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Source: History of Religions, Vol. 42, No. 3 (February 2003), pp. 249-252 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/375096 . Accessed: 20/05/2011 18:01
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Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order. By Tomaz Mastnak. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. 387. $50.00. According to the penitential system of the early Middle Ages, homicide was unequivocally a sin and therefore a transgression that constituted a danger to the soul of the perpetrator that had to be puriﬁed by penance. Virtually all ecclesiastical authorities in the early Middle Ages appear to have maintained this doctrine. There is evidence that attempts were made to apply it in practice—as in the penitential ordinance drawn up by the Norman bishops, after the battle of Hastings (1066), for all of those who had fought together with William the Conqueror. Homicide was a sin—regardless of personal motive, regardless of social consequence—and as such it constituted a danger to the purity of the Christian soul. The fact that it was often necessary to act violently in this world did not make it any less a danger. By the twelfth century this concept had been replaced by a very different one in which intention became central. A virtuous act was now deﬁned in terms of its motive. The change is well expressed in St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s famous treatise In Praise of the New Knighthood, in which he commends the new Order of the Templars and endorses the idea of holy war. According to this new view, homicide was no longer inevitably a danger to the soul. This is an essential feature of the Crusades in which the act of homicide is invested with a salviﬁc quality because it is directed at destroying the source of danger (“evil”). In his brilliant, learned study, Tomaz Mastnak describes and explains this transformation within the larger historical context. An important part of the story, as he shows so convincingly, was the medieval peace movement that helped craft the exclusive, aggressive identity of Latin Christendom and the ideology of holy war on which it was largely based (an idea that has its roots in the Old Testament, as Mastnak reminds us). From at least the early years of the eleventh century, the
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Christian world began its religiomilitary expansion—directed, on the one hand, at the Christianization of pagans in the northern and eastern parts of Europe, and on the other hand, at the reconquest of Spain—which began to be ideologically articulated. One of Mastnak’s most interesting arguments helps to problematize the idea of “civilizational clash” that so many modern historians have espoused. Before the development of the Crusades, he points out, conﬂicts were not ideologically so structured: “The Muslims played a relatively unimportant role in portrayals of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. For Charlemagne and his contemporaries, as for their predecessors, the Saracens were no more than one group of enemies among many, and not the one that worried them most. The Carolingians waged wars against the Muslims, it is true, but they also maintained diplomatic relations with them. . . . In fact most of the Carolingians’ warlike energies were directed at wars against the Lombards, Saxons, Avars, Normans, Danes, and Slavs—these were the ‘foreign peoples.’ . . . The Christians fought an amorphous multitude of pagani, gentiles, inﬁdeles and barbari” (p. 106). Mastnak obliges us, in effect, to ask ourselves again how it was that the early encounters between Muslims and Christians came to be represented as a clash between two hostile “religious civilizations.” For in the West it was only as the concept of holy war acquired its medieval shape and force that Islam came to be constituted as Christendom’s most dangerous enemy—the greatest collective evil it had to face. Thus the Crusades, Mastnak argues, mark a crucial shift from the defense of the church in particular times and places, and of a particular conception of social order, to an absolute war of liberation for Christendom that included “the Holy Land.” The ﬁrst three chapters of this remarkable book (“From Holy Peace to Holy War,” “The Holy Manner of Warfare,” and “Christendom and the Crusade”) trace and analyze the theological politics through which the papacy helped transform the Muslims into the quintessence of evil. The last three chapters (“Monks, Philosophers, and Warrior Monks,” “The Fall of the Papal Monarchy and the Rise of Territorial Power,” and “Imperialists, Separatists, and Crusaders”) deal largely with individual thinkers who endorsed or attacked papal hegemony—but all the while supporting the idea of the crusade. Most of these medieval ideologists are well known and have been much written about. Mastnak is not only fully familiar with this scholarly literature; his particular approach enables him in each case to engage with modern medievalists in a perceptive and original manner. Thus he challenges the view—albeit rather brieﬂy—that the Crusades were historically equivalent to Islamic “holy war” known widely as jihad. He gives two reasons for his skepticism in this matter: (1) Muslims religious wars were not conducted on the level of the state, so they should be regarded as “holy battles” rather than “holy wars,” and (2) there is no general theory of which the crusade is a part, but jihad, in contrast, does form part of a general concept of virtuous effort. Mastnak is quite right in inviting comparison of religious warfare in medieval Christendom and Islam, and in suggesting differences. So I shall elaborate on his position. To begin with, although the theory and practice of the crusade were closely connected with the rise of papal monarchy (and afterward, with the sacralization of territorially based kingship), there is no parallel story in the case of jihad.
History of Religions
Because there is no centralized legal authority in the Islamic world, there is no consensus about the virtue of religious warfare. In the ﬁrst two centuries of Islamic history jurists residing close to the sacred sites of Islam (in Mecca and Medina) held a different view from those who lived in Damascus and Baghdad, the successive imperial capitals. They maintained that jihad (being stationed at the frontier far from the original sites of Islam) was not an obligatory duty for all Muslims, that there was merely a requirement that some Muslims undertake the defense of Islamic territory, and that in any case other religious acts had greater merit. In later centuries the legal theory of jihad came to be articulated in the context of a distinction between dar ul-harb (the domain of war) and dar ul-Islam (the domain of Islam) making jihad appropriate to the former. But from very early on a third juridical category was established, called dar ul-‘ahd (the domain of treaties), that allowed for peaceful trade and social intercourse between Muslim and non-Muslim territories. In colonial times a further reformulation of the doctrine of jihad took place: Muslims living under a non-Muslim government (and therefore technically in dar ul-harb) were not to undertake jihad as long as they were able to practice Islam and allowed to maintain its central institutions. It is true that Muslim rebels sometimes invoked jihad, but they were rarely supported in this by most Muslim jurists (as in the recent attempt by Osama bin Laden to appropriate the ideology of jihad in his war against America). For the legal preconditions of jihad—it has been repeatedly pointed out—must include both the presence of a genuine threat to Islam as well as the likelihood of success in opposing it. Theologically, jihad is not directed, as the crusade is, at the total elimination of evil embodied in the inﬁdel other. It is not to be used as a means of converting non-Muslims. I would therefore be inclined to translate jihad in the context of military action neither as “holy war” nor as “holy battle” but as “legitimate warfare.” Mastnak is of course quite correct in stressing the fact that jihad has always been part of a more general concept of spiritual effort, including unwarlike activity. The word itself signiﬁes at once struggle and effort, like the sister word ijtihad that classical jurists and modern reformers have used to mean independent reasoning in matters of religious conduct and belief. In this respect, too, the crusade is quite different, for it is primarily concerned with saving sinful Christian souls and employing virtuous violence to cleanse evil. And then there is a further political difference. As Mastnak demonstrates in great detail, the Crusades were aimed at Christianizing the entire world, of which Jerusalem was the sacred center. Although they did not achieve this aim, the Crusades did help to unify Latin Christendom, to give it a strong sense of aggressive identity. Jihad had no comparable effects in Islam. Crusading Peace is more than an impressive study of medieval ideology and politics, long dead, for it comes to a provocative conclusion: “Intimately connected with the highest ideals and values of Christian society—the ideals of unity and peace, in particular—and seen as a prominent vehicle for achieving them, the Crusades were unchallenged throughout the Middle Ages. They enjoyed continuing popularity and the passionate support of all ranks of society all over Christendom. But their impress was not limited to the Middle Ages. As an ideal and as a movement, the Crusades had a deep, crucial inﬂuence on the formation of Western civilization, shaping culture, ideas, and institutions. The Crusades set a model
for ‘expansionist campaigns against non-Europeans and non-Christians in all parts of the world.’ The ideas, iconography, and discourse associated with the Crusades made a profound imprint on ‘all Christian thinking about sacred violence’ and exercised inﬂuence long after the end of actual crusading. They continued to play a prominent role in European politics and political imagination. In fact, the crusading spirit has survived through Modernity well into our own postmodern age” (p. 346). To those (and there are many) who continue to wrestle with the Weberian problem of the “civilizational” essence of modernity, who look to the beginnings of Christianity with its commitment to nonviolence and asceticism—its distance from politics—and who contrast this supposed essence with that of Islamic civilization, Mastnak’s work must stand as an important corrective. But if the origins of Christianity cannot be adduced to explain the militant religious sentiments and the politics of consumerism characteristic of the contemporary West, then might we not wonder further whether the medieval Crusades can entirely account for modern cruelties? Of course many Christians draw on textually inscribed memories of old enmities, just as some Muslims do, to justify their ruthlessness toward the other. But a subtle writer like Tomaz Mastnak will surely agree that to invoke is not the same as to be determined. Present cruelties—directed at humans and animals alike—are in many ways unique, resting as they do on modern conditions. The indifferences they support and the excuses they generate have a quality not found in previous epochs, whether Christian or Muslim.
Talal Asad City University of New York
Religion and State: The Muslim Approach to Politics. By L. Carl Brown. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Pp. vi+256. $29.00. In a 1946 seminal essay titled “Politics and the English Language,” the British novelist George Orwell bemoaned the decline of post–World War Two English prose by pointing out that what was troublesome about some major English writing then was lack of precision, sheer incompetence, and vagueness. This insight is at the heart of Brown’s discussion in this timely book on Islam and politics. The author offers the most refreshingly sober analysis of the Islamic phenomenon; a welcome addition from someone who has spent his entire career analyzing modern North African and Middle Eastern societies by using original sources and treating the Muslim world in the most balanced of ways. Brown focuses his analytical lenses on three interrelated phenomena: ﬁrst, Islam as theology; second, Islam as history; and, third, Islam as politics. As a result, he presents an overwhelmingly clear picture of the interplay between these three factors in classical and modern Islamic societies. This type of analysis is the more welcome after the tragic attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, when every Tom, Dick, and Harry has become a specialist on Islam and the so-called Islamic terrorism. In his insightful analysis of the issues at hand, Brown cuts through the thick of it all by advocating a clear method of studying the Islamic religious phenomenon.
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