TO SAY HOLLYWOOD PLAYS FAST AND loose with history is about as revelatory as a “dog bites man” headline: no news at all.
Nor is it really news anymore when a mainstream media columnist plays fast and loose with history, but that is what Merryl Wyn Davies does here. To wit:
So consider for a moment the context Scott ignores. Jerusalem was surrendered to Muslim rule in 638. The citizens demanded to meet the Caliph Umar, second successor to the Prophet Muhammad, before giving over the keys of their city. Umar rode from Medina without an entourage, sharing his camel with the one servant who accompanied him. His edict assured the safety of Jewish and Christian places of worship. For 500 years the Holy Land continued to be the heterodox society the Crusaders found. Salah ed Din was living up to his history.
This, of course, outrages history. Davies doesn’t mention Sophronius” Christmas sermon for 634, when he complained of the Muslims” “savage, barbarous, and bloody sword” and of how difficult that sword had made life for the Christians. Pluralism and tolerance? Umar not only enforced the dhimmi laws, he originated many of them. Safety of places of worship? Maybe. Equality of dignity and rights? Absolutely not.
The Crusades began as a vituperative and inaccurate polemic against Islam, a genuine ideology of Holy War with the promise of paradise for all who took part.
No mention of 450 years of unanswered Muslim aggression before the Crusades.
And they began in Europe with pogroms against the Jews, slaughtered by the mobilised masses of common people. The first attack in the Holy Land was on Antioch, a Christian city, whose population the Crusaders slaughtered, much to the amazed incomprehension of Muslim chroniclers. When they arrived at Jerusalem even the Christian chroniclers describe in detail the three days of extermination when knights waded through streets of blood. Under Crusader rule no Jew or Muslim was ever permitted to live in Jerusalem.
The massacre of Jews in Europe was inexcusable. It was carried out, however, not by “the Crusaders,” but by one Crusade leader. Others condemned it and the bishops in the German areas where it took place tried to stop it.
There was no massacre in Antioch; in fact, the Muslim garrison was allowed to leave the city unharmed, and its commander, Ahmed ibn Merwan, was so impressed that he converted to Christianity (see Runciman, A History of the Crusades, volume 1, p. 249). The massacres in Jerusalem were not the astounding, unprecedented thing people make them out to be; they were not unusual according to the rules of warfare at the time. Muslim armies did the same thing at Antioch, Acre, and elsewhere — most notoriously in Constantinople in 1453.
But there is an even more important historic context that European history has eradicated. Muslim civilisation at the time of the Crusades was a literate, learned plural society. Salah ed Din’s court physician was Moses Maimonides, one of the greatest of Jewish philosophers and scholars. It had universities, public libraries, scientific institutes, free hospitals that conducted medical research, all of which produced advanced technology and agronomy. Under the auspices of Islamophobic rhetoric and ideology, Europe appropriated as much of this learning as it could while denying the Muslim contribution. Crusading polemic came to define the worldview of the West. And it is with us yet.
The hooey is running knee-deep in the streets. First, this from Maimonides: “We were dishonored beyond human endurance. . . . This people, the Arabs . . . never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they. . . . No matter how much we suffer and elect to remain at peace with them, they stir up strife and sedition.”
And as for “universities, public libraries, scientific institutes, free hospitals that conducted medical research, all of which produced advanced technology and agronomy,” and which was appropriated by Europe “under the auspices of Islamophobic rhetoric and ideology,” this is sheer fantasy. Most of those institutions in Islamic lands were actually founded by Christians there. The first Arabic-language medical treatise was written by a Christian priest and translated into Arabic by a Jewish doctor in 683. The first hospital was founded in Baghdad during the Abbasid caliphate by a Nestorian Christian. A pioneering medical school was founded at Gundeshapur in Persia “” by Assyrian Christians. The world’s first university may not have been the Muslims” Al-Azhar in Cairo, as is often claimed, but the Assyrian School of Nisibis. And on and on. And did these things go into Europe under Muslim influence? If this influence was there, these proto-Islamophobes did a superb job of covering its traces.
The liberal humanism that modernised Europe, and to which Ridley Scott is perhaps making diffuse reference, was learned and acquired from Muslim philosophy.
Then why did it never take root in the Islamic world itself, and still is not found there today? The fact is that those Muslim philosophers Davies reveres were reviled in the Islamic world as heretics. If they did contribute anything to the development of liberal humanism, it was only in Europe. Why? Because only there was there sufficient freedom of thought and inquiry.
If Merryl Wyn Davies really believes all this, and if it is any indication of what Europeans believe today, no wonder their cultural demise is imminent.