Kingdom of Heaven

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.

58 thoughts on “Kingdom of Heaven

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

  4. “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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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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