Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Why does intolerance always win?

Fuelled by my own fanaticism and Pope Urban II's rhetoric, I set off to Outremer in a mood of religious fervour. I ignored my mentor Abbot Hugh's concerns about the validity of this 'holy crusade' and took refuge in Saint Augustine's twisted arguments justifying religious war as an act of love.

Was the Holy Father's offer to us of eternal salvation one of spiritual sincerity or practical politics? Did he hope to secure a place in Heaven for himself by starting the campaign that won back the Holy Places, or was it more a place in history that he sought? Did he want most to regain political power over the Eastern Church by sending us to Emperor Alexios's aid, and to solve the problems in his French homeland caused by restless barons and knights with nothing to do except fight each other? How can I really tell? I only saw him briefly in that autumn of 1095.

Our leaders I observed for longer. Their brutal actions speak louder than their pious words. After all, Black Baldwin broke off long before reaching Jerusalem, and found himself a fiefdom for the taking from the poor Armenians - Christian Armenians - around Edessa. How ironic that the throne of Jerusalem was offered to him of all people after the death of his brother, my poor master Godfrey.

Bohemond of Taranto chose to make himself a Prince by remaining in Antioch after he won the struggle for what had once been the second city of Byzantium - the struggle against the Moslem host of Kerbogha, yes, but also against his Christian comrade Raymond of Toulouse. Maybe he had never intended to go to Jerusalem. Raymond continued on to the Holy City, it is true, but he had little choice if he was to redeem his reputation after the cannibalistic outrages of his Provencal followers in Marrat al-Numan. As soon as Jerusalem fell he was back off North to try to seize Tripoli - after all I met him nearby just after his 300 knights had routed an Arab force twenty times larger. If Tancred had been able to build a fiefdom in Cilicia - if his co-religionist Baldwin had not tricked him out of Tarsus - he would have surely stayed instead of travelling to Jerusalem. And Godfrey, who won the Holy City for us? He was no saint. If any man knew him well enough to judge, I am that man.

As I learned the Moslem faith, and came to understand Jesus' real meaning, the inexcusable evil of our Crusade became clear. Jesus and Mohammed preached near identical messages. One said 'turn the other cheek'; the other said 'fight only in self-defence if you have no alternative'. Both urged tolerance of others' beliefs, and both practised forgiveness of their enemies. Some of their followers heard this message. I well remember the Christian cathedral and the Moslem mosque side by side in Ridwan's Aleppo, and the mosque cheek by jowl with the church in the Monastery of St Katherine at Sinai. Saint Basil taught the Byzantines that even for a soldier to kill in battle was a sin, to be washed away by the sacrament of confession. Perhaps that was one reason why the Byzantines were more civilised than us, and scorned for it by the Baldwins and Bohemonds. In Damascus, in the great Umayyad Mosque, there was room for Sunni and Shi'a to worship.

But the fanatics, like my enemies Hassan-i Sabbah and his Nizari Assassins, always seem to poison the others' minds and conquer tolerance. We founded the Templars to protect pilgrims against intolerance, and look what became of them. Why are the disciples always more fanatical than those that they follow? Why does their belief have to be more certain than their teachers'? Why do they not understand that what is right for one may not be right for another? Why should one man's right be another's wrong? If all the prophets had known what would be wrought by their followers, would they have taught them as they did?

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