Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance, by Christopher MacEvitt. Another good one

Christopher MacEvitt's book has a certain resemblance to Giancarlo Casale's book on Ottoman exploration. It's about an important, difficult subject; it goes against the prevailing wisdom; and it is based on difficult research in fragmentary sources.

MacEvitt presents  the prevailing wisdom  about relations between Western Christians settling in the holy land and the Eastern Christians who already lived there, thus:  as a case of colonial segregation. There are not a lot of sources that discuss the legal situation, how legal doctrines actually worked, or how Eastern and Western Christians interacted in daily life. The sources we do have come from the 13th century, after the restoration of the kingdom of Jerusalem following its destruction in the 1180s. MacEvitt has returned to the 12th century, and done his best to find the real story of daily life in charters and, in the north where Armenian documents exist in some numbers, chronicles, to see whether different Christian groups actually lived strictly segregated.

Well of course, he concludes that 13th century evidence gives a false picture of the earlier era. In contrast to the effort by churchmen and legislators to classify people by ecclesiastical and even Christological criteria, the early crusader states were characterized by an effort to obscure the dividing lines. Although there was a strong argument for giving priority to the person's ecclesiastical allegiance in legal and status matters, MacEvitt portrays a society where most people did not want to live in religiously-defined silos. They wanted to have a certain degree of freedom of association, and there was a consistent effort by documented individuals to make sure that they were not pinned down against their will. That does not mean that everybody loved everyone else or that some groups were not more important than others. That's the rough in "rough tolerance."

 Over the last year the situation in Syria has made me realize how very diverse the country is even now. Sometimes the divisions– religious divisions – between Syrians don't matter very much, and other times you are forced to pick a side, generally one chosen for you by unsympathetic neighbors.  And then you fight till everybody's tired of fighting, or one group establishes a short or long-term supremacy. It looks to me like during the crusading times, things were not that different.  Except in the 12th and 13th century, there was always some Frank or Turk or Egyptian or Byzantine showing up to claim the land and the holy places. But if you look back a century or so and realize that Syria not so long ago included Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, then maybe that difference disappears, too.

Update:  can sectarianism be discussed in today's Syria?  Should it?  From Ehsani at Syria Comment:

This is what a Syrian commentator wrote on one of the social media outlets this morning:
“Anyone that mentions the name of sect or religion in Syria, in any context, and all those who incite sect or religion in Syria, in any context and all those who try to show a range as a victim and a look executioner in any context is a traitor to Syria and Syria is innocent of it. All intolerance for other than Syria is betrayal. Martyrs have one religion and one sect and that is Syria. Blood flowing on the soil of Syria have a single identity and that is the identity of Syria.”
كل من يذكر اسم طائفة أو دين في سوريا بأي سياق و كل من يحرض على طائفة أو دين في سوريا بأي سياق وكل من يحاول أن يظهر طائفة بمظهر الضحية و طائفة بمظهر الجلاد بأي سياق هو خائن لسوريا و سوريا بريئة منه فكل تعصب لغير سوريا قدس الأقداس خيانة.
للشهداء دين واحد و طائفة واحدة هي سوريا فالدماء التي تسيل على تراب سوريا لها هوية واحدة هي الهوية السورية
While it is hard to argue with pleas to ignore religious and sectarian tendencies that may incite more killings and hatred, ignoring the obvious demons we face does not strike me as a credible solution.
It should be obvious to all of us by now that fake stability is an unsustainable model that is unlikely to last for long. Societies cannot advance and prosper unless they openly face their demons and discuss their long held taboos.
I, for one, want every Syrian to openly discuss everything that ails our society. This covers the role of religion and sectarianism.

Image:  Not St. George; St. Sergios.

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