Source: The Guardian
By Jason Wilson
On the topic of Parisian massacres, consider this. On 24 August 1572, Charles IX of France ordered the assassination of prominent Huguenot Protestants who were in Paris for the wedding of their leader, Henry of Navarre, to the king’s own sister. Under the tutelage of his mother, Catherine de’Medici, he became convinced that their faction was on the brink of rebellion.
The killings quickly led to mass violence. Catholic Parisians began killing their Huguenot fellow-residents in earnest. 3000 were killed in the capital alone – a 9/11-level catastrophe carried out with sticks and stones, torches and knives, feet and fists. 70,000 were massacred in a similar fashion in other parts of the country in succeeding days.
The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, as it became known, was just a part of decades of civil war and slaughter in France. Huguenots were persecuted and murdered en masse, and they responded in kind, hunting down Catholic priests like wild animals in the parts of the country that they controlled (one Huguenot captain was said to have worn a necklace of clerics’ ears). Hostilities continued inside and outside the formal boundaries of open religious war, and only completely ended when the Huguenots were mostly converted, killed, or expelled.
This was not some aberration from an otherwise stately process of Christian Reformation. The French wars, which came in the middle of a much larger process that wracked Europe, were integral to its meaning. The process of disaggregating Christian churches, and the blending of this process with national and international political struggle, was a bloodbath which was unmatched until the wars of the 20th century.
In the French religious wars, 2-4 million died. In the thirty years’ war, it may have been as many as 11.5 million. Much of this was democide, to use the fancy academic term for the murder of people by their own rulers. The end of this slaughter only came at the cost of the creation of a system of European nation states. This in turn, with its accompanying curse of nationalism, led to even more serious bloodletting as European modernity ripened and matured in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The current interlude in mass killing on the European mainland is unusual in the context of the continent’s modern history. Of course, European nations have never stopped involving themselves in wars elsewhere. This is the “western civilisation” that Australia’s political right spends so much time defending. It’s an unusual position from which to be instructing others on the interplay between belief, ideology, and violence.
So when politicians call for a “reformation in Islam”, as several rightwing Liberal Party MPs did over recent days, we might wonder what they could possibly be asking for. Given the terms in which the demand was put, which seem to be drawn from a half-remembered high school history class, it’s difficult to tell.
It started with Josh Frydenberg saying over the weekend that the more recent massacre in Paris was down to a “problem within Islam”. The remark was made in the course of an attack on Australia’s grand mufti, who has allegedly showed “insufficient leadership” because he made the point that processes like radicalisation have complex causes.