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Twenty-First Century Crusades?


Elis-Thomas harks back to Crusades
Martin Shipton, Western Mail

DAFYDD ELIS-THOMAS will today deliver a lecture in which he characterizes our age as one of "state and anti-state terrorism".

The Plaid Cymru peer, who is Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, has called his Institute of Welsh Affairs National Eisteddfod Lecture Creating a New Europe - Enlarging our Borders. In it, he traces the concept of Europe over many centuries and describes himself as proud to be a Welsh European.
 

Lord Elis-Thomas compares the international situation today with the era of the Crusades.


In one of the most controversial passages of his lecture, Lord Elis-Thomas compares the international situation today with the era of the Crusades.

He states, "In the early 12th century that we would recognize today as a rich time in inter-faith relations, Christians, Jews and Muslims were working and translating together, leading to the development of humanism and scholasticism.

"This is not to gloss over the harsh historical facts that the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries saw a virulent anti-Semitism and an anti-pluralist Inquisition, the precursors of the Holocaust and fascism. In addition, there were a series of military operations later described as 'Crusades' in Palestine against Muslim peoples, the precursors of the state and anti-state terrorism we are living with to this very day as this text is being written.

Lord Elis-Thomas says the West first became "obsessed with its conflict with Islam" in the 7th century: "The military forces of the Islamic 'terrorism' of its time began by sweeping across from North Africa, but a short distance, then upwards and across the Pyrenees.

"The Islamic presence is inherent to the development of Continental mainland Europe, especially in the Iberian peninsula, and had it retained its base and extended its influence, Europe and North Africa may have become historically and culturally much more integrated around the Mediterranean as previous 'empires'... such as the attempted Greek and Persian domination.

"Some historians have argued cogently that it was these very invasions that led to what they have described as the first great attempt to create a new Europe, associated with Charlemagne. Charlemagne was king of the Franks (768-814), then as Charles 1 was Holy Roman Emperor for the last 14 years of his reign. This first 'new Europe', as with nearly all the attempts which followed it, was based not so much on extending borders as securing them firmly and imposing uniformity."

Today's new Europe, argues Lord Elis-Thomas, is fundamentally different: "There is a European space. It is preeminently and for the first time in European and possibly human history a political space not cleared by military force.

"Unlike every other attempt... to enforce one people over another and to establish unity by conquest and submission and an imposed uniformity, it was established and is maintained by a series of non-coercive treaties."

Speaking of his own "rebirth" as a European, Lord Elis-Thomas states, "I 'became a European' rather than merely being of Welsh or British political and cultural identification through my study of literature, in particular medieval literature and its associated literary scholarship which produced such masterly works of interpretation in the 20th century... Suddenly I was not just the bilingual speaker of a majority Anglo Saxon-derived and minority Celtic-derived language in a provincial university city in North Wales (Bangor).

"What I was learning to value in cultures and histories which surrounded me were part and parcel of a much greater whole whose vibrancy lay in the way in which 'topoi' (or motifs) were widely scattered throughout many languages, yet mysteriously common in their occurrence: again, united in diversity."
 

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