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The Crusades Remembered from a Different Perspective 

Nov.-26-2005 18:9:35
Assyrian International News Agency

(AINA) -- History Channel (India) and History Channel (Australia) recently telecast a two-part documentary titled 'The Crusades: the Crescent and the Cross' based on the history of first three and major Crusades (1096-1099, 1144-1148, and 1189-1193 AD) out of eight undertaken in the Middle Ages to reclaim Jerusalem for Christendom. Today it has become imperative for the West to remember the Crusades more than the World War II. A reinvented Fascism and Nazism are unlikely to present a threat to West; but radical Islam is almost sure to do that. From 9/11 and London explosions to recent New Delhi triple blasts and attempted conspiracy to blow up nuclear reactor plant in Sydney Jihad is proving to be the fastest growing global Inc.

In present time there is a left liberal tendency to demonize Crusades as an unbridled assault of Latin Christendom on highly prosperous Islamic lands. The otherwise well made documentary was not free from this flaw either. But this proposition discounts the fact that Jerusalem had come under Arab Caliphate as early as 638 AD. But there was no concerted attempt at Crusades since Christian pilgrims were allowed unfettered in the Holy Land. In early 11th century Egyptian Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered for destruction of all Churches including Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Jewish synagogues in the city. The order was reversed by his descendants but Christian pilgrims began to be pillaged and persecuted by Turks. Turks were a new power that loomed in Asia Minor in latter half of 11th century after overrunning Persia, Palestine, and Iraq.

Moreover, the Turks were expanding in Asia Minor at the cost of the Byzantine Empire that acted as the bulwark of Christendom although Constantinople's (Eastern Orthodoxy) 'Great Schism' with Rome (Latin Christendom) had come about in 1054 AD. The Turk expansion was also a fear factor that provoked Crusades.

Thus Crusades, in principle, were a defensive rather than offensive act to a) render the passage of Christian pilgrims to Holy Land safe and free b) to halt the feared Turkish expansion into Europe. Spain was under Muslim rule in Crusaders time and Sicily recently recovered from Arabs by Normans. But subsequent centuries proved that Crusaders fear about Turkish expansion into Europe was not ill-founded. The country of 70 million that goes by the name of Turkey today grew at the at the expense of historic Hellenic lands in Asia Minor under Byzantine Control. Had it not been for the Crusaders (and Mangol attacks) Turks, originally from central Asia, would have overrun Eastern Europe long before 15th century when they ultimately did so. In 1529, Turks laid the first of their two sieges of Vienna, after gobbling up Greece and Balkans in 15th century.

Left-Islamic spin doctor Tariq Aziz, the Oxford historian and author of Pakistani origin, wove this argument in the documentary that Crusades are still widely remembered in the Arab world as barbaric incursions by Franks (French) in prosperous Islamic lands. Given the atavistic nature of Islam this doesn't seem unconvincing either. The World Islamic Front of Osama bin Laden in its February 23, 1998 fatwa speaks of Jihad against 'Jews and Crusaders'. But how can the ilk of Mr. Tariq Aziz claim that those were 'Islamic lands'? If Franks were wrong in invading ancient lands of Eastern Mediterranean, under Islam since 7th century, did tribes from Hijjaz command the divine right to gobble up those lands (incidentally professing Christian faith) in the name of Allah in the first place? Will Mr. Aziz consider the ordeal suffered by Assyrians, Maronites, Copts and Armenians etc at the advent of Islam? Christianity suffered a slow, excruciating but exhaustive death in Barbary Coast (Mediterranean-Atlantic coast) in North Africa over four centuries.

If Arabs command the right to remember the Crusades, why are Christians expected to forget the sigh of Byzantine Empire Flavius Heraclius Augustus (575-641 AD) after the battle of Yarmuk in 634 AD-"Farewell Syria, my fair province, Thou art enemy's now!' before he left Antioch for Constantinople. The Battle of Yarmuk that took place on August 20, 636 beside river Yarmuk, a tributary of river Jordan, witnessed Arab Muslims making a dent in Christian Byzantine Empire.

Renowned Princeton scholar of Near Eastern Studies Bernard Lewis forewarns --"In recent years it has become the practice, in both western Europe and the Middle East, to see and present the Crusades as an early exercise in Western imperialism- as a wanton and predatory aggression by European powers of the time against the Muslims or, as some would now say, against the Arab lands. They were not seen in that light at the time, either by Christians or by Muslims. For contemporary Christians, the Crusades were religious wars, the purpose of which was to recover the lost lands of Christendom and in particular the holy land where Christ had lived, taught and died. In this connection, it may be recalled that when the Crusaders arrived in the Levant not much more than four centuries had passed since the Arab Muslim conquerors had wrested these lands from Christendom -- less than half the time from the Crusades to the present day- and that a substantial proportion of the population of these lands, perhaps even a majority, was still Christian" (Islam and the West p.12).

It is not Christianity that first assaulted Islam with sword but the other way round. Constantinople, the Holy City of Eastern Orthodoxy, was besieged twice in quick succession by Arabs in 674 and 678 AD before once again in 717 AD. But most people have forgotten that how Arab had threatened Rome.

Will Durant informs-"In 846, eleven hundred Moslems landed at Ostia, marched up to the walls of Rome, freely plundered the suburbs and Churches of St. Peter and St. Paul, and leisurely returned to their ships. Seeing that no civil authority could organize Italian defense, Pope Leo IV took charge, bound Amalfi, Naples, Gaeta, and Rome in alliance, and had a chain stretched across the Tiber to halt any enemy. In 849, the Saracens made another attempt to seize the citadel of Western Christianity. The united Italian fleet, blessed by the Pope, gave them battle, and routed themBy 884 they were expelled from the peninsula. But their raids continued, and central Italy lived through a generation of daily fear.Italy, perhaps Christianity, had had a narrow escape; had Rome fallen, the Saracens would have advanced upon Venice; and Venice taken, Constantinople would have been wedged in between two concentrations of Moslem power. On such chances of battle hung the theology of billions of men" (The Age of Faith P. 290).

The Crusades were not inspired by religious motives alone. There were political and diplomatic objectives also. Jews and Greek Orthodox suffered equally by frenzied Franks. In Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, in Cyprus, Greek Orthodox Christianity was disbanded. The Fourth Crusade leading to fall of Constantinople in Frankish hands was a disaster for Greeks. It created so deep a hurt space in Greek mind that in 1453 AD they preferred to pass under Ottoman pall rather than accepting papal help from Rome. But are Greeks fighting with Latin Church over Crusades today? But why is that radical Muslims want to keep Crusades on burner and refer to it too often?

There was no Crusade when Spain, Sicily, Egypt, and Syria were overrun. Is Crusade just 'cover up excuse' to justify Jihad of past; like western imperialism as 'cover up excuse' to justify contemporary Jihad. I compliment Jonathan Phillips, the senior professor of medieval history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of various books of Crusades, for pointing out in the documentary that the institution of Jihad is integral to Islam and not a reaction to Crusades. Jonathan Phillips enlivened the documentary with his lively presence at large.

By Priyadarsi Dutta

Priyadarsi Dutta is based in New Delhi, India and writes on Islam and allied subjects in the national news daily The Pioneer.

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Who are the Christians of Iraq? 

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