Unless you’ve been completely zoned out recently, you know the American-made mess in Mesopotamia has gotten messier, so much so that our cooler-than-cool President has become heated enough to dispatch bombers not only back to Iraq, but to Syria this time as well. Did he have a choice? What was the alternative? These are questions we will debate (but probably not definitively answer) for some time to come.
One premise that has been and will continue to be proffered is that we have no business involving ourselves in the Levant’s centuries-old, religious civil war. Let the original combatants have at it, let the victors take the spoils. The counter-premise is that we can’t be certain the victors will be amenable to our way of life, so we had better try and control the outcome as much as possible. Add to this all the hooey about “those Muslims” and “their Islam”.
I was reminded, a few years back, that even hooey must be placed in proper context. A reader’s comment on a news website suggested that the purveyors of anti-Muslim bias should either acquaint or reacquaint themselves with the history of Christianity at the tender age of fourteen centuries, the age Islam is now. I knew what he meant. Years ago, research for an on-again-off-again project had me immersed in a bit of regional history. We don’t even have to go back to the Christianity of the 1400s. The English-speaking Christian world of the 1600s will do just fine.
The land on which this city sits was once home to the Algonquian-speaking Nacotchtank people. I don’t know if there was any religious animosity between them and the other Piscataway groups in the area, but by 1632 people well familiar with religious strife claimed the land for their own, courtesy of a royal charter granted by King Charles I of England. Thus was born Maryland, meant to be somewhat of a refuge for English Catholics chafing under the Church of England – the Anglicans. “Refuge” may be a bit of a stretch. In 1644, a Protestant uprising began a two year period known as the Plundering Time, when Protestant forces roamed the colony, robbing citizens at will and taking Jesuits back to England as prisoners. The Calverts (The Lords Baltimore), Maryland’s ruling family, regained control in 1648. The following year, the Maryland assembly passed the Maryland Toleration Act, mandating religious tolerance in the colony for the protection of Catholics and others at odds with Anglicanism.
In 1650, the Puritans, the Taliban of their time and place, revolted against the Maryland government, setting up a new government prohibiting both Catholicism and Anglicanism. During its time in power, the Puritan government persecuted the colony’s Catholics. Every original Catholic church in the southern part of the colony was burned down by mobs. In 1655, in an attempt to end the Puritan revolt, Lord Baltimore sent his Catholic army against the Puritan army in the Battle of Severn, thirty miles from where I now sit and write. The Puritans were triumphant, and remained in power until 1658 when the Calverts once again regained control and re-enacted the Toleration Act.
Maryland’s history even shows how religious and political upheaval an ocean away can cause turmoil here. What was known as the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, the time when the Protestants William and Mary replaced the Catholic King James II on the English throne, led to the Protestant Revolution in Maryland. The Lords Baltimore lost control of the colony for the next twenty-five years, during which time the Toleration Act was permanently repealed, Catholicism was against the law and Catholics were not allowed to hold public office. (This is much like what we did when we invaded and destabilized Iraq, purging the Baathist Sunnis from the ranks of government and the military and driving them into the arms of what has become ISIL). There was no religious freedom in Maryland until after the American Revolution.
“Freedom” can be made into a relative term. It remains to be seen if anything approaching the “absolute” will emerge in the Middle East. Even the Maryland Toleration Act had its limits. It sentenced to death anyone who denied the divinity of Jesus.