The medieval Christian stories we have been reading present more a clearly defined and simplistic view of religion and race. In the medieval mind, race and religious faith are inseparably intertwined, placing this relationship in clearly defined boundaries: if you are white you are Christian, if you are not white you are not Christian. In the confines of this simple equation, what is and is not a threat to these Christian’s is easy to identify as well: religion that is not Christian is foreign religion, and foreign religion threatens Christianity.
In these stories we see a division in this threat of foreign religion, there is the internal threat and the external threat. On an internal level you have the Jewish population seen as a foreign religion in Christian nations (EX: “Child slain by Jews” in The Middle English Miracles of the Virgin). On an external level you have Islam, seen as a foreign religion present in foreign nations (EX: Sultan of Babylon). How much of this ideology is retained today? Very little, and what does remain has of late, evolved substantially.
Western nations that once identified as Christian nations have become largely secular. With a trend towards multiculturalism, the majority of western nations have been encouraging an unprecedented level of immigration that has changed the face of many of these nations. National identity in many western nations is shifting away from conceptions of race as a unifying quality, to union though ideological identity. With national identity shifting to ideological over racial, what is perceived as threats to these nations has also shifted from racial to ideological.
Though this shift has created national identity dramatically different from the nationally identity we see in medieval literature, we do see in the modern day, a reflection of the threat posed by foreign religion in medieval literature. Terrorist attacks and war in the Middle East has reawakened the perception of Islam as a threatening force. However, unlike in medieval literature this threat has had, more singularly, an ideological contest. This war and terrorism has not been seen as having racial motivation, but ideological.
Just as important to note is that unlike the Christian nations of the past, western nations of the present do not perceive all Muslims or Islam as a whole to be the threat, but rather, what has been deemed “radical Islam”. Though Islam has again become perceived as a threatening force, it is not Islam as a whole that is seen as threatening. In the modern day, the fear is of “radicals”.
The struggle against ISIS has changed the western perception of radical Islam as a singularly external threat, to an internal threat as well.
No longer is radical Islam a threat posed singularly by people of foreign nations, but from the people within western nations as well. It has been a shocking revelation that 2500 people from western nations are fighting along side ISIS. In light of this, many westerners are examining the local sphere, trying to identify why, what has so long seemed an external threat, has become so acutely internal as well. This national introspection has brought to light some very shocking events.
As noted in The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, the kind of religiously motivated crime within western nations is evolving as well. Liberal immigration policies with next to no structure for integration has given fundamentalist Islamic ideology a foothold to evolve into radicalism within these nations.
Though western nations of the modern day do reflect some of the medieval trends in perception, the context, very fortunately, could not be more different. In the modern world we are moving away from the confines of race towards national identity founded in ideological unity. Greatly freed from the prejudices present in medieval literature, western nations of the modern day no longer condemn Islam as a whole, but radical ideology stemming from fundamentalism.