Western vs Eastern.
As I delve into this paradigm of "The Differential of Life" the second topic they want to explore is how this mechanism works when we have people from totally different cultural and economic backgrounds. As I mentioned in my previous blog entry the philosophical implications of sacrificing self for another have a great impact on how we live our lives and understand their own existence.
I spent some time contemplating this topic of cultural and economic difference and was drawn to review the world as we see today. My attention was immediately drawn to the topic of Christian vs Muslim. As we look round the world and see the tension that lies between the Christian West and the Muslim East especially in recent months, I like many other people wonder where it will all end.
Where does this disparity over cultural views begin?
Pope Urban II The starting point for most historians would be a sermon preached by in 1095. He had been approached by emissaries of Emperor Alexius the first of Constantinople. At this time in history Constantinople was the home of the patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Alexius felt threatened by the westward movement of Islam which had taken control of Jerusalem and other Christian areas that lay within his realm. He was faced with losing control over his economic base and as such he was prepared to engage his rival Pope Urban II for help.
Pope Urban II who governed over the Holy Roman Empire had no serious rivals within Europe with which to contend. Following the empire of Charlemagne Europe drifted into a dark age where the poor got poorer and the rich got richer. Social inequality was rife and even the disparity between the wealth of many nobles was of great concern to many. Superstition abounded and many felt that the dark age was the result of the peoples sin. There was also a great amount of internal conflict within the nations of Europe at the time.
It is not known whether or not Pope Urban II saw this as an opportunity to consolidate his power base or whether he was acting strictly out of a spiritual ideal. Regardless of his motives his preaching was the catalyst that caused the formation of the first Crusade. He called for the liberation of Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks telling people that they denied others the right to worship the Christian God. His appeal and subsequent promises of forgiveness of sin combined with inducements in the form of wealth were readily taken up by the people of Europe. As spiritual head of the Church he was able through his message bring together the nobles of the time and form one of the biggest armies that Europe had ever seen.
It cannot be argued that the Crusades were not spiritual in nature as many saw this as an opportunity to take the word of Christ to the heathen. However, many saw this as an opportunity to slide out from underneath the yoke of poverty as the wealth of the Islamic nations was well known. No doubt there were some like Godfrey of Bouillon who were pious and unworldly in their outlook. However,there were many nobles who sought only wealth and opportunity. This is no more clearly seen than in the guise of Godfrey's brother Baldwin of Boulogne who many historians see as the antithesis of Godfrey.
The story of the Crusades is one of barbarity and bloodshed. With the promises of remission of sin many felt unincumbent by the commandment "thou shalt not kill". This had the effect of releasing them from their inhibitions and allowed them to perpetrate the worst excesses of human nature under the guise of a spiritual battle. Not only did they slaughter the Muslims but also the Jews and any other unbelievers.
When the Crusaders finally captured Jerusalem for the first time they massacred most men, women and children of the city. In the words of the chronicler of Crusades, Raymond of Agiles, the massacre was so extensive that the Crusaders “rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.”
History however tells us of another side to the Crusades.
When the Crusaders first struck, the Muslims of the time did not realise at first that it was a concerted effort by the whole of Europe to subjugate them but rather thought it was an attack by the Byzantium Empire. Unfortunately because of the divided nature of the Muslim empire there was too much bickering amongst the various groups for any serious attempt be made at a cohesive effort to repel the invaders.
As a result of this divided nature it wasn't until the rules of Nur al-Din and then Saladin that any real gains were made in repelling the invaders. From the Muslims point of view the Crusaders were infidels and as such were not to be trusted. Christians were described as uncivilised barbarians.
It was particularly Saladin that reversed the effects of the Crusaders initial victories. However, this reversal took place many years after the fact. Saladin is probably best known for the retaking of Jerusalem. However, on his way to Jerusalem he conquered nearly every major Crusaders city and won decisive battles such as the battle of Hattin in July 1187 A.D. His subsequent victory over Jerusalem and the manner in which he conducted this campaign holds at its core the concept of "the differential of life."
One would think that Saladin would have been hated amongst the Crusader nations however he was in fact one of the most esteemed Islamic figures of the time.This came about because of his generosity and compassion in dealing with the Christians in Jerusalem when here re-conquered the city. Rather than carrying out mass atrocities and creating a bloodbath in Jerusalem as had been done by the Crusaders when they first took the city, he showed restraint and compassion.
Saladin may have been ruthless in other parts of his life and many commentators believe he was behind the death of the previous ruler, however he displayed a part of his nature that expressed tolerance and restraint. The story is told of when he had Jerusalem surrounded he sent emissaries to petition for peace and surrender. He allowed the people of Jerusalem to pay a ransom for their freedom. So much per head.
When it became obvious that many in the city because of poverty could not afford to pay the ransom Saladin decided to pay the ransom out of his own pocket for any individual who could not afford it. This generosity had the effect of causing many of his followers to likewise pay the ransom out of their own pockets for many of the poor and destitute inhabitants of Jerusalem.
He then allowed the residents of Jerusalem to practice their religious beliefs unhindered and without persecution. One would have expected that he would expel all the unbelievers or even put them to death.
It is this act of compassion and tolerance for the beliefs of others despite what others had perpetrated on his own people that holds for us a lesson in learning to exercise the "differential of life" in our own society.
The World Today.
How can we as inhabitants of this Earth learn to overcome our prejudices and intolerance towards others?
Even though over the centuries there have been atrocities carried out by either side of the debate (Islam vs Christianity), examples such as that of Saladin hold for us a key in overcoming this seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
If two cultures are to live either side by side or even on different continents there needs to be a raised awareness of our common humanity. If we are to avert a new world war there needs to be a close examination, both personal and public of the reasons behind our failures in the past. There needs to be a sacrifice of self at a community or even national level for us to achieve lasting peace on earth.
Just as I wrote about previously that men in war can and do put their personal prejudices aside for the better good, the world's societies need to follow the examples of soldiers from all walks of life. This is not saying that all soldiers of the past and present or able to achieve this but rather that if we take the examples that I have outlined here and in my previous post we stand the greatest chance of achieving harmony and longevity as a society at large.
Any multicultural nation holds both extremes of this paradigm in tension. We have the two extremes of fundamentalism and compassion within our society today. Whether or not we can achieve this "differential of life" remains to be seen but our failure to do so could mean the end of life as we know it.