Friday, November 16, 2007
Historian Scott Powell will be starting his next history course for adults, The Islamist Entanglement, in February, and provides a very intriguing preview over at his blog, Powell History Recommends.
One theme Powell discusses is how the West has repeatedly hampered itself in its encounters with the Moslem world through short-range thinking:
The Crusades are a famous example of the violent conflict that characterizes the interface between Western civilization and the Middle East throughout history. In that series of religious wars stretching from 1095 to 1291, the powers of Western and Central Europe, then the most progressive elements in Western civilization, attempted to claim the Holy Land for Christianity. This is, of course, the basic storyline that most people are familiar with.Powell goes on to explain how this left Constantinople ripe for its eventual Moslem takeover, as well as to point out how such behavior has continued even to the modern day.
An episode from the Crusades from 1204 that I suspect most people don’t know about, however, demonstrates another long-running, trend in East-West relations, namely "West-West" backstabbing. Too often in the history of Western civilization, its own leading representatives have demonstrated a disturbing and tragic failure to grasp the unique virtues of their own Civilization, to see the fundamental values they share, and defend them. Instead they have acted to secure short-range benefits, usually at each other’s expense.
In 1204, this is exactly what happened. The Venetians, upon whom the Crusaders were relying for passage to the Holy Land, refused transport to the Western army because the Crusaders could not meet their price. Then, finding a convenient excuse in a contested succession at Constantinople, they convinced the knights to take the city on behalf on one the claimants, and by this means derive their desired profit. [bold added]
But even when the West overall has been at its most short-sighted, there have also been examples of individuals whose work has greatly aided the continued advance of Western civilization, as you'll find when you read the rest of this post. And be sure to return to Powell History Recommends over the coming weeks: This post is just the first of a new, and very interesting-looking series!