Cities and Thrones and Powers

Stand in Time's eye,

Almost as long as flowers,

Which daily die;

Just, as new buds put forth

To glad new men,

Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth

The Cities rise again.

. . .

Rudyard Kipling




Chapter 8

With the emergence, in 634, of the Arabs from their peninsula, and the building of an Arab Empire that extended across Asia to Africa and China, Europe was cut off from overseas trade and relapsed into a feudal and agricultural society. From the seventh to the twelfth centuries, Europe lived in fear of Arab imperialism and the imposition of Islam upon Christendom.

Since the Muslim conquests were in the name of religion, it was natural that Europe would react eventually, also in the name of religion. The Crusades were not an isolated event in history but an extension of the battles between Muslims and Christians which had been fought sporadically over four centuries.

Islam, while battling the Christian nations of the west, had other enemies more dangerous to face. These were the Turkish and Mongol hordes coming from the Central Plain of Asia. The wars with them would prove more disastrous than those between Islam and Christianity.

Although Islam and Christianity, both monotheistic, were infinitely closer to each other's philosophies than either was to the Pagan invaders, it was toward Islam that Europe turned its hostilities in the age of the Renaissance following the Crusades. The memories of the long wars between them burned vividly even into the twentieth century.




During this time, the centuries of Muslim culture and contributions were neglected by Western historians.

Hence, the accumulation of legend and half truths was handed down from father to son, school to school, history to history. The swords of war struck in many directions. Christian slaughtered Muslim, Muslim slaughtered Christian, and pagan slaughtered both. The human urge was to conquer.

When the Ghuzz, a primitive tribe of horse nomads from Central Asia burst into northern Persia, massacring and looting as they went, Muslim solidarity was abandoned. Islam saw its decline and downfall in hoof prints on the sands of the Arabian desert, and heard its defeat in the war cry of the horseman racing full gallop toward his target.

In 1035, Tughril Beg, the Seljuqid, at the head of these tribesmen, occupied Baghdad, and the prowess of these Seljuq Turks frightened both the Muslim Caliphs and the Byzantine kings, whose empire was also threatened with collapse.

In 1071, the same year in which the Seljuqs conquered the Byzantine Armies at Malazkirt, they also conquered Syria and Palestine, leaving only Egypt to the Muslim Fatimids, since North Africa had already established its own independent rule.

When the Byzantine Emperor Alexius appealed to the West for help, Pope Urban II appealed to Western Christendom to launch a holy war in the name of the Cross. The year was 1095. Phillip Hitti, the Arab historian has described Urban's appeal as "probably the most effective speech in history."




Alexius hoped for the recovery of Asia Minor, and a defensive front to cut the Seljuqs off from the rest of Europe. This simple strategy muddled the minds of religiously fervent Western Crusaders who were inspired to liberate Jerusalem, and bring the Sepulchre of Christ under Christian protection. Setting out from different countries of Europe, they reached Constantinople in 1096, and from there moved during the next two years toward Palestine, leaving over a hundred thousand Muslims dead behind them. The Crusades continued from 1098 with the capture of Jerusalem and ended in 1270 with the treaty between Louis IX (Saint Louis) and the King of Tunis.

However, the Crusaders came and went constantly throughout the two centuries, to "Outremer" (the western kingdoms in the Holy Land) until 1291. Subsequent Crusades failed enroute, including the tragic Children's Crusade which left its dead frozen in the snows of the Pyrenees.

As the Seljuqs invaded the Arab World, they embraced Islam, and a new component was added to the heterogenous mix of the Middle East; the Turk and Mongol invaders who came to conquer, were themselves conquered by the existing culture, and, in most instances, they became part of it.

Nur-el-Din and Salah-el-Din (Saladin), his nephew, who were descended from the Mamlook Kurds of Turkestan, became engulfed in the glory of Muslim military might against the Christian kingdoms which had invaded the Holy Land. Theirs were among the few names given heroic mention in Western histories of the Crusades.

More than two hundred years of western occupation in the eastern world also left its mark, genetically and sociologically, upon the Arabs




(Jewish, Christian and Muslim), and the Seljuqs (Muslim and Pagan) in the Middle East. In Jordan today, near the little muddy, brown, and shallow River Jordan, in which the blood of centuries flows, there are small pockets of Crusader descendants in whom the blood of East and West mingle. In Kerak stand the ruins of the castle of the Lord of Kerak, Reynaud de Chatillon, and in the village are hundreds of Muslim and Christian Arab children whose blue, green and hazel eyes; red, blond, brown and black hair; pink and white, freckled or clear complexions testify to their Frankish, Scot, Celt and Italian, British and Austrian ancestry.

Western history gives us the Crusades as a glorious episode in Christendom's struggle against the "heathens" to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Shrines. The Crusades were seldom portrayed as a struggle for military or geographical power. We do not get a glimpse of the struggles within struggles, the parties within parties, the battles within battles which made up the wars of two hundred years, and which created the distortions that have come down into our philosophies and attitudes to this day.

To the West, all the peoples of Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine were Saracens, when in reality these countries were inhabited by races of varied origin. The Arabs were Semites, the Turks resembled the Mongols, the Egyptians were partly African, and the Kurds are believed to be of Aryan origin. To the Muslims, every man from the West was a Frank, be he French, English, German or Italian. In truth, even the political loyalties were divided -- Christian aligning himself with Muslim against another Christian King or general, Muslim aligning himself with Christian against another Muslim caliph or general, kingdoms and countries, religions and




people at one time in one camp, at one time in another. French fought against English, Venetian against Genoese, Byzantine against Latin, German against Italian, Moor against Mamlook, Turk against Kurd. Jerusalem was coveted by all.

The stratifications and complexities confound historians to this day. While the Crusades brought back to Europe the finest in Eastern Christian and Muslim culture, they also took back prejudices and biases created by the wars and their own personal losses. The "infidel" worshiped in a different manner, ate strange foods, did not bathe, killed his women and children so that they would not fall into the hands of the Christians. The Arabs of the Holy Land also, having suffered losses and having been subjected to the onrush of Frankish invasions, developed their own set of prejudices. The Frank "barbarian" worshiped in a different manner, ate strange foods, did not bathe, and killed his women and children so that they would not fall into the hands of the "Saracens." As in all human experiences, there was goodness and compassion on both sides; malice and bigotry; chivalry of the noblest order, and horrifying savagery.

At the same time, how human they were, and how vulnerable, these dim figures that shadow so tragic a period in the crossroads of history. When Salah-el-Din marched on Kerak, to Reynaud's Castle, wedding festivities were being celebrated at the marriage of Humphrey IV of Toron, with Isabelle, daughter of the King of Jerusalem. The mother of Humphrey, sent bread, meat, and wedding delicacies to Salah-el-Din's encampment, inviting him to join the feast in memory of old times. Salah-el-Din in turn enquired in which tower the bridal chamber was situated, and sent a crier throughout his army forbidding anyone to shoot against that particular tower.




The Castle of Reynaud De Chatignon "Friend and foe" of Salah-el-Din