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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

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Book Review: 'The Crusaders' by Regine Pernoud.

A must read book.

by Ferdinand III

Pernoud is a French historian who is an expert on Medieval Christian Europe. One of her specialties are the Crusades [1096 to 1291]– why they occurred, who participated, what happened, and what was gained. The Crusades were of course a success in many ways. They are the epitome of achievement in so many areas – military, logistics, building, faith, and innovation. As Pernoud relates, the Crusades were a response to centuries of Muslim Jihad; Islamic war; the persecution of Christian pilgrims and the imposition of dhimmitude and humiliation on Christian populations within the Islamic empires. The Crusades had nothing to do with colonization, imperialism, or other neo-Marxian historical themes.

One needs to read this book with Pernoud's other two works which put the Crusades, and the Middle Ages into context. The seminal work by Pernoud, 'Those terrible Middle Ages', makes it obvious that our modern world would not exist if not for Christian Europe and the terribly named 'Middle Ages'. It was not Islam, the Arabs or Oriental society which created the modern world – far from it. It was Christian Europe, a fact Pernoud ably supports:

“Arab knowledge [in Spain] and thought could only draw from preexisting sources, from manuscripts that made this knowledge of Aristotle and of other ancient writers possible....Jacques Fontaine has even remarked how, in architecture, the horseshoe arch, generally attributed to the Arabs, existed more than a century before their invasion....” [p. 53]
......Pernoud's work is excellent in that she dispels the notion that the period from 500 AD to 1500 AD was one of darkness and uncivilized existence. It was a period – never monolithic and always changing – from the world of Orientalist Rome to the modern period. The middle ages were rife with problems, wars, superstition, irrationality and corruption. But so is our own modern period [witness Islam, Globaloney Warming, the rise of the huge state etc]. No epoch is perfect. But one thing is certain – without the middle ages we would not exist in our current, prosperous and somewhat rational form.”

'The Crusades' certainly needs to be read in conjunction with her other work, The Templars which lays bare the insult of the drunken, fetid, uneducated, and rapacious Knight Templar – a myth premised on lies, slander and misinformation:

“The value of Pernoud's work is that she debunks the fanciful allegations and claims of esoteric rites and beliefs which played such a prominent and calumnious role in the destruction of the Templars. As Pernoud relates the Templars were skilled at organization, war, finance, charity, and ethics. They were devout Christians who were certain that they were improving the world as God would ordain it. They were in many ways, far ahead of our modern men both in understanding, adroitness and knowledge. Any reading of Templar history would confirm that fact. And they indisputably helped save Western civilization. 

All three books will enlighten the reader about medieval society and why it was one of the most important epochs in human history. 'The Crusaders', will inform the curious in great, vivid and historically accurate detail, all one needs to know about the Christian counter-attack, against an intolerant and Jihadic Islam, which for 400 years had scourged and battered Europe, relieving Christianity of the Levant, North Africa, most of Spain, and until the 10th century Sicily and parts of Italy.

Pernoud's detail is first rate. She presents far too much information to give it justice in a brief summary. But this is probably the finest one volume on the Crusades one can find. Each Crusade [there were between 5 and 7, depending on what is defined as a Crusade and which historian you are reading], is given ample illustration and real-world commentary. The people, the politics, the environment, the challenges, the Muslims, are all dealt with fairly and objectively.

The First Crusade, inspired by Pope Urban II's call in 1095 to aid Byzantium and recover the Holy Land, and to defend Christians being killed and persecuted there, was an immense success. Some 30.000 men mostly Normans, Northern French knights, along with Normans from Sicily, accomplished the impossible. Within 3 years of setting out, on Friday July 15 1099, the Christians somehow had reconquered Jerusalem. This is surely one of the greatest military enterprises in history. As Pernoud writes:

“The leaders of the Crusade were thus faced with problems that were entirely fresh – some military, others concerned with equipment, and provisioning. Since they did finally reach their goal, it cannot be denied that they dealt competently with these problems.” [p. 60]

This was the apogee of Christian success. Sadly the Crusades were not a colonization project. If they had been the Levant would have remained Christian and the world would be a much better place today if Islam had been deracinated from Turkey, Syria and Israel.

“In fact it was precisely because the Latin kingdoms had no impulse toward colonization, and no colonists, that they had such a precarious existence. The overwhelming majority of those who went on crusade had no other idea than to return home once their vow was accomplished.” [p.41]

The problems were huge and legion. The Crusaders had to contend with the climate, food supplies, a far larger enemy, and one who knew the country. [p. 77] They not only had to put up with Greek-Byzantine intrigue, lack of support, a hostile local population; but also the more mundane and usual issues of supplies, logistics, discipline and water supply.

As the Crusaders advanced and encountered the Arabs and Turks, they entered a less sophisticated and poorer world. Europe by 1000 AD was far richer than the Near East; and far more vibrant in all manners of socio-economic development. Islamic society was ritualized, using far less innovative technologies; and largely poor. This was one main reason why the Crusaders did not stay and why Europeans did not migrate to Outre-Mer. There was no economic incentive to do so.

As well contrary to mythology, the Muslims were not peaceful sheep-herders intent on sophisticated inquiry. They ruled their empires through the enslavement of non-Muslims and the imposition of Koranic totalitarianism. Pernoud correctly tells the reader, that the Muslim animus, and his usage of slavery, terror and humiliation towards Christians, was fuelled by the Koran. Muslims regarded Christians as pagans who worshipped the Trinity of Christ; and who had refused the essential message of the Old Testament [p. 166]. Muslims viewed Christians as heretics, and ones who could be slaughtered. One cause for the Crusades was the butchering of many thousands of Christians over the centuries by Arabs and Turks.

For instance as Pernoud witnesses, the Caliph Hakim in 1009, began persecuting pilgrims and forcing Christians to wear a heavy copper cross while Jews had a calf's head made of wood [p. 25]. Dhimmis or 'people of the book' who were inferior to Islam, were captured, ransomed, killed or humiliated. It is highly doubtful that if the reverse had been true [Jews doing the same to Muslims]; that the inevitable Muslim backlash would be much criticized by modern neo-Marxist commentators. A double standard of incorrigible hypocrisy.

Saladin for example was treated by the Knights Hospitaller when he was seriously ill. This obviously means that hospitals – invented by Nestorian Chrisians – were in advance of the Muslim capability in the same field [p. 107]. In fact the oldest hospital in Jerusalem is the one founded in 1080 AD by the Knights of Saint John [p. 25]. We know from Muslim records that the Arabs and Turks much preferred Frankish rule, to that of the Islamic. Much literature exists in Arabic extolling the justice, peace and lower taxes imposed by the Franks, and their tolerance towards the Muslims [p. 172]. Contrary to Hollywood fables, the Crusaders had no concept of racism. They might despise the Saracen but considered the Arab and Turk to be their equal [p. 176]. The reverse was not true.

Interesting as well is the little known fact, that an ancillary Crusader organization, named, the 'Order of Mercy', which was founded by the polymath Raymond Hull, freed between 1223 and 1789 some 600.000 Christian slaves from the Muslim empires [p. 350]. Muslim slave trading of White Europeans is a topic which is almost never discussed, but some 4-10 million Western Europeans were taken by the Muslims over 1000 years.

The Frankish Crusaders were also amazing builders, which highlights the vast gulf in sophistication between rich and educated Europe, with the backwaters of Islam. The Crusaders transformed Israel and Syria. They built roads, castles, walls, fields, sewers, wells, hospitals, windmills, armaments [p. 183]. The Saracens had nothing like it:

“The windmills of Krak crushed not only corn but also sugar cane...An oven and a winepress...Twelve latrines...were connected to a sewage system....stores of water were in....huge chambers...vaulted like a Romanesque church measuring 117 feet long by 52 feet wide.” [p. 188]

Only an advanced civilization could send a few men, many thousands of miles into inhospitable terrain, to war, build and seize territory for 200 years. A little known battle is detailed by Pernoud, and it one of the most remarkable victories in history. At Montgisard in November 25 1177, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem with just 2500 men, 500 cavalry and 80 Knights destroyed a 30.000 man force led by Saladin [p. 158]. This most perfect victory was achieved by the superiority of the individual Crusader man over the Muslim; his better armaments; his larger horse, stirrup and high backed saddle [which the Muslims did not possess]; and his discipline.

Muslim Jihad was present throughout the entire history of the Crusades. Every Muslim leader, murdered, sacked cities; enslaved those captured in battle and generally waged a holy war steeped in blood. At the sack of Tripoli in 1289 for example, thousands were murdered, many thousands more enslaved and all Christian buildings were destroyed after the city surrendered. The massacre was horrendous [p. 130]. It is an outlandish lie to portray the Saracens as nuanced devotees of civilization, who never harmed a person. This is ignorance at its worst.

Pernoud's book has too many details and facts to do it justice in a short review. Suffice it to say that it is probably the best one volume on the Crusades in circulation. It destroys the calumnies and the corrupted analysis of one of history's most interesting – and vitally important – enterprises. The Crusades saved Europe. Without them, the Muslims might well have reunited their forces and overwhelmed Christian civilization.


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