Daily Archives: September 16, 2006

Sooner or later it all clicks together.

Malcolm was doubly surprised by the recent Papal kerfuffle.

His first surprise was to find he could now make connections. He had barely a nodding acquaintance with the now much-quoted Manuel II Palaeologus. Said Manuel has a walk-on part in chapter 64 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. He also appears in the final part of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium (which, in Malcolm’s mind, is magnificently fine, but falls readably short of Lord Norwich’s exquisite Venice). In neither account does Manuel come across as a heroic figure, being, in part, responsible for extinguishing the last Asian possession of Byzantium.

Manuel, as Gibbon and Norwich establish, was a part-time client, a vassal of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezit. The Emperor’s view of Islam might, just might, have been coloured by his dealings with the Ottomans. He escaped being part of a systematic massacre of Bayezit’s Christian vassals (at Serres in the winter of 1593-4), but only because the Sultan changed his mind at the last moment.

And why does Malcolm remember Bayezit? Because he appears as “Bajazeth, Emperor of the Turks” in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine:

Now shalt thou feel the force of Turkish arms,
Which lately made all Europe quake for fear.
I have of Turks, Arabians, Moors, and Jews,
Enough to cover all Bithynia:
Let thousands die; their slaughter’d carcasses
Shall serve for walls and bulwarks to the rest;
And as the heads of Hydra, so my power,
Subdu’d, shall stand as mighty as before:
If they should yield their necks unto the sword,
Thy soldiers’ arms could not endure to strike.

Bajazeth’s next appearance, it should be remembered, is as Tamburlaine’s foot-stool, and he ends by braining himself against the bars of his own cage.

And demanding an apology from the Pope for a scholarly reference to the 14th-century reminds Malcolm that Marlowe himself came close to being sub-poenaed for his “communism” by the US House of Representatives.

Such are the simple pleasures of scholarship.

Meanwhile, back to the main point, and to Malcolm’s second surprise.

The BBC’s monitoring of the Islamic media is highly instructive:

  • the Pope was more offensive than the Danish cartoons;
  • his statement is a warning of serious danger in the future;
  • the Catholic church will be subject to upheavals that it has never seen before;
  • and must make a prompt apology in order to resolve a hot issue;
  • it all goes back to the Crusades, the main reason for [which] was not necessarily holy motives but the greed of Italian tradesmen and merchants;
  • it’s all because of Westerners are converting, en masse, to Islam.
  • etc., etc.

In this respect, Malcolm was astounded to realise how outstanding the language-teaching must be in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, even in every shanty-town and madrassa. Here are all these worthy and pious citizens protesting their shock, horror, detestation, and outrage. About a speech made in German. Of which there does not yet seem to be an authorised translation into English, let alone into Arabic, Turkish or whatever. So Malcolm was forced into believing that all these worthy and pious citizens had heard the speech in full, in German, and had comprehended in it meanings that certainly do not seem implicit in the summaries that Malcolm has had to rely upon.

After all, any other possibility, that these worthy and pious citizens were relying on partial or distorted reports, is unthinkable:

There is no expiation for false witness apart from repentance and restoring people’s rights, if that false testimony resulted in depriving others of what was rightfully theirs.
The judge or qaadi has the right to impose whatever ta’zeer punishment he sees fit for the one who bore false witness.


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