Familiarity breeds no tolerance

I recently finished reading Thomas Asbridge’s book on The Crusades, which I recommend despite its moderately secular bias. I was a little surprised, however, to note that I’d only marked five notes, one of which was the following:

However, for all the contact between Muslims and Latins witnessed in this era–through war and peace–Islam’s attitude towards western Christendom was not radically altered. Old prejudices remained, among them popular misconceptions about the worship of Christ and God as an indication of polytheism, as well as entrenched antipathy towards the use of figurative religious images, forbidden in Islam, and wild assertions of Frankish sexual impropriety. Familiarity does not seem to have bred much in the way of understanding or tolerance. But equally, contrary to the suggestion of some scholars, the advent of the crusades did not prompt widespread deterioration in Muslim relations with indigenous eastern Christians. There were some intermittent signs of a hardening in attitudes, particularly in cases where native Christians living under Islamic rule were suspected of aiding or spying for the Franks, but, broadly speaking, little changed until the rise of the more fanatical Mamluks.

For both Islam and the West, perhaps the most striking transformation wrought by the crusades related to trade. Levantine Muslims already maintained some commercial contacts with Europe before the First Crusade through Italian seaborne merchants, but the volume and importance of this economic interaction were revolutionised in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, largely as a result of the Latin settlement of the eastern Mediterranean. The crusades and the presence of the crusader states reconfigured Mediterranean trade routes–perhaps most powerfully after Constantinople’s conquest in 1204–and played a critical role in solidifying the power of the Italian mercantile cities of Venice, Pisa and Genoa.

Two interesting notes there. First is the fact that after 200 years of close contact, there was little improvement in terms of understanding or toleration between the Frankish and Islamic cultures. There was even some indication of “a hardening in attitudes” despite the occasional intermarriage and a considerable amount of trade; neither side objected in the least to making use of the women of the other side.

Given that the West has had much the same result with its African subculture over the last 200 years, these multiple multi-century data points should suffice to demonstrate that both the multicultural and the melting pot models of multiethnic societies are fundamentally incorrect. This historical conclusion is soundly supported by the relevant social science. And that means that as happened before in both the Holy Land and in Spain, and as is happening now in the Middle East, societal homogeneity will come to the fore again in the West. The Western equivalent of “the more fanatical Mamluks” will eventually rise due to the failure of their predecessors to deal with the problem in a less violent manner.

The second is the way that the main transformation was economic. In the West, we assume that because there has been an economic transformation, there will be a cultural transformation. The history of the Crusades indicates this is incorrect, and that the economic transformation is ultimately irrelevant to the cultural and demographic transformations. This historical perspective is in line with socionomic theory, which holds that economics is a consequential factor, not a causal one.