In its continuing war against left-wing teachers and educationists, The Australian
today has seized on a history textbook “widely used in Victorian high
schools” that has the temerity to question the justice of the Crusades.

Its particular sin, according to the article
by Justine Ferrari, is to suggest that there’s some analogy between the
Crusaders and the terrorists of 11 September 2001. Leaving aside the
fact that the book does this only in a question (just the sort of
thought-provocation that students need), the article actually confirms
the point: al-Qa’eda are not the only ones obsessed with medieval
history. Some conservatives are equally unable to escape from the 12th
century.

Hence Dr Barry Collett, who says he “would tend to compare [the
Crusaders] more with Australian troops intervening in East Timor”! He
also thinks the view of the medieval church as “a corrupt institution
driven by the desire for power” is “very out of date”, and solemnly
tells us that “those involved in the Inquisition actually spent most of
their time working with divided families rather than torturing
heretics.”

Hence also Kevin Donnelly, in a separate op-ed piece,
who offers as an example of postmodernist history the view that “there
are many perspectives on events and that explanations are often
incomplete and contested”. What sane historian would deny that?

Donnelly thinks that students should learn that the church’s power was
“based on the strength or truth of its teachings”, and that (quoting
Thomas E Woods) “Western civilisation’s admiration for the written
word and for the classics comes to us from the Catholic Church that
preserved both through the barbarian invasions.” Shouldn’t they also
learn that many classical manuscripts were only preserved by the
Muslims, and that Muslim-controlled Spain was the intellectual centre
of medieval Europe?

If we’ve learned anything at all from the last few years, it should be
the destructive power of fundamentalism, and the need to combat
religious dogmatism of every sort. Just the same message, in fact, that
a proper study of the Crusades would teach.

Peter Fray

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