Guardian interviews Karen Armstrong

Back in the early 1980s when she was researching the Crusades, it was the prejudice of friends and colleagues towards Islam which first alerted Armstrong to an old history:

“The Crusades was the beginning of Europe finding its soul. Islam and Judaism became the shadow side, the foil against which we [Christian Europe] measured ourselves. A righteous contempt of Islam was entwined with our anti-semitism. Ever since, our rhetoric about Muslims reflects a blind anxiety about our own behaviour – anxieties about our own capacity for violence are projected onto Muslims, similarly our attitudes towards women.”

Finding these long historical roots to current attitudes towards Islam has given Armstrong a passionate sense of her own personal crusade: “Even before 9/11 I was gripped by a sense of dread: our lack of criticism about what we were doing in the Middle East – the slagging off of a whole religious tradition. It is part of a habit of prejudice that made the death camps possible. It’s as if we hadn’t learnt anything from the 1930s.”

Guardian, 6 October 2007