“Culture, custom and cleanliness – the Muslims were superior in The Herald (thanks to EPG and Kaoskntrl) is the second part of the equally ridiculous “After this movie, there may be hate crimes committed“:
MANY of the charges levelled against Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Kingdom of Heaven centre on its telling of the Crusades from a western perspective. In this it is not alone: most accounts of the Crusades have been told from a western point of view as scholarship from the Muslim viewpoint is in relative infancy.
Horror of horrors! A Western perspective? For a movie made in the West for Western audiences? How ethnocentric! How monocultural!
Understanding why this is requires a leap in perspective. While icons such as Richard the Lionheart featured in childhood adventure stories and ideals of chivalry and honour are important to how we see our culture, Muslims do not single out the Crusades as an unprecedented, identity-defining event in their history.
Wait a minute. I thought we were supposed to believe they were a unique traumatic event in which innocent Muslims, who had never demonstrated any hostility to Christendom, were exposed to Western imperialism, or what Khaled Abou El Fadl called the “white man’s burden,” for the first time — triggering centuries of enmity between the Islamic world and the West. This idea, however widespread, is historically preposterous, but now The Herald is tripping over its preposterous notions: if the Crusades were not an “unprecedented, identity-defining event in their history,” how is it that they seem to be so traumatic?
They’ve noticed too:
Some commentators have attempted to extrapolate the origins of modern Islamic fundamentalism from how the western account of the Crusades incorrectly cast Crusaders as the force of progression and Muslims as victims.
Hold it. Did you catch that? Modern Islamic fundamentalism originated from the West’s account of the Crusades! How omnipotent is the West! How unstoppable! How uniquely capable of shaping events, in a manner in which no other people seems capable of doing! It’s astonishing that “some commentators” really do retail such claptrap — and then have the audacity to label as “racist” those who dare suggest that “Islamic fundamentalism” may have arisen because of matters within Islam, not because of any evil done by the West. Never mind that they can’t seem to envision the Islamic world as anything but a passive victim, and the West as anything but the only actor on the stage.
However, this is rejected by Dr Carole Hillenbrand, professor of Islamic history at Edinburgh University and author of The Crusades, Islamic Perspectives.
“Fundamentalism is a phenomenon that exists in every religion,” she says. “That is to say, you have periodic waves of religious sentiment that wants to go back to what’s perceived as the pure religion of the early period and try to recapture that; try to strip away all kinds of innovations and things that have come from outside that have sullied the essential principles of the religion.
“It happens in Christianity and Islam, it’s an indigenous phenomenon. Islam has confidently tried to reform itself from within ever since the beginning. It has always been able to look at itself and criticise itself. It has happened on a cyclical basis ever since the beginning….”
This is true as far as it goes, but it’s nonetheless highly misleading. In Islam Unveiled I compare Christian and Islamic “fundamentalisms.” Until Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson pick up AK-47’s and strap bombs to themselves, anyone who equates the two is just whistling in the dark.
Hillenbrand says that the Crusades has, in fact, always been a western European phenomenon and didn’t figure as such in Muslim eyes. “For the Muslims, the Crusades were but another intervention in their lives from outside, like the nomadic invasions from the east of the Turks and the Mongols. The western European Christians who came on Crusade were thought of being just like the Byzantine Christians who had raided the Muslim frontiers for centuries.
Ah, those nasty Byzantine raiders. Hillenbrand makes no mention, you’ll notice, of the fact that the poor oft-invaded Muslims had expanded their frontiers considerably at the expense of Byzantine territories in the Middle East and North Africa, and that the Byzantine “raiders” were just trying to get back a little of what had been theirs for centuries. I guess they had no “right of return.”
“They ‘discovered’ the Crusades as a phenomenon that affected them rather late and there aren’t many Muslim scholars nowadays who are interested in the Crusades. It’s taking off now, but it’s been rather slow.”
It’s taking off as they have discovered the joys and rewards of victimology in the West.
When Muslim scholars documented Islamic history, they concentrated on matters rooted in their culture rather than invasions from outside. Accordingly, information about the Crusades appears in various sources and not in one comprehensive text. A further influence on the Islamic perspective on the Crusades is that Islam turned in on itself following the Crusades and Mongol invasions, as at the time being the subject of attack was thought to have been a result of sin….
Not like today’s enlightened folks, who see a tsunami as a result of sin.
“On the level of culture and social custom, it’s quite clear that the Muslims were superior,” says Hillenbrand. “We have these incredibly well-known stories from the Muslim side by the great writer of memoirs of the time who has the unfortunate name, nowadays, of Osama. He describes how ‘uncivilised’ the Crusader knightly class were and how they learned about civilised behaviour from the Muslims.
This is largely true, although Hillenbrand is likely pointing it out because she thinks that Westerners assume that the Islamic world has always been backward. In fact, even if true it is of no more importance than the relative barbarity of the 7th century Muslim invaders of Persia, who were so uncivilized relative to those they had conquered that they exchanged gold (which they had never seen) for silver (which they had) and used camphor, a substance entirely new to them, in cooking.
“They learned about using soap, all kinds of ways of living, they adopted Muslim food, clothing. If one looks at the evidence of the time, one realises there was a great deal of acculturation going on, of Crusaders adapting to the Muslim way of life and quite a lot of friendly interchange between Muslims and Crusaders on the personal level.”
There is a celebrated statement by an early Crusader about how Frenchmen and Germans have become Syrians etc. To characterize this as “adapting to the Muslim way of life” mocks the indigenous Christian presence in the Middle East, which was still considerable at the time of the Crusaders.
Indeed, the level of fraternisation between the two sides has traditionally been underestimated. The Crusades lasted for 200 years and the popular belief is that this involved continuous battle, but it was not so. Peace treaties, inter-marriages and ideological alliances were formed between Muslim and Christian groups “Muslims and Crusaders would fight other Muslims and Crusaders across the ideological divide,” says Hillenbrand. “That was particularly so between the period of 1100 and 1150, but it happened after that, too, in the early thirteenth century. So let’s not see the stereotype of the Muslims being on one side and the Crusaders on the other side. There was often a great deal of rather pragmatic alliances with nothing to do with religion, but to do with getting access to trade and all sorts of local interests.”…
True. Usually these alliances, however, were short-sighted on the part of the Crusaders, and proved unfortunate for them.
“Saladin and Richard the Lionheart stand together as two chivalric heroes in many medieval European minds,” says Hillenbrand. “There’s not much to choose between them, except Saladin is shown to be more merciful and compassionate than any of the Crusader heroes. It’s European literature that has made him so. The Muslim sources of the time have Saladin as having human failings but also coming as across incredibly magnaminous in conquest.
Actually Saladin had planned to massacre the Christians in Jerusalem; his magnanimity was caused by a threat by the Crusader commander in Jerusalem to destroy the city rather than let Saladin capture it. That’s why Saladin agreed not to kill the Christians there:
“There’s a big contrast drawn between the brutality of the 1099 fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders, where blood flowed through the streets – and that’s what the Crusaders say as well – and Saladin, who according to Muslim sources and some of the Crusader sources, avoids the temptation to take revenge for what happened in 1099 and instead is remarkably merciful.”
The 1099 capture of Jerusalem has been so magnified in history that even Bill Clinton cited it as a cause of 9/11. But in fact the Crusaders were following accepted conventions of the time: a city that resisted capture could be plundered. A city that did not resist could not be. The Muslims followed this rule many times — witness their ruthless and bloody behavior in Constantinople on May 29, 1453. It is ahistorical politicking to single out the Crusader capture of Jerusalem as some kind of singular event in history.
Phillips also stresses that Saladin wasn’t perfect. “He’s a hero of Islam, he threw the Crusaders out of Jerusalem and that’s why Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda are prepared to invoke his image, but he killed a lot of Muslims to get there and he was also brutal towards Christians. He’s a complex character.”…
Indeed. See more about this in my forthcoming Regnery book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades. Available this summer.