Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors, by Brian A. Catlos

Ending the year on a non-fiction note, I picked up a book that has much relevance to my area of study in college. And up front, I'll admit that I skipped the last fifty pages since it was information on the Crusades with which I was already quite familiar. The subtitle to this work is "Faith, power, and violence in the age of Crusade and Jihad." It's an academic, approachable look at the Mediterranean (specifically Spain, North Africa, Sicily, and the Near East) during the Middle Ages, a time when borders were fluid and Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived mostly together and mostly peacefully. Catlos's thesis is that the primary sources that seem to indicate that religion was a major cause of discordance and violence in the medieval Mediterranean world give a false impression; instead, Catlos argues that religion was simply an easy tool to utilize when one wanted to damage someone personally or politically. A Jewish wazir was only attacked because of his Jewish identity when he angered Muslim taxpayers; an Armenian Christian wazir was excoriated for his Christianity only after personally refusing a loan to a Muslim administrator. Religion, far from being divisive, was simply another means to a political end.

Catlos argues his point well, though he tends to restate his thesis a little more often than is necessary. His chapter on the Cid is particularly interesting, as it parses the well-known legend into its real world history. He could have focused more on the turning point of religions relations, where instead he suddenly jumps into it with the announcement of the First Crusade in 1095. But it's a well-written, extremely well-researched book, another strong exhibit for the argument that the three Peoples of the Book can, and did, get along well enough without religious invective and violence.


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