opponents – not because they were racists but because of their bravery and dedication. First into battle and last to leave.
  • Christians respected Arabic learning. When the Spanish city of Toledo was taken by crusaders after centuries of Muslim control, scholars from all over Europe descended on its libraries like locusts. When the Templars were put on trial, they were accused of having been influenced by and admiring Islam.
  • Muslims and Christian realms were in much closer proximity – literally bumping up against each other. The caliphate in Spain bordered France. In Sicily, the king issued proclamations in Norman French, Greek and Arabic. The crusader states conducted trade and diplomatic relations with their Saracen enemies out of necessity. Templars would have known their Saracen counterparts, probably by name in many instances.
  • There was no concept as we understand it of white supremacy in the Middle Ages. The Templars were certainly a Christian order but Christians could still be found in large numbers in north Africa, the Middle East and the Byzantine empire (modern Turkey and bits of Syria on occasion). Christians were white and brown, to put it crudely. Please show me where a Templar ever talked about whiteness being a defining issue.

Ultimately the Templars were all about keeping the Holy Land Christian and pushing back the caliphate in modern Spain and Portugal. But they saw this as a lofty, spiritual cause – not a thuggish day out to beat up some migrants and asylum seekers.

ISIS and Al Qaeda also distort history

That is not to deny the existence today of extremist and violent Islamist inspired terrorism. To me, the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda are the mirror image of white supremacism. They preach a murderous form of religious supremacism where their victims are both Muslim (Shia, Sufi, dissenters) and non-Muslim. They frame the past in terms that are also completely ahistorical. Ignoring the complexities of medieval politics, they boil the past down to a binary struggle between the “caliphate” and the Christian “House of War”. This is as false as the perspective of white supremacists.

The caliphates of the past that they imagine were 100% Muslim were nothing of the sort. The Ottoman empire was a patchwork of ethnicities and faiths. In fact, Ottoman Constantinople had a much more diverse population then modern day Istanbul. The Ottomans also stoned less people to death over a four-hundred-year period than ISIS in two years of nightmarish terror in Syria and Iraq.

Extremist Islamists ignore religious pluralism in the Middle Ages

Islamists also use medieval analogies to prop up their world view. The 2017 terrorist attack in Barcelona led some blood-soaked supporters of ISIS on social media to invoke the memory of the medieval caliphate that once ruled Spain and Portugal – Al-Andalus.

Ignoring the fact that Jews, Christians and Muslim co-existed under that caliphate, they claimed it was only a matter of time before Islamic rule was reinstated.

Let’s be clear on this. Islamism is an ideology developed largely in the 20th century around groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir as well as the puritan Salafi and Wahabbi schools of thought. Islamism is not the same thing as Islam.

al Andalus

Islamism is not Islam – most Muslims want a peaceful existence

Contrary to its claims, the supremacist and sectarian ideology of Islamism is not and never has been mainstream Islam. But it’s convenient for white supremacists to characterise this ideology as…mainstream Islam – which suits the Islamists fine. White supremacists and Islamists have a kind of symbiotic relationship where they boost each other’s arguments, while professing to loathe each other.

Islamist ideology has borrowed heavily from fascist and Leninist methodology and created a totalitarian version of the caliphate that neither Saracens or crusaders would have recognised.

Most victims of ISIS globally are…Muslim

Every so often in the history of Islam currents have emerged that are dubbed, by Muslims, as “Khawarij”. Heretical and violent bigots who believe they have the right to determine who is a good Muslim and who is not – and then to excommunicate (“takfir”) or even execute those who don’t meet their criteria. In the Qur’an, the Prophet Mohammed anticipated these people who would “recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.” He called on other Muslims to wipe them off the face of the Earth.

ISIS and Al Qaeda are Khawarij, twisting Islam to a bloody agenda. And they have a symbiotic, mutually supportive relationship with the white supremacists. Because both Islamists and white supremacists strive for an end of days civilisational clash. They crave the end of compromise, co-existence and moderation yearning instead for what ISIS terms the “extinguishing of the grey zone”.

Let’s disconnect the Knights Templar from white supremacists and Islamists

If we want a world safe for our children – we must reject both ideologies. We can start by disconnecting the Knights Templar and the Saracens from this hateful garbage – both white supremacism and violent Islamism. It’s time for Medieval Studies departments and other experts to stop hiding under stones cowering and come out to refute this distortion of the medieval era. There has been an encouraging start from THESE medieval experts.

The silence of others is literally costing lives.

Your views, as ever, very welcome. But advocacy of racism and/or violence will be taken down.

6 thoughts on “How White Supremacists and Islamists exploit the Middle Ages

  1. I believe many people, even moderates and those with no political agenda, draw from ancient institutions and groups from long ago to enshrine themselves in some degree of legitimacy – as if saying, ‘We’ve been here all along,’ or ‘This is how it was done years / centuries ago, and we need to revive it.’ They’re declaring, in effect, they have roots in the ground that reach back X number of years and therefore, they are justified in their deeds and words in contemporary society; no matter how repulsive that may be to others.

    It’s also interesting that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all sprung from the same ideological well in what is now the Middle East or Central Asia. But, as with any ideology, people’s viewpoints can be stretched into the extremist realm. For example, it’s hard for many (especially here in the U.S.) to believe that present-day Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq were once the centers of culture and enlightenment. Yet, I personally believe that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been the source of much of the world’s troubles for centuries. Too many wars have been fought and millions of people have been butchered because those three religions keep locking horns. I speak from the vantage point of someone of Mexican Indian extraction who has studied how Christianity was utilized more as a weapon to subjugate the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere – not to forget other regions of the world with similar horror stories.

    I also know that Queen Isabella of Spain had apparently ordered Jews in the region either to convert to Christianity or leave. Through his extensive genealogical research, my father learned some 20+ years ago that Isabella was a direct ancestor on his mother’s side of the family. He also learned that Isabella had ordered her subjects in the “New World” to stop slaughtering the native peoples and try converting them to Christianity. Some of the latter did to save themselves, while others rebelled and held to their own ancient traditions. Indigenous peoples further north, however, didn’t experience the same generosity, as English and French explorers were intent on removing any obstacle to what they believed was untamed wilderness and infinite mineral riches. But that’s another subject with endless tales.

    Still, I find it insulting and defamatory that White supremacists in Europe and North America have hijacked the legacy of the Templars. There is no nobility in suppressing entire groups of people for one’s own benefit.

    1. Totally agree and thanks for taking the time to share that. Interested to see you’re descended from Queen Isabella! If you visit her tomb, you’ll notice that her head rests lower on her pillow than that of her husband Ferdinand. Spaniards like to say it’s because she had a harder head. Stubborn might be a better word. Incidentally, I visited a church in Madrid last year that I’d never been into before – very dark and sombre. Asked a man sitting in the nave who it was dedicated to. He answered that it was built to “celebrate” the final expulsion of the Jewish community from Spain 🙁

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