Medieval and contemporary acts of torture, genocide, war crime, ethnic cleansing and crime against humanity through religion


For example, engaging a people on jihad war, plunder property, maim and kill, seize young women and children and sell into slavery or force them to accept a religion against their unconditioned will. And the taking and sharing of so – called booty even fairly and justly distributed as Ibrahim Touray, alias Kombo Sillah is said to have done is on this present day a serious war crime. 

Sillah is said to have not been selling his captured and abducted victims of jihad war into slavery but rather converted them and kept them in Gunjur and taught them Islam, but his predecessors in the Arabian peninsular took and sold prisoners of jihad war, and abducted young women and children into slavery. Boko Haram in Nigeria’s north is similarly right now doing exactly the same with a currently held two hundred girls or more in captivity, who are allegedly said without mercy sold into marriage and slavery in Chad and Cameroon.

The Christian crusades, as a first example, are remembered as a romantic quest by noble knights wearing crimson crosses. The crusades were a sickening nightmare of slaughter, rape, looting, and chaos, mixed with belief in magic. The crusaders killed nearly as many Christians and Jews as they did Muslims, their intended target.  Pope Urban II launched the first Crusade in 1095 ‘to wrest the Holy Land from infidels’. “Deus Vult” (God wills it) was the rallying cry. 


Human sacrifice – It boggles the modern mind to realize that, in some past cultures dominated by religion and priests, people sent their children to be strangled, beheaded, burned, drowned, skinned, crushed, and otherwise killed as appeasement offerings to gods now known to be imaginary.

Blood libels – Century after century, the Catholic Church preached that Jews were “Christ killers”. St Gregory called them “slayers of the Lord, murderers of the prophets, adversaries of God”. St Bernard of Clairxaux called them “a degraded and perfidious people”. When a Bishop burned a synagogue at Callincum, St. Ambrose wrote: “who cares if a synagogue, home of insanity and unbelief, is destroyed?” St John Chrysostom wrote: “the Jews sacrifice their children to Satan. They are worse than wild beasts. The synagogue is a brothel, a den of scoundrels, the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults, a criminal assembly of Jews, a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ”. 

In what was known as ‘host – nailing’, the Fourth Lanteran Council in 1215 commended that all Jews in Catholic lands must wear distinguishing labels or garments, a badge the same similarity to the yellow star later imposed by 20th century Nazis. This, plus Vatican orders of confining Jews to ghettos, ostracized them as a hated class.

A different action of the 1215 Council inadvertently led to worse consequences for Jews. This action was the passage of the doctrine of transubstantiation: “That the host wafer miraculously turns into the body of Jesus during the mass.” 

Soon, among superstitious people rumors spread that Jews were stealing the sacred wafers and mutilating them or driving nails through them, to crucify Jesus again. Reports said the pierced host bled, or cried out, or emitted spirits, or turned into a dove or an angel and flew away.

On these charges, Jews were burned at the stake in 1243 in Belitz, Germany, the first of more than a hundred were slaughters.

The ‘killing of heretics’ – Christians killed Moslems in the crusades and killed Jews in many massacres; meanwhile, another dimension was added at which Christians began killing Christians as heretics.

During the first millennium of the church, executions for doctrinal deviation were rare. In AD 385 at Trier, Germany, bishops put to death Priscillian and his followers for doubting the Trinity and Resurrection. At Alexandria in 415, the great woman scientist Hypatia, head of the Alexandria Library, was beaten to death by monks and other followers of St Cyril, who viewed her science much as the church later viewed Galileo’s. At Constantinople around 550, the Byzantine emperor Justinian killed multitudes of non – conformists to impose Christian orthodoxy. 

Efforts to stamp out heresy which led to the ‘holy inquisition’, one of mankind’s supreme horrors in the early 1200s, local bishops were empowered to identify, try, and punish heretics. When the bishops proved ineffective, travelling papal inquisitors, usually Dominican priests, were sent from Rome to conduct the purge.

Pope Innocent IV authorized torture in 1252, and the Inquisition chambers became places of terror. Accused heretics were seized and locked in cells, unable to see their families, unable to know the names of their accusers. Were they failed to confess quickly, unspeakable cruelties began. Swiss historian Walter Nigg recounted: “The thumbscrew was usually the first to be applied: The fingers were placed in clamps and the screws turned until blood spurted out and the bones were crushed. The defendant might be placed on the iron torture chair, the seat of which consisted of sharpened iron nails that could be heated red – hot from below. Another favorite torture was dislocation of the limbs on the rack or the wheel on which the heretic, bound hand and foot, was drawn up and down while the body was weighted with stones. So that the torturers would not be disturbed by the shrieking of the victim, his mouth stuffed with cloth. Three – and four – hour sessions of torture were nothing unusual. During the procedure the instruments were frequently sprinkled with holy water”.

The Black Death – religious hate easily turns into ethnic hate. Anti–Semitism that originated in a clash of creeds soon took on a life of its own. Jews had been spurned as religious pariahs, and they subsequently were blamed for Christian troubles not directly linked to religion. 

For example, when the bubonic plaque stalked Europe in 1348, destroying nearly half the population, hysterical Christians concluded that it was caused by Jews poisoning wells. Massacres ensued in about 300 cities. Mobs raged through defenseless neighborhoods, murdering virtually all residents, except a few allowed saving themselves by accepting baptism. 

At Speyer, Germany, Jewish bodies were piled into huge wine casks and sent floating downs the river Rhine. At Strasbourg, 2,000 Jews were herded like cattle into a large wooden barn, which was set afire. On a single day, August, 24, 1349, an estimated 6,000 Jews were slaughtered by inflamed Christians at Mainz. In several northern German cities, Jews were walled up in their homes to suffocate or starve.

At Benfield, some Jews were burned and others were drowned in a swamp. In Bavaria, Christian mobs with pitch forks and sickles slashed through eighty Jewish communities, killing a reported 10,000. At Basel, Switzerland, Christian leaders burned 600 Jews at the stake as well – prisoners and 140 of their children were forcibly baptized and taken away to be raised as Christians.

Witch hunts – During the 1400s, the ‘Holy Inquisition’ shifted in focus toward witch – craft, and the next three centuries witnessed a bizarre orgy of religious delusion. Agents of the church tortured untold thousands of women and some men into confessing that they flew through the sky on demonic missions, engage in sex with Satan, turned themselves into animals, made themselves invisible, and performed other supernatural evils. Virtually all the accused were put to death. The number of victims is estimated widely from 100,000 to 2 million. Witch–hunt and punishment with death, an ancient church practice is still practiced in some parts of Africa; Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Liberia particularly. In Malawi, old women are imprisoned for accusations of being witches and forced into confessions that they turn themselves into airplanes commuting between Malawi and South Africa and turning themselves into animals and other objects, according to recent media reports by human rights organizations working in the country. Ghana’s witch – camps of children, old women and men accused of being witches is also reported by the media, incidents of related witch – hunt matters are also common in Nigeria and Liberia as well.

During the Reformation, corruption within the ranks of the medieval Catholic Church hierarchy was infamous. Pope John XII openly had love affairs, gave church treasure to a mistress, castrated an opponent, blinded another, and donned armor to lead an army. Benedict IX sold the papacy to a successor for 1,500 pounds of gold. Urban VI tortured and murdered his cardinals. Innocent VIII proudly acknowledged his illegitimate children and loaded them with church riches. Pope Boniface VII, whose name is omitted from official church listings, murdered two rival popes in the 10th century. Sergius III likewise killed two rivals for the papal throne. Benedict V dishonored a young girl and fled with the Vatican treasury. Clement VI sported with mistresses on ermine bed – linens. Boniface VIII sent troops to kill every resident of Palestrina and raze the city. Clement VII, while a papal legate, similarly ordered the slaughter of Cesena’s 8, 000 people, including the children. A previous Pope John XXIII (not the reformer of the 1950s) was deposed by a council in 1414, and Edward Gibbon drily recorded in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The most serious charges were suppressed; the Vicar of Christ was accused only of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest “. Alexander VI bought the papacy by bribing cardinals to elect him, and then hosted sex orgies attended by his illegitimate children, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia.

Regarding Alexander, scholar Barbara Tuchman recounted in The March of Folly: “The pope presided over a banquet given by Cesare in the Vatican, famous in the annals of pornography as the ballet of Chestnuts.  Soberly after dinner with guests ‘at first clothed, then nicked; chestnuts were then scatted among candelabra placed on the floor, which the courtesans, crawling on hands and knees among the candelabra, picked up, while the Pope, Cesare, and his sister Lucrezia looked on, coupling of guests and courtesans followed, with prizes in the form of fine silken tunics and cloaks offered for those who could perform the act most often with the courtesans”.

Anabaptists and double baptism – although Catholics and Protestants were moral enemies during most of the Reformation, they united to kill certain Christians for the crime of double baptism. A large proportion of Anabaptists were martyred for their faith than any other Christians on whom they modeled themselves. British scholar Bamber Goscoigne wrote: “The Anabaptists rejected traditional infant baptism. They said baptism should be for thinking adults, so they re- baptised matured converts. When they first did so in Zwingli’s Switzerland in 1525, Protestant leaders of Zurich sentenced them to death, basing the verdict on Justinian Code, which mandates execution for baptizing twice”. Swiss Anabaptists were ordered drowned, which was deemed a fitting end for those wanting immersion. The Puritans and the break with the Church of England, England had the double misfortune to suffer two religious splits. The first, when the Church of England was severed from Rome, produced a famous parade for executions. The second, when the Puritans broke with the Church of England, was more lethal. 

Although, Puritanism had been officially outlawed under Queen Elizabeth I, it continued to grow, turning increasingly rigid in its attempt to “purify” the Anglican Church by purging hints of Catholicism. Historian JR Green wrote: “The absolute devotion of the Puritan to a Supreme Will tended more and more to rob him of all sense of measure and proportion in common matters. Little things became great things in the glare of religious zeal, and the godly man learned to shrink from a surplice, or a mince pie at charismas, as he shrank from impunity or a lie. Life became hard, rigid, colorless, as it became intense”. Macaulay noted that Puritans “hated bear – baiting, not because it gave pleasure to the spectators”. When Puritans called upon King James Ito reform the church, he furiously bade them conform to Anglicanism. “I will make them conform or I will carry them out of the land, or else worse, hang them”. His hash measures caused some Puritans to begin moving to Holland and New England.

The Orthodox war – Five horrible centuries of religious persecution, from the 1100s through the 1500s, decimated the Jewish population of Western Europe. Vast numbers were killed. Historian Dogbert Runes estimated that 3.5 million Jews died at the hands of Christians during the long epoch of religious persecution. Multitudes of other Jews saved themselves by turning Christian. Many Jewish children were forcibly baptized and taken away. Country after country expelled Jews, seizing their possessions and sending them penniless into exile. Those not expelled were quarantine to ghettos and forced to wear humiliating identifying badges.

The Enlightenment period – during the 1700s, religion’s throttlehold upon Europe slowly loosened. Religious killings still occurred, but with decreasing frequency. Sporadic examples: In 1723, the bishop of Gdansk, Poland, demanded the expulsion of Jews. The city council declined, but the bishop’s exhortations roused a mob that invaded the ghetto and beat the residents to death. 

Women still were burned occasionally as witches, in Scotland in 1722, in Germany in 1749, in Switzerland in 1782. 

The church, the Roman Catholic particularly, is further recently known of a series of allegations, investigations, trails and convictions for child abuse crimes committed by catholic priests, nuns and members of the church, victims being children between 11 and 14. Cases are known to include oral penetration which had resulted in prosecutions of the abusers and civil law suits against the church dioceses and parishes. Many of the cases although span several decades and brought forward years after they occurred, the current Pope at the Vatican is witnessed recently to have made a plea for forgiveness for the for the church’s sexual abuse cases committed by priests.  

Although, faith – based killings never ceases, most people know little about the phenomenon. For example, few have heard of the worst religious calamity in history, which by some estimates killed as many as 20 million victims. The Taiping Rebellion erupted in China in the 1850s. It began after a Christian convert experienced a vision in which God told the convert he was divine, a young brother of Jesus. God supposedly commanded him to “destroy demons” and make China a theocracy. The new prophet created the Association of God Worshippers and raised an army of a million holy worriers (partly by promising them shares of the land and loot they conquered). The Taiping legions wreaked dreadful bloodshed, until they were finally crushed by opposing defense regiments, including one led by British adventurer Charles “Chinese” Gordon. Poor Gordon was cursed by religion. He later led Egyptian forces resisting a Moslem holy war in the upper Nile Valley and was killed when the fanatics overran Khartoum.

Likewise, few particularly few Americans know that New England’s Puritans made Quakerism a capital crime and executed several Quakers for it. And a few know that Catholic – Protestant strife caused a cannon battle in Philadelphia in 1844, killing about twenty people. It erupted because a Catholic bishop wanted catholic children in public schools to read from catholic scriptures, not the King James of the Bible required by education authorities. Mobs of angry Protestants stormed Catholic neighborhoods, burning homes and churches. Martial law was declared. Federal troops with cannons were posted to guard the Catholic sector. Then Protestants took cannons from sailing ships at the Philadelphia dock, loaded them with nails and bolts, and loosed an artillery duel. 

Religious gore goes back to earliest recorded times. The Old Testament scorned Mid-eastern people who sacrificed their children to the god Molech (Leviticus 20:2 – 5) but holy laws of the ancient Hebrews were almost as inhumane. They ordered that all people who worked on the Sabbath must be killed (Exodus 31:15 and 35:2), and that brides who weren’t virgins must be stoned to death.(Deuteronomy 22:20 – 21) – and that homosexuals must be killed(Leviticus @0:13) – and that disobedient sons must be stoned (Deuteronomy 21: 18 – 21). They also mandated slavery (Leviticus 25:44 – 46) and the Old Testament contains many episodes in which God allegedly ordered his chosen people to slaughter infidels. For example, 1 Samuel 15:2 – 3 quotes God as commanding the Hebrews: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling , ox and sheep, camel and ass”.

Other ancient people were no better. Even the first intellectual hub, classical Greece, sentenced people to death for doubting the gods on Mount Olympus. 


By Ebou Sohna