Rick Santorum on the Crusades

Since I’m slowly working my way through an incredibly long week, this post is going to be a little shorter and a little sillier than most.

As a disclaimer, I happily concede that criticizing Rick Santorum’s logic is not dissimilar from hunting with a riffle fish that are already confined to a barrel[1], but if he insists on making ridiculous comments about things that fall into my academic field, then I will continue to discuss his ridiculous comments on the internet.

Apparently a few weeks ago, Santorum argued that the image of the Crusades has been damaged by “the American left who hate Christendom.” (Also, thanks to teapartyjesus for bringing this to my attention.  Also for its oddly satisfying manner of raising my blood pressure.)

It proves that I’ve been working in academia for too long that my first thought was, actually, there really aren’t many American Crusades scholars.  Medieval studies has suffered serious cuts at pretty much every major American university in the last few decades, and most departments weren’t particularly robust to start with.

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s probably also worth pointing out that the Crusades are only tangentially my field (I’ve taught them, but never published anything about them), and are rarely studied by Islamicists.  That’s because, from the evidence of the historical record, they just weren’t a terribly big deal to the contemporary Muslim world.  The rise of the Mongols, which effectively put an end to the Crusades, but also ended the Baghdad caliphate and seriously rewrote Islamic theology, particularly about the divine appointment of leaders, was far more important for Medieval Muslims.  So with only a handful of exceptions, the only people who study the Crusades are western scholars, mostly European, and many of them Christians.

There’s not much to redeem Santorum, as he doesn’t appear to be speaking from any kind of awareness of the events of the Crusades, but however unintentionally, he has stumbled upon a bona fide historical question – were the Crusades Christianity versus Islam?  The West versus the Middle East?  Or neither, just some guys against some other guys?

The fact is, most of what the Crusades were is unique.  The decision to send Frankish knights across the known world to fight for a city that, although it was the birthplace of Christianity, hadn’t been part of the Christian world for nearly five centuries was just strange.  And it was stranger still that the Crusaders were successful, and that the establishment of Outremer, the Frankish settlement in the Holy Land, solved several major problems in Medieval European society, most importantly expanding the possible land available for inheritance and creating a new royal family and new aristocracy.

However, I think the point that’s really lacking from Santorum’s comments is an understanding that there is really no substantial basis in the actions of Medieval Muslims for the First Crusade.  The Byzantine Emperor had been cut off his troops in Armenia, and was asking Rome for, basically, mercenaries.  There’s little evidence to think that he expected a horde of Frankish knights to show up, and more importantly, it was the Pope and Raymond of St Gilles who decided to head for Jerusalem instead of Byzantium.  That decision was not clearly based on anything the Muslims had done.  If that’s the basis that America should be using for making political decisions, then we’re all in trouble!

[1] If I’m being honest, I have never understood that phrase.  Whilst I appreciate that shooting fish in a barrel must be easier than shooting fish in, say, the ocean, I can’t imagine it’s very easy in either case, as passing through water changes the trajectory of the shot.  Or is the point that you just shoot a bunch of holes in the bucket and once the water has run out, the fish asphyxiate?  Seriously, we should just go over to saying “fishing with a bug zapper”.  It’s far more descriptive.

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About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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3 Responses to Rick Santorum on the Crusades

  1. Michael Mock says:

    Actually, in a barrel, I suspect the pressure wave would stun the fish. I could be wrong about that, as despite living in Texas for most of my life, I’ve never tried it.

    Anyway, two thoughts, both fairly random: First, please tell me you’re reading Accidental Historian, and in particular his Byzantine Logic posts.

    Second, I would have ended up as a Spanish major if I hadn’t decided to attend the medieval studies trip instead. As it was, I wound up as an English major with a minor in Anthropology – and, eventually, a career in IT. But I still have a soft spot for medieval studies…

    • Oh, good point! I wonder if the Mythbusters have ever tested this. Or if not, if I could pester them enough on twitter to do so . . .

      Yes, I am reading Accidental Historian – still making it through his archive, but really enjoying it!

      Also yay Medieval studies! I’m only sort of a Medievalist myself, but I really love the field, and it breaks my heart to see it hacked to pieces due to lack of funding. (Also I’ve learned in my years in academia that Medievalists are the most fun academics to drink with, followed by physicists. No idea why, but it always seems to be true.)

  2. Pingback: Newt Gingrich and Islamic Law: why anti-Sharia activism is a red herring | askanislamicist

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