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Today's History Lesson

It was one of the strangest and most bizarre--most pathetic and tragic--episodes in Middle Eastern history ever. As a result of the strange bloodthirsty vicissitudes of European politics, they showed up on the easter shore of the Mediterranean. Battling their way inland with deeds of great nobility, great courage, great destruction, and great atrocity, they conquered Jerusalem and set up their state in the small area between the Jordan River and the sea.

The surrounding Muslims were horrified. They weren't Muslims! They were infidels! But they were powerful infidels--well-organized, ideologically committed to their cause, with superior military organization, weapons, and doctrine. The lightly-armed and largely untrained Arab and Egyptian militias couldn't stand against them. Besides, the local Muslim princes had other fish to fry. They would talk about the necessity of eliminating this horrible, monstrous, un-Muslim regime. They would contribute money toward its elimination. They even fought a few--largely disastrous--wars and eventually learned the lesson of their tactical inferiority on the pitched battlefield. But it was an annoyance only. The real power politics Muslim the shifting alliances and betrayals among the major powers of the Arab world: the Turks, the Egyptians, the Persians, Damascus, and Baghdad continued their dance.

All might have ended happily except for the unpleasant, premature death of that noble statesman dedicated to peaceful coexistence and to honor and cooperation. Peaceful coexistence required that the Jerusalem regime never become more than a minor irritant, less worrisome to Damascus and Baghdad and Cairo than they were to each other. But after the death of the last statesman to rule in Jerusalem, a harsher, stupider current rose to power--one that talked of the "clash of civilizations."

It is hard to say when the line was finally crossed. Perhaps it was the slaughter of the pilgrim ships to Mecca--even though the Jerusalem government's denials that it had intended or authorized the atrocity were convincing. Perhaps it was the raids that touched the major princes. There was a clear shift when Egypt joined the confrontation front. The alien Jerusalem regime changed from being a minor irritant to being a unifying focus for the Muslim world. Support from the west dried up--it had other concerns. The Arabs plus the Egyptians unified--the Turks and the Persians remained aloof, and their united and focused power was greatly multiplied.

On July 4, 1187 A.D.--25 Rabi al-Akhir 583 A.H.--the armies of King Joe the Winner, son of Job, called "the Righteousness of Faith"--that is, al-Malik un-Nasir Salah-ed-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub--destroyed the crusader army at the Horns of Hattin on the road to the Sea of Galilee, and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem died.

Ehud Olmert is not Guy de Lusignan. Dan Halutz is not Gerard de Ridefort. Yitzhak Rabin was not Baldwin IV, the Leper King of Jerusalem. Nobody--great thanks be to the Holy One of Israel--looks to be Reynaud de Chatillon. History does not repeat itself.

But it does sometimes rhyme.