Human Nature Seems Fairly Constant; or Parallels between the Crusades and Our Present Political Perils

So I’m reading Zoe Oldenbourg’s history The Crusades and have found myself rather struck by the parallels between the situation then and our current political atrocities. And I don’t mean the rule by a group of senseless religious fanatics. Sure, the first crusaders who ventured over to the so-called Holy Land did so for the sake of religious fervor, but they soon rather adapted to their surroundings, making deals with local Muslim lords in order to solidify their standing. That doesn’t excuse the utter slaughter that commenced once they took hold of Jerusalem. I’m just saying that, after being there a few years, they began to understand that the security of their kingdom depended in large part on making alliances with their neighbors. After all, you don’t just want to make friends, you also want to make sure that your enemies have other enemies than you.

When the next wave of Crusaders comes over, they aren’t so interested in practical efforts to shore up Frankish Syria. They didn’t want to take part in efforts to take towns they hadn’t heard of, no matter how sensible that would have been strategically. Nope, they were driven by zeal and wanted to go kill them some Muslims in significant places:

“Saint Bernard had realized, quite correctly on the whole, that the Holy Land was in real peril and that the growing power of the Zengid dynasty must be checked at all costs. But his extraordinarily eloquent preaching placed greater emphasis on the spiritual side of the affair than on its practical aspects; he spoke of the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and of the Christian’s obligation to abandon everything for the land where God had ransomed men. If he had spent his time explaining to his audience the necessity of preventing the atabeg of Aleppo from seizing Damascus and of driving the Turks back across the Euphrates, he would probably have not filled the crowds with such enthusiasm. The Crusade was based on a terrible misunderstanding: not only was Jerusalem not in need of defense; in addition, the barons of the place preferred to disband the Crusade hastily rather than quarrel with their Moslem neighbors. The Crusaders neglected to attack the real enemy because his possessions lay far from Jerusalem.” (444)

And here in the United States, what passes for a political Left is more eager to throw millions of dollars at a vanity campaign against “Moscow Mitch” McConnell than it is even to vote in local school board and city council elections. Never mind that this is where the enemy is attacking, taking over one town, one state at a time, so that the Democrats have been practically routed at the state level. And then:

“It was only when the news of the fall of Jerusalem reached the West that Europe realized what possession of the Holy Land meant to Christendom.” (445)

And it is only when the Supreme Court finally stopped just chipping away at Roe v. Wade and gleefully overturned their own precedent that Democrats realize, oh shit, maybe we should have been paying attention to the mechanisms of power that lay beyond the presidency because the combination of local elections and court-stacking has given the Republicans a veritable lock on power for the next generation.

Maybe the coalition of folks who continues to hold to the principles of equality and enlightenment will organize themselves sufficiently to fight back this threat and regain the kingdom. But it didn’t go well for the Crusaders once Jerusalem was lost. Spoilers: they never got it back.

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