The Qina and the Nakhba

It is no new observation that Arabs, who tend to know much more history than Americans, draw a parallel between two overseas occupations of what they call Palestine. In the Nakhba, the establishment of the State of Israel, they find echoes of the Qina, which from our side we call the First Crusade. If neither geopolitical event was quite as straightforward as the unprovoked invasion of the conventional narrative, that is only par for the course of perceived national history. Which is always about Us virtuously minding our own business until They viciously turn up and stomp us. The Muslims actually took a bigger punch than the Crusades in what we call the Middle Ages; the Mongol devastation of Central Asia and Persia was provoked by extraordinary stupidity on the part of a frontier commander and his emperor, but the millions of ordinary dead would not have appreciated that.

The formative event for the Orthodox Church was the 1204 Latin conquest of Constantinople, in which the Franks divided up what was left of the Byzantine Empire as if it were an old-fashioned watch, apparently lacking any understanding beyond “Look! Shiny stuff!” Again, this was not really out-of-the-blue, and has even been treated as an internal putsch. In the same way, the Europeans conquered India by offering military assistance. Although the Spanish also overthrew the Aztecs and the Incas as external mercenaries in the service of native factions, in the light of the European impact on the continents as a whole the pre-Columbians may be conceded their unprovoked Catastrophe. In their five thousand years of history the Chinese have eaten a lot of bitterness, but the Jurchen sack of Kaifeng in 1127 probably stands out as their own resonant moment. The straightforward “they-just-came-and-spoiled-everything” perception is perhaps most accurate for the African experience and even more the Australian. The Russian-Polish-Hungarian experience of being devastated by the Mongols is the closest Europe comes to the simple narrative.

The odd men out here are the Western Europeans. We have our watershed of the civilisation-destroying 1914, to be sure, but that was entirely self-inflicted. Nobody came to do it to us from outside, which is why H.G. Wells had to give us the “vast, cool and unsympathetic” Martians. He wanted to show the complacent British what it felt like to be on the receiving end of superior technology. The question is thus whether we are ever likely to understand a culture whose historical memory is dominated by alien irruption and devastation.

Posted on January 24, 2014 at 17:09 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, Getting Medieval, Miscellaneous

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