This morning I happened to watch a TV programme on the Crusades. The presenter was a Muslim, which was interesting given the series is about the history of Christianity.
He and those he interviewed made a few really interesting points. They described just how brutal and violent the crusaders were. They butchered their way around the Middle East, killing men, women and children. On some occasions cooking children on spits and eating them (that was recorded by the crusaders themselves). Awful stuff.
The first thing they noted was like Muslim extremists today, there was a clear link between this butchery and their faith. The Pope had granted indulgences for the taking of Jerusalem, and these knights saw it as their religious duty to kill as many people as possible for their faith, for Christ. They entered Holy Sepulchre covered in the blood on civilians, and saw that as part of what they were there for.
Their second point is that the people of the Middle East remember, and the people of the West do not. They know what happened during the crusades because they keep retelling the stories, while in the West we simply have this notion of the crusades being all heroic and glamorous. So when the British took Jerusalem during WWI General Allenby pleaded with the British Government to not in any way link this with the crusades. He failed and they did. George W. Bush described the invasion of Iraq using crusader language and imagery.
Finally they talked about the rise of Saladin (Salah al-Din) who united the middle eastern world to rid it of the Western invaders. Note the language there. This was not seen as a Christian/Muslim conflict, but and East West conflict. As one of the Syrians interviewed said, there were and are a significant number of Christian living in the Middle East (It is where Christianity started.)
All this brings us to today. Al Qaeda constantly uses the crusader imagery in their broadcasts, and constantly invokes the name of Saladin. Like the crusaders they see killing and butchery as part of their faith. And they rely on those living in the Middle East to know their history, unlike the people of the West. Once again, people of the Middle East are being told to rise up and defeat the invaders from the West. And that has a lot of traction. Hence the carnage in Iraq.
The other really interesting thing about this is Israel. The leaders of Israel are Western Jews, not from the Middle East. They don’t know how middle easterners think. And they are too easily linked with the invaders from the West. One of the tactics of the crusaders was to build new cities populated by people from the West. Today, Israel again uses that old method to populate Palestinian land by building settlements. Sadly too often we hear American voices from the Jewish settler side showing little understanding of the world they now live in and all the arrogance of the crusaders of old.
It is hard in the face of all of that to hold out any hope for any real just peace for the Palestinians. And sadly, until there is such a peace, there can be no hope of real peace for Israeli Jews.