"Deus lo volt!
" (God Wills It!). Said, Pope Urban II about a thousand years ago. This speech, delivered in central Gaul (modern France), started a series of attacks by Christian Europe on Middle East. The soldiers were mostly french but the armies included soldiers from almost all of european christiandom. The purported purpose of these attacks on middle east was to make the christian pilgrimages to the holy land safer. But soon it transformed into a general attack on Arabs and Jews in the area. These attacks, now called the "crusades" collectively, succeeded in planting a small christian kingom in the heart of the middle east. It took more than 100 years and the bravery of Saladin for the Arabs (+Turks+Kurds) to finally shake off this kingdom from their midst. But this series of wars permanently scarred the relations between the middle east and western europe. The mistrust and hatred, though may be under the surface now, has persisted to the modern era. During the height of western colonial era in 1920, as the french soldiers marched through the tomb of Saladin in Damascus, the words of the French General Gouraud were, "Saladin, we are back !"
So what's the relevance of the crusades now ? It feels that the world is hurtling towards another round of crusades now. Consider the events of recent history:
1. Western colonism over arab countries
This includes not only the middle east, but north africa too. Other regions that have arab influence and suffered from western hegemony, include Iran, central asian countries, south eastern asian countries. The colonial era was replete with economic exploitation and mass murders (eg: Algeria). The mass murders may be over now that colonialism is over. But western companies still dominate key industries (Oil, of course) and sustain tin-pot dictators and "kings". The western hypocrisy is so obvious when it talks about democracy and liberty when convenient and then hobnobs with regressive governments and gives strength and legitimacy to these. I dare say that without western props, many countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan may be having democracy now.
2. Breakup of Ottoman Empire
After the industrial revolution in europe, Ottoman empire started losing its power and started shrinking - first from europe, then in middle east itself. The WW-I was the final straw for the Ottoman empire. The loss of Khalifa was something many grudged back then (and started a "Khilafat movement" in India too).
3. Creation and western sustenance of Israel after WW-II
I always wonder if it is a coincidence that the map of Israel is almost identical to the crusader kingdom established a thousand years ago. No need to discuss what the creation of this country (and its later land acquisition in 1967) did to relations between the arabs and the west. We can read about the affects of this in the newspaper everyday.
4. East Timor independence
The world meditated independence of east Timor was seen by many in islamic nations as an interference and similar reciprocal interference is not there in cases like palestine, kashmir, chechnia etc. (These are not my opinions - but this is how many in islamic nations see it)
5. 9/11 and War on Terror
The hundreds of thousands of civilians that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the so called War on Terror started, pale the 9/11 casualties (with all due to respect to those who died in 9/11 - they certainly didn't deserve to). The US may find the war justified but the other side almost uniformly sees it as an unjust war doing more damage than good.
6. Cartoon controversy
Again, it is being seen as a general western attack on muslim sensibilities. While I am all for freedom of press, it is hypocritical to jail someone for an anti-semitic remark while allowing gross insult to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Keep a single set of rules for everyone on all issues. I am not condoning the violence conducted by protesters in Syria but western countries are not blameless.
My fear is that Bush administration and such other brainless western regimes will take the world towards another series of wars akin to the original crusades.
From India's point of view, she should hedge her bets. Like China is doing. Don't take any sides. Take advantage of this situation and start making deals with nations involved.