Western aggression and occupation, coupled with a threat to Islam itself, triggered the Muslim concept of jihad. In its purest sense, jihad is defensive. To defend against Western aggression and occupation is a sacred duty. In the last 18 months, jihad has become just as confused as crusade in the American mind. At first, Bin Laden and other violent Arab extremists appropriated and co-opted the concept of jihad. In much of the American press, any Arab with a bomb and a grudge is considered to be on a jihad, regardless of his support among the wider public.
How myths about Saladin cast a spell over the Middle East
What about mainstream Islam? It has taken the American threat of imminent war to persuade established Islam into embracing the metaphor of an American crusade. Our Arab and Islamic nation, and even our faith, are a main target of all these military buildups. In crusades, the war can never be separated from its long and tedious aftermath.
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In their view of history, Arabs know the Americans will want to go home as quickly as they can. They will not want to bankrupt the American treasury, nor will they want to stay for decades. They will tire of their American crusader kingdom.
Of all the crusades, the third Crusade of Richard the Lionhearted, from to , most passionately captures the imagination of the Arab world. It is a story not of oppression but of Arab triumph. It had a great Arab hero, Saladin, the defender of the faith and the lance of jihad. Memorials to him dot the Middle East today, from the heroic equestrian statue in Damascus to his colossal palace in Cairo. It was Saladin who crushed the Crusader army in at the Battle of Hattin. Until his death a few years ago, Syrian President Hafez Assad displayed an epic painting of the Battle of Hattin in his presidential office.
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Proudly, he would take Western visitors over to it. One day, he would say, a new Saladin will arrive on the scene. It is doubtful that an American occupation of Iraq, no matter how long it lasts, will erase from the Arab mind the heroics of Saladin or the obligation of jihad or the carnage of the first Crusade and replace it with the democratic principles of Jefferson.
About Us. Brand Publishing. Times News Platforms. Real Estate. Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options. There is little contemporary record of the late eleventh- and early twelfth-century Crusades, but after the middle of the twelfth century a considerable literature in Arabic developed. Such memories of the Crusades as were preserved during the Ottoman period, from to , were recorded in histories of the Ottoman Empire. The topic seems not to have resurfaced significantly in the Muslim world until , when the Melkite patriarch of Jerusalem patronized the publication of an Arabic translation by Muhammad Mazlum of an otherwise unidentifiable French history of the Crusades.
This marks the beginning of the process by which Western scholarship and debates about the Crusades began to filter into the Ottoman and Arabic world, either in the original languages or in Arabic or Turkish translation.
To the Arabs, This Crusade Too Will Fail
This also marks the beginning of European revisionist historiography on the Crusades: the turn away from the Enlightenment philosophical skepticism of such writers as Voltaire, Hume, Robertson, Diderot, and Gibbon, which had dominated European thought in the eighteenth century. This assertion had a long history ahead of it. The new revisionism was also strongly colored by early nineteenth-century political debates in France, Catholic thought concerning the Middle East during the Restoration and the Orleanist monarchy, and growing European diplomatic and imperial interest in the Middle East and North Africa beginning in the s particularly the French occupation of Algeria in and the English occupation of Aden in This unique combination of scholarship, politico-religious interests, and proto-imperialism offered a variety of venues to the new interest and scholarship in Crusade history.
But he also unreservedly appropriated them for French history. The work was the best known history of the Crusades throughout the nineteenth century.
The Real History of the Crusades
Louis-Philippe, like Michaud, appropriated the Crusades for France, as did the Bourbon and later Orleanist dynasties, particularly in the person and memory of Louis IX, the royal French crusading saint. Wilken, a professor of history at Heidelberg, dominated German crusade historiography throughout the nineteenth century and influenced the later editions of Michaud. But works of historical scholarship and national museums were hardly the only or even the most popular vehicles of Crusade representation in nineteenth-century Europe. In these media, as well as in scholarship, the new and highly varied Crusade discussions easily passed into various circles in the Middle Eastern world, at least for those who read Western languages or had access to translations into Arabic or Turkish.
Many in this audience were Christian Arabs, including French government workers in the colonial administrative apparatus and teachers and students at confessional and mission schools. The confessional polemics and missionary literature had a deep influence on diplomatic thought, especially in France and England.
Notwithstanding the Orleanist revision of much of the Bourbon past, the royalist patronage of Charles X and Louis-Philippe was not without a confessional dimension. In England, too, travel accounts and diplomacy were combined with Christian devotional fervor concerning the Holy Land, colored by traditional images of Islam and current ideas about the Ottoman Empire. John of Jerusalem , had little direct impact, but the sentiments it expressed, combined with English religious fervor during the Crimean War, mark an English parallel to the religious and diplomatic sentiment of France under Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III.
During the late nineteenth century, even historians of the Crusades used the language of colonization to describe the events of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But critical European scholarship continued to develop, despite some of the moral and political uses to which much of it was put. The Crusades also became a topic of polemic in Turkish intellectual and political circles at the end of the century.
Sultan Abdulhamid II r. This was not only the first history of the Crusades written by a Muslim, but also a work that drew heavily on original Arabic sources. In his introduction, al-Hariri praises Abdulhamid II:. The sovereigns of Europe nowadays attack our Sublime Empire in a manner bearing a great resemblance to the deeds of those people [the Crusaders] in bygone times.
Our most glorious sultan, Abdulhamid II, has rightly remarked that Europe is now carrying out a Crusade against us in the form of a political campaign. Ali faithfully repeated the critical view of the Crusades found in Enlightenment histories— he cites Gibbon, Mills, and Michaud on Crusader excesses and savagery, concluding that the Crusades were waged without cause by greedy and brutal Christian religious fanatics. During that period, however, other urgent concerns emerged in the Middle Eastern world, three of which in particular touch on our subject. The first concern was the increasing European presence in the Middle East.
The defeat and subsequent dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire between and created new European mandates and new states in the Middle East, from Turkey to Morocco, and also bred a number of often conflicting theories of Turkish, Arab, and Islamic political and religious identity. The third was the emergence in the second half of the twentieth century of political Islam— Islamism in several varieties, each with its own distinctive view of history and way of confronting the problem of modernity.
These concerns generated varied responses in the Middle East. It should be noted that the Arab world is no less diverse in this regard than Europe and the United States, where both the fact and the term are often misunderstood and misused in journalistic and other media.
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European Presence. The overwhelming European presence in the Middle East in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries implied to many Arab historians an equally formidable European presence in the twelfth and thirteenth. Accordingly, they drew sharper identifications of the Crusades with the modern period. The concept of the topicality of the Crusades stems, then, from a belief in a certain parallelism between the twelfth to thirteenth centuries and the last hundred years … the Crusades as well as current developments are part and parcel of the same historical process— the age long struggle between East and West.
Because many Muslim thinkers did not regard Islamic expansion in the seventh and eighth centuries as a conquest, but rather as the peaceful opening of the lands to the message of Muhammad, they assumed the Crusades to have been a Western initiative rather than a counter-offensive, just as Turkish and Arab writers and political leaders perceived the nineteenth- and twentieth-century European presence in the Middle East.
The defeat of the Crusaders in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries may well indicate in some circles the likelihood of a defeat of the political and economic imperialists in the near future. As the Arabs gained the victory in the past, so they will gain it nowadays.
In this and similar lines of Arab thought, regardless of the ethnicity of the Ayyubids and Mamluks and occasionally the Turks , the victory was Arab and Muslim, and Saladin and his successors were Arab and Muslim heroes. This view readily ignored or selectively incorporated such modern scholarship on the Crusades as was read in the original European languages or translated into Arabic, Persian, or Turkish. The historical dimension of the post-Ottoman Middle Eastern world consisted of several different pasts: those of the Turks, Islam, Arabdom, and the new territorial states— Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.
Turkey needed and used the Crusades the least to construct its past, since it had defied the Versailles settlement in and established under Kemal Ataturk the only secularized republic in the Middle East. A number of reformers in other Middle Eastern states also experimented with the adoption and Arabization of some features of Western modernization, including the Baath parties in Syria and Iraq and the modernizing leftist movements in other countries.
In the other new states, history was applied to the problem of state-formation. Pan-Islamism, pan-Arabism, and territorial statehood particularly in Syria and Egypt could easily retain the formulation of a concept of crusade that had begun in the late nineteenth century as continuing, or renewed, Western wars against Islam, Arabdom, or a particular state.
The successful Israeli military, with its U. The founding of the State of Israel provided a convenient locus for this kind of thought. Imposed, so it seemed, by Western powers, located precisely in some former Crusader territories, and peopled by European and some American Jews, Israel quickly became another kind of crusading state in many Arab and Muslim eyes. From the mid-seventeenth century, Christian millenialist thinkers had argued that Jews should settle in the Holy Land as harbingers of the Eschaton and be militant in suppressing any local resistance.
These were generally incompatible with Arab national movements before and after Versailles, and eventually the form of militant Zionism that had been first propounded by the Russian Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky in the s was adopted. According to Sivan, the first comparisons were drawn by some Arab political leaders as early as the eve of World War I and then made their way into the world of the Arab intelligentsia.
Even before Israeli independence in , several Arab historians drew parallels between Zionist settlements in Palestine and the earlier Crusader states. Subsequent military conflicts in the region simply hardened the idea on both sides. This focus, as well as subsequent post-colonialist theory, have kept the subject of the Crusader states and modern Israel as colonies in the forefront of modern scholarly debate.