Sibling Rivalries, Scriptural Communities: What Medieval History Can and Cannot Teach Us about Relations between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
By David Nirenberg
Faithful Narratives, edited by Nina Caputo and Andrea Sterk (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014)
Excerpt: Today there are literally hundreds of writers turning to the Middle Ages in order to make this or that argument about the relationship between Western and Islamic civilization. The topic has attracted some very good novelists—including Salman Rushdie, Amin Maalouf, and A. B. Yehoshua— and also produced some very polemical history.
But the proxy war is not only literary. A number of policy projects also turned to the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, among them the Union for the Mediterranean conceived by French president Nikolas Sarkozy as a union of all nations— whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim—whose shores are lapped by the Mediterranean’s waters, including both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
According to Sarkozy, the three Abrahamic religions had their origins around the shores of the Mediterranean, and on its waters they traded and related with each other for more than a millennium. This ancient unity of Mediterranean history and culture, he suggested, could serve as a platform for the pursuit of Middle East peace and mutual prosperity. But his historicogeographic definition of the union was immediately resisted by the European powers it excluded (namely Germany) as an attempt to circumvent the EU and create an alternative French-dominated vehicle for regional policy.
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