Revisionist history with a central thesis that the Crusades were among the direct determinants of latter-day strife in the Middle East. A former nun who spent seven years in an English convent, Armstrong (Through the Narrow Gate, 1981; Beginning the World, 1983), relies solely on secondary sources and insights gained during a 1983 sojourn in Israel (as producer of a Tv series on early Christianity) to make her arguable case and collateral allegations. While she offers an interpretive account of the campaigns undertaken by European soldiers of the cross in the Holy Land from 1095 through 1291, she is at least as concerned with the present and recent past, according equal attention to the modern world in general and the embattled Middle East in particular. She also offers quirky perspectives on the global village's three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. With the deadly earnestness of a true believer, Armstrong (who is at pains to note she is no longer a believing or observant Christian) reaches any number of arresting conclusions. Characterizing the Crusades as ``a vicious Western initiative,'' she asserts, for instance, that there probably would have been no Jewish state in the Middle East if not for the perdurable anti-Semitism engendered in Europe by eastward marches during the Middle Ages. In like vein, she suggests that today's Israelis draw belligerent inspiration from the castles, churches, and cities left by Crusaders as reminders of a colonial movement that tried to establish itself in a hostile Muslim environment with powerful backing from the West. At the same time, she insists, contemporary Arabs (who despise Zionists ``as either new Crusades or as tools of Western imperialism'') continue to look for another Saladin's advent. In Armstrong's book, moreover, the Crusades (or their evangelical spirit) are a root cause of the Inquisition, the Nazi Holocaust, and a host of other recorded disasters-secular as well as militantly ecclesiastic. While the author may have lost her own vocation, she does not shrink from asking prospective pilgrims to take rather a lot on faith. The provocative, albeit tedious, text (previously published in the UK) has six helpful maps.
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