Thursday, April 16, 2009

Crusade Tirade

Apparently there are those in Spain who believe that their government should apologize to the Moors for the Reconquista. Yes, you read that right, the Spaniards should apologize to their colonizers for having liberated themselves. This is via Gerald Warner, who thinks it's a load of hooey, along with the great fashion for national historical apologies in general. No points for guessing that I agree.

There's an insidious interplay of forces at work here. In the West, there are those (mostly academics) who desperately want the opportunity to apologize for Western Civilization. Many of them have absorbed to various degrees the ideology of a generation of Arab Nationalist intellectuals who painted the history of Europe's relations with the Arab world as an unending litany of oppression and malfeasance. Despite the waning relevance of Arab Nationalism, this narrative of victimology has lingered on, even blossomed, as a foundational precept of Islamist geopolitics. This brings us to the present day, when Western intellectuals and the majority of the Muslim world can slowly shake their heads together in sorrow over all the injustices perpetrated on Muslims by Europeans in ages past, the greatest of which is, of course, the Crusades. "Oh! The Crusades!" they wail, "how horrible, how barbaric! What monsters we were!".

I'm just going to throw this out there: the medieval Arabs didn't seem to take the Crusades very seriously. The Crusaders were never anything close to an existential threat to the Caliphate-- unlike the Mongols or the Turks -- and prior to the 20th century, they were little more than an interesting historical anecdote and a backdrop for the heroism of Salah-al-Din. It wasn't until the Arab Nationalists realized they could use the narrative as a club to beat at the West that the Crusades were recast as the pivotal tragedy of Arab history, on which everything else turns. And with few exceptions, we swallowed the narrative hook, line, and sinker.

Despite the fact, of course, that it doesn't make any damn sense. The Crusades occurred very shortly (historically speaking) after the Muslim Arabs had conquered and subjugated fully half of the Christian world by area, and all the greatest Christian centers of population and prestige except for Rome and Byzantium. From a broader historical perspective, the various attempts to recapture the Holy Land were nothing more than a rather pathetic and shortlived pushback against the Muslim expansion, after which positions were consolidated for a few centuries. But before, during, and for centuries after the Crusades, the Arabs and then their Ottoman successors never stopped trying to conquer Europe, right up until the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate after World War I. Yet we're supposed to beat ourselves up that some European nobles conquered a few measly bits of Palestine and held Jerusalem for a few years, nearly a thousand years ago? Spare me.

I don't mean to suggest that the Arab world never suffered at the hands of Europe. But this is history, everybody did terrible things to everybody else. Apologizing for it accomplishes nothing.

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