When I first began teaching at Florida State College at Jacksonville in 2010, Dr. Wesley Moody was a senior historian who became both my mentor and my friend. Always in a coat and tie, with a conservative, formal approach to dealing with students and teaching, Wes is very much a professor in the classic or traditional sense. He values scholarship, seeing it as essential for high-quality instruction, and so although he has tenure, he nevertheless pushes himself to engage constantly in high levels of scholarly productivity. If one did not know him, that person would never realize just how friendly he can be. He is from north Florida, born and raised, as his southern accent makes clear, and his easy-going style when socializing can be both charming and disarming. He is a top-level historian and his work has won high praise from the likes of James McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, but he is also not above using the phrase “y’all” in a private conversation. Continue reading
Today, I read a curious essay in the Washington Post by Professor Matthew Gabriele, a fellow historian of the crusades, titled Islamophobes want to recreate the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all. I’ve never met Professor Gabriele, but I am familiar with his otherwise solid scholarship and reputation for kindness. In his essay, he made some strong claims about what crusade historians believe, as well as the nature of the Islamic threat facing eastern Christians in the era of the First Crusade and how that threat was understood by western Christians at the time. I want to consider some points related to his comments on those issues here.
Professor Gabriele is most concerned with how modern people are comparing the situation in the era of the First Crusade with the troubling occurrences of modern Islamic terrorism in the West. He also objects to any notion that the crusades were, at least initially, a defensive response to Muslim aggression. He cites various modern westerners who are not specialists on the medieval crusading movement who have made statements romanticizing the crusades and arguing for their return.
I agree with Professor Gabriele that the past does not repeat itself and the situation of the eleventh century is certainly far different than the one we find ourselves in today in the twenty-first century. Crusading, in any form resembling the expeditions of the eleventh and twelfth century, is not the solution to the, as of yet, unsolvable problem of modern Islamic terrorism, which according to the Global Terrorism Index claims the lives of over 30,000 people worldwide per year, with most of them Muslims.
Where I disagree with Professor Gabriele, surprisingly, is in his understanding of crusading history and what crusade historians over the last thirty or forty years have written about the origins of the crusading movement. Continue reading
On March 25th of 2016 I was invited to do an early morning live interview for WJXT Channel 4 in Jacksonville. The topic, as usual, was a sobering one, as we were to discuss the terrorist attack that had taken place in Brussels a few days earlier on March 22nd. Three coordinated bombings by a ISIS affiliated terror cell had resulted in 35 deaths and over 300 wounded in Brussels, and the attackers had connections with the same cell that had carried out attacks in Paris four months earlier, which had resulted in 130 killed and 368 wounded. As I headed in to do the interview, I learned that I would not be doing it alone, as was usually the case, but this time the station had lined up another guest I had never met before, Dr. Ellen Glasser. As we did the joint interview, I did not really know anything about Ellen, as we had only briefly introduced ourselves beforehand, but I was very impressed with her commentary and felt considerably out of my league when I learned more fully of her background. Continue reading
It was recently announced that, for the second time in the last twelve months, that significant numbers of U.S. Marines have been deployed in the fight against the Islamic State. The first time was in March of 2016, when around 100 Marines were deployed to an artillery position in northern Iraq to support U.S. backed Iraqi forces in their assault on the city of Mosul, resulting in the first U.S. combat death in Iraq since 2011. This month we have word of a second, apparently much larger, deployment of U.S. Marines to Syria. They include members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unity (MEU) who have established an artillery base to provide support for U.S. backed local forces that have recently intensified their focus on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital city.
The Marines are not the only U.S. forces operating in Syria, as they are part of an estimated 400 additional U.S. troops being sent to the country to prepare for the fight to take Raqqa, which could represent one of the most significant and bloody battles of the war to date. Continue reading
Above Image: Cover of issue 4 of the Islamic State’s glossy English language propaganda magazine. Many of its issues contain references to the crusades or explicit crusading rhetoric.
In 2015 I had the pleasure of co-editing (w/Alfred J. Andrea) the book Seven Myths of the Crusades (Hackett, 2015). It includes seven essays by prominent crusade historians dealing with various popular modern “myths” related to the medieval crusading movement. While recently preparing for an upcoming talk at Georgia Southern University, titled “The Modern Politics of Medieval Crusading,” I was carefully rereading the various chapters of Seven Myths, and thought it worthwhile to briefly highlight one of them here.
One of the historians who agreed to contribute to our project was the distinguished American medievalist Edward Peters, the former Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania (now Professor Emeritus). Over the course of his career, his work on medieval inquisitions has been highly influential and his translations of crusade texts have been used in college or university classrooms for nearly two decades. Consequently, when Ed agreed to contribute a chapter to Seven Myths, co-authored with his talented former doctoral student Mona Hammad (Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Jordan), Al and I were elated. The combination of the two authors was ideal in light of the topic they considered in their essay, titled “Islam and the Crusades: A Nine Hundred-Year-Long Grievance?”
The subject of their essay is a potentially controversial one, particularly as it argues that much of the Islamic world’s modern memory of the medieval crusades, a memory which frames the crusades as a largely unprovoked Christian attack on the Muslim world, serving as a constant source of division and mistrust today, was only developed in the 19th and 20th centuries during an age of western imperialism that influenced its construction. Moreover, Ed and Mona’s essay emphasizes that it was essentially the modern imperialist west that taught the modern Muslim world to hate the crusades, as there had been relatively little concern about them expressed in texts by Muslim authors in the centuries prior.
Having a well known and highly respected medievalist like Ed, as well as Mona, who is fluent in Arabic and lives and works in Jordan, seemed like (and proved to be) an ideal pairing for the chapter. Anyone seriously interested in the topic should, of course, consult their work, but here I want to highlight only a few key parts of their otherwise much lengthier and more engaging essay. Continue reading
As anyone paying attention will know, the election of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. Presidency has roused the political left to an extraordinary degree. The most recent hot-button issue, at least until Trump announces his pick for the Supreme Court this evening, has been his executive order to ban travelers to the United States from Syria and pause (for 120 days) travelers from six other majority Muslim countries, including Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen. The order seems to target travelers from those countries seen as most problematic from the perspective of the U.S. government (e.g. civil wars, high levels of terrorism or Islamic extremism, Iran’s quarrels with the U.S., etc…).
Regardless of what partisans say on either side of the political isle, it’s a complex issue that needs serious consideration. Indeed, many are still debating the meaning and extent of the order.
I only have a few thoughts that I would like to lay out here, and realize this is by no means exhaustive analysis as far more has been written about the topic by others. Continue reading
In the summer of 2016, during an academic exchange trip that took me to the West Bank and Israel, I traveled with a small group of other academics affiliated with various universities. All of them had impressive backgrounds in their various disciplines and some of them were well traveled in the Middle East.
One of them was Dr. Jacek Lubecki, currently Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for International Studies at Georgia Southern University, and former Coordinator of International and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (2005 to 2012). During the course of our travels I became friends with Jacek, who obviously has a wealth of experiences due to extensive international travels. Because of his education, background, sense of humor, and warm personality, Jacek is also a great conversationalist, particularly during long trips from one region to another in the back of a cramped shuttle bus or (as I was fortunate to learn first hand) when sipping a beer in a smoke filled bar in Ramallah in the West Bank.
While Jacek has a lot of experience traveling and meeting with political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere, I came to find out that the primary focus of his research is actually Eastern Europe, with an emphasis on Poland where he was born and raised, and its relationship to Russia, which obviously has had considerable influence in the region and is often a source of concern for Eastern European states. Continue reading