Monday, July 25, 2011

Norway, Templars, and Christian Language that Kills

And now I post this yet again (from 1/9/11) in light of what's happened in Norway and in light of how much the killer seems to have been influenced by voices coming out of the US.You can see some of his manifesto here (see especially after 6:56). Then, read some of the Norwegian killer's favorite writer, Robert Spencer


This is an edit of a post from 3/25/10 (see original here).  It's inspired by a really ill thought-out article by Jack Shafer at, called "In defense of inflamed rhetoric."  Well, Mr. Shafer, I'm no fan of "inflamed rhetoric" and here's why:


(image: crusaders killing Jews, 13th c. MS)
In May 1096, Christians attacked the Jews of Speyer.  The bishop of Speyer protected the Jews & arrested a couple of the perpetrators.  This ended the violence at Speyer.  The Christians, however, moved north, up the Rhine, to Worms and then to Mainz.  They massacred the Jewish communities they found in those cities, over the armed resistance of the archbishop of Mainz.  From Mainz, the Christians split up, with 1 segment moving down the Moselle river valley to Trier and Metz, killing a few and forcibly converting the rest of the Jews in those cities.  The other segment headed north from Mainz to Cologne, where they found that the bishop had moved the Jews out of Cologne & to a number of surrounding communities.  It didn't matter.  The Christians found them and massacred them all. 

After Cologne  Metz, the Christians finally turned towards their ostensible goal -- Jerusalem -- meeting up and continuing eastwards, up the Danube and into Hungary.  That's because these Christians were crusaders.  The attacks upon the Jews of the Rhineland were the beginning of this army's participation in the First Crusade.

Modern scholarship on (and hence popular understanding of) the First Crusade has almost universally "divided" the First Crusade up.  The armies of the Rhineland, who left some months before other western armies containing, ultimately, the "heroes" of the First Crusade (Bohemond, Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, etc.), have traditionally been called the "Peasants' Crusade."  Now, a bit more diplomatically, they're termed the "first wave." But this is misguided.  By suggesting that the "Peasants’ Crusade" was something "different" from the "real" First Crusade, scholars are suggesting that the actions of these armies of the Rhineland were not "real" crusaders.  They were inspired by different factors and composed of a different sort of person. Pope Urban II and the better known leaders of the crusading armies are thus, in some sense, exonerated from the troublesome sentiments their words inspired. These massacres, it seems, were all the fault of irresponsible popular preachers and a senseless rabble. 


These armies of the Rhineland, the Christians who marched AWAY from Jerusalem in their quest to attack the Jews, were very much a part of the First Crusade, not some unfortunate byproduct.  They may not have heard Pope Urban II preach but few who went to the East actually did in 1095-96.  They almost certainly got the same general message, something we might be able to extract from Pope Urban II's surviving letters -- something about a spiritually-beneficial armed expedition, intended to liberate the Christians of the East from the non-Christians/ pagans. 

One can argue that this message was simply “rhetoric,” that it was all language. But words have meaning.  Language, and the ideas it contains, influences actions. Put another way, words & ideas make people do things.  Words made the First Crusade.  Urban's preaching tour inspired men to leave home, walk 2,000+ miles to Jerusalem, and kill people they'd never met and hardly heard of before. Urban and the rest of his preachers may not have intended for the Jews of Worms, Mainz, and Cologne to be massacred.  But they were.  And they were because of the message that the crusade preachers preached and because of the field of actions that their language opened for their listeners. The massacres of the Jews were caused by the same rhetoric that caused the massacre of the Muslims in Jerusalem in 1099, at the very end of the First Crusade.

Why?  Why the "overheated language?" Where is it coming from?  From top and bottom.  

It's coming from segments (NOT the entire) Tea Party movement that are fundamentally convinced that the actions of Obama and the Democrats are intended to strip away the people's rights, including (importantly, I think) their right to own firearms, and that a legitimate way to resist these government intrusions is with said firearms.  The Dept. of Homeland Security warned of these potential threats earlierThe Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked a 54% rise in hate group growth since 2000.  These are, indeed, radical, fringe groups but ones that have now been co-opted for political expediency. The attack on Rep. Perriello, for example, was likely instigated by a militia leader who is part of his local Tea Party movement.

But it's coming from the top as well: from John Boehner, calling Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) a "dead man" if he votes for health care reform, from Sarah Palin using gunsights to "target" vulnerable Democratic lawmakers, and from Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who stood out on the Capitol balcony to incite the Tea Party protesters during the health care debate by "slapping" a picture of Nancy Pelosi.

This is not the First Crusade.  But it is a language of violence too. Words have meaning and rhetoric/ language has consequences.  Politicians of all stripes should be wary of making a devil's bargain, using potentially violent fringe groups for political expediency.  These politicians should be aware that if they've stirred up the hornets and set them loose, they -- the politicians -- are ultimately responsible for any "unsavory" activities the hornets might get up to.


kutkut16 said...

Thank you for the insightful post. I have nothing to add but just a quick note on spelling (sorry!).
In the paragraph that starts with the sentence "One can argue that this message was simply “rhetoric,” that it was all language...." further down you have "they're" instead of "their" in the sentence: "And they were because of the message that the crusade preachers preached and because of the field of actions that they're language opened for their listeners."
Thanks again for your blog post.

Anonymous said...

"You have either reached a page that is unavailable for viewing or reached your viewing limit for this book."

I'd ask if you could quote, but I can still see the contents, which is possibly all anyone needs. Ugh.