Sunday, February 8, 2015

Crusades and Religion - Who Decides What is "True" Crusading

In an earlier post, I talked about crusades and memory, linking to my Guardian piece and talking about the meaning of the violence linked to Crusading. I suggested that historians might debate whether a given battle or moment of violence happened, or whether it happened because of religious hatred for "the other," versus some other kind of motivation (as if there can be only one motivation for a given act), we would generally agree that the Crusades were Christian acts of violence.

I stand by that. One piece getting a lot of play is by my friend, medieval historian and some-time conservative commentator Tom Madden, written here at the National Review. Let's take a look:
According to the president, Christians should avoid mounting their “high horse” when it comes to “faith being twisted and distorted,” since “during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
Well, yes. That’s true. But people commit terrible deeds in the name of everything. The question isn’t whether humans can be evil, but whether those acts are consistent with their religious beliefs.
See, we agree it's true. People committed terrible deeds in the name of religion during the Crusades. So one strand of crusade-apologists can now be silent.

Let's work through the rest of the piece, though, as Madden and I seriously disagree with a number of other points. Before that, though, here are my biases as regards Madden, because I think you, dear reader, ought to know (feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if you don't care, and just want to hear my criticism of the piece).

Me and Tom Madden, my mentor.

I know Tom's work probably as well as anyone alive other than him, since Tom and I are just about the only two anglophone medieval historians (there are of course plenty of art historians) who focus on pre-1250 medieval Venice. It's no exaggeration to say that my book wouldn't exist if not for his scholarship and his support of mine - letters of rec for grants, help with the archives, publishing my first article, citing me in Speculum (the highest prestige medieval journal), and now blurbing my book. His scholarship on medieval Venice is impeccable - rooted in intensely careful readings of sources that have either been overlooked or misread, written in a style I find enormously appealing. I've read every article, usually multiple times, combed his footnotes, and have had many a very happy chat about Venice and the Middle Ages. We see Venice very similarly, in large part because his work shaped my entry into the field. My Venice is his Venice. He is one of my mentors.

On the other hand, his politics are conservative where mine are liberal. The great thing is that we have, I hope, a friendship and some similar scholarly agendas, though our public work diverges radically. If there's bias here, I am biased towards Tom.

Me and the Crusades

Moreover, my own scholarship and scholarship I admire has worked hard to resist the simplistic rhetoric of atrocity as applied to the crusades. Critical re-reading of sources is one of the things historians do, and it turns out that there's been a lot of hyperbole applied to the Crusades. So we have to be careful. For example, Jeremy Cohen, in Sanctifying the Name of God, re-examines the core Hebrew texts about the 1096 massacres, looking at the ways in which the authors worked with what surely were horrible events in order to serve contemporary purposes. Horrible massacres definitely took place, but the accounts themselves are written to intensify various agendas.

My work on the Fourth Crusade (buy my book!) in fact more so than Madden's work to date, similarly argues that our main sources about the terrible sack of Constantinople have functions OTHER than to relate what happened. So when Steven Runciman, a great historian who lived through World War II, writes, "There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade," as historians we simply have to reject such an assessment. The sack of Constantinople was not, based on my reading of the evidence, in fact more terrible than other sacks (which is still terrible, involving murder, rape, and destruction). The rhetoric making it sound like such a great sack is not an objective recounting of truth but rather a crafted narrative to serve various tasks. And now I've summarized the first half of chapter 1 of my book.

That's uncomfortable. It makes it sound like I'm excusing conquest, plunder, murder, and rape. I'm not. I'm reading the sources. I'm assessing them. I'm doing what historians are supposed to do. And I learned a lot of that, as regards the Fourth Crusade, from Tom Madden.

The National Review

Madden's piece troubles me for a number of reasons:

First - historical. Madden writes, "At some point Christianity as a faith and as a culture had to defend itself or else be subsumed by Islam."

That's the core statement that Madden and many other right-wing folks are arguing: That given Muslim aggression, the Crusades were a fully justifiable defensive action.

I don't believe this is correct. In the 1090s, Islam was fractured. In Spain, the Islamic forces were fractured and being pushed back by various Catholic forces. The western Italian city states were now raiding Islamic ports, rather than being pressured by Islamic pirates. The Normans had conquered southern Italy and were, in fact, threatening Byzantium at least as much as the Turks were (due to Norman naval superiority). The Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor were a threat, yes, but they hardly represented "Islam." They were a new regional power looking to expand, one of many in the fractured Islamic polities from Baghdad to Egypt to Anatolia. The notion of Islam around 1100 as an implacable force just doesn't hold up.

 Is it possible that the Turks could have conquered Constantinople in the 1100s rather than the 15th century? I suppose it is possible, because all counter-factuals are possible. But the Seljuks had issues of their own, such as battles with other Turks, and in fact were busy dealing with them as the Crusaders arrived. If you assess the relevant military, political, and economic assets at play in the Mediterranean world around 1090, it's not one in which Islam is going to roll over Christendom - if indeed either of those concepts exist - without Crusader intervention.

Here's my much more serious issue.

After agreeing that people did indeed do bad things in the name of religion, Madden asks whether the acts are consistent with their religious beliefs. He says they are. And then he says:
The work of the Crusader, who put his life at risk and underwent enormous expense, was to save Christian people and restore Christian lands. This was no perversion of Christianity. Christ had commanded his followers to be like the Good Samaritan, hurrying to bind up the wounds of their brother who had been robbed and beaten. This was the same Christ who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is how Crusaders honestly saw themselves following their Christian faith.
I believe this is true, as far as it goes. Many crusaders did honestly see themselves as Good Samaritans following their Christian faith. Others saw themselves as purifying the land, like Joshua. Still others saw themselves as actors in the final stages of an apocalyptic drama. And others, no doubt, just wanted to fight and loot, or carve out a kingdom. Scholars spend endless amounts of time debating crusader motivation, but let's put that side for now, and just focus on those who "honestly saw themselves following their Christian faith."

For Madden (and Riley-Smith to some extent, before him), the idea that crusading reflects good, Christian, love for one's fellow Christian, seems to be an exculpatory fact.

For me, it's a terrible indictment. 

If we accept this as true, then the violence that ensued during the Crusades is one inherent outcome of the faith. I do, in fact, believe that ideologies defined by a Manichean worldview - us/them, same/other, good/damned - is among the most dangerous forces in world history. I know so many believers working hard to build a more pluralistic future, because they recognize this danger as well. Once you create an other. Once your ideology depends on defending the self from the other. Horrible things can follow.

Because I'm not excusing the atrocities of Muslims made in the name of Islam, whether historically or today, but simply not exempting Christianity from this criticism on the grounds that the crusaders believed themselves to be good people. The belief that one's violent acts are necessary to be good is what we should all fear.

I also note (as others do) that Madden's piece never mentions the anti-Jewish massacres linked to the Crusades. Perhaps he feels they do not reflect this true crusading sentiment he isolates here. I don't think that's sustainable - these acts emerge together, they are part of the fabric of medieval Christian life, as are the people who spoke out against the massacres, who spoke out against the martial aspects of crusading. Extend forward: Christianity served as a sanctifying ideology for those who would enslave the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Africans they transported there. It also provided sacred justification for those who spoke against mass enslavement.

So I'll say it again: The truth that many crusaders thought themselves to be doing good, serving their brother Christians in acts of love, is precisely what we need to fear from powerful ideologies. 


Jisun Lee said...

I don't think I've ever commented on your pieces except for disability or parenting related ones, but just wanted you tell you that I really appreciate your other writing as well. Sharing this one, hope people will read.

David Perry said...

Thanks Jisun.

Paul Halsall said...

Madden's first strategy is to argue that the Crusades were justified because they were defensive.

Madden's second strategy seems to be to exclude the actions of particular crusaders (for example in massacring Jews in the Rhineland) from the "real" crusade.

The upshot is that the "Catholic" parts of the Crusades were "good" while any bad bits were the result of "non-Catholic" actions of participants.

"Well, isn't that convenient" as the Church Lady used to say on Saturday Night Live.

I suppose the root of this rhetoric lies in Jonathan Riley-Smith's (A Knight of Malta no less) attempt to define the Crusade as a function of canon law, rather than as a function of aristocratic society or (late) the propaganda of various monarchs. (This is not to say that crusaders did not have religious motivations.) Since canon law was notoriously contradictory well into the 12th century (perhaps until 1917 with the issue of the first Code of Canon Law) I have always been sceptical towards arguments based on canonical regulations.

Even by those suspect definitions, though, it is pretty hard to see how the Wends or Livonians were "attacking" Christendom.

I tend to see these kinds of argument as Catholic taqiyya, and more connected to the style of history of Mgr. Philip Hughes than modern academic history.

Still, it is worth considering the notion that the Crusades were justified because they were "self-defence". That same argument was adopted by al-Qaeda about the 9/11 attacks. Islamic law can indeed be read to mandate jihad on all Muslims but *only at the direction of the proper authority." (That mandate can be in abeyance at the command of the proper authority.) At the present time, though, there is no such authority because there is no caliph [fn1]. Al-Qaeda then justified its attacks as *defensive jihad*, which is mandatory on Muslims even when there is no proper authority.
Does Madden seriously think that it the rationale for religious violence given by al-Qaeda constitutes a defence of the papal position in the middle ages?

[fn1. An interesting point about the Islamic State is that, by claiming to have a caliph, it is giving itself a rationale for launching an offensive jihad. It is absolutely clear, however, that a vanishingly small proportion of Muslims accept the claims to Caliphate of the Islamic State.]

MG said...

I've been running around collecting Jay's and Tom's popular writing on the crusade all weekend, trying to fit together a collection for my students. This is now the last, best word on the topic, at least for the moment. Bravo David!

Mark said...

Why David, did you not speak of what land was occupied by Christianity prior to the expansion of Islam? It seems odd that you failed to give this fact even a sentence. Don't you think this gives context to the history to which you speak? After all most individuals probably don't know this.
Second, why did you write that Obama's statement reflects "well-accepted historical knowledge" when you and other historians seem to disagree on this very fact. Clearly this blog is evidence of that! Is that what you call well accepted? It is very easy for me to find historians that disagree with you on this.
Finally, I agree with your statement that we need humility. But I'm unclear as to what your basis for that humility should be. I wonder if Obama was transported back in time to when the crusades were taking place and he stood up amongst Muslims giving the same speech but with one alteration, that Muslims need to remember how they were violent and therefore should not judge. Of course he would have been executed. And so would you if you lived back then and wrote an article supporting him. In the west, he only gets a verbal rebuke. Why is that?

David Perry said...

1) MG - Thanks.
2) Mark - here are some points for you to consider. I know all these talking points, so it's probably useful to engage once.

a) There is no such thing as being occupied by Christianity. They were occupied by the Roman empire (and the Persians briefly in the middle there). Similarly, there were not conquered by Islam. They were conquered by the expanding state founded by Muhammad and his successors.

b) Please see the first part of the blog. The statement that the Crusades reflect Christian violence is something Tom and I agree on. The disagreement, as I said in the Guardian piece and here over some additional 1500 words, is in what that basic fact means. Many right-wing critics said basically, that either the crusades weren't violent or that they weren't really reflective of Christianity.

c) Medieval Islamic society was vastly more tolerant than medieval Christian society. VASTLY.

d) Humility comes from recognizing that whatever it is we believe, it is easy for us to believe that God believes in that too. In fact, we humans are likely wrong. That's something St. Augustine wrote about in the fourth century, urging both scholarship and humility.

Obama's point about humility was, I believe - don't believe your tradition has everything right, and seek pluralism and communication across faith traditions.

aholt01 said...

David, parts of your reply to Mark caught my attention.

1. You seem to disassociate Islam from the conquests of perhaps 2/3 of the known Christian world before the crusades. Is that your position? Or am I misreading it? If you could clarify your view of the role the religion of Islam played in those various conquests of Christian, Sassanian, Hindu, and other lands from the time of Muhammad to the First Crusade, I would appreciate it. I do not want you to give a lengthy essay as I know it is a big question, but maybe a paragraph giving some general sense of where you fall on this issue?

2. I know you realize far more Christian lands and populations were attacked, slaughtered, subjected to dhimmi status, etc.... (e.g. from Muhammad's slaughter of the Jewish tribe in Medina to the conquests of Nicaea and Antioch just prior to the calling of the First Crusade) than had been the case prior to (or after) the First Crusade. But you don't give any sense of that.

Just from a strategic point of view, as someone trying to reach readers who may hold opposing views, why not openly acknowledge it and then try to move past it? This is, in major part, the objection a lot of people seem to have with the President's effort to equate the crusaders with ISIS, which it seems to me is essentially what he did in citing them in the context he did.


David Perry said...

Hey Andrew -

1) Of course Islam formed both a justification and motivation for expansion of groups. What I don't like is the framing that "Islam conquered..." Islam can't conquer. Individuals and groups and states conquered, motivated by Islam among other motivations. I'd be happy to talk about the role that Islam played in justifying violence, I just don't see it as so necessary, given that this is the general impression of Islamic culture.

2) As a Jew, I'd rather live under explicitly Islamic rule than explicitly Christian rule throughout almost all of history since the days of the prophet through to at least the late Ottomans. As a secular person, I'd rather live under secular rule, of course. So if you want to talk about violence, you also have to talk about the fact that in societies ruled by Muslims there was an explicit place for non-Muslims. Christianity makes no such allowance, except for the Jews, and we know how well that went. said...

I suppose what bothers me in part with the President's comments are that, as Thomas Ashbridge noted, it is a manipulation of historical evidence to cite them in this context. If he is just saying that Christians have justified violence in the past that would seem unseemly today, I can't imagine any historian of the crusades would find fault with his comments, but to say it when considering ISIS without further context for the crusading movement seems misleading.

As I assume you agree, the First Crusade was in significant part a response to Muslim violence. Southern Europeans, from Spain to Italy, had been engaged in fighting Muslims for centuries prior to the First Crusade and the initial cause of these wars had been due to Muslim conquests or attacks on Christian lands, never the other way around. Then more Muslim conquests of Christian lands in Asia Minor had further prompted the events leading to the calling of the First Crusade. So a casual equation with the crusaders and ISIS, as the President provided in his speech, ignores the fact that it was in part Islamic conquests that led to the very creation of the crusades. They are, in a sense, the product (at least in part) of violence by Islamic armies in a number of contexts only potentially united by an idea of Dar al Islam vs Dar al Harb (as Hillenbrand's book, I think, points out), which makes it a religious duty to bring the world under Islamic authority. This, of course, began with Muhammad, as David Cook at Rice has pointed out, who according to the Hadith and Qur'an fought in or sanctioned no less than 86 battles during his lifetime as he sought to bring the Arabian Peninsula under his political and military control. When he died his armies kept on with their conquests by following his lead. Even if some Muslim rulers only used such religious motivations as a pretext at times to conceal more earthly ambitions, it could still have a powerful effect on the raising of armies, their motivation, etc...

Obviously, nobody is going to get any sense (of even parts) of this from reading the text of Obama's comments or even your article. You say everyone already associates Islam with violence already so it is not necessary, but I am not so sure that everyone is so well informed on these issues, particularly as they related to the middle ages, which Pres. Obama brought up. It was shortly after 9/11 that U.S. News and World Report, no less, ran a cover story about the crusades that claimed the First Crusade was the first time east and west met on the battlefield. In otherwords, the crusades started it all- which kind of ignores the massive conquests of Christian lands that took place before the crusades. There are numerous other ridiculous examples like this throughout popular culture. Even scholars, shockingly, like John Esposito once wrote that prior to the First Crusade there had been five centuries of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims before power hungry Pope Urban screwed it all up. So no, I don't think it is safe to assume people already have a sense of how Islam played a role in justifying violence in the Islamic past.

It's late and its the internet. I may be rambling a bit off topic here. If so, my apologies. But I appreciate your response above.

David Perry said...

Read this -

This is what I'm writing against. This Christian exceptionalism.

David Perry said...

Here's my deal for you Andrew - you see a left-winger say that there was no violence between Christianity and Islam before the First Crusade, and I will call them out, publicly, on my blog, and in broader media if I can. Because those things are not true.

And now you go call out Bolling and Erickson and their ilk.

Deal? said...

See again. My comments above referred specifically to crusade historians. Not Eric Bolling.

As for left wingers arguing violence between Islam and the West began with the crusades, I cite two examples above. There are many others. Amin Malouf claims the First Crusade was the starting point for a millennium of hostility between between Islam and the West in his book "Through Arab Eyes." There are many other examples I am sure. You would end up spending a lot of time combatting such views if you were serious. The Esposito quotation above is in "The Straight Path" page 58. You can google the US News article by Andrew Curry. There really are many others.

But I assume you know this, so it is not my intention to have you personally refute all of them. It really would consume your time.

As for Bolling and Erickson, I am happy to condemn any dumbass thing they might have said (I don't read them), particularly if they have claimed no extreme violence took place during the crusades. But I think it is much worse when scholars like Esposito and quasi scholars like Malouf are making such claims, don't you?

Their claims are the mainstream, and scholars like Madden, Riley-Smith in his various popular publications, William Urban, Thomas Ashbridge, Paul Crawford, and others have always tried to combat. They have won a following among conservative Catholics, but they have hardly "rewritten history" as the leftist view of the crusades still dominates in popular culture and even among scholars who are not crusades specialists. If anything, RIley-Smith has lamented the misinformation about the crusades along the lines i describe above to argue it is a lost battle.

David Perry said...

I am happy to include Islam in the list of religious ideologies that can be used, easily, to spark violence. Because it's undeniably true that since its founding, Islam has been used to justify military aggression and aggression against religious minorities.

It's just that I'm putting Christianity in that list too. And I'm putting the Crusades, violence against heretics, and violence against Jews, all down as just a few examples from history to justify its inclusion. And I'm doing it at the same time as I'm working closely with source material to say that we have to be very thoughtful about accepting the rhetoric of our sources as genuine. Because again, I don't think the evidence supports a narrative of the Fourth Crusade (eg) as an especially brutal sack, certainly not to the level told by Niketas or Innocent 3.

And too many people seem to want to exclude Christianity from that list, and so that's where I'm going to spend my time this week. Other weeks, other battles.

Obama's talk was about doubt and humility, something that's been very much lost, the idea that just because one belongs to a religion, one might not be right. Frankly, it's yet another statement that's Augustinian (or Niebuhrian, really, but I say stick with the classics) from him. The Christian exceptionalists refuse to accept that doubt is a virtue.

Mark said...

David, thanks for writing back. My brief response is below:
a)I see your comments as a semantical point. “the expanding state founded by Muhammad”.. many passages in the Koran and Sunna endorse this behavior, which is part of Islam.
b) I am not talking about the idea that there was a response of violence ordered by Christian leaders against Muslims committed to Jihad. I would argue this was a just war.
c) You provided no references but I don’t doubt that people have acted violently in the name of Christ. People have acted violently in the name of all worldviews.
That being said in following up your comment #2 to Andrew in regards to your characterization of Islam and Christianity, don’t you see you are now making a claim not about history but about the foundational claims of each worldview, and to which I strongly disagree:
For Islam, virtually every country where Islam is dominant, the non-Muslim is made to live as a second class citizen to some capacity and women are made to live as second class citizens.
There is the Dhimmi Pact, and the required jizya, kharaj which they are forced to pay. Non-Muslims are required to praise Islam, they have no choice in that. Non-Muslims are restricted from pursuing public office in countries like Pakistan or Egypt. Muslims are not allowed to convert away from Islam in many countries without great difficulty, ostracisation, and social humiliation. You honestly think Islam creates a fair society? Why is it that there are half a million Christians living in Egypt today but they are not allowed to build one church? Muslims don’t seem to have difficulty building mosques in the US or England.
Christ said pray for those who persecute you. He taught to love your neighbour as yourself. When asked who was his neighbour, Christ responded with the parable of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan was perceived by Jesus’ audience as the enemy of Jews. Of course if people claim to be Christian but don’t follow these teaching, can one say they are actually Christian. What do you mean Christianity makes allowances for the non-Christian?
d) I would disagree and say that arrogance comes from believing that you are on the side of the Right (whether that be God’s side or not) with a touch of superiority mixed in and therefore everyone else must be evil. (I am wondering if you meant this but miswrote the word humility). This was Christ’s point against the Pharisees in Matt 23:29-31 when he chided the religious leaders of his day because they stated that they most certainly would not have taken part in the execution of prophets historically, that they would have been on the side of the right in that day, on God’s side. It’s like self-righteous people today who state had they lived in Germany in the 1930s they most likely would have stood up against the Nazis. Actually they probably would have been Nazis themselves because of this frame of mind.
The bottom line is, Obama’s comments reflected incredibly poor judgement. He is making it sound like Christians have done bad things but the brutal violence we see coming out of the Middle East and Africa, well those aren’t real Muslims. Christians historically are responsible for bad things so there for be humble but Muslims historically aren’t responsible for bad things and what we see on the TV every night is not from Muslims. That in itself is part of the Dhimmi. There are lots of texts in Islam to endorse Jihad and for Muslims to treat non-Muslims as second class citizens. Not all Muslims follow these texts but there are lots there and anyone who does act this way in the name of Allah is also a Muslim. said...

For some reason the site is not accepting my lengthy reply, so I am breaking it into two parts.

I think a preface to your article along the lines of what you write above would have set a better context for your broader comments on all this. I agree, of course, that Christians belongs in the category you describe above (as a faith where its members have used or cited their faith to justify sometimes extraordinary violence), but the effort to go back and tar Christians over their many historical misdeeds whenever Muslims commit similar misdeeds in the present makes people tune out. It's an ineffective approach that will give some satisfaction to some, who will cheer it on, but I think most people (certainly not those you claim you are trying to reach) will not seriously engage what you write if they think you are minimizing Islam's role in the extraordinary violence we see today.

The nuance one needs for what you are trying to accomplish is enormous. Respectfully, I don't think that you had it. Your piece for the Guardian read more like red meat for its readers who have otherwise typically been deprived of this sort of view of crusading because most other crusades historians typically frame their comments on the crusades very differently. The responses confirm this.

Historically, as we both know, was not spread through "peaceful persuasion" as Voltaire once claimed. It was primarily through conquest that the conditions emerged for the conversion conquered populations. Now, to be clear, I do not think this was the sole cause of Islam's appeal to its early adherents. I know (as with most historical issues) that it's more complicated than that. The teachings of Muhammad had an appeal of justice and charity for many of those suffering in the chaos of 7th century Arabia. said...

Part 2

But there is no doubt that the militant side of Islam's rise is disturbing and always has been. Frankly, I think that militants and radicals are often much more historically accurate when they attempt to justify their actions by citing the historical examples of the Prophet or his companions (at least as listed in the Qur'an or Hadith) than those who argue that their actions are not in accord with "authentic Islam." But I nevertheless support the efforts of those who argue against such interpretations as I prefer modern Muslims develop a view of violence in the name of God as taboo or only allowable under the most extraordinary of circumstances as many post Enlightenment thinkers in the West would embrace.

As for your concerns over Christian exceptionalism, do you really think there is no significant difference between modern Muslims and modern Christians on the issue of the use of religious violence? According to one estimate, there have been over 27,000 incidents of Islamic terrorism worldwide just since 9/11. Many of these attacks are not on the West, but in places like China, the Philippines, Africa, etc... So presumably the effects of the crusades are not felt in those regions and contributing to such violence. It is something else. Moreover, the Islamic State controls a population of millions of people with a land mass larger than Britain. Boko Haram controls 20,000 kilometers of land in Nigeria and is expanding into Cameroon. Who knows what will happen in Yemen with Al Qaeda's recent overthrow of their government.

This is not isolated fringe stuff and there is no Christian comparison quite like these. It's a serious problem that needs to be addressed frankly and honestly, and weak comparisons to medieval crusading do not help that process.

You certainly acknowledge that the scale of specifically modern violence justified in the name of Islam, whether against the West or others, dwarfs the violence carried out by modern Christians against others in the name of their faith, right? If so, isn't that a worthy distinction to make and for scholars to explore for reasons that may help Muslims deal with their issues? Or is it just too insulting to bring it up? I'm not saying one needs to cheer for modern post-Enlightenment Christianity for trending in this direction, but acknowledging a difference between the two faiths on this issue is not unreasonable.

Paul Halsall said...

Andrew, How was David Perry's article "like red meat" to Guardian readers, while Tom Madden's article in The National Review not like "red meat" to NR readers?

Paul Halsall said...

What parts of "Hindu land" were conquered by Muslim kings before the first crusade?

Meanwhile, the proper response to President Obama is context. Each and every statement by Obama has been opposed, no matter what it's verity, by Republicans. This present fuss must be seen in the context of that general political situation.

Riley-Smith might have been a conservative Catholic, but I don't recall him wading into British politics or culture wars in the way Madden has done repeatedly.

Paul Halsall said...

Amin Maalouf is not a "quasi-scholar". He is an important French public intellectual (think of someone like Arthur Koestler) and the writer of a series of prize-winning novels which examine in some detail the nature of religious and personal identity. said...

Madden's article is like "Red meat" to to NR readers. But it is also much more reflective of the current mainstream of crusades historiography. I think Madden's articles, his recent ones in particular, are even less strident that what we used to see from Riley-Smith and others. I think it was Riley-Smith who once compared the First Crusade to the allied invasion of Normandy during World War II.

David Perry said...

Blogger's comment function is terrible. I can swap it back to separate page, but in a long thread like this, it's hard to read.

Paul Halsall said...

Andrew, I think you will find it was General Eisenhower, sometime before Riley-Smith, who entitled his memoirs of D-Day *Crusade in Europe* (1948).

Secondly, Riley-Smith deliberately created a sort of school of graduate students. Many of those students are excellent, but a "modern mainstream" resulting from a burst of historiographical activity in England cannot be definitive.

Quite apart from anything else, if dialectical analysis does not work in a Marxist materialist fashion, it certainly operates in a Hegelian way in historiography. Runciman was himself, I suppose, reacting against the very positive view of the crusades which followed the massive success of Sir Walter Scott. Riley-Smith and co. represent the antithesis to Runciman. Who knows what future synthesis will result? Runciman will continue to be read simply because he is such a good writer and will continue to be part of the conversation - plus his training with JB Bury, command of languages and ability to fund himself as well as his broad humanity will long keep him ahead of his successors. (Runciman once said that he believed wealth ought to be earned "preferably by ones ancestors"). said...

I am familiar with Eisenhower's book, but crusades historians have drawn the same comparison. I know Thomas Madden has used the D-Day analogy for the First Crusade (just google it), but I think Riley-Smith has as well, possibly in an old article he wrote for either the Economist or First Things.

Also, your early comment pointing out Riley-Smith's Catholicism is a slipery slope. Would you also discredit all Jewish scholars who work on Jewish history? Or all Muslim scholars who work on Islamic history or topics? Or all Protestant historians who work on the Reformation? Should Boswell's research on gay history be treated with suspicion simply because he was gay? Better to just judge them all on the merits of their research. But I do agree that knowing such information is useful from a historiographical point of view as it gives insights into why they studied what they do and what sort of backgrounds have influenced their approach. But that in itself is not enough to cast a cloud on their work, so it is a bit of a lazy way of attacking their conclusions in a framework like this.

Paul Halsall said...

Frankly I think some books by Muslims on Islamic history are suspect. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, I think, rather over estimates the value of Islamic science. Heinrich Graetz is appalling in his attitudes in his great work on Jewish history. And, yes, Boswell's research should be subject to scrutiny because he was gay. (Not that being gay is a belief system, so its not really comparable. Runciman was gay too!). Eamon Duffy has directly criticised historians of the Reformation such as AG Dickens for presenting a Protestant point of view.

[But I won't hijack David's blog...]