Ibn Warraq: Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History (Part 51)
Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Parts 1-39 / Part 40 / Part 41 / Part 42 / Part 43 / Part 44 / Part 45 / Part 46 / Part 47 / Part 48 / Part 49 / Part 50
A new generation of Western scholars of the Middle Ages have been trying to put right the misconceptions that have grown up about the Crusades. As Jonathan Riley-Smith has argued “modern Western public opinion, Arab nationalism, and Pan-Islamism all share perceptions of crusading that have more to do with nineteenth-century European imperialism than with actuality”.  Muslims in particular have developed “mythistories” concerning the putative injuries they have received at the hands of the Crusaders. The first point that needs to be emphasized is that the Crusades “were proclaimed not only against Muslims, but also against pagan Wends, Balts and Lithuanians, shamanist Mongols, Orthodox Russians and Greeks, Cathar and Hussite heretics, and those Catholics whom the Church deemed to be its enemies”. 
Second, the Crusades were not “thoughtless explosions of barbarism”, rather their underlying rationale was relatively sophisticated, elaborated theologically by Christian nations that were threatened by Muslim invaders who had managed to reach into the heart of Europe, in central France in the eighth century and Vienna in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were a response to the desecration of the Christian shrines in the Holy Land, the destruction of churches, and the general persecution of Christians in the Near East. A Crusade to be considered legitimate had to fulfill strict criteria. “First, it must not be entered into lightly or for aggrandizement, but only for a legally sound reason, which has to be a reactive one.” It was, in other words, waged for purposes of repelling violence or injury and the imposition of justice on wrongdoers. A Crusade was never a war of conversion, rather a rightful attempt to recover Christian territory which had been injuriously seized in the past. “Second, it must be formally declared by an authority recognized as having the power to make such a declaration. Third, it must be waged justly.” 
The Crusaders were not colonialists, and the Crusades were not engaged in for economic reasons, as many Western Liberals and Liberal economists assumed; most crusaders would have laughed at the prospect of material gain. In fact, crusading became a financial burden as the expenses associated with warfare increased. They were far more concerned with saving not only Christendom from Islam, but also their souls. The role of penance has often been overlooked in crusading thought and practice; many crusaders believed that by taking part in a crusade they were able to repay the debt their sinfulness had incurred.
Nineteenth, and even early twentieth century Europeans unashamedly used crusader rhetoric and tendentious reading of crusader history to justify their imperial dreams of conquest. For example, after the First World War, “The French Mandate in Syria generated a wave of French historical literature, one theme of which was that the achievements of the crusaders provided the first chapter in a history that had culminated in modern imperialism”.  As we shall see, the newly emerging Arab nationalists took nineteenth-century rhetoric seriously. A second strand in false, modern interpretations of crusader history was furnished by European romanticism, as for example, manifested in the novels of Sir Walter Scott. As Riley-Smith summarized, “The novels [of Scott] painted a picture of crusaders who were brave and glamorous, but also vainglorious, avaricious, childish and boorish. Few of them were genuinely moved by religion or the crusade ideal; most had taken the cross out of pride, greed, or ambition. The worst of them were the brothers of the military orders, who may have been courageous and disciplined but were also arrogant, privileged, corrupt, voluptuous and unprincipled. An additional theme, the cultural superiority of the Muslims, which was only hinted at in the other novels, pervaded the The Talisman “. 
Many believe that modern Muslims have inherited from their medieval ancestors memories of crusader violence and destruction. But as Riley-Smith says, nothing could be further from the truth.  By the fourteenth century, in the Islamic world the Crusades had almost passed out of mind. Muslims had lost interest, and, in any case, they “looked back on the Crusades with indifference and complacency. In their eyes they had been the outright winners. They had driven the crusaders from the lands they had settled in the Levant and had been triumphant in the Balkans, occupying far more territory in Europe than the Western settlers had ever held in Syria and Palestine.” 
The Muslim world only began to take an interest in the Crusades again in the 1890s but seen through the prism of Western imperialist rhetoric and European romantic fantasies concocted by Walter Scott. The latter encouraged the myth of the culturally inferior crusaders faced with civilized, liberal, and modern-looking Muslims, and from the former the Muslims derived the equally false idea of a continuing Western assault. Many Arab Nationalists believed “their struggle for independence to be a predominantly Arab riposte to a crusade that was being waged against them. Since the 1970s, however, they have been challenged by a renewed and militant Pan-Islamism, the adherents of which have globalized the Nationalist interpretation of crusade history”¦.” 
Thus we now have the spectacle of the modern Islamists very often invoking the Crusades. As Bin Laden wrote, “For the first time the Crusaders have managed to achieve their historic ambitions and dreams against our Islamic umma, gaining control over the Islamic holy places and the Holy Sanctuaries, and hegemony over the wealth and riches of our umma.” , and, “Ever since God made the Arabian Peninsula flat, created desert in it and surrounded it with seas, it has never suffered such a calamity as these Crusader hordes, that have spread in it like locusts, consuming its wealth and destroying its fertility”.  The battle, according to Bin Laden, is between Muslims-people of Islam- and the Global Crusaders. 
As Riley-Smith concludes, “It is this vision of a continuing crusade and of resistance to it that has suddenly and spectacularly forced itself on the world outside. The language employed is often feverish, but a Muslim does not have to be an extreme Islamist to hold the view that the West is still engaged in crusading”¦.Having less to do with historical reality than with reactions to imperialism, the Nationalist and Islamist interpretations of crusade history help many people, moderates as well as extremists, to place the exploitation they believe they have suffered in a historical context and to satisfy their feelings of both superiority and humiliation”. 
 Jonathan Riley-Smith. The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008, p. 79.
 Ibid., p. 9.
 Ibid, pp. 11-12.
 Riley-Smith, p. 60.
 Riley-Smith, op. cit., p. 65.
 Riley-Smith, op.cit., p. 68.
 Riley-Smith, op.cit, p. 71.
 Riley-Smith, op.cit., p. 73.
 Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden. Messages to the World. Ed. Bruce Lawrence, trans. James Howarth. London and New York, 2005, p.16, quoted in Riley-Smith, p. 75.
 Bin Laden, op.cit.,p. 59, quoted in Riley-Smith, p. 75.
 Quoted in Riley-Smith, p. 75.
 Riley-Smith, p. 76.