Since 9/11, we've been hearing a lot about the Crusades. The current version is that Christians were evil in the Middle Ages when they attacked the peace-loving Saracens. The version goes further, which is that the psychic scars inflicted seven hundred years ago were so deep that they go a long way to explaining the current crop of beheadings, bombings, plane crashes, etc. An alternative view that is slowly being advanced is that, beginning with Mohammad, Islam established itself as an exceptionally aggressive religion, so that the Crusaders were dealing with their own seven hundred year old psyhic wounds when they embarked on the Crusades. Clearly there is more than enough finger-pointing to go around, and the fact is that, in those days, both sides were equally at home with behavior that we non-Muslims now consider barbaric (especially the beheading bit).
The thing is, though, one needn't look so far into the past for modern parallels. Bin Laden's most recent speech, which urges Islamists to focus their attention on the Sudan, raises fairly recent history. As Dan Darling reminds us, this is not the first time the Sudan has witnessed a clash between Muslims and Christians:
As Rohan Gunaratna noted in Inside Al Qaeda in 2002, "the threat posed by Islamists has not diminished in the Sudan and is likely to re-surface from time to time. Parallels are often drawn between Osama and his Sudanese precursor, the Mahdi, who fought a jihad against the British in the late nineteenth century."
To get a sense of the time, watch pre-PC Hollywood's Khartoum. That plot can be summarized as follows:
English General Charles George Gordon, a devout Christian, is appointed military governor of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan by Prime Minister Gladstone. Ordered to evacuate Egyptians from the Sudan, General Gordon stays on to protect the people of Khartoum, who are under threat of being conquered by a Muslim army. His Christian faith and military command are challenged by Mohammed Ahmed el Mahdi, "the Expected One," the head of the Muslim forces.
It's a very good movie.