17. The Rise & Fall of the Seljuk Turks

Recent Political Converts to Islam

The Bedouins had invaded Persia from the south to institute their religion of Islam in the 600s. Three hundred years later the Seljuk Turks conquered Persia from the north. The Seljuk Turks like the Normans in Europe had no religious agenda. They just wanted power. Quite consciously they converted to Islam in order to more effectively take over political control of the country. Further they converted to Sunni Islam in order to wage war on the Shiite Muslims who were rulers of large parts of the Arab world.

These Turks were neither Arab nor Persian and so were foreign rulers, just as the Normans in Europe, or the Mongols in China. The Turks were not loved by the Arabs under them any more than the Normans were loved by the Celts, Angles and Saxons in England, or the Mongols were loved in China. Indeed the Arabs were looking to take advantage of any Turkish weakness. This was the same in Europe and in China where the underclass was looking to take advantage of weakness in the ruling class, which was of a different culture. The results were similar - having little to do with Christianity, Islam, or Confucianism and much more to do with power and cultural preservation.

Fragmentation and Inner Power Struggles

The Seljuk Turks exhibit an important historical mechanism. Initially a somewhat nomadic Warrior Culture becomes the ruling Military Aristocracy of a sedentary Agri-culture.[1] Second comes the assimilation of the ruling Warrior culture into the conquered Agri-culture. The third part of this particular historical political mechanism has to do with fragmentation and inner struggle. The Greek empire created by Alexander fragmented almost immediately after his death. The Mongol Empire after Genghis fragmented. The Arab Empire after Mohammed fragmented into Sunni and Shiite. The Roman Christian Empire fragmented into Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. The Catholic Empire split into Protestant and Catholic.

After their original expansion, the Seljuk Turks soon fragmented into warring tribes. While consolidated they were invincible, but now that they were warring amongst themselves they always had to watch their backs from internal treachery.

About the time of the first Crusades, the Muslim Empire was severely fragmented with the center of power dispersed. Many rivalries had emerged, just as they had in Christianity. Many leaders were more interested in their own individual power than in the ideals of Mohammed. There were at least three competing sects of Islam. Then there was the rivalry between the cultures of the Arab, Persian, and Turk, each having a distinct language far different then French and Italian. Finally there were the tribal animosities. There was continual infighting amongst the Arabs just as with the Turks with each petty chieftain atttempting to carve out his own kingdom.

Hoping to exploit these internal Islamic conflicts the Christian world embarked on an invasion of their territory. Instead this galvanized the Islamic world.

The Islamic Revival & the King’s Crusade (1189-92)

While Jerusalem was a minor holding for the Islam Empire, the fact that they had been attacked and defeated by a Christian army from the backwards area of Europe inspired the Muslims to reunite behind the Kurds for a reverse Crusade. In 1187, less than 100 years after the Europeans had ‘liberated’ Jerusalem, Saladin, a great leader who had united the Islamic empire, recaptured Jerusalem.

In response the Pope issued a call for another Crusade, the 3rd (1189-1192). (The 2nd fizzled for lack of cooperation.) Pressured by their subjects to participate the kings of France and England, and the Holy Roman Emperor led this undertaking. Although continual infighting for absolute command weakened the European powers King Richard of England was on the verge of recapturing Jerusalem for the European Christians, when he received news from England that his brother Prince John was attempting to usurp his throne. He looked around – saw poisoned wells, dry soil, and a hostile environment. Rather than kill any more Christians or Moslems for this desolate land, he turned around and went home.

This invisible working of Allah’s hand, operating in mysterious ways, inspired the Moslems. With renewed vigor under Saladin’s command, they swept the area clean of European Christians. Those who had money were ransomed; most of the rest, primarily peasantry, were escorted to the coast and put on boats back to Europe. The Christian Italian merchants sold most of them into slavery, making a quick easy profit. Christians taking advantage of Christians - a common scenario. The Levant was returned to normal.



[1] This Bronze Age political structure is explored more thoroughly in the Tao of China.

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