The First Crusade:
The Roots of Conflict
(Oxford)One would think that a Pope named Urban II would be one who invented the modern city, but he invented something far more ghastly --- an urban renewal project for Jerusalem which depopulated that city in 1099.Urban created the concept of the "holy crusade," a rationale for making war on Islam for the express purpose of making Jerusalem a "Christian" city. He accomplished this using the modern technique known as propaganda.In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, he declared "A race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of the Christians, has reduced the people with sword, rapine, and flame. These men have destroyed the altars polluted by their foul practices."
They have circumcised the Christians, either spreading the blood from the circumcisions on the altars or pouring it in the baptismal fonts. And they cut open the navels of those whom they choose to torment with loathsome death, tear out their most vital organs and tie them to a stake, drag them around and flog them, before killing them as they lie prone on the ground with all their entrails out.
"What shall I say of their appalling violation of women," he went on, "of which it is more evil to speak than to keep silent?"
On whom, therefore, does the task lie of avenging this, of redeeming this situation, if not only you, upon whom above all nations God has bestowed outstanding glory in arms, magnitude of heart, litheness of body and strength to humble anyone who resists you.
It worked. Not unlike an American political candidate, he repeated the same speech in various parts of France, and within months had managed to get 100,000 soldiers together for the 3,000 mile trip by horse or by foot --- no troop carriers in those days --- all the way around the Mediterranean to the first major city, Antioch. Where the servants of the Divine "spared no Muslim on the grounds of age or sex, the ground ... covered with blood and corpses. All the streets of the city on every side were full of corpses, nor could anyone walk along the narrow paths of the city except over the corpses of the dead."
Soon afterwards, the Crusader's wrath knew no bounds when, after taking the city of Marrat, they found no gold, silver or jewelry. "When the plunder proved disappointing, they tortured to death the hapless Muslims in their reach."
Some of our men had the experience of leading the Saracrens through the streets, hoping to locate the spoils of war, only to find their captives would lead them to wells and then suddenly jump headlong to their deaths ... Because of their intransigence all submitted to death.
This scene of Christian vengeance was to be repeated at the walls of Jerusalem --- with special pizzazz: the invaders constructed a series of "siege weapons." But instead of catapulting stones, they rained down heads of the newly dead "pagans" to terrorize the enemy.
Once they reached Jerusalem, the Christians outdid themselves. As the Provençal crusader Raymond of Aguilers reported, "With the fall of Jerusalem and its towers, one could see marvelous works. Some of the pagans were mercifully beheaded, others pierced by arrows plunged from towers, and yet others, tortured for a long time, were burned to death in searing flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet lay in the houses and streets, and men and knights were running to and fro over corpses."
Contrary to the words of Urban II, Muslims of the time were suprisingly tolerant of other religions. But the crusades that Urban II set in motion with his colorful but cruelly false accusations were to continue for another two hundred years, changing forever the relationship between Islam to Christianity. Hundreds of thousands of innocents were to learn the force and bloodlust of the soldiers of the Prince of Peace. As Asbridge writes, "Unrelenting papal propaganda advanced the ideals of religious intolerance in the course of the twelfth century, and soon those earliest crusaders were being celebrated as much for their brutal attacks on Islamic foes as for the dramatic recapture of Jerusalem."
For those of us of the Western world, the Crusades have been fogged into elegiac poems, romantic fairy tales, and pictures of gallant Knights of the Round Table and damsels in castle towers. For the inhabitants of Islam, even eight hundred years later, the bloodshed that came to them out of the blue courtesy of the Catholic Church has never been and can never be forgotten.
And if we think that the Crusades are finally over, one only has to read the current press. In this month's LRB Andrew O'Hagen reports his interview at the Republican Convention with a delegate from Iowa (wearing "a cloth elephant on her head.")
"The Muslims just hate us for our love of freedom," she said. "They don't have any culture and they hate us for having a great one. And they hate the Bible." O'Hagen said,
"Really ... The Iraqis had a culture for thousands of years before Jesus was born."
"What [are] you saying?"
"I'm saying Muslims were building temples when New York was a swamp."
"You support the Iraqis?"
"You support the killing of innocent people going to work? People who have to jump out of windows?"
"You aren't listening to me."
"No buddy. You aren't listening. These people you support are trying to kill our children in their beds. Where you from anyway, the New York Times?--- Marie Castaneda
Giving Up the Ghost
(Picador)Hilary Mantel had the usual miserable childhood growing up in the bleak Moors of England with a wicked stepfather and a passive mother. Terror came to her in the form of a tiny whirlwind in the back yard which was "as high as a child of two."
Its depth is a foot, fifteen inches. The air stirs around it, invisibly ... It has no edges, no mass, no dimension, no shape except the formless; it movesShe goes to Catholic school, then to the London School of Economics. Then her trouble really begins, and it's no tiny whirlwind in the backyard. It is something called endometriosis, a strange and rare ailment that was augmented rather than relieved by ignorant doctors. In fact, years of pain were rendered even more painful by wrong treatments, wrong diagnoses, the wrong medicine. One of these medicines, Valium, produced "akathisia," which she describes as "the worst I have ever experienced, the worst, single, defined episode of my entire life --- if I discount my meeting in the secret garden."
You are impelled to move, to pace in a small room. You force yourself down into a chair, only to jump out of it ... pressure rises inside your skull. Your hands pull at your clothing and tear at your arms. Your breathing becomes ragged. Your voice is like a bird's cry and your hands flutter like wings. You want to hurl yourself against the windows and the walls. Every fiber of your being is possessed by panic. Every moment endures for an age and yet you are transfixed by the present moment, stabbed by it; there is no sense of time passing, therefore no prospect of deliverance. A desperate feeling of urgency --- as need to act --- but to do what, and how? --- throbs through your whole body, like the pulses of an electric shock.
§ § §
After the rather plodding, overly-detailed history of Ms. Mantel's first twenty years, these ghastly medical woes do pick up the story-line, make the reading more, dare we say, lively. But Giving Up the Ghost turns into a litany of pain --- pains in the head (migraines), pains in the belly (endometriosis), pains in the brain (akathisia) --- along with various incurable, nonstop, ego-damaging, undiagnosed aches and woes that go on and on.
We think that a good editor might have slimmed it all down a bit, as Mantel herself was slimmed down by ceasing to overdose on cortisone (another wrong-headed medical treatment that made her fat and moon-faced.)
For ailing writers, there is always the problem about how to describe about what they call "undying pain." It is as difficult as writing about ceaseless clinical depression which may depress the reader. Stories of endless agony, it pains me to report, can become painfully boring.
§ § §
Giving up the Ghost begins and ends with meditative essays on living here and there in the Midlands of England. At times, Mantel shows a nice force of words: "Once thirty years ago I dreamed I was eating bees. And ever since I have lived with their milk-chocolate sweetness and their texture." Or, "I sat in my stifling upstairs room, coaxing out of my computer the novel concealed somewhere in its operating system."
At the conclusion, one must admire the fact that in the midst of all this vortex of woe Ms. Mantel could produce several novels and a history of the French Revolution. Then there is her subplot --- surroundings, home, where to live. We find that her most recent abode, the one she seems to love the most, is an apartment in a "converted lunatic asylum ... one of a loop of great institutions flung around London to catch and contain its burgeoning mad population, the melancholic and the syphilitic, the damaged and the deluded, the people who had forgotten their manners and the people who had forgotten their names." With her history, it is appropriate that her favorite spot is the balcony, looking out over this defunct looney-bin, where she can admire "the flickering tongues of the gargoyles."--- Stephanie Winters
(Dalkey Archives)Speaking of homes, Imogen lives in the decayed house of a decaying family in County Kildare, Ireland. She's there with sisters Helen, Lily, and the memories of the late Emily.The family spread was seventy-four acres, but their father was no gentleman farmer, certainly not a hands-on farmer. Slowly, one by one, they sold off the trees and the cattle.The three aging daughters seem overwhelmed with ennui and the constrictions of being members of an impoverished upper class. It looks like they will stay in the decaying mansion until it falls over or all of them die but then comes Otto --- a Middle-aged German intellectual and professional poacher. He takes up with Imogen and, after much persuasion, she tells him that she wants her flesh "to know your flesh." She also learns to dance naked in the rain, and how to bitch at him ceaselessly.Despite my description, I must tell you that this Higgins is a breathtaking writer. I could think of no more unlikely material with which to mold an interesting novel --- but not only does he pull it off --- we find ourselves right there in that cramped bed with Otto and Imogen (and the fleas). We learn to love them and then, after awhile, begin to fall into despair (as they do) as the funny, encyclopædic brainy Otto and the now-flowering Imogen become, unlike her various sisters (and, apparently, mum and dear dead dad) quite a passion-pot. Then it all begins to fall apart.Except for the fact that it is set in the mid-1930s and that Higgins is a far better story-teller, it has much of the feel of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The folk and the countryside are a deep part of the tale: the poor working folk on their bicycles, the puffing trains, the hot stuffy buses, the stunning countryside, the everpresent Mother Church, the funerals, the sunsets and the clear skies, the green everywhere.
Then there is this German sponger who knows his stuff, and teaches it to the once stuffy Imogen. They do just fine until her Irish morality and the innate fear of loving and letting go manages to drive them apart --- all the while driving the reader mad with her abandonment of this crackerjack lover:
"Can't you make up your mind?" she said, "as usual."
"No," he said, watching her.
"Will I make it up for you?" she said, bitter as vinegar.
"All right," he said...
We are like figures come loose out of a frieze. This will end. We'll pick up the threads again, tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow.
Ah Imogen. She gets so miffed that not only does she kick him out, she runs upstairs, takes up old dad's shotgun and gives him a whiff of pellets across the bow as he is bicycling (very speedily) away.
And so the philosopher stoic we have come to care for, far more fun than snippy old Mellors, Otto, described as
fowler, conscript, prowler, gaolbird, fisher in prohibited waters, apiarist, agriculturist, horticulturist, botanist, gardener, who could speak better English than she and who had at his command apparently limitless regiments of facts, theories and anecdotes, original or otherwise ('Richard Wagner attributed much of the decay of our civilization to the habit of meat-eating'), about periods of history and writers, many of them dead, many more of whom she had never heard
--- is shoved out the door, and we, the reader, wonder why.
No, I take that back, we know why. For as astute Otto says, in one of his last philosophical statements delivered stoutly (and bitterly; and rightly) to her, "Let me say one thing before I go ... I have always thought your notion of life in general, and your own life here in particular, what you consider proper, is so dreary that it's hardly worth the effort to live it."
In this wonderful saga, we must watch a woman who was meant to be what we used to call an "old maid" learning, protesting all the while, a whole other way; but now, she is kissing off "two springs, two summers, three autumns and two winters" of love ... all because of what is so ingrained in her, the curse of the western world, and Ireland (and maybe the rest of us): that the only life worth living must be proper; that the love of a "fowler, conscript, prowler" et al must be wrong.--- Lolita Lark