Towards the end of the last millennium, when the year 2000 was near, many people were asked what was in their view the most important invention of those thousand years. The majority gave answers like the television, or the computer, or the internet.
The Italian philosopher Umberto Eco answered: the cultivation of the bean, whose introduction in the Middle Ages freed the European peoples from the spectre of hunger. In an essay translated and published in the English newspaper The Guardian, he argued in favour of the "humble bean", this highly-proteic, wholesomely-nutritious vegetable.
He explained how it's easy to focus only on the most recent inventions, for the same distortion or optical illusion which is at the root of perspective in art.
I agree with him on that: closeness in time causes events near to us to appear bigger than they objectively are in relation to other events, in much the same way as closeness in space makes near things appear bigger.
Faced with the increasing threat of Islamic terrorism, people in the West have tried to understand it in terms which are near to us and our modern views of the world: Third World poverty, the so-much repeated mantra of the "widening gap between rich and poor nations", the Palestinian cause, the perceived injustice of Arab and Muslim humiliation, and similar.
Very rarely one hears or reads a commentator capable of placing this modern phenomenon into a wider temporal context, of putting it into historical perspective.
And yet it would be sufficient to listen to what some leaders of that terrorism are saying. Osama bin Laden openly referred to the West as Crusaders (as well as Zionist).
This is exactly the way the Muslim world sees us: descendants not only of the Crusaders, but also of those European states who defeated the Ottoman Empire when it was about to conquer Vienna in the 17th century. That was the moment when their seemingly never-ending expansion was put to a halt. It happened only three centuries ago: after all, it's not such a long time in the three-thousand years of history of the Western civilization. Especially, it's not such a long time for people like the Muslims. Again, time is perceived differently according to what is being done or happens during that time. Many things have happened to us, Europe in 1647 was hugely different from now; but not so many changes have happened in the Islamic world.
Photo by Nagesh Kamath (Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0).