Figaro and I are watching the Terry Jones series on the Crusades that came out eons ago. Figaro hasn’t read much about the Crusades before and I think he’s finding all the horrible stories especially disturbing – for me, what I have read before has all mixed up into a welter of dates, names and atrocities that are too gruesome to make the effort to remember in detail, and this series calls them back.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a failing that North Americans generally are incapable of thinking historically, that we don’t frame our selves and our experiences directly against a background of ancestors and tradition. Committed, rabid Jungian that I am, I believe a good, honest study of how one is in oneself and how that oneselfness must confront the world makes up for the stability lost from sacrificing old religions, old prescribed but reassuringly predictable gender roles, and safe, established life patterns. I think the intellectual and physical freedoms we’ve gained through such sacrifices make them well worth it.
I think what is a fairly specifically North American failing – especially an American failing, because their national identity cuts them off even more abruptly from their ancestral identity than the Canadian one – is not understanding most of the people in the world think far more historically than we do, because they live and breathe the consequences of history. For us, history is a pretty story of how we reached our present comfort and prosperity; for almost everyone else, it’s anything but. We can afford to ignore history in our daily lives, take it for granted, and other people can’t. And our great practical failing is mindlessly blaming other people for that inability instead of factoring it into how we work and negotiate with them, or how it plays into their relationship with each other.
The other day - coindentally, the day Figaro suggested renting the series - I met an old Dutch man who told me he was Jewish within five minutes. He seemed pretty nice, and had some stuff to say about things, and somehow - I think because of the flap over the Pope quoting some Byzantine over the violence inherent in Mohammed's message - the Crusades came up. He told me that the Crusades were about the rampant running of Muslims all through southern and eastern Europe, and started rapid fire talk when I tried to suggest they came about because of Peter-the-Hermit-type Christian fervour, the appeals of the Byzantine emperor, and the desire of some younger artistocratic sons to get property. I can't stand that - especially since he was about 70 and I can't find it in my heart to talk over 70 year olds. They remind me too much of my grandfather. Then I feel like I've got no balls.
My point is, if I was an idiot or if I hadn't received the education I had about the huge divisions of ethnicities and spheres of influence within the Muslim faith that rival those of the Christian faith, I probably would have bought what he was saying wholesale. When we - secular or "Jesus-loves-me-and-has-a-pointy-beard" type North Americans - look at Muslims through the filter of our media and the prominence of insane terrorists, we see one angry group who won't let go of ancestral grievances we don't understand or sympathize with, and no doubt having such a perception it would be reassuring to be told one of the ancestral grievances - the Crusades - Wasn't Your Fault.
Anyways. The series is okay. Kind of funny and sparks the urge to research, don’t you know. Alright if you don’t have a television but want to allow yourself an hour of video stimulation a night.
Now a nicer ancestral story. I was locking up my bike the other day when a limo driver with a thick accent who uses the dry cleaners next to my flat said hi and offered me a lift, as he always does. He sees some humour in offering a girl on a bike a ride in a limo. Heh. Anyways, then he asked me where I'm from, and when I told him he started talking in Italian! He was Ethiopian - you know, from that soveriegn country, the only soveriegn African country at the time, I think, that Mussolini's Italy invaded and annexed. My nonno worked there well into the second world war. I told him that, shook my head, and said Italy in Ethiopia was a "storia brutta"; he just shrugged, and said in perfect Canadianese, "Ah, whatayagonnado".
If only it were always that easy.