The Crusades: An Arab Perspective

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

The Crusades is a fascinating history of a subject that was quite new to me, as Americans rarely study the Crusades in school. Despite the title, the expert commentators represent a balance of French and English historians, as well as Muslim scholars from various Middle Eastern universities. Most of the documentary series consists of historical re-enactment of papal enclaves, battles, sieges, treaty signings and other historical events. The filmmakers use a series of maps to plot the progress of European occupation of Jerusalem and the Levantine* coast, as well the eventual liberation of these territories in the 13th century.

The documentary leaves absolutely no doubt that the Crusades were an imperialist campaign of colonization – and not religious wars, as is commonly claimed. Whenever European crusaders conquered a specific city or region, they indiscriminately slaughtered most of the inhabitants, whether they were Muslims, Jews or fellow Christians. The entire fourth Crusade (1203) was devoted to sacking the greatest Christian city in the world (Constantinople), whose residents were mainly Byzantine Greeks.

Part 4 is my favorite because it focuses on the role of the Crusades and Muslim influence in facilitating the European Renaissance of the 14th-15th centuries. When the Crusades began in 1085, the vast majority of Europeans (99%) were illiterate, whereas Middle East cities enjoyed an advanced flourishing civilization (as did India, China, Africa and North and South America prior to European colonization). When occupying crusaders were finally defeated and forced to return to Europe in 1291, they took with them advanced knowledge of Arab military tactics and agriculture, sugar cultivation, medicine, algebra, glass manufacturing and Greek philosophers ( whose work had been translated and preserved by Muslim scholars.

Part 1 – covers the role of Pope Gregory and Pope Irwin in instigating the disastrous Peoples Crusade and the first Crusade (1086-1099), resulting in the sacking and occupation of Jerusalem (lasting nearly 200 years).

Part 2 – covers the fragmented Muslim resistance to the expansion of European occupation, hindered by both religious (Sunni vs Shia) conflict and tribal rivalries. It’s during this period (1100-1127) the term hashshashin (origin of the English words assassin and hashish) came into usage, owing to the Shia assassins hired to secretly kill Sunni military commanders. Between 1127-1143 a Muslim revival led to the liberation of numerous crusader strongholds, and the launch of a second crusade by Pope Eugene, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany.

Part 3 – describes the rise of Salah Ad-Din (known in in Europe as Saladin), who unified rival Muslim armies and by 1187 retook all crusader strongholds except Jerusalem. This led to the launch of the third Crusade by Philip II (France), Frederick I (Germany) and Richard the Lion Hearted (England) This was followed by the fourth Crusade, which sacked Constantinople; the failed fifth Crusade (1213); the sixth Crusade in which Frederick II (Germany) retook Jerusalem by treaty and the failed seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX of France (1248). In 1244, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem, which remained under their control until it became part of the British protectorate of Palestine with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

Part 4 – in addition to outlining the cultural riches Europe gained from the Crusades, Part 4 also explores how Europe’s medieval colonization of the Middle East laid the groundwork for the eventual European colonization of North Africa and the Middle East (in 1917), with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 representing a major milestone in this re-colonization.


*Levantine – a term describing a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Turkey, usually including the area of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Comments
    • I probably won’t be going, futuret. I haven’t received an invitation.

      • futuret says:

        I SHALL NOT BE GOING EITHER, BESIDES WE HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO, WE HAD BETTER NOT GO, SINCE THEY WILL TRY TO CONTAMINATE US WITH FOOD AND DRINK, I AM SURE YOU ARE A MUCH BETTER COOK THAN THEY ARE, AND I MUCH WOULD PREFER TO DINE WITH YOU THAN THEM. YOU CAN ALSO SERVE A MUCH BETTER DRINK. WE CAN ALSO CREATE OUR OWN ATMOSPHERE AND MAKE PLANS TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF THEM, AS THEY TRY TO GRAB US.

  1. […] Source: The Crusades: Europe’s First Imperialist War of Colonization | The Most Revolutionary Act […]

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, Dr. Bramhall. I’ll check it out.

  3. Alan Scott says:

    Will this alternative view of history actually filter through to mainstream Western analysis, I wonder? “The entire fourth Crusade (1203) was devoted to sacking the greatest Christian city in the world (Constantinople), whose residents were mainly Byzantine Greeks.” That’s a pretty telling point, isn’t it!

    My theory is, the First Crusade in 1095, ostensibly in response to the Seljuk Turkish defeat of the Byzantine army in eastern Anatolia, was actually more opportunistic. What the Pope wanted was to unite Western “Christendom” in a new “Roman Empire” giving the Roman Catholic Church temporal as well as spiritual power (as his eastern cousins had). What they need was an enemy to focus on. Then, as now, Muslims provided the convenient excuse.

    I’ve discussed the matter at greater length on my blog, Turkey File.

  4. It’s hard to say whether this alternative view will filter through, Alan. The reality is that Americans know nothing about the Crusades because they don’t study history in school.

    The Saker (see http://russia-insider.com/en/users/saker) frequently mentions the 4th Crusade in his work, which is how I became interested in the topic. He makes the point that the Eastern Roman Empire never experienced the Middle Ages (and mass illiteracy). Because Constantinople didn’t fall until 1453, they experienced continuous intellectual development up to the present – which the Saker believes has a primary influence on the Russian intelligentsia and explains a lot about Putin.

    I suspect your theory about the true origins of the First Crusade may be correct.

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