The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades by Paul M. Cobb. Interesting book by a professor of Islamic history, viewing the Crusades primarily through the Islamic historical sources. This is not necessarily as radical as you might think: most modern histories of the Crusades try to take those sources into account; but Cobb says that the context, language and conventions of the documents make a specialist approach worthwhile.
One point he makes is that the Islamic sources don't follow the usual Western chronology of the Crusades beginning with Pope Urban II preaching the crusade in 1095. They start earlier with the "Franks" invading Islamic Sicily, and end later with the final conquest of Spain.
The most interesting revelation to me was just how fragmented authority was in the Islamic world at the time. Most modern narratives point out the rivalries between the different dynasties: the Fatimids in Egypt, the Seljuk Turks, the Nizaris of Syrida, the Abbasids in Baghdad, etc. But Cobb goes much further, pointing out that in practice local warlords " were often pretty much independent of their nominal overlord. The small-scale "taifa kings" or "party kings" were constantly fighting and scheming against their local rivals.
For instance, before Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders:
Jerusalem was itself just recently the site of another siege, being one of the many cities that furiously changed hands with the coming of the Turks to Syria. As we have seen, the Turcoman adventurer Atsiz had occupied the city in the 1070s, and he subjected it to a brutal reprisal when the Fatimids attempted to oust him. When the Saljuq prince Tutush finally did remove Atsiz in 1079, he replaced him with an amir loyal to him, named Ilghazi. Ilghazi belonged to the Artuqids, a family that would later found their own state in northern Iraq and eastern Anatolia, and his brother was among the generals present in the Muslim coalition army at Antioch.This makes more sense of the way that the squabbling and only occasionally united Crusaders were able to make such inroads: the supposed Islamic empires were even less united. Even so, there were very frequent alliances between Christian and Islamic warlords when it suited them to oppose a mutual rival.
After the fall of Antioch, the Fatimids soon took advantage of the Saljuqs’ disarray and reasserted their control over the Holy City. The Fatimid army was led by the mighty vizier al-Afdal. After arriving at Jerusalem "they set up forty and more trebuchets against the town and demolished parts of its wall. The inhabitants fought back and the fighting and the siege lasted somewhat over forty days." By September 1098 the city had had enough, and Jerusalem surrendered to the Fatimids. The Saljuq representatives were treated well and allowed to leave to continue their careers in Saljuq service. Thus, on June 7, 1099, when the Franks finally sighted their goal, Jerusalem had recently been through three changes of hands, two of them destructive, and had been under the control of its Fatimid masters for less than a year
The Crusades don't so much resemble multinational wars like the World Wars as the ebb and flow of battles between Somali warlords: endlessly forming and breaking alliances; where any single actor that gets too powerful tends to find a coalition forming against him. The Muslims of the time didn't seem to perceive them as a "clash of civilisations":
Despite the occasional nod to the Franks’ Christian identity... no Muslim source concerns itself in any detailed way with the religious motivations of the Franks. Notwithstanding current debate over the linkages between pilgrimage, papal reform, just war, and holy war among scholars of the European experience of the Crusades, these issues were of no concern to the Muslim sources. To them, the marriage of Christian devotional piety and military culture that culminated in Pope Urban II’s notion of the crusade does not feature in their efforts to understand the origins of Frankish aggression. Nor does any Muslim source mention papal involvement or oversight of these campaigns. (Indeed, medieval Muslim references to the papacy in any context are very scarce.) The Franks had always been aggressive quasibarbarians. The finer points of how they justified this aggression were thus of no interest. What marked the mid-eleventh-century wars with the Franks was not their ideology but the fact that they were more frequent, more menacing, and -for the first time that any Muslim observer could remember - successful.Overall, not totally revelatory but definitely an interesting and worthwhile history of the Crusades.
What I'm Reading 2
Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child. Wasn't that keen on the last Jack Reacher novel, but this one is definitely a return to form. After receiving a distress signal ($1,030 deposited in his bank account) Reacher has to reunite members of his old army unit to find out who killed their ex-comrade and exact revenge. Some nice misdirection in the plot, good suspense and action.
What I'm Watching
Saw Guardians of the Galaxy on disk. Seemed like a decent space adventure, good fun. Might be a bit overrated given all the hype about it, but definitely good to watch. At least I finally know why everyone's saying "I am Groot" now. (I got that confused with Grock/Grimaldi).
Socioeconomics. Sexism is Germany's hidden secret. Rich middle aged men people most likely to kill themselves binge drinking. Why Don't Men Kick Each Other in the Balls? "We have socialised the risk of innovation but privatised the rewards".
Politics. Fascinating return by controversial social services blogger Winston Smith in which he almost-apologises for all this remarks about the underclass. Far-right Pegida eclipsed by its opponents at first UK demo . Public service reform: the humiliation and indignity of being told the future lies in what we were forced to give up.
Pics. Nuevo Mundo magazine covers.
Sci/Tech. How men lost their penis spines.
No longer are the news or male commentators telling women they are at risk in the big, bad world, a decades-old manipulative ploy to keep us "safe" at home where we belong. Women are repeating this story for a different effect: women are a breed apart—unified in our experience and responses, distinct from those of men.
This emotional segregation is not good for us. I am worried about the implications of throwing the label "women’s pain" around individual experiences of suffering, and I am even more uncomfortable with women who feel free to speak for all women. I worry about making pain a ticket to gain entry into the women’s club. And I worry that the assumption of vulnerability threatens to invigorate just the sexist evils it aims to combat by demanding that men serve as shields against it.
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