Call to Arms

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Call to Arms

Deus Volt —God Wills It!
…67 Poetry of the Crusades
…79 The Muslim Call to Arms
…97 Anti-Crusades

The religious wars known in the West as the Crusades had to be sold to the faithful. Such a sales job included impassioned words from various popes as well as reports of terrible wrongs done to Christian pilgrims, or travelers, in the Holy Land. Songs and poetry were also used to convince the common people and nobles alike of the need for a holy war against the followers of Islam to recapture the cities and sites in the Middle East that were sacred to Christianity. Today we would call such speeches "half-true news" and entertainment aimed at convincing people of the rightness of a cause "propaganda." At the time of the Crusades, from the end of the eleventh century to the end of the thirteenth, people in Europe had little experience with such manipulation. Most could not read or write, so they believed what their religious and civil leaders told them. Entertainment came in the form of poets and singers called troubadours. The stories and ballads spun by these aristocratic writers and performers also entered into the subconscious of simple people, forming a strong picture of the brave knights, or Christian warriors, battling the evil infidel, or Muslim.

The Muslims also had a propaganda machine through their religious leaders, historians, and poets. Busy feuding or fighting with each other, the people of the Middle East were caught unprepared to deal with the invasion of the First Crusade in 1096. The divisions in the world of Islam created by competing branches of the religion and rival dynasties, or ruling lines, allowed the Crusaders to take the Holy Land and set up their Crusader states in Palestine, a strip of land along the eastern Mediterranean from Jerusalem in the south to Antioch in the north. Such divisions were soon put aside, however, as strong leaders from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, such as Zengi, Nur al-Din (also called Nureddin), Saladin, and Baybars rallied the Muslims around the idea of jihad, or holy war, against the infidel. (It is worth noting that both the Christians and the Muslims called followers of the other religion "infidels," or unbelievers.) Hand in hand with such leaders, the poets, writers, and chroniclers (historians) of the time began to pour out warnings to the people of the Middle East to put aside their differences and fight the common enemy, Christian invaders.

Not everyone, everywhere was caught up in this crusading craze, however. Some resisted the call to arms and tried to examine the real motives for such a holy war. These voices were few. On both sides most were willing to put their lives on the line for such a cause. In Europe there were plenty of knights and noblemen who were looking for opportunities in a new land. The pope's promise of wiping away all their sins if they went on Crusade also attracted many soldiers who had committed numerous sins in their pasts. For the believers in Islam, the idea of becoming a soldier of God (or Allah, as they called him) was part of the religion. Muslims have a duty to fight for their religion, though they cannot be forced to fight. Still, from the Muslim point of view their lands were being invaded, and few resisted the call to arms to fight the Christian invader.

The call to arms for the Crusades lasted more than two centuries and came from a variety of sources. The first section of this chapter, "Deus Volt—God Wills It!," examines the role of the leader of the Christian Church, the pope, in calling for a Crusade, in the excerpt "Urban II: Speech at the Council of Clermont, 1095." The importance of the call for help from Christians in the Holy Land is also highlighted in "The Decline of Christian Power in the Holy Land, 1164: Letter from Aymeric, Patriarch of Antioch, to Louis VII of France." The second section, "Poetry of the Crusades," looks at the importance of literature in promoting the Crusades, with an excerpt from the medieval French epic poem, The Song of Roland and a troubadour song from Conon de Béthune, "Ahi! Amours! Com dure departie" ("Alas, Love, What Hard Leave"). The Muslim perspective or point of view is presented in the third section, "The Muslim Call to Arms," in a poem on the Crusades from the Islamic poet Abu l-Musaffar al-Abiwardi, as collected in "The Perfect History" from the medieval Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir. A further look at the divided nature of the Islamic world comes in an excerpt from The Book of the Maghrib by the Muslim chronicler Ibn Said. The fourth and final section, "Anti-Crusades," offers another viewpoint in an excerpt from the "Annales Herbipolenses," written by an anonymous German historian critical of the Second Crusade (1147–49).