Wednesday, May 18, 2011
God's Batallions by Rodney Stark
God's Battalions by Rodney Stark is, as its subtitle states, a justification of the Crusades. Maybe that's a poor word choice; I don't think Stark advocates war as a hobby, nor would he encourage you to march off with a cross to free Jerusalem in 2011. Rather, his thesis is that by the standards of the time, the Crusades were not only acceptable but necessary and that, a century of Political Correctness be damned, they actually did some good.
If you listen to the self-loathing spiel of the modern historian, the Crusades were the first wave of European colonialism. They were military expeditions launched for the love of plunder and a desire to force Christianity down the throat of the unwilling.
As Stark - no strong personal proponent of Christianity, by the way - details, that isn't the case. The Crusades were launched to check the rapid and violent expansion of Islam. North Africa, once home to Saints and a cornerstone of Christianity, had fallen under the sword. Apologists who write of merciful Muslim rule ignore evidence that Jews and Christians were treated with contempt. No public preaching or acknowledgement of their beliefs were allowed. Persecution was rampant, churches were leveled, and no further construction was permitted. In 1032-1033 there were over six thousand Jews murdered in Morocco, one of many mass killings recorded at the time. The future of Europe and Christianity was in doubt.
That isn't to say Christian nations of the time were gentle and compassionate. This is 1000 years ago, and the it is folly to impose the morals and standards of one era to another. Stark merely points out that there was much to fear from Islam at the time, and more than enough justification for war.
Some points really spoke to me. The first, that the so-called Dark Ages are a fabrication of later historians who force their own view of the world upon an entire era. It isn't an age we'd care to move to, but nor is it as bleak as we are led to believe.
Second, it argues against the notion that the Crusades sowed the seeds of a long standing grievance between the West and Islam. This seems to be a modern invention of convenience, as for much of the last millennia the Crusades were seen as either a Muslim victory, a localized war against the Turks, or both.
Finally, and most powerfully, the refutation of the oft-referenced idea that Muslim expansion touched off a wave of learning and discovery that resonates to the present. I read of this in nearly every general history book from elementary to high school. Not so. Much of this heralded information came not from Muslim intellectuals, but from Christian and Jewish scholars forcibly converted to Islam, and from the plundered intellectual wealth of libraries and monasteries that fell at their hands. 'Arabic' numerals are in fact Hindu, and many medical 'breakthroughs' were the product of Nesorian Christians.
A brave, intelligent work of socio-religious history. Highly recommended.
~ read in 2009