Tuesday, October 5, 2010

God's Battalions

We swim in a sea of misinformation.  Every now and then, however, a book comes along that grinds misinformation into dust with facts.  "God's Battalions, The Case for the Crusades" by Rodney Stark is one of those books.

My study of the history of the Crusades taught me that the Crusaders went to the Holy Lands in part because of religious zeal, but in large part, for the chance at some wealth and glory.  I was taught that Saladin and the other Muslim defenders were pretty decent guys.  We learned that the Western way of war was inferior and more brutal to the kindly ways of the Mohammedans and of course, we owe all our great scientific and mathematical know-how to the great Islamic minds of the Middle East.

Not so fast, says author Stark.  For each of these commonly held assumptions, Mr. Stark points the reader to the facts.  Primary reason for the Crusades at the outset?  Muslim invaders imposing restrictions and then massacres on Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land  (the Christians were there first and the Jews founded the place).  Western "ignorance" versus Eastern "genius?  Let's start with medicine - "Arab" medicine was in fact Nestorian Christian medicine. The Nestorians, in fact who revived ancient Greek manuscripts of Hipppocrates, Galen, Plato and Aristotle.  Technology?  After the Muslims overran North Africa, the wheel disappeared for hundreds of years.   Why?  Arabs didn't like the wheel, because it required building roads which they were incapable of.

Of their nobility in battle, Stark documents countless times when Crusader defenders would broker surrender terms only to be slaughtered.  Remember, lying to advance the faith is A-OK in the Islamist world.

One final myth busted: that all our trouble today in the Middle East is because the Crusaders were so naughty.  Utter nonsense.  That myth got started in 1899 with the publication of the first Muslim history of the Crusades.  As the Ottoman Empire collapsed as the true sick man of Europe and Muslim nationalism was picking up steam, the bad guy to blame for all their shortcomings became the West.  Now it's accepted dogma that we are to blame and we have Presidents kow-towing in Cairo and apologizing for events that never happened.

Pick up a copy - it's worth the read.

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