Monday, February 09, 2015
Crusades vs. Jihads
It's been interesting reading the reactions to Obama's speech about religious violence. Especially funny (darkly funny) are the scattered attempts to defend the Crusades and the Inquisition. Good luck with that, bro.
I wrote my own historical Islam-Christianity parallel, which was about how the current violence in Iraq and Syria reminds me of the Thirty Years' War in Germany. But I also think that there definitely is a parallel between the Crusades and the modern-day Jihads of al Qaeda, Islamic State, and the rest. Here are what I see as the parallels.
(Warning: this posts contains sloppy history and a bad imitation of the War Nerd writing style.)
In the case of the Crusades, you saw a once-great but now-fallen civilization - West and South Europe - under pressure from a civilization at the height of its power, sophistication, and wealth (the Middle East). You had high birth rates in Europe, lots of poor young guys ready for a fight. You had a religious hierarchy deeply involved in government, looking to preserve and expand its power.
In the case of the modern-day Jihads, you see a once-great but now-fallen civilziation - the Middle East - under pressure from a civilization at the at the height of its power, sophistication, and wealth (the U.S. and West Europe). You had (until *very* recently) high birth rates in the Middle East, lots of poor young guys ready for a fight. You have lots of religious scholars who act as local legal authorities and assume some of the roles of government, looking to preserve and extend their power.
In the Crusades, you had a religious leader - Pope Urban II - calling for violence by Catholic people in order to protect an Orthodox ally (the Byzantines) and reclaim the Holy Land. The call was answered by lots of random people and many kings as well.
In the modern-day Jihads, you had a quasi-religious leader - Osama bin Laden - calling for violence by Muslim people in order to expel foreign troops and influence from the homeland and reclaim the Holy Land. The call was answered by a smattering of random people and a few warlords.
In the Crusades, you saw the element of surprise win a spectacular and brutal early victory - the capture of Jerusalem - which was followed by an unending stream of underwhelming performances. Along the way, Crusaders killed a bunch of Jews and sacked the Orthodox Christian city of Constantinople (which they were initially called in to help). Eventually a crusading culture emerged, accompanied by the emergence of autonomous quasi-religious military orders like the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller.
In the modern-day Jihads, you saw the element of surprise win a spectacular and brutal early victory - the 9/11 attacks - which has been followed by an unending stream of underwhelming performances. Along the way, Jihadis tried but failed to kill Jews, and blew up quite a lot of Muslims. Eventually a jihadi culture emerged, accompanied by the emergence of autonomous quasi-religious military orders like ISIS and the many al Qaeda branches, in addition to a few that already existed, like Hezbollah and Hamas.
(I think Hezbollah really are the modern Knights of St. John. This is my favorite of the parallels, for some reason.)
So anyway, I do think there are some parallels here.
So how did it all end? Eventually, after centuries of pathetic defeat (culminating at Nicopolis), you saw the Crusades run out of steam, and the word "crusade" adopt a more peaceful meaning - much like the peaceful meaning many Muslims attribute to the word "jihad". The Crusades had some very positive effects, like opening up Europe to trade. Even more importantly, the unending string of defeats - contrasted with the ease with which the Mongols swept into the Middle East, burned it to the ground, and left - seemed to convince European leaders that a different strategy was needed. Europeans began to use advanced weapons, which allowed them to kick holy hell out of their Muslim opponents in later Europe-Middle East clashes like the Battle of Lepanto or the Great Turkish War.
(That's the Western Way of War for you - first send the jocks out to charge the enemy head-on and then when that fails to work, go dig the nerds up out of the basement to invent some fancy super-weapons and blow the enemy to kingdom come. Then send the nerds back to the basement so the jocks can claim all the credit and get the girls...but I digress.)
Meanwhile, the failure of the Crusades may have been instrumental in teaching Europeans that the civilizational strategy they were pursuing in the Middle Ages - theocracy, insularity, and high birth rates - was a dead end. Out of failure comes adaptation, and the debacle that was the Crusades may have been what started Europe on the long road away from Catholic Church dominance and toward science, democracy, liberalism, and technology - the road that eventually made them (temporary) masters of the world.
Now, the modern Middle East is starting from a much better initial point than Medieval Europe. The world is much richer place now than it was then, and information technology is much better. I doubt it'll take anywhere close to 400 years for Muslims to realize that the al Qaeda/ISIS strategy is a dead end - in fact, by now they already have realized it. Support for terrorism among Muslims has gone from a minority to a tiny minority. There were a couple years after 9/11 where some people probably thought that al Qaeda-style attacks were the "strong horse" that would reclaim Middle Eastern pride and expel the foreign barbarians. No longer.
Sure, there are a handful of angry young men going to fight for ISIS. Most will get what they want (the chance to rape some young girls, followed by a swift glorious death). But the great mass of Middle Easterners, and of Muslims elsewhere in the world, now realize that the Jihads are bullshit. Perhaps - hopefully - the failure and brutality of the Jihads will lead the people of the Middle East to realize that Islamism is not the future, and prompt them to start looking for other routes to civilizational greatness.
And the Enlightenment will be there, waiting. Still the best civilizational strategy humanity has ever invented.