The enduring influence of the Crusades
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How Muslim extremists and American conservatives came to find comfort in Crusade metaphors
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The international community found itself in an awkward position, trying to think of ways to stop genocide, terrorism, intolerance, even the slave trade, without sending in military forces. Moreover, the international community was being asked to protect the environment, secure greater access to good water, prevent overfishing and protect the rain forest, dispose of existing nuclear bombs and biological agents, and to save the world economy from dictators like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who portrayed himself as the champion of Islam against the West.
Surely, I thought, these challenges will affect what we choose to teach about the past, especially about the Crusades. I began to ask my students why we refer to some of our national movements as crusades. Their responses were interesting. No answer at first, of course, since there seemed to be little connection between Innocent III and Carry Nation, but once the hurdle of the irrelevant example was overcome, they showed that they understood why the term is so attractive. There are, in fact, four characteristics of movements we call crusades: 1 a moral cause, often based on Christian principles; 2 a long-term commitment to the cause by a dedicated minority; 3 victory achieved only by suffering and struggle against determined, entrenched enemies who have powerful belief systems of their own; and 4 results that are not always what the crusaders expected—the law of unexpected consequences coming into play.
My own classroom experience further suggests that today's students are not terribly excited about discussions of imperialism and power politics. Those topics may yet be powerful at institutions where a strong Marxist presence is traditional; but by and large, students from Middle America do not conjure up visions of fat capitalists wearing striped pants and smoking cigars. They see offsetting efforts by labor unions, nongovernmental organizations, mafias, and terrorist organizations. In short, as far as their very practical minds are concerned, the reality of today's world has worn down the imperialist and power politics interpretation on one side; ethnic and gender politics have eroded them down elsewhere.
I have learned that students are interested in practical historiography: how current political, religious, and social concerns affect the way they have been taught to see the past. Most do not want to be told that their high school teacher was wrong God forbid that they should be confused and many have a keen eye for bias though they are not always sufficiently knowledgeable or sophisticated to understand its full implications , but they all appreciate being enabled to see better what messages are being sent.
History is a bit like advertising, it seems: if students like the sales pitch, they may buy it, but they like to see inside the package first.
Essay on Impact of the Crusades - Words | Cram
Alumni tell me that they have found it useful to know that historical interpretations have changed and will always be subject to change, and to understand that whatever we teach as "the latest thing" now will be a decade out of touch in 10 years. They appreciate having been given as much original material as possible, because those do not change as rapidly or thoroughly.
If, as most historians believe, historical interpretations often reflect current concerns, what does this suggest that future interpretations of the Crusades will be? When medieval popes, monarchs, and common laity realized that the Holy Land could not be defended without warriors and the West was too far away to send timely help in the form of volunteer armies, those individuals created crusading orders.
In the past few years we have sent international peacekeeping forces to Kuwait, Bosnia, and Liberia; we are organizing rapid-response units that when deployed consist of real warriors, not merely observers and potential hostages. We are coming to understand that, individually, nation states are unable to provide protection for commerce, tourism, religious pilgrims, or even national borders; only international efforts can be effective against religious fanaticism, organized criminality, and political radicalism.
Nevertheless, as in the Middle Ages, when Christian alliances with Moslems against coalitions of Moslems and Christians existed, today we are occasionally frustrated and often confused by the intricacies of local politics, and our best efforts are handicapped by the lack of resources and resolve.
This suggests that the time is ripe for a reassessment of the Crusades in light of our present concerns. There are four plausible directions this reassessment will take.