Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Crusades and Historical Memory (16 February 2015)

Reference: Ann McFeatters column "Mike Huckabee: Right-wing huckster or serious candidate?" / Tribune News Service 12 February 2015
         In the midst of an excellent column on Mike Huckabee, Ann McFeatters mentions President Obama's "artless remarks about the Crusades and Christian violence centuries ago. Obama is correct that great evil was perpetrated in the name of Christianity hundreds of years ago when civilization barely existed. Yet for Obama to compare that and Christian support of slavery to the horrors that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is perpetrating today was stupid in light of today's politics."
         McFeatters is right about the politics, but otherwise wrong.
         By the 21st century, historians had compiled roughly reliable figures on human atrocities, and these have been conveniently summarized by Matthew White in The Great Big Book of Horrible Things (2012).
         "The Crusades" of Western Christendom went from A.D. 1095 to 1291 and killed some three million people, with Crusaders killing not just Muslims but Jews and non-Roman-Catholic Christians as well — with the Jews and non-Roman Christians generally unable to fight back. The Albigensian Crusade against heretics ran from 1208-29 and racked up about another million deaths, and the European Wars of Religion of the 17th century killed off some 7.5 million people.
         Civilization had existed over five thousand years by 1095, and if it wasn't at a high point in darkest Europe, it was there, and truly mass slaughter is a civilized activity. "The Noble Savage" is a dangerous myth, but it takes technical sophistication, strong organization, and significant population to get massive body counts.
         And for Christendom's part of the slave trade, well, the Atlantic trade ran from 1452 to 1807 — a thriving time for European civilization — and whatever the churches' share might be, it's a share of some sixteen million victims.
         It was bad politics for President Obama "to compare" the crusades "and Christian support of slavery to the horrors that the Islamic State […] is perpetrating today," but it was wrong only because the horrors committed by the "Islamic State" so far have been minor by historical standards.
         ISIS has horrific potential, however, and recognizing the wide history of fanatical slaughter emphasizes that ISIS as a movement must be destroyed — but destroyed in a way that does not bring back jihads, crusades, and Wars of Religion where deaths are in the millions. 

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