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Friday, May 2, 2014

Myths about the Crusader States 3:

Muslim Rulers were Benign and Tolerant

It has become commonplace to allege that prior to the crusades, Muslims and Christians lived together in harmony in the Holy Land. These assertions ignore the fact that in the 7th century the Holy Land was conquered for Islam with the sword – not gently proselytized by peaceful imams. It also ignores the fact that the Seljuk Turks wrested the Holy Land from the (over time complacent and comparatively benign) Fatamids also by the sword between 1071 and 1085.  Finally, it ignores the fact that the Muslim Caliph al-Hakim utterly raised the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and many other churches. It ignores the massacre of some 3000 Christian pilgrims in the decade between 1185 and 1195. In short, it ignores all the abuses referenced in Pope Urban II in his call for the First Crusade.

It is no longer politically correct to believe there was any truth in Urban II’s catalogue of crimes committed by Muslims against Christians in the Holy Land.  Undoubtedly, Pope Urban the Second and the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I, who approached Urban with a request for Western help against the Seljuks in the first place, were both seeking to manipulate emotions. Urban II furthermore had a hidden agenda – namely increasing the power of the papacy, possibly healing the schism with the Eastern Church, and getting rid of excess numbers of violent young men, who were disruptive factors in Western feudal society.  Alexis I wanted mercenaries to keep the aggressive Seljuks at bay.

Nevertheless, it is disingenuous to assert that all the allegations made by Alexis and Urban respectively were pure fantasy. The archeological record alone testifies to the destruction of Christian monuments under Seljuk rule, belying the vaunted “tolerance” of Muslim rulers. Furthermore, the abuse of Christians was well enough documented to result in an almost complete halt of pilgrimage traffic and even trade with Europe during the period following Seljuk seizure of the Holy Land; Christian pilgrims and merchants had been made to feel unwelcome and unsafe once the Holy Land was in Seljuk hands.

Even under the more moderate Fatimids, Christians in the 12th century – no less than in the 21st century – were second-class citizens, subject to extra taxes and excluded from positions of power and authority.  The Fatimids, no less than the Seljuks, silenced the church bells, and punished attempts by Christians to spread their religion with death.

This is not my definition of “tolerance” – not then any more than now.

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