Monday, June 22, 2009

The Conflicts Between Islam and the West Did NOT Start with the Crusades

It takes an unfortunately all too common degree of historical illiteracy to make the following claim:
...A war that began with the Crusades was followed by imperialism in modern times, continuing with the seizure of Arab land to create Israel, and producing the Suez invasion, the Western-organized coup in Iran in 1953, various Lebanon interventions, two wars against Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan—all part of a vast neocolonial enterprise inspired by Western religion and Western oil interests...
John Wright has glorious commentary on a similar claim:
"So, Roman Catholic Church, it is time to confess to your sins and prepare to meet your maker. Open your archives for all to see. Tell us the truth about your origins. Give back to the Jews any items from the temple of Solomon you have in your possession. Ask the Muslims to forgive you for the Crusades. Explain the total truth of your church and ask for forgiveness, which shall most certainly be granted since, in the overall karmic balance, your good works far exceed your sins."
This quote comes from here. That noise you heard was me spitting my coffee all over my computer screen in shock. Savor, O reader, the utter historical illiteracy of these words: Ask the Muslims to forgive you for the Crusades...
Go and read the whole thing.

In the first quote, we are treated to the spectacle of the historically illiterate belief that the Christians struck first, making a mockery of our so-called peaceful, loving religion. According to this view, in an early example of Western imperialism, Christians decided they should go and take their Holy Land from the people who were living there at the time. They hoped to achieve glory, and gold, and some sort of useful job for those pesky younger son who wouldn't inherit. The Muslims are rightly pissed, and so fought back. This tit for tat continues to the present day.

If we still studied history in the West, such a view would never stand a chance of being held by anyone of any seriousness of mind. We would remember the bravery of Charles Martel between Tours and Poitiers, holding back the Islamic invasion so that Christendom survived. We would remember well the conquest of Spain in the 8th century by Islamic forces, the sack of Jerusalem by Muslims early in their wars of conquest, the fall of the Persian Empire to the newly minted Dar al Islam, the long wars with Byzantium which eventually prompted Alexius Comnenus to send a fateful letter to Pope Urban II for help. We would remember the razzias along the coastline of Europe, pirate raids by Islamic corsairs which softened up Europe for full scale jihad. We would still sing the chansons de geste, the songs of deeds, which stand at the base of French literature, and which cry of the possibility that Christendom may fall under the waves of Islamic invaders coming from the sea. We would know the terror of the Italian coastal towns, and the islands in the sea, which were contested for so long and so vigorously.

All this before the first crusade, and more: Rome herself attacked, Constantinople attacked repeatedly, the Pope paying the jizya for two years, the sack and desecration of churches, the taking of slaves, the reports reaching Western ears of the oppression of Eastern Christians in their own homes, the cost of the Crusades, the sheer scale of Christian losses, the incredulity and joy of their victory.

Yes, it was a brutal age. Yes, atroctities were committed by both sides, in an age which lacked modern communications equipment, in a Crusading movement initially formed to provide a means of forgiveness and salvation to oathbreakers, and adulterers, and murderers, and rapists, and the worst criminals of Christian Europe.

Yes, there were problems. But do not make the mistake of claiming that the wars began by Christian hands.


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