Lecture 16 – (15.1) Crusader Jerusalem

Today we discussed the Crusades and their impressive influence upon Jerusalem and in shaping the world’s perceptions of the role of religion in wartime and politics in general. We began our discussion with understanding the term ‘Crusade” itself (along its unfortunate misuse by our former president), the potential causes of the Crusades, went systematically through the Crusade events (beginning with Pope  Urban II’s Speech, etc.) as relevant to Jerusalem, the effects Crusaders in Jerusalem had in the city (in Christianizing it), and also the idea of Ideal vs. Real Jerusalem (the idea that Jerusalem, in reality, was not that useful of a city and yet thousands were dying and their blood soaking its ground for it, showing that despite its lack of prominence in reality, it meant EVERYTHING ideally…it has been the center  of religious myths and thought for millennia, and its purpose as a symbol made this city stand for something worth fighting for). We also then went more in deptch with how various architectures were modified, rebuilt, or built anew and also specifics on how various the “quarters” of Jerusalem were divided at the time, usually occupied by one of the few developing “Orders” (Knight Templar, The Hospitallers, Teutonic Knights, Order of St. Lazarus, etc.). Lastly, we discussed the chivalrous Salah ad-Din of the Ayyubids and his relevance to Jerusalem. He conquered Jerusalem in 1187 CE in a victory at the “Horns of Hattin”, bringing Islamic control back over Jerusalem that, despite several interruptions (some initially by progressively weakening Crusader attempts), would last up until WWI (1918). Salah ad-Din became known as a chivalrous leader, effective for his own people and at the same time tolerant and sometimes even seemingly very generous to other groups. People look back upon Salah ad-Din as a true hero of the Crusades for bringing relative “peace” back to Jerusalem, and was hailed by many Jews especially as the “new Cyrus” or the new messiah that had allowed their return from exile.

I firstly thought it was absolutely absurd that of all the things Bush could have said in his speech concerning the 911 Terrorist attacks he so poorly chose to use the word ‘crusade’. A word with the deep historical roots in a war with Christians fighting against non-Christians in the name of God was certainly a very poor word to choose to use in this situation, and understandably sent the Islamic world into uproar! I also liked seeing the Islamic side of things, with Osama bin-Laden’s response against the “crusader-Zionist” alliance he sees with America and the entire Western world…issuing a “fatwa” (religious decree) to kill Americans and their allies, as he sees Israelities and Americans as part of the same team (which is partly true), and thus considers elimination of both is “fighting the good fight” on behalf of jihad. I also found it interesting to find out that “the Crusades” were not just a holy war between Roman Cathologics and Muslims, as well as an attempt to recapture Jerusalem (and the Holy Land) from Islamic rule, but also a possible response to the simple westward expansion of the Muslims and also launched simply as a means to be granted penance for past sins (indulgences).  However, we also learned that the cause of the Crusades is hotly debated, with various Political, Religious, and even Socio-Economic reason being cited. On the political side we see arguments the the  Crusades began as an attempt to quell the expansion of Islam, to interrupt the slave trade (similar parallel to reason for civil war in America years later), and as means to changing the role of Rome (from the religious center to the religious AND political center). However, there was also the religious reasons (late reaction to persecution of Christians in  Jerusalem, destruction of their Church, decline in importance of the city and the ability to reach it on a pilgrimage) as well as the socio-economic reason (phenomenon of 2nd and 3rd son; these sons having less of a stake in family fortune and thus “not having anything better to do”). I also thought it was cool to see where the Knight Templar (1118) rose out of and their connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I thought it was interesting to see their interpretation of the “new counterpart” of the Temple being themselves, and how all of the beauty of the new “Temple” laid in their religious fervor and behavior, not in material goods. I thought there seemed to be an interesting shift in mindset underlying this group. Seeing the role of other Orders, like the Hospitallers, was also interesting. Lastly, the most inspiring part for me was to hear about Salah ad-Din and his chivalry. I think its amazing to see a ruler, of any faith, make the explicit decision to not slaughter and persecute a people that had done so to his own people for the previous centuries. I think this move takes far more strength of character than taking the time to swing a sword back and forth to drain the blood of your enemies. This move by Salah ad-Din to spare the Crusaders in Jerusalem is one of the examples of strength of character and mind I think I will always now look back on upon, and which I’m sure many Muslims, Jews, and Christians of this present day look back to. It is a reminder of the enormous effects one’s actions can have on the world – Salah ad-Din did not just spare the Crusaders that day, he allowed the many generations after him to evade much bloodshed due to his simple decision to not seek revenge, even when it was expected of him. His decision has been engrained in many peoples’ minds and has made the world a better place. We need more people making more decisions like this.



~ by Andru on March 12, 2011.

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