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Kingdom of Heaven

May 20th, 2005

Today’s Fin ReView section (alas, subscription only) has a great article by Peter Manning, reviewing Ridley Scott’s film Kingdom of Heaven but also spelling out what a terrible crime the Crusades were, and how they are still affecting both the West and the Islamic world after nearly a thousand years. Manning is particularly good on the issue of just war doctrine, and the relationship between jihad and crusade.

Among the few good things to come out of our current trials is the fact that the word “crusade” is finally getting the evil connotations it deserves. A few years ago, George Bush was using the term “crusade” to describe the struggle against terrorism, and the US was about to build an artillery system called the Crusader. Now, just about the only time you hear the term is pejoratively, from bin Laden and like-minded jihadists.

Whether you call it crusade or jihad (or, for that matter, revolutionary communism), holy war is the worst of evils.

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  1. Paul Norton
    May 20th, 2005 at 08:59 | #1

    Indeed. One is also reminded of Edward Gibbon’s calculation that more Christians were killed in a single sectarian battle between rival denominations in the 16th century than were killed throughout the entire period of persecution by Roman emperors in the 3rd and early 4th centuries. Then there’s the Thirty Years War, etc.

  2. May 20th, 2005 at 09:22 | #2

    You’re right about Bush, though his aides were clearly telling him not to use the word. I just went to http://www.whitehouse.gov, and typed in “crusade”. You get Bush using it in late-01 and early-02, and immediately following up with a synonym like “war” or “campaign”. You can imagine the bloke saying “this crusade… oh dang… I used it again”.

  3. Katz
    May 20th, 2005 at 09:32 | #3

    On the other hand, I can’t see future Ridley Scotts making multi-million dollar blockbusters about the derring-do of Grief Counsellors or Sensitivity Facilitators.

    The popular mind is captivated by violence, regardless of its atavistic motivations.

  4. May 20th, 2005 at 09:58 | #4

    That is the great thing about State of Origin football. And hardly anyone gets killed.

  5. May 20th, 2005 at 12:48 | #5

    Crusade, Just War and Jihad are all religious justifications for the wars of the ruling class, in which the majority of victims are civilians, and non-combatant women and children, from direct violence or from the disease, poverty and famine that inevitably follow armed conflict.

  6. May 20th, 2005 at 13:02 | #6

    Nice point – pity the film was one of the worse films I’ve ever seen.

  7. May 20th, 2005 at 14:15 | #7

    I cant believe that Pr Q is now falling for “>Foolish Fyodor’s black armband history of Christendom. It is a travesty to view the Crusades – at least the first one in 1095 – as just a sectarian Pope’s attempt at waging Holy War using mercenary cavaliers to pillage the Holy Lands. There was abit of that later on. But the First Crusader armies were raised for a more fair and reasonable purpose – to repel strategic aggression to Christendom and to quash a nuisance to Christian pilgrims. The Pope was by no means an angel, but he was not the devil that Pr Q sectarian rant makes him out to be. Pope Gregory wrestled long and hard with the ethics of sectarian war. At the time, in the 11th Century, Christendom was being besieged or threatened by Muslim armies from three quarters: to the West (Spain) by the Moorish conquistas and to the South (Holy Lands) and East (Byzantium) by the Seljuk Turks. Thomas Madden, a revisionist historian of the Crusades, sums up the strategic situation faced by the Pope:

    [The Crusades] were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world.

    Before letting fly with cheap shots against the Christian warriors, lets keep in mind the Big Picture and the Longer View. Islam saw itself as a fighting faith. They backed up their jihadist words with militarist deeds. Steve Sailer, always ontop of these issues, has a good summary of the 11th C interplay between Christian-Muslim – which was not the one-sided Holy War waged by Christians against Muslims that Pr Q implies:

    there were pressing strategic issues inspiring the Crusades. The conversion of the ferocious Central Asian Turkish horse warriors to Islam had re-invigorated Muslim fanaticism and military power. The Seljuk Turks seized Jerusalem from the tolerant, pilgrim-hosting Egyptians and in 1071 inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Orthodox Catholic Byzantine Empire at Manzikert. The Byzantines had blocked Muslim depradations by land on Western Europe for centuries (although Muslim pirates were a constant annoyance, kidnapping something like a million Europeans into slavery and raiding all over coastal Europe, even sacking, at a later date, Iceland), so the Western Europeans resolved that the best defense to the weakening of the Eastern Christians was a strong offense against the Muslims.

    There is more revisionist Crusading history from John Derbyshire and Thomas F. Madden. It was understandable for the Papacy, as the central political authority representing what was left of Christendom, to rally Christian soldiers and call for a counter-attack from the more secure bastions to the North (the Franks). Certainly if the Church had done nothing in response to Muslim aggression the Roman part of Europe might have suffered the same fate as Byzantium – not a pretty thought. Of course, the Christian reaction did involve over-kill, especially as the Crusade series wore on. The latter Crusades were more sectarian and mercenary and hence less justifiable. But History tends to work in zig-zags and boom-busts. Finally, the Crusades should be viewed in the context of the Church’s long civilizing mission to those ulta-montane nations that eventually emerged to lead the world. The militant Christianity that repelled Muslim aggression and restored the structure of the (Holy) Roman Empire also managed to garner the moral and intellectual resources to turn gothic warlords into chivalrous knights and occult witchdoctors into learned monks. Eventually the knightly tradition gave us the explorers of the Age of Discovery, and the monastic tradition gave us the scholars of the Rennaissance. Not an altogether bad result.

  8. May 20th, 2005 at 14:29 | #8

    The zig zag theory of history. Cute Jack.

    Bad taste award goes to the NZ Canterbury rugby team for selecting ‘Crusaders’ as its name. Let’s hope they are put to the sword this evening.

  9. Paul Norton
    May 20th, 2005 at 14:43 | #9

    An interesting aspect of the medieval Crusade/Jihad problematique is that the Turks were much better placed than the Arabs to encroach upon the territory of Christendom because they had better camels.

    The Arabian camel, or dromedary (i.e. the one-humped kind) was adapted to the climate of the Arabian peninsula, and couldn’t handle colder climates, thereby limiting the Arabs’ capacity to permanently occupy and settle their military conquests outside of certain latitudes and altitudes. The Turks used the Bactrian (two-humped) camel which had evolved in the colder climate of Central Asia. It was the ability of this species of camel to flourish in the colder, higher inland regions of the Anatolian peninsula which enabled the Seljuks to capitalise territorially on the military victory of Manzikert, whereas the Arabs had been unable to make good their military advances against the Byzantine empire in the 7th century.

  10. Katz
    May 20th, 2005 at 14:50 | #10

    “The militant Christianity that repelled Muslim aggression and restored the structure of the (Holy) Roman Empire also managed to garner the moral and intellectual resources to turn gothic warlords into chivalrous knights and occult witchdoctors into learned monks. Eventually the knightly tradition gave us the explorers of the Age of Discovery, and the monastic tradition gave us the scholars of the Rennaissance. Not an altogether bad result. ”

    But Jack, apart from this, what has the Holy Roman Empire ever done for us?

    On a more serious note, if the “worst” had happened and Islam had overrun the world, the past you outlined would have been unlived, unknown and unregretted.

    History isn’t morality. Beware the fallacy of ethical historicism.

  11. Warbo
    May 20th, 2005 at 14:50 | #11

    Bloody hell, CS! Is there *anything* that can’t be related to rugby? (Don’t answer that.)

  12. May 20th, 2005 at 16:23 | #12

    I haven’t read Peter Manning’s review, but no discussion of the Kingdom of Heaven is possible without reference to the fact that the leading historians of the Crusades have ridiculed the movie.

    Jonathan Riley-Smith, a ground-breaking British historian, has described the Kingdom of Heaven:

    ‘ “It’s basically Osama bin Laden’s version of history,â€? said Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, a British academic and expert on the Crusades. “It depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality.â€? ‘

    There is no compelling reason to reward Ridley Scott’s political correctness with $10 in ticket revenue.

  13. jquiggin
    May 20th, 2005 at 18:33 | #13

    Manning’s review makes it clear that the film is lousy history.

    On the other hand, I’m unimpressed by Riley-Smith. He’s an apologist for the crusades, and, as far as I can see, motivated by religion rather than a desire for historical accuracy.

  14. May 20th, 2005 at 20:09 | #14

    Pr Q, lapsing from his normal high standards, appears to swallow Bin Ladenist apologetics for the current wave of jihad hook, line and sinker.

    Peter Manning…spelling out what a terrible crime the Crusades were, and how they are still affecting both the West and the Islamic world after nearly a thousand years.

    This is just more intellectual rubbish about the ME which, apparently, I have to take out practically every day. No doubt some aspects of the Crusades were criminal, and some aspects were lawful, but I fail to see what they have to do with modern misfortunes. For a start, most modern Islamic Arabs hate Jews more than Christians. As far as I know the medieval Jews were not in the forefront of the Crusades.

    OBL mde the historic justification of his jihad by reference to the Franksish incursion into the Holy Lands and the Christian recapture of Andalusia have forever hobbled the growth of the Islamic caliphate. Somehow this original Jihadist-Crusader conflict has set the template for the current Clash of Civilizations, always chronic and occasionally acute.

    Wrong. One might ask what has the Clash of Civilization been doing for the years b/w 1350-1950?

    The Islamic-Christian conflict is a Clash within, not between, Civilizations. It is a Clash between secular moderates and sectarian militants in both camps. The Crusader-Jihadist rhetoric is a smokescreen put out by interested parties trying to dupe gullible bystanders into accepting their ideological frame of reference.

    The current (1950-200?) conflict b/w Northern Christian and Southern Islamic states is anchored in the formers need for a stable governance of the latter’s oil supplies, in the midst of Islamia’s agonising modernisation process. Somehow the Likud party has convinced the US DoD that Israeli hegemony over the ME is critical for US economic and martial security.

    In the modern case, the actual “Crusaders” are a bunch of high-IQ Azkenhazi Jews (Slavs) with tenuous blood connection to Abraham – no relation to the Franks. And the contested Holy Land is Saudi Arabia – not Jerusalem.

    What the devil has this got to do with dispute between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin 800 years ago?

  15. May 20th, 2005 at 20:09 | #15

    manning’s review takes a line quite the opposite of yours. the film is lousy history but because it doesn’t go far enough

  16. May 20th, 2005 at 20:36 | #16

    Have you read Riley-Smith, Prof Quiggin? I certainly have, and there is little to suggest he is an apologist for the Crusades. Of course, even to be an apologist for the Crusades doesn’t mean much – it means to be an apologist for “a particularly lethal flea”, to paraphrase John Pilger, that only succeeded in reversing a tiny fraction of the other side’s three and a half centuries of unyielding rapacity.

  17. May 20th, 2005 at 20:41 | #17

    Say, was there any mention in Manning’s article of the Councils of Piacenza and Clermont?

  18. Martin
    May 20th, 2005 at 21:47 | #18

    The revisionist historians are claiming that following are not really part of the crusades: the sacking of synagogues at the start of each crusade, the massacre (of Christians, Muslims and Jews alike) that followed the capture of Jerusalem in the first crusade, the capture of (Christian) Constantinople, and the capture of (Christian) Cyprus.

    I was surprised at how accurate the film actually was, though it did succumb to a few Hollywood conventions.

  19. May 20th, 2005 at 22:50 | #19

    The revisionists are saying nothing of the sort. Have you actually read any “revisionist historians”? Are you aware that the film simply fabricated the multicultural cross-faith order?

  20. May 20th, 2005 at 23:01 | #20

    Actually, your comment was more ambiguous than I thought – you’re not really saying that “revisionist” historians deny that such events happened, but essentially that certain events occured that had nothing to do with the Church under Papal authority (and, ipso facto, the “Crusades”). This is a completely different debate, but I note that some of your litany is already on very shaky ground. Is it to be suggested that excommunicated Catholics could wage a “crusade” against the Byzantines? Also interesting is the claim that Christians were killed in Jerusalem (presumably in 1099). I’d like to see a reference for that – and any other reference linking a Papal Legate to Jewish pogroms.

  21. May 21st, 2005 at 00:07 | #21

    “The Crusaders set themselves up for a fifth Super 12 title by crushing the hapless Hurricanes 47-7 in Christchurch tonight.”

    Stickes and stones maybe, but names . . .

  22. May 21st, 2005 at 00:21 | #22

    It appears that John Quiggin and others seem to oppose the Crusades – and well-meaning people can come to that conclusion if they like, but preferably after actually reading the subject matter.

    Nevertheless, I’ve noticed that quite a few opponents of the Crusades tend to be supporters of the Kosovo War. Going into as much detail as one likes, how can one possibly justify such contrasting positions? Must one engage in lengthy dialectic, or is it basic cognitive dissonance?

  23. May 21st, 2005 at 00:24 | #23

    The Crusaders looked pretty flash, I agree wmmbb. Tahs are underdogs, if they get through tonight’s major semi. It’s a rags to riches story. Can the Sydney boys do it? Go the Tahs …

  24. May 21st, 2005 at 10:04 | #24

    Martin Says: May 20th, 2005 at 9:47 pm

    The revisionist historians are claiming that following [Blah X 3] are not really part of the crusades:

    No, thats not the point. Derbyshire et al dont deny the sundry Crusader crimes which, BTW, were not unknown in their adversaries. The revisionist historians main claim is, at least intially, the Crusade was an attempt to stem the tide of Muslim aggression that was lapping at 3/4 of Christendom.

    A Crusading Holy War may have been the social ideology, the political reality was the need to mount a strategic counter-offensive directed at the enemies Base. Perhaps this strategy was wrong-headed and, no doubt, the execution was improper. But Crusading was not, primarily, a militant form of conversion.

    To suggest that the modern wave of Islamist terrorism is a replay based on the Crusader-Jihadist template is absurd and smacks of an attempt to absolve terrorists of their responsibility. Islamic fundamentalists want to get control of ME oil from the Arab nationalists, they want Western influences expunged from the ME because the West is (post-)modernist, not Christian. And, of course, the Palestinians want to retake Jerusalem from the Jews (not Christians) because it is their Homeland, not Holy Land.

    But these plain facts do not gell with the BlackArmband school of Western History. So they must be flushed down a memory hole.

    Not Good.

  25. May 21st, 2005 at 11:21 | #25

    If the Crusaders were the precursors of Western liberal values, why were they killing Jews in the cities they attacked even though the Muslims were allowing them to live in peace in exchange for paying a special tax? I have no truck with any religion and don’t give a damned about labels but clearly the Muslims of that era were more pluralist than the Crusaders who were at that time the Jihadists incapable of the live and let live that is a foundation of a liberal society. Times may changed since then but it’s not clear that we are obliged to support them at all. The Enlightenment, development of rule of law, etc – ie. all the valuable parts of the Western heritage had nothing to do with Christian theocracy.

  26. May 21st, 2005 at 13:01 | #26

    Jason Soon Says: May 21st, 2005 at 11:21 am

    the Muslims of that era were more pluralist than the Crusaders who were at that time the Jihadists incapable of the live and let live that is a foundation of a liberal society.

    The Egyptian Muslims, The Seljuk Turk cavalry sweeping accross the plains of South Eastern Europe, the Moors investing Castillian cities, the Suuni jihadists torching Christian Churches in Jerusalem, they were all practicing “live and let live”, fore runners of the modern day Wets, the Australian Democrats et al.


    Look, no one doubts that the European Dark and Middle Ages were the Golden Ages of Islamic civilization. But lets not get carried away with table-turning history here. Islam started out as a militant faith, most monotheistic belief systems are like that. But Christianity has morphed into a pacific faith, whereas Islam still retains traces of its jihadist origins.

    the valuable parts of the Western heritage had nothing to do with Christian theocracy.

    This is the most amazing nonsense. The Holy Roman Empire, Christendom or what ever it was called, was not a “theocracy”. Medieval consitutions contained a clear distinction, and tension, b/w the imperial church and provincial-national states.

    Secondly, Medieval Christian states were truly catholic in their social constitution in that they insitutionally incarnated Judaic moral, Hellenic philosphical and Italic legal principles. The Enlightenment drew heavily on this. To imply that the Medieval ancestors had nothing to do with the Enlightenment heritage of the modern European state is just absurd.

    It is true that Liberal Enlightenment certainly set its teeth against Papism and religious wars. But these wars were as fierce within Christendom as between Christendom and Islamia.

    One should also note that the Enlightenment did not exactly usher in a reign of sweetness and light. The French and American revolutions were bloody affairs, as were itheir ideological descendants: the socialist revolutions of the 20th C.

  27. May 21st, 2005 at 13:30 | #27

    Thank you Jason, for revealing what you’ve read about the Crusades. Now, I’ve never said the Crusades were the precursor of anything, let alone liberal values.

    Let me make it a little more obvious for you. Say: In 2009, the United States destroys the Grand Mosque of Mecca, and does not permit a rebuilding of said mosque until 2048 (and only then, the operation must be financed entirely by Saudi Arabia, and only to build several smaller mosques on the rubble). Then, around mid-century, Israel invades Turkey. By 2071 Israel scores major victories in Ankara and Izmit – soon taking all of Turkey except Istanbul.

    Of course, aside from killing and robbing pilgrims to a destroyed Mecca in the meantime, both America and Israel shall be gloriously tolerant! No-one shall be closing mosques in either country, and bar paying higher taxes and be banned from opening any new mosques (oh, and having their legal testimony treated as second class), Muslims will be “tolerated” in America and Israel proper. But even being oh so tolerent, each country just keeps invading places. America has already conquered vast swathes of North Africa, while Israel has its sights set on Iran. And despite the carnage and perpetual war and invasion, they can pat themselves on the back for being the most tolerant people on earth.

    Now say, towards the end of the century, the Turks send an envoy to free Algeria to ask for assistance to take back Asia Minor. The Algerians say “sure” and the Grand Mufti of Algeria sends 100,000 young religious fanatics to retake Turkey (before leaving, a small band of fanatics outside of the authority of the Mufti’s Legate murder a colony of Jews). But they also are motivated by a need to take the Grand Mosque of Mecca. As they do not distinguish between infidel aggressors, they attack both American and Israeli forces. After winning a splendid victory in Mecca in 2099, they kill tens of thousands of Americans and Israeli tourists out of pure rage.

    That is, of course, precisely the Crusades (only this time, the “jihads”), only played out in reverse 1,000 years later. And in 1,000 years from now, politically correct “historians” like, oh, John Quiggin, Jason Soon, and Ridley Scott, will condemn the “jihads” for being “aggressive” and having “no defensive pretext whatsoever”, despite being about the most credibly defensive war having been declared by anyone at the time.

    Because the “jihads” led to the massacre of a Jewish colony (rather like WWII led to the slaughter in Dresden), and another massacre in Mecca (I’ll raise you Hiroshima), the politically correct will become fixated on these events, as if they somehow nullify the reason why the “jihads” began. Everything else that led to the jihads will simply be ignored by the politically correct.

    Now of course, we all know none of this will happen. But if it did, nobody has any right to be surprised at the outcome.

  28. jquiggin
    May 21st, 2005 at 13:59 | #28

    Steve, you’re the only one in this debate who wants to defend one side in a holy war. In the process, I think, you’re showing that your views on present day issues are essentially those of bin Laden, except with a reversal of sign.

    Most readers, reading this convoluted analogy, would come to the conclusion that both sides ought to be condemned.

    Every other commentator has taken much the same view as me: both jihad and crusade are terrible crimes, but, historically, the behavior of the crusaders was worse than that of the jihadists.

  29. Martin
    May 21st, 2005 at 18:48 | #29

    I’ve finally read the original article — aren’t credit cards wonderful? — and basically Manning is complaining that Scott (the director) didn’t engage in a propaganda exercise and drag in every Christian atrocity since 1098. In other words, he says he should have made another film entirely. Alas, the Hollywood film has its conventions, as much as any genre, and the director has to follow them if he wants a paying audience, hence the obligatory romance for example. There have been documentaries on the crusades that one could watch if one wanted, eg Terry Jones 1995 series for the BBC.

    To Steve Edwards, my comment was not ambiguous; read it carefully. The film did not fabricate the live-and-let-live reality of the crusader states (read the sources). As far as I know, the crusaders who attacked Constantinople were fully-paid-up Catholics, and not excommunicated for their actions; indeed, the Pope commended them for extending the True Faith (ie Catholicism) over the Orthodox ‘heresy’. Manning does refer twice to Clermont — why do you ask?

  30. May 21st, 2005 at 19:45 | #30

    Martin, that was very silly. Look, you seem like a very reasonable guy, so why are you peddling the falsehood that the Crusaders who attacked Constantinople were not excommunicated?

    They were the same “Crusaders” who were held captive (due to their massive debts) by the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, and forced to attack Zara, a Hungarian-held port on the coast of Dalmatia. They were excommunicated as soon as this happened. They were not “unexcommunicated” either when they were sent farther to Constantinople.

  31. May 21st, 2005 at 19:48 | #31

    John, you simply don’t get it. The Crusades had a far more acceptable defensive pretext than any of the wars waged by the United States since around 1991, bar Afghanistan. Yet you are on the record as supporting all of these interventions, bar Iraq. Incidentally, it was when I began to study the Crusades in the latter half of 2003 that I came around to the inescapable conclusion that the invasion of Iraq (and the bombing of Kosovo) were close to unmitigated acts of aggression.

    “Every other commentator has taken much the same view as me: both jihad and crusade are terrible crimes, but, historically, the behavior of the crusaders was worse than that of the jihadists.”

    And what have you actually read about the Crusades?

  32. jquiggin
    May 21st, 2005 at 20:44 | #32

    Steve, I’ve read plenty about the Crusades, starting with Gibbon. But the point is, no-one other than a fanatic on one side or the other needs more than the most basic facts about either crusades or jihads to recognise them as terrible evils.

  33. May 22nd, 2005 at 05:51 | #33

    Another salient point is, contrary to Bin Laden’s propaganda, how the Zionists and the Crusaders are so divided (of course, we all know how Bin Laden hates the “Zionists and Crusaders” as if they were the same). One interesting theme I’ve picked up is how Zionists tend to be the most ardent opponents of the Crusades. The same people, of course, tend to be the most fervent supporters of the West Bank occupation, not to mention the destruction of Palestinian housing, all in the name of “anti-terrorism”.

    Now I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush… But it is astonishing (or perhaps not) how the strongest supporters of military aggression in the modern age also tend to be the most rabid opponents of the Crusades. Thus, you tend to support the annexation of the West Bank, or, the defensive Crusades, but not both. And, you tend to support the bombing of Kosovo, or the defensive Crusades, but not both. Frankly, I don’t think this is a mistake, but others may wish to give the aggressors the benefit of the doubt.

  34. jquiggin
    May 22nd, 2005 at 07:45 | #34

    The “defensive” crusades. I think the word you’re looking for here is “irredentist”.

    As regards your claim about “supporters of the West Bank occupation” being opposed to the Crusades, this is way off the mark. Revisionism about the Crusades in the US is being pushed by the Christian right, which generally supports the occupation.

  35. May 22nd, 2005 at 09:41 | #35

    jquiggin Says: May 21st, 2005 at 8:44 pm

    Every other commentator has taken much the same view as me: both jihad and crusade are terrible crimes, but, historically, the behavior of the crusaders was worse than that of the jihadists.

    This little black commentator’s view is slightly more nuanced than Pr Q’s “Plague on both Holy Warrior houses, but especially the Christians” one. Attempting to squeeze the Crusades into a single “militant-theocratic” frame is not very helpful to the discussion, since it ignores the Big Picture and the Longer View.

    In most fights, the primary moral onus is on the aggressor. In the case of the Medieval Holy Wars the initial aggression (taking the Holy Lands) came from the Muslims, as did subsequent aggressions (conqusita of Spain) and the penultimate aggression (the attack on Byzantium). Not to mention sundry low-profile aggressions (piracy, slaving, raiding, harassing). If one ignores all that litany of wrong-doing then, yes, the Christians can be made to wear the black hat (and we historians the black armbands).

    However, Pr Q’s basic moral point that – whatever the validity of the original justification for war – the Christians serial of Crusades was massive over-kill is true, and should be acknowledged by Christian apologists.

    OTOH, the Christian castigators – whose ranks seems to include Pr Q on thos rare days when he falls out of bed on the wrong side – should fess up to the fact that Muslim jihadists were the orignial aggressors in the Holy Wars. This does does exculpate, to some degree, subsequent Christian misdeeds.

    More generally, looking at the “Holy Wars” through the narrow prism of militant-theocratic justifications is distorting. These wars actually fit much better into Toynbee-Huntingtons “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. Muslim civilization posed a challenge to Christianity at a number of levels. And Christian civilization rose to that challenge, albeit in some regrettable ways.

    And the fact is that Muslim challenge to Christian civilization was vital and threatening – starting from the Dark Ages, through the Medieval period and right up to Modernity. The Muslim attacks on Christian lands were only finally halted when the Siege of Vienna was lifted in 1683 – a mere 600 years after the First Crusade.

    Had Roman Christians not risen to that challenge in any way they would have suffered the same cultural fate as Byzantium Christians. I also suspect that a triumphant Caliphate would have been more inimical to the Enlightenment than the rump of the Papacy.

  36. May 22nd, 2005 at 13:19 | #36

    That’s funny, because I’ve noticed the revisionists are more likely to be paleo-conservatives, like Pat Buchanan and the late Sam Francis (well, the intellectual revisionists anyway), who do not particularly like Israel.

    In Australia I’ve noticed a tendency for Zionists (and supporters of the Occupation/apologists for torture) tend to be the most ardent opponents of the Crusades, which had a far more compelling defensive pretext than anything they have supported in the last decade and a half.

  37. Martin
    May 22nd, 2005 at 21:06 | #37

    Steve Edwards: you are right — the Fourth Crusade had been excommunicated (for attacking Catholic Zara) before it reached Constantinople.

    The emirates of Palestine were not engaged in attacking Western Europe in 1098, so you cannot call the First Crusade ‘defensive’. It was the Seljuk Turks, a completely different group, who were attacking the Eastern Roman Empire. The Palestinian emirates were either at peace or attacking each other, which is why the Crusaders were able to defeat them so easily.

    I’m not interested in supporting any side, only in approaching historical truth.

  38. May 22nd, 2005 at 22:58 | #38

    I cannot for the life of me work out why it is so important who started it or who killed the most people. Also it is well to remember that history is written by the victor.

    The first death is the crime, after that it matters nothing that one side killed say 400 000 when the other side killed 350 000. The first side killed one person and the fact that the other side killed less people makes it not one bit better than the first side.

    The main thing that we have to keep in mind is that we are all the same. Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Black, White whatever. All of us have more in common that we have differences. 99.9% of muslims want nothing more than peace to raise their families as do 99.9% of christians and so on.

    The bin-Ladens and Bushs etc of this world use our differences and inflame them so that they can use us to increase their power or wealth or achieve their trade aims. The Crusades at their heart were no different. This is the real crime that ruthless people can use religion or racial difference so that they can sit on thrones.

    It is the dehumanising of Muslims that I find most distressing. Certain people want to portray all muslims as potential terrorists or suicide bombers forgetting that there have been Jewish, Christian and Japanese suicide bombers and terrorists. This dehumanising is the first stage of powerful people’s task so that in the future crimes against Muslims will seem less shocking. This is already working. Imagine if the pictures from Abu-Graib had been American soldiers being abused. The fact that there has not been sustained worldwide condemnation of the people responsible for this outrage is ample proof that this task is well on its way.

    What I find good about the reports of the movie (I have not seen it) is that it portrays Muslims as normal human beings with feelings. It may not be historically accurate but at least it is one attempt to reverse this dehumanising process and lead to reconciliation with Muslims after the terrible atrocities that a tiny minority on both sides have committed in the past. It is quite possible that the people are objecting to the movie simply because they do not want to think of Muslims or Hindus or black people as normal pople just like themselves.

  39. May 23rd, 2005 at 00:26 | #39

    For what it is worth, the group attacking the west of Christendom were not (in the 11th century) those attacking the Byzantines. And there was a large interconnection between the Arab and Berber forces all around the mediterranean; Crete had earlier fallen to muslims from Spain, and conversely the western mediterranean regularly drew reinforcements from further around. At least twice Andalusia drew on reinforcements from North Africa, and later on North Africa made deals with Egypt and Turkey for reinforcements against an extension of the Reconquista.

    But I have held off from commenting on this so far as the story has neither beginning nor end, apart from editorial arbitrariness. But I will remark, it is highly misleading to throw terms like “crime” around to describe anything that inherently doesn’t fall within its scope, no matter the rights or wrongs of the matter. It is as engineeringly wrong (and consequently dangerous) as calling poverty “obscene”, or any other similar abuse of the technical tools of understanding.

  40. Paul Norton
    May 23rd, 2005 at 08:36 | #40

    Jack Strocchi wrote:

    “In the case of the Medieval Holy Wars the initial aggression (taking the Holy Lands) came from the Muslims. . .”

    It should be remembered that this “initial aggression” was directed against the armies of the Byzantine Empire, whose rule had become deeply unpopular with the ordinary Christian citizens of Syria, Palestine and Egypt, partly because they had been knocked from pillar to post for centuries over obscure theological disputes within Christianity. A great many of the Syrian, Palestinian and Egyptian Christians converted en masse to Islam, whilst those who didn’t received much greater tolerance from the Caliphate (at least in the initial centuries after conquest) than they had from the defenders of orthodox Christianity.

    As for the Crusades, they were at least as anti-semitic as they were anti-Islamic, as explained at this link:


    Beyond that I endorse John’s condemnation of holy wars in general, and his position on the Crusades.

  41. May 23rd, 2005 at 10:12 | #41

    ” Now, I’ve never said the Crusades were the precursor of anything, let alone liberal values. ”

    Stevem on your blog you imply that anyone who doesn’t support the Crusaders is a ‘traitor’
    This is absolute nonesense and was the launching point of my original comment. A plague on both their houses.

  42. Fyodor
    May 23rd, 2005 at 10:21 | #42

    Damn. I wish I’d seen this thread earlier. A bit of context might help those perplexed by the vociferous enthusiasm of Steve Edwards and Jack Strocchi over a movie. For Steve, it’s a monomania concerning Islam. For Jack, it’s a festering wound inflicted upon him by a certain Count Fyodor that the tormented little mite just can’t get over.

    Because I can’t help but correct my old mate Jack over his frequent mistakes, I’ll point out that the loss of the (Christian) holy land was first inflicted by Sassanid (i.e. Zoroastrian) Persians on the Byzantines, a decaying empire on the way out. The Muslim Arabs stepped into a power vacuum between the Byzantines and the Persians. This was several centuries before the crusades, as was the Muslim conquest of Iberia. If I were to leave it there, Steve would pull out his habitual whinge about the Muslims’ destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 (some 90 years before the first crusade) under the mad Caliph Al-Hakim. However, this was an aberration: Al-Hakim’s reign was the exception to the relatively benign and tolerant Muslim rule of Jerusalem over 1,000-odd years.

    Of course, it suits Jack’s version of history to describe the empire-building of the Ottoman Turks (e.g. the 1683 BATTLE of Vienna – check your own source, Jack) as holy war, but characteristically it’s inaccurate. The Ottomans were imperialists, not jihadis.

    There was no reasonable casus belli for the crusades arising from these instances, and the crusades are not defensible. Neither was the Arab/Islamic conquest of much of the Mediterranean basin for that matter, but then I’m not picking sides.

    Holy wars are indeed a plague.

  43. May 23rd, 2005 at 11:23 | #43

    The Ottomans did start out as holy warriors, Ghazis, and tapped into the Ghazi spirit. They were never imperialists of the sort associated with that concept these days (neither were the British, for that matter).

    Anyhow, the Ottoman system wasn’t self-stable but relied on an outside enemy and a source of holy warriors who could be directed to it – regardless of the motives of the later Ottomans themselves.

    The Byzantine Empire was not on the way out when the Persians took Egypt (briefly). Rather, it had powers of recuperation sufficient to retake Egypt and Syria, and even to resist part of the Arab attack later (so the Arabs were driven back from Constantinople and out of Asia Minor). Heraclius’ counter-attack on the Persians has been described as a crusade, since it tapped into religious patriotism.

    The comparative welcome Byzantine subjects gave to Arabs wasn’t simply from previous religious persecution but in large part from a reduction in tax burdens and other costs of the empire. Gibbon explains how bureaucracy made for greater burdens than despotism.

  44. Fyodor
    May 23rd, 2005 at 11:38 | #44


    You misunderstand my point. The Ottomans weren’t fighting a crusade. By the time of the invasion of the Europe (and particularly by the siege and later battle of Vienna) proper they were imperialists. It’s thus disingenuous to label the struggle against the Turks in the balkans as a continuation of the crusades. They were discrete conflicts.

    The Byzantine Empire was on the way out of Palestine.

  45. Katz
    May 23rd, 2005 at 13:11 | #45

    I think the take-home lessons from these excursions into the tangled history of the Crusades are:

    1. Any attempt, such as that of Osama bin Laden, to draw any continuity between the events of 1000 years ago and today are either ignorant or mendacious.

    2. Any use of the word “Crusade” in the context of these events, as perpetrated by George W. Bush, is ignorant, insensitive and counter-productive to his actual ambitions.

    Imagine that: OBL is a fanatical liar; GWB is a half-wit.

    No news here.

  46. Paul Norton
    May 23rd, 2005 at 14:15 | #46

    So when can we expect a film about Dark Age Britain which portrays the nominally Saxon kings Caedwallon, Cynric and Ceawlyn were in fact Celts presiding over a liberal, Celto-Germanic multi-faith federation of kingdoms at war with Catholic sectarian fanatics in Celtic West Britain and Odin-worshipping proto-Nazis in Anglo-Saxon Kent and Essex?

  47. Paul Norton
    May 23rd, 2005 at 14:16 | #47

    I meant to write:

    So when can we expect a film about Dark Age Britain which portrays the nominally Saxon kings Caedwallon, Cynric and Ceawlyn as Celts presiding over a liberal, Celto-Germanic multi-faith federation of kingdoms at war with Catholic sectarian fanatics in Celtic West Britain and Odin-worshipping proto-Nazis in Anglo-Saxon Kent and Essex?

  48. Lisa Spagnuolo
    June 7th, 2005 at 10:14 | #48

    But what about the ice!!!!

    My husband and I saw this movie yesterday and are having a disagreement about one scene, the ice in the desert. Could you or anyone else clarify for us whether it would have been possible to make ice in 1184 and if so how would they keep it frozen so long through the desert? I accepted it as more of a metaphor for the difference in organisation between the two sides, obviously Salidian’s being way more advanced and capable of fighting in such conditions but my husband disagrees, he believes they would have had the capabilities even then. May be a nitpick but anyone care to claer this one up?

  49. jquiggin
    June 7th, 2005 at 12:11 | #49

    The marvels of Google provide a quick answer, Lisa. I used “saladin ice”, and got
    this “And when he later fought Richard the Lionheart, legend goes that Saladin ordered his horsemen to carry ice down the mountain to comfort the British King when he was sick.” Another link suggests the mountain in question is Mt Hermon

    Ice can be kept from melting for quite long periods, I believe.

  50. Katz
    June 7th, 2005 at 14:00 | #50

    More than preserved. Ice can be made in ambient temperatures above 0 degrees celsius. Viz.:

    The Process of Making Ice in the East Indies – By Sir Robert Barker published in 1775

    “Following is the method that was used to make ice in India as it was performed at Allahabad and Calcutta. On a large open plain, 3 or 4 excavations were made, each about 30 feet square and two deep; the bottoms of which were strewed about eight inches or a foot thick with sugar-cane, or the stems of the large Indian corn dried. Upon this bed were placed in rows, near to each other, a number of small shallow, earthen pans for containing the water intended to be frozen. These are unglazed, scarce a quarter of an inch thick, about an inch and a quarter in depth, and made of an earth so porous, that it was visible, from the exterior part of the pans, the water had penetrated the whole substance. Towards the dusk of the evening, they were filled with soft water, which had been boiled, and then left in the afore-related situation. The ice-makers attended the pits usually before the sun was above the horizon, and collected in baskets what was frozen, by pouring the whole contents of the pans into them, and thereby retaining the ice, which was daily conveyed to the grand receptacle or place of preservation, prepared generally on some high dry situation, by sinking a pit of fourteen or fifteen feet deep, lined first with straw, and then with a coarse king of blanketing, where it is beat down with rammers, till at length its own accumulated cold again freezes and forms one solid mass. The mouth of the pit is well secured from the exterior air with straw and blankets, in the manner of the lining, and a thatched roof is thrown over the whole.

    “The spongy nature of the sugar-canes, or stems of the Indian corn, appears well calculated to give a passage under the pans to the cold air; which, acting on the exterior parts of the vessels, may carry off by evaporating a proportion of the heat. The porous substance of the vessels seems equally well qualified for the admission of the cold air internally; and their situation being full of a foot beneath the plane of the ground, prevents the surface of the water from being ruffled by any small current of air, and thereby preserves the congealed particles from disunion. Boiling the water is esteemed a necessary preparative to this method of congelation.”

  51. June 7th, 2005 at 17:16 | #51

    Katz, internal evidence suggests that that passage has at least been edited in modern times. The form “Following is…” is much less likely to be authentic than “The following is…”. The former is a modern Americanism to the best of my knowledge, though it is possible that it is an awkward archaism that was preserved there.

  52. Katz
    June 7th, 2005 at 23:32 | #52

    Can’t vouch for the edition of Sir Robert Barker. I recalled it from my childhood reading and cribbed it off the web.

    Some lessons:

    1. Just about everything’s on the web.

    2. Redaction ihas never been easier.

    3. Americanism tastes like chicken.

  53. Lyn Miner
    July 16th, 2005 at 12:55 | #53

    Don’t forget that the Crusades were a response to Muslim aggression, not the other way around, as many people, today, believe.

  54. jquiggin
    July 16th, 2005 at 13:11 | #54

    “The crusades were a response to Muslim aggression”

    In about the same way as an attempt today by Italy to invade Germany could be regarded as a response to Protestant aggression during the Thirty Years War

    Muslim Arabs captured Jerusalem in 637 CE, defeating the Eastern Roman Empire which had controlled the area since the partition of the Roman empire about 300 years earlier, and had imposed first pagan and then Christian rule on the Jewish inhabitants.

    The Crusades began hundreds of years later, and involved the Western Roman church and the purported successors of the Western Empire.

  55. July 16th, 2005 at 21:47 | #55

    JQ, your history is off. One minor point is that Byzantium had only just recovered Jerusalem and parts surrounding from the Persians, who had held it for about as long as South Vietnam existed.

    But the major error is that history didn’t stop. Your analogy is about as meaningful as pointing out that there haven’t been any material land battles in Ireland since the Battle of the Boyne (surely you don’t count the Cabbage Patch?).

    In a similar parallel, there had been a steady pattern of muslim infiltration, invasion and incursion – the tactics varying according to circumstances – ever since Islam broke out. It had been prevailing until Christendom reorganised its efforts, which in one historical episode formed the Crusades.

    However, the very same patterns of muslim advance and Christian regrouping show up in both Spain and Italy, with Crete and Cyprus showing as the equivalent for Byzantium and Sicily falling between the two.

    There is far more continuity than you make out; from Normans fighting Saracens in Italy to their doing so in Sicily and as auxiliaries in Byzantium, then moving on to taking the struggle from the western mediterranen to the Levant – why, that was a continuation of the same struggle.

    Don’t forget, there was less time between the Saracens on the outskirts of Rome and the First Crusade than there was between that and the retaking of Jerusalem. And there were muslim bases on the French Riviera at the beginning of that period, and nearly all Spain had been consolidated by an Islam that was nearly ready to raid across the Pyrenees.

    JQ, while you can properly condemn anyone who takes so moralistic a position that they are not open to error correction in such a serious matter as war, you are nevertheless wrong on your history and your supporting arguments.

    P.S., by chance the Kingdom of Heaven was on at Melbourne’s Astor Theatre last night, and I got to see it for the first time.

  56. jquiggin
    July 17th, 2005 at 19:17 | #56

    PML, I don’t see that you’ve invalidated my analogy. As you yourself point out, strife between protestants and catholics has been continuous since the Thirty Years War, with (from the catholic POV) a never-ending pattern of Protestant infiltration, invasion and incursion. So a catholic reconquest of Northern Europe would be every bit as justified as the crusades (that is, in my view, not at all justified). Conversely, of course, from the protestant side.

    To be clear, jihad is every bit as (un)justified as crusade – the idea that one side or the other has some sort of historic claim to rightness is absurd. If you accept one religion or the other, then the true religion is presumably in the right, regardless of the history. If you don’t accept either, then the whole business is simply a brutal farce.

  57. July 17th, 2005 at 19:42 | #57

    JQ, what I was invalidating was the idea that there had been a break at Jerusalem, so that the First Crusade was a restarting of hostilities. But in fact it was just another example of a continuing train of hostilities, that had recently taken on the form of defending pilgrims (e.g. in Italy and Spain), and now flared up in the Levant. I was pointing out the flaw from resting on the idea of a break followed by a later Christian aggression.

    There may well be other arguments against – but the history you cited in support of that particular line was selective (not selected by you, I’m sure).

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