I like reading about decisive battles of history. They are instructive. Lately I have been re-reading all about the First Crusade, that in 1099 culminated in the successful conquest of Jerusalem. This story is of wonder, and unlikely, the stuff of knights and fairy tales except that it really happened. People wanted Jerusalem badly. To understand this, you have to see the Holy Land as a nexus point which strategically divided the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe. Who possessed it would control trade routes, commerce and ideas. In ancient world maps, Jerusalem was always pictured at the centre. It might have been a place of pilgrimage, except that since the days when Mohammed first raised a battle standard, going to Jerusalem was impractical. It could cost you your life.
The First Crusade was initiated by the Latin Church under Pope Urban II, to recover the Holy Land from Islamic domination. The Crusades sought to gain back the epicentre of Christianity, for Christians. The idea was daring and could only have been buoyed by religious zeal as it was highly impractical and very dangerous. It would mean vast armies penetrating deep enough into hostile territory to establish a bridgehead. If winter arrived while you were on the march, a large land force could easily get cut off, trapped, and starved. To win such an unlikely battle, you had to truly believe God was on your side.
Behind all this, the story of why some ventures fail, and others succeed. Some people simply want it more. They outlast you, they outwit you, and all is fair in love and war. You can be defeated while you are sleeping, and that is what happened in Jerusalem. We’ll skip the broader story to note just how the Crusader forces breached the ancient citadel.
In the conquest of Jerusalem, a simple trick prevailed. A siege tower was constructed to penetrate the stone barrier of the city’s outer wall. In response, the Muslims massed their forces at that point. During the night the Crusaders dismantled the tower and reconstructed it at a weak point in the defences. They breached the wall, conquered the city, and for the next century, the Holy Land was under Frankish rule.
I recently read an article about the Pope intervening for Lebanon. He feared it might collapse and fail as a state. Such a catastrophe would shift the geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East inalterably. Up until today, Lebanon has been a Christian presence friendly to European influence.
The article referred to the natural indigenous population of Christians in the Levant. The word struck me. Founding peoples are supposed to enjoy inalienable rights that come with the identity. Being indigenous to a region means you belong there and your influence should not be erased.
The Christian faith is indigenous to the place where Christianity was born. The lands of Christ’s earthly ministry, should rightfully be the epicentre of world Christianity, but have been threatened for centuries by the long battle with Islam. Religious persecution has forced a steady decline of Christians in the Middle East.
A thousand years has passed since the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the age-old battle rages on. Since the year 600, Islam has not slept. It has wrangled ways and means to perpetuate itself, fair and unfair. They are the guy who wants it more, who is willing to pull out all the stops and to wait things out. They are winning in the Middle East. Christians have fled to areas of the world where they are more safe.
For the diaspora, it seems the great tower of Western culture is not what it used to be. Immigration trends and demographics are shifting the dynamics that have long made Christianity the major influence. Fractured politics are hastening the decline. The gains of two thousand years are ebbing away before our eyes and it is largely a bloodless victory.
It’s not just cities and citadels, entire cultures can be overrun while you are sleeping. You will wake up with new rulers whether you like it or not. The Crusades worked, because enough people believed in them all together, and cared enough to prevail. In the war of ideas caring counts. Otherwise you might one day end up being ruled by some really bad ones. It could all happen in an instant, while you are sleeping.