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There are nice parts about living well up the shore where I’m far away from the larger world (no offense to those living in it). I call it the scenery effect. Take this example. From a distance a farm scene can be ideally bucolic. Up close (unless you are olfactory acclimated) with both feet on the manure spreader the experience is more ammonia than roses. (I apologize to ammonia lovers if I’ve offended them. Can’t be too careful these days, can I?) Now where was I? Oh, I was starting on a benefit of living up the shore. In plain talk, being at a distance is one of the less odious ways to be part of the larger world. It’s all very nice I’m sure, but the bits that manage to reach up here sometimes make me wish for a larger Lake Superior to put more space between the here and the there.
A recent example of unwanted news from outside is the flap over Obama’s comments on the crusades. This has upset some, but not me. As a past teacher I am clam happy when any elected official uses her/his education. This can’t help but inspire us all, young and old, to use our gifts of intellect and learning and to pay critical attention doing so. So, the good news is the President used a lesson from history. The bad news is he must have done a lot of dozing in class or thinks others will be as uncritical as he and will accept propagandist versions of history as the full tale rather than a calculated distortion.
The usual Grade Ten World History course gives the Crusade era beginning with the first in 1095. In terms of big events the Crusade era was pretty much over in a century, though in total there were over a dozen “Crusades,” the last in 1396 at Nicopolis which is in Europe, not the Holy Land, as was Constantinople until it fell in 1453 to remove what was then known as Christendom and replace it with Islam. The President is free to suggest a cause and effect or a moral equivalency between the Crusades and Jihad but he’d be factually wrong on every count because crusading is not a religious requirement whereas the other is and is in active practice to this day. If, as a historian would do and a propagandist would not, you do a tally of crusading events you’ll come up with over a dozen wrapping up in 1396. The tally on the other side is a lot more impressive in numbers and duration. The Crusaders may have quit but the other side did not as represented by many hundreds of battles carried (these two countries bore the brunt of it) into France and Spain. Not until 1492 (imagine that) did the last Jihad end in Spain.
It takes a peculiar kind of quirky propagandistic view of history to argue a Pope calling for a Crusade in 1095 either caused or justified jihads three centuries later, which in any case began in 711 when the Moors decided Spain looked nice and they wanted to take it. Now, I will grant you there was much religious excess in those days and could be found on all sides. The Inquisition was awful as was Lutheran Sweden invading Catholic Poland and wiping out over 25% of the population. Many dreadful things happened and woeful prices paid before the principles of freedom of conscience and separation of church and state were worked into place on the otherwise blank page of the New World. (I realize the Americas were not blank pages, but in terms of these topics they were.) But, how many of us recognize the distinction used by FDR in his Four Freedoms declaration stating Freedom of Worship rather than Freedom of Religion? Think about the difference. In any case, no faith freedom is completely free as can (or at least should) be confirmed by a lack of sanction for cannibals, human sacrifice, slavery, and harems, etc. If a faith has odious practices a strong and active state is one of the few things than can haul it to account. This is the important thing lost when church and state mingle or (worse yet) combine. The functional fact is this. Obeying the laws of invisible and silent deities is exactly the same as being under the control and authority of those men who have appointed themselves as god’s lips. Followers go along in “full” belief because they have no choice other than do so or face the justice of retribution. The best believer control is done in public using bloody means to show them there is little limit to what can be done to these daring to raise freedom of conscience. If Obama doesn’t get it, I hope you will.
I hope, also, we will continue to support education based on fact and analysis rather than wander among the thorn bushes of propagandistic history. We remember such as Keppler, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and Galileo not simply for defying the system but for having their facts right and sticking to them as best they could. Bad argument based on faulty fact and prejudiced analysis is the very thing that says an ignorant thing is justified by howling ignorant outrage if challenged or accepting a dictatorship is democratic because people go to polls or that punishing people of other beliefs is justice rather than coercion. I think we either support critical education or we get eaten by dogma.
Concluding in wide scan, as many Poles know, the last (very larger) military jihad into Europe ended in defeat in 1683 at Vienna. The “peaceful” intent was to sack the city, then do the same at Paris, and finish with the Vatican as a mosque. The last jihad against the West was declared by a caliph/sultan in October of 1914. Only a propagandist can blame that on Pope Urban II in 1095, but I’m sure some already have.