Friday, September 18, 2009

Week 2 Commentary

In the beginning parts of chapter four, Abu-Lughod leads us through an in-depth discussion of the two port cities and then trading powers - Genoa and Venice. Her discussion covers the Crusades that took place between the eleventh and tweleth centuries, as well as the impact of the Crusads on Venice and Genoa, eventually leading to the downfall of the Genovian power. Other factors included Genova's unfortunate ties to Egypt and the Black Death, and subsequently, Venice gained access to core trade routes, including to countries in the middle and far east, which held many desired luzury items. Lastly, the Crusades versus the Muslims brings about several economical, political, and sociological issues, namely between the "barbarians" and the "franks." Many of these issues, as well as the cultual landscape of both groups in general, led to the notion of Muslim superiority over the barbarians.

These notions of Muslim superiority felt by the Islamic people at this time were perpetuated by numerous factors that Abu-Lughod communicates on pages 106-109. First, in relation to the notions and levels of civilization in Europe at that time, Abu-Lughod suggests that "the Crusaders were more akin to the barbarians who periodically preyed on the settled wealth of high cultures than to carries of the mission civilisatrice," (106). Furthermore, she qutes Cipolla and states, "from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the thirteenth century Eurpose was an underdeveloped area in relation the major centers of civilization at the time ... clearly a land of barbarians" (106). With this being said, the Muslim culture was unparalleled in wealth, status, and quality of goods, and Abu-Loghod clearly states that the interest in Muslim culture from the western European people was not reciprocated (106); the area the western Europeans inhabitied "had little to offer," (106) according to the Muslims/Islams/Arabs (a term Abu-Lughod uses seemingly interchangeably).

Other than their economical and sociological inferiority, in relation to the Muslim culture, several instances led to the assumption of western European inferiority, namely in the case of the Crusaders - whom the Muslims referred to as "franks" (107). Abu-Lughod cites the following example as an absolutely savage example of the inferiority of the barbarian peoples:

In 1098 Crusader destruction of the Syrian town of Ma'arra had been accompanied
by acknowledged acts of Frankish cannibalism. Graphically descrived in the chronicle of
Radulph of Caeb (he admits that 'in Ma'arra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking pots,
they impaled children on spits abd deciyred tgen grilled'). They were later justified in a
letter sent to the Pope by the Christian commander, who blamed the lapse on extreme
hunger (107).

The Muslims' marked dismay with this act was excused swiftly by the western European power - the church; however, Muslim hostorians hold that their eccentric and barbarian acts were further exemplified by their eating of dogs, "the uncleanest of species," (107).

The excuse belied on the part of the Pope and the Catholic church was quite rediculous to me - "extreme hunger" does not account for the fact that many people were consumed during these times by the uncivilized. While more information might help the argument that this case was justified in terms of the barbarians' desperation in times of war, it is an extreme display of the Crusaders' sociological inferiority, if nothing else. It is, however, problematic to cite only one extreme example of their social inferiority, without citing further information surrounding the Radulph of Caen's chronicle, and claim the general conclusion that this led to the idea of western European inferiority, in realtion to the Muslim peoples at that time.

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