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21 June 2016


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Babak Makkinejad

There is a room in the mausoleum of Bayazid Bastami (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayazid_Bastami) that causes people to cry after a few minutes there.

Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

I'm not an expert, but I always doubted the extent of the Crusader butchery. Near Eastern chroniclers always include absurd exaggerations. "The blood flowed up to the horses' bridles" and so on.



Something I wrote once in response to what I thought error. I still do.

"Dear Sirs,
I write concerning the feature article entitled "The Crusaders' Giant Footsteps" which appeared
in the Style section on October 22nd. I believe the article portrays correctly the general "time
line" difficulties experienced by many Arabs (largely for linguistic reasons), and the unending
sense of grievance which they nurture towards the West.
Unfortunately, in her exposition of the history of the Crusades and the general experience of
Christian-Muslim relations, I believe that Professor Deeb has omitted a few salient facts.
First - she states that for the Muslims the Crusades "evoke an unprovoked war against their
religion and their very way of life." She does not make it clear if she shares that view. I do not.
Islam arose in the desert of the Hijaz in the 7th century A.D. in a process of bloody internal
warfare in which the Prophet Muhammad crushed opponents to his rule among the animist
peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. Having dealt with them, the armies of his successors or
Caliphs (Khulifa' for sticklers) swept north into the Levant and Sassanian Persia in what is now
Iraq. Luckily for them they arrived on the scene in those parts just at the end of a very long and
debilitating war between the Eastern Romans and the Persians. In short order they "rolled up"
Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and flowed westward along the coast of North Africa, essentially
expanding into a vacuum. In the course of this march of conquest, they fought many battles. The
surrender of Jerusalem was accepted by the Caliph Omar himself who was accompanying his
armies in the field. The Muslims took all these lands by force of arms. There were no referenda
or plebiscites in which the advocates of the new religion asked if the Eastern Romans
(Byzantines) or the Persians wished to be incorporated into the Empire of Islam (The Umma').
Within a few decades, the Islamic Empire arrived by sea at Constantinople itself and besieged
the city seeking the downfall of this strongest bastion of Christendom in the East. They failed in
that siege, but the war between the various dynasties of Caliphs and successor regimes of Turks
on the one hand and the Byzantines never ended with the Muslims more or less continuously on
the attack and the Byzantines playing a very persistent "game" of defense with occasional
counter-offensives. In 1071, the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine army decisively in eastern
Anatolia in the Battle of Manzikert. The defeat was total and crushing. As a result, the Turks
advanced rapidly throughout nearly all of Anatolia (modern Turkey) overrunning in the process
the ancient Greco-Roman civilization which existed everywhere there. The inhabitants were
nearly all Christians or Jews who were also forcibly integrated into the World of Islam. This
disaster left the Byzantine Empire in a truly perilous condition with the Turkish Sultan making
his capital at Nicaea (Isnik to the Turks) just a few miles away. The further intentions of the
Turks were clear. In this condition, in 1095, the Byzantine emperor appealed to the Pope for
help, ignoring the protests of the Orthodox clergy to do so. News traveled slowly in those days.
By the time the Pope, Urban the 2nd, got people together, to make an appeal to the nobles, some
time had passed. At first he intended to pass on the emperor's appeal in a straightforward way,
but he knew with whom he was dealing. These men had no love of the Byzantines. Instead he
appealed to the semi-civilized Germanic warriors before him in terms he knew they would
understand. He asked them to go and deliver Christ's Tomb from the unbeliever. He told them
that the Church would relent in its attacks on their warlike way of life if only they would make
this "armed pilgrimage" to the East. He probably thought that in the process, they would wreck
the forces of Islam enough to give the Byzantines the "breathing space" they needed. If he
thought that, he was right. At Nicaea, at Doryleum, at Antioch and many other place along the
way, the army of the 1st Crusade mauled the Turks unmercifully and weakened them for
decades. Did the army of the 1st Crusade behave like the barbarians they were when they took
Jerusalem? Certainly, but the Bedouin and Sudanese soldiers of the Fatimid Egyptian garrison
would have done well to refrain from bringing crosses and statues from the churches of the Holy
City to the walls to urinate and spit on them in front of the Crusader army. They would have
done well not to have expelled the native Christian population from the city just before the siege
began. It might have been better. Unprovoked war? I think not.
Second - "The First Crusade touched off 400 years of warfare between Islam and the Western
world." The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem endured for something less than two hundred years. Of
what does Professor Deeb write when she speaks of "400 years?" As we can see from the record
in my first point, there had never had been an absence of warfare between Islam and
Christendom. From the beginning of Islam until the British victory over the Mahdi's army at
Omdurman in the Sudan there was always warfare, war without end. Winston Churchill fought at
Omdurman in the late 19th century. Now it has begun again.
Third - Professor Deeb says that "Islam, in its early centuries, was quite tolerant of Christians
and Jews." That is true if you understand that "tolerance" means just that. It did not mean, does
not mean that Muslims accept Christianity or Judaism on anything like an equal footing. Indeed,
it does not mean the Christians or Jews are to be accorded an equal place in society. It does mean
that they are not to be killed for clinging to their own beliefs. This injunction in Qur'an and
Sunna (tradition) was most often observed but not always. In medieval times there were Muslims
groups much like bin Laden's Al-Qa'ida. The dervish fanatics who repeatedly swept into Spain
and who the Spanish and Portuguese call Mohavids (Muwahiddun) and Moravids (Murabittun)
were such, killing all unbelievers who fell into their hands. In the lands of "orthodox" Islam
Christians and Jews were suffered to live as such. A tax upon their heads was collected, they
were not allowed to possess arms or serve in the military. They wore distinctive clothing. They
were usually not allowed to build new churches. Their churches were not allowed to be taller
than mosques and often were not allowed to have bells. They were expected to accept their status
as less than second class. If they did that, then they were "tolerated." At the same time an
unrelenting pressure toward conversion was exerted through the medium of a promise of
acceptance into the dominant order. This worked and over the centuries the ancestors of the
masses of Muslims whom we know today were converted from Christianity and Judaism. Fair
enough, but the trial in Afghanistan of Christian charity workers for preaching Christianity to
Afghans revives the memory.
I have worked among the Muslim peoples for nearly thirty years. I respect them deeply and the
message of Islam as well. Nevertheless, it is necessary to know with whom we are dealing and
not to distort the truth by selective memory.
W. Patrick Lang
Alexandria, Virginia"


I think Regensburg Lecture by Pope Benedict XVI was a shot in the right direction. I also love Apocalypto by Mel Gibson, because in the end one has to ask what Christianity was dealing with at times in question. While West has many faults it also delivered many viable cures. While others....well, not too much, really--with the exception of bloody violence, that was supplied in excess.


Something that I always wondered about too: a Palestinian Christian family that I used to know had a surname that didn't really seem Arabic (that I cannot recall for my life--not that I'd have recognized it as being odd or not, for that matter), which they explained is an Arabized version of something French (I think). I read similar kinds of story from others writing about the region today. If ex-Crusaders settled down in the Middle East and lived on for centuries afterwards, to the point of becoming Arabs themselves, surely, the kind of bloodshed that took place was not, if not exaggerated, not necessarily something that was out of place.


If anyone is interested in an intelligent Christian scholar's take on the Crusades I would recommend Michael Haag's "The tragedy of the templars". I just finished reading it and it the third history of the Crusades I have read. Quite a different perspective.

One thing he pointed out that at that time today's Lebanon and Palestine were less than 50% Muslim, the rest were Christians and Jews. Also the peasant farmers were quite content with Medeival Law the Crusaders established in the Kingdom of Jerusalem because it provided them with some rights, unlike the situation that existed before. This detail was also noted by Arab scholars at the time who disapproved of those peasants that were happy with their Christian land lords (this was recorded in "Crusades through Arab eyes" that was one of my three Crusade books.



There are a lot of Palestinians and Lebanese who are crusader state descended. The Latin population did not consist solely of lords, knights, members of the military religious orders. There were also substantial merchants in the cities. These were often involved in regional and European trade. Most of the time there was trade with Damascus, Cairo, Alexandria, etc. A great many ordinary townspeople arrived from Europe, a lot from Italy. these often intermarried with local Christians and families like the ones you mention are often descended from such unions. The Latin population intermarried with both Armenians and the residual Christian population from before the Muslim conquest. There were deliberate attempts at colonization. About a hundred small towns were established before Saladin re-conquered the land. In between these settlements and the cities the farmers were Muslim. they paid their taxes and seem to have been left unmolested. The Crusader states and the Latin church do not seem to have made much effort to convert these people. After the Latin Church was reduced to the holy place protected by the Franciscan Custos, money from the Catholic Church dried up and a lot of remaining Christians became Greek Orthodox. There was of course always some conversion to Islam to avoid social inferiority and taxes. As a result you find Muslims today with surnames that indicated Christian ancestry, names like "saliibii." This means "crusader" in Arabic. Anything else? pl



Usama bin Munqidh, the chronicler and merchant traveled to the Kingdom of Jerusalem from Damascus regularly. when there he stayed with his friends the Templars who put him up in their guest houses and made a place for him to spread his prayer mat in their chapels. pl

L Sarik

I find it interesting that there is little mention of what the Mongols did to
Islamic civilization...They made the Crusader Boy walk down the east shore of the Mediterranean like a Sunday walk in the park.
Another good story is how the Venetians encouraged the Franks (Germans) to rape and pillage indiscriminately when plundering fellow Christians in Constantinople, while they worked with great discipline looting predetermined lists of art and treasure.
The four horses of St. Marks in Venice are some of that loot.
And then there is the Children's Crusade...Steven Runciman gives a gripping, if disputed account, of that epic delusional religious behavior. He talks of glutted slave and prostitution markets from that undertaking.
Yes, there were a lot of tears.


L Sarik

It is hard to talk of all this simultaneously. I agree that the Venetian diversion of the 4th Crusade to Constantinople effectively destroyed the possibility of a Christian East. pl

Babak Makkinejad

The statements of the Pope Benedict XVI - the Regensburg lecture - do not have the same negative import in Shia Islam. Per the Shia Tradition, true religion has always been Islam; the religion of Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, indeed all the 124000 prophets and messengers (of God) has been Islam. That the Quran does not bring anything new is not a criticism.

The response to the other presumed criticism, about the Sword etc. is this: Islam of Quran is a religion for both War and Peace. And given the necessity of war among the Fallen man, I should think that a religion that addresses itself to war as well as to peace might be found attractive to many who do not live in the fantasy of the Peaceable Kingdom on this Earth.

Babak Makkinejad

On a personal note: the Pope' comments regarding Faith and Reason etc. are opposed by both Kierkegaard and Shestov.

In fact, the Absoluteness of God's Power, Potentiality, and Volition has been strongly maintained by many Jewish philosophers - those who wrote in Arabic as well as those who wrote in Latin and later in French.

I guess he was afraid of saying anything against Jewish Tradition and the shortest wall that he could find was that of Islam.

Babak Makkinejad

I believe everything that the old chroniclers have written in these regards - it is just like the Rape of Nanking or the Rape of Manila - why should we discount the accounts of the sack of Jerusalem or that of Constantinople?



A lot of these accounts are tainted by special pleading. pl


PL, you might have known Daniel Rossing, back in the day, the Director of the Christian Communities in the Israeli Ministry of Religion. He gave he and my wife a tour through the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before he died. He took us into the Syrian Chapel behind the edicule.

Since he was an orthodox Jew, he would not be seen as aligned with any of the many religious denominations that hotly contest their territories within the church building. He pointed to the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and said that it had never gone out.

Two denominations claimed that chapel: the Syrians and the Copts(?). Both said the light bulb had gone out and that they both would change it in the morning. Daniel assured both parties that indeed the light bulb was still on and to make sure, he would spend the night in the Church. Indeed both parties would inspect the light bulb in the morning and indeed it was on, thus avoiding this turf war. All the parties knew full well that this little dance saved a major conflict, but were willing to engage in it to avoid such a calamity.

The Holy Sepulcher is my favorite place to visit, and is always very moving.


Whether out of place or not, I leave that up to you. BUT believable for sure: just look at why they were able to do to Constantinople during the 3rd (I think) crusade. Surely if they are capable of the Sack of Eastern Roman Empire, they would not be hesitant to chop down a few Muslim Aarabs.


Tidewater to Turcopolier,


I am curious if you ever heard anything of the tradition that possibly two of the knights who murdered Saint Thomas a Becket were buried in Jerusalem before the door of the Templar Round Church or possibly under the portico there, assuming there is a portico? One of these might have been Sir William de Tracy. One of the stories is that he did penance for many years at a place called Black Mountain near Antioch and his body was brought there. I am aware that there are other accounts which suggest he never got to the Holy Land, lived to be ninety and died in England at home.


Between 30-90% of the Iranian population were killed by the Mongols at the time


Colonel Lang, don't know if you have sen this article by Alasetair Crook or not, FYI, your last week's article on Syrian ceasefire is quoted here.

"The Slow Death of the Syria Cease-Fire Brings a Hybrid War With Russia Closer"http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article44926.htm

Daniel Nicolas

I hope I can find a lull and opportune moment to visit some of these places. Not just Christianity tourism, but the richness of culture (food, people, etc.) and beauty of the land in the general area. Jordan, if I recall correctly, has been recommended a number of times here.


Danny Nocolas

Im Jerusalem stay at the American Colony Hotel, the ME as it should be. The dining room is excellent. pl


if you visit the treasury in St. Marks, you can see some of the loot from Constantinople. its provenance is coyly stated as 'Byzantine".



I know nothing of the fate of these men. Some years ago it was discovered that the bones of an English knight are buried under the paving just outside the door of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. pl



1. It was the 4th Crusade, not the 3rd. the 3rd Crusade is the campaign in which Richard the Lion Heart and friends took back most of Palestine from the Seljuk Turks, various local lords, etc. So, you wish to treasure the notion of the army of the 1st Crusade as ravening beasts? Well, enjoy! pl


"A shot in the right direction", may not always be wise.

But I realize that while I expect a Pope to know his church's history, I may demand of him too "to read" and reflect on the larger Zeitgeist. Or may have demanded it at the time, that is. In other words it "could be a shot in the right direction" was never at the core of my irritation about it.

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