Saturday, May 17, 2014

An Interesting Take On The Crusades

Busts some popular "politically correct" myths commonly preached on university campuses:

Four Myths about the Crusades
"The verdict seems unanimous. From presidential speeches to role-playing games, the crusades are depicted as a deplorably violent episode in which thuggish Westerners trundled off, unprovoked, to murder and pillage peace-loving, sophisticated Muslims, laying down patterns of outrageous oppression that would be repeated throughout subsequent history. In many corners of the Western world today, this view is too commonplace and apparently obvious even to be challenged."
"Myth #1: The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.

"Nothing could be further from the truth, and even a cursory chronological review makes that clear. In a.d. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities—not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.
By a.d. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula.6 Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.
What had happened? Most people actually know the answer, if pressed—though for some reason they do not usually connect the answer with the crusades. The answer is the rise of Islam. Every one of the listed regions was taken, within the space of a hundred years, from Christian control by violence, in the course of military campaigns deliberately designed to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Islam’s neighbors. Nor did this conclude Islam’s program of conquest."
"Far from being unprovoked, then, the crusades actually represent the first great western Christian counterattack against Muslim attacks which had taken place continually from the inception of Islam until the eleventh century, and which continued on thereafter, mostly unabated. Three of Christianity’s five primary episcopal sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) had been captured in the seventh century; both of the others (Rome and Constantinople) had been attacked in the centuries before the crusades. The latter would be captured in 1453, leaving only one of the five (Rome) in Christian hands by 1500. Rome was again threatened in the sixteenth century. This is not the absence of provocation; rather, it is a deadly and persistent threat, and one which had to be answered by forceful defense if Christendom were to survive. The crusades were simply one tool in the defensive options exercised by Christians.

To put the question in perspective, one need only consider how many times Christian forces have attacked either Mecca or Medina. The answer, of course, is never."
"In short: very few people became rich by crusading, and their numbers were dwarfed by those who were bankrupted. Most medieval people were quite well aware of this, and did not consider crusading a way to improve their financial situations."
Myth #2: Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.

"As Fred Cazel has noted, “Few crusaders had sufficient cash both to pay their obligations at home and to support themselves decently on a crusade.” From the very beginning, financial considerations played a major role in crusade planning. The early crusaders sold off so many of their possessions to finance their expeditions that they caused widespread inflation. Although later crusaders took this into account and began saving money long before they set out, the expense was still nearly prohibitive. Despite the fact that money did not yet play a major role in western European economies in the eleventh century, there was “a heavy and persistent flow of money” from west to east as a result of the crusades, and the financial demands of crusading caused “profound economic and monetary changes in both western Europe and the Levant.

One of the chief reasons for the foundering of the Fourth Crusade, and its diversion to Constantinople, was the fact that it ran out of money before it had gotten properly started, and was so indebted to the Venetians that it found itself unable to keep control of its own destiny. Louis IX’s Seventh Crusade in the mid-thirteenth century cost more than six times the annual revenue of the crown.

The popes resorted to ever more desperate ploys to raise money to finance crusades, from instituting the first income tax in the early thirteenth century to making a series of adjustments in the way that indulgences were handled that eventually led to the abuses condemned by Martin Luther. Even by the thirteenth century, most crusade planners assumed that it would be impossible to attract enough volunteers to make a crusade possible, and crusading became the province of kings and popes, losing its original popular character."
Myth #3: Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.
" the first two myths, this statement is generally untrue, and demonstrably so. For one thing, the casualty rates on the crusades were usually very high, and many if not most crusaders left expecting not to return. At least one military historian has estimated the casualty rate for the First Crusade at an appalling 75 percent, for example.

The statement of the thirteenth-century crusader Robert of Crésèques, that he had “come from across the sea in order to die for God in the Holy Land—which was quickly followed by his death in battle against overwhelming odds—may have been unusual in its force and swift fulfillment, but it was not an atypical attitude. It is hard to imagine a more conclusive way of proving one’s dedication to a cause than sacrificing one’s life for it, and very large numbers of crusaders did just that.

But this assertion is also revealed to be false when we consider the way in which the crusades were preached. Crusaders were not drafted. Participation was voluntary, and participants had to be persuaded to go. The primary means of persuasion was the crusade sermon, and one might expect to find these sermons representing crusading as profoundly appealing.

This is, generally speaking, not the case. In fact, the opposite is true: crusade sermons were replete with warnings that crusading brought deprivation, suffering, and often death. That this was the reality of crusading was well known anyway. As Jonathan Riley-Smith has noted, crusade preachers “had to persuade their listeners to commit themselves to enterprises that would disrupt their lives, possibly impoverish and even kill or maim them, and inconvenience their families, the support of which they would . . . need if they were to fulfill their promises.

So why did the preaching work? It worked because crusading was appealing precisely because it was a known and significant hardship, and because undertaking a crusade with the right motives was understood as an acceptable penance for sin. Far from being a materialistic enterprise, crusading was impractical in worldly terms, but valuable for one’s soul. There is no space here to explore the doctrine of penance as it developed in the late antique and medieval worlds, but suffice it to say that the willing acceptance of difficulty and suffering was viewed as a useful way to purify one’s soul (and still is, in Catholic doctrine today). Crusading was the near-supreme example of such difficult suffering, and so was an ideal and very thorough-going penance."
Myth #4: The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.

Part of the answer to this myth may be found above, under Myth #1. Muslims had been attacking Christians for more than 450 years before Pope Urban declared the First Crusade. (Ed. emphasis added) They needed no incentive to continue doing so. But there is a more complicated answer here, as well.

Up until quite recently, Muslims remembered the crusades as an instance in which they had beaten back a puny western Christian attack. An illuminating vignette is found in one of Lawrence of Arabia’s letters, describing a confrontation during post–World War I negotiations between the Frenchman Stéphen Pichon and Faisal al-Hashemi (later Faisal I of Iraq). Pichon presented a case for French interest in Syria going back to the crusades, which Faisal dismissed with a cutting remark: “But, pardon me, which of us won the crusades?”
"This was generally representative of the Muslim attitude toward the crusades before about World War I—that is, when Muslims bothered to remember them at all, which was not often. Most of the Arabic-language historical writing on the crusades before the mid-nineteenth century was produced by Arab Christians, not Muslims, and most of that was positive. There was no Arabic word for “crusades” until that period, either, and even then the coiners of the term were, again, Arab Christians. It had not seemed important to Muslims to distinguish the crusades from other conflicts between Christianity and Islam.

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