Far Right’s Misuse of Knights Templar, Who were actually Sympathetic to Muslims

Patrick Masters | (The Conversation) | – –

When market trader Tina Gayle was banned from selling mugs featuring Knights Templar logos in a Loughborough Market, Charnwood Borough Council ruled that they were offensive to Muslims. A story in the Daily Mail reported that Gayle had “been previously been warned by the council for selling Nazi memorabilia”.

A subsequent report said that the council had not been concerned about what was depicted on the mugs, only that they were new products being sold on a vintage market. But the inclusion in the coverage of this little reference to the stallholder’s Nazi products highlights the regular association of the Knights Templar with right-wing extremism.

Drinking vessel for mugs.
Amazon

Of course, the Knights Templar symbology recalls the crusades – and is associated with medieval Christian fanaticism – but other prominent crusade iconography, such as the cross of the Knights Hospitaller, used by St John’s Ambulance is overlooked. So why does Templar imagery garner a similar reaction to Nazi symbols, while another equally significant crusader image hardly registers with the wider public – except with positive connotations?

Soldiers, doctors and bankers

The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as The Knights Hospitaller, was founded after the first crusade to provide hospital care for pilgrims sanctioned by Pope Paschall II in 1113. The infamous Order of The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as The Templar, was founded in 1119 by Hugh de Payens, a French nobleman, as a revolutionary monastic order, that would escort and protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.

Escutcheon of the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes (1305-1523) in Athens War Museum.
Dimitris Kamaras via Flickr, CC BY-SA

These two orders grew to become the premier Christian fighting forces in the Holy Land, due to the large amount of wealth gifted them by the European nobles. The Templars and the Hospitallers were major forces right up until the Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291. Despite the prominence of their military roles, the Knights Hospitaller provided medical care for pilgrims, while the Knights Templar grew richer by acting as bankers for crusading nobles.

While both orders played major roles within the crusades, their respective icons evoke different sentiments – these days, the Hospitaller cross represents the charitable work of St John’s Ambulance but the Templar cross is deemed offensive and worthy of a ban.

Hatred on the streets

The red cross upon a white background, a symbol of the Knights Templar, carries connotations of nationalism within the UK due to its resemblance to the cross of St George on the English flag. The iconic cross has been thematically appropriated by extremist right-wing group the English Defence League (EDL), and the group has been known to dress in quasi-knightly garb.

The English Defence League has appropriated the Cross of St George.
Gavin Lynn via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The most infamous and horrific association with Templars in recent times would be the claims made by the right-wing extremist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who in 2011 carried out terrorist attacks in Norway. Following his attacks, a manifesto appeared in which Breivik claimed to be a Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe.

Breivik is not alone in asserting a Templar identity within right wing views. The modern Templar community, The Knights Templar-UK, also forgets the monastic lifestyle of the order and uses it as a platform for the right-wing views outlined on its website. On a page called “Our Aims” it states:

With the advent of mass immigration, this balance can be swung in many directions, including ones where extremists of particular faiths, may wish to dominate and control other’s beliefs.

The site also offers a review of the British political parties, stating which ones the Templars would identify with most closely. According to the website, these parties are the English Democrats, Ukip and the BNP – ironic, when you think that the Templars were an international organisation that spanned Europe.

In the frame

Popular culture often paints the Knights Templar as villains within a medieval setting, most notably in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, which depicted the Templar as racist murderers who hate Muslims and openly mock religion. Scott’s film depicts a Hospitaller knight as a pious man who counsels the film’s protagonist Balian and condemns the violent acts of the Templars.

Arabic chroniclers of the crusades directly contradict Scott’s villainous Templar. Syrian writer Usama ibn Munqidh (1095-1188) explains that the Templars were more understanding and respectful of the Islamic faith than the average Christian crusader. This underlines the doubtfulness of the Templar warrior monk’s fanatical hatred of Islam and subverts the notion of the order as a symbol of right wing Christian extremism.

Ridley Scott’s fictional depiction of the villainous Templar originates with Sir Walter Scott in his 1820 novel Ivanhoe, which was, in turn, inspired by discredited 19th-century accounts of the crusades. Those themes of hatred and greed leave out the religious aspect of the crusades, which the medieval scholar Nickolas Haydock, citing historian Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, explains is “an invention of 19th-century medievalism, exemplified in the works of Sir Walter Scott”.

Scott’s fictional accounts created the notion of the evil Templar within popular culture and cast them as more like Nazis, in direct contrast to the more pacific Hospitaller order – who his film director namesake duly depicted as the opposite to the fanatical Templar.

The ConversationSo now the Templars have become associated with the worst excesses of an already dark period in medieval history. But to portray them as the ultimate evil of the crusades – or to praise them as champions of a narrow-minded nationalism – is a simplistic misrepresentation of the 200-year history of the crusades. There are no calls to ban the imagery of the Hospitallers, yet Templar iconography remains controversial due to its association with extremist views – unfairly connected to them through popular culture since the 19th century.

Patrick Masters, Lecturer in Film Studies, University of Portsmouth

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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10 Responses

  1. “The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars…There are lunatics who don’t bring up the Templars, but those who do are the most insidious.” –Umberto Eco

  2. “Far Right’s Misuse of Knights Templar” – what can be expected from those who become agitated when everyone around them does not resemble themselves in a mirror? Racism is a BIRTH DEFECT in the white population since normal people do not fear others based on skin color or race.

    link to marketwatch.com

    • We must remember that murderous tribalism was nothing new, nor was the hatred of entire religions by their monotheistic rivals.

      What was new was the idea that European investors could turn the world into a giant slave plantation for unimaginable profit. That was why a new sort of division between humans was needed, one that safely put all the rival European nations on one side and all their potential victims on the other. Thus places like Virginia could construct a skin-based ideology to turn European colonists into “White” crusaders and warriors, engaging in conquest merely by participating in the economic machinations of the oligarchs, who were now their chieftains in “Whiteness”.

      For all practical purposes, it was a business decision.

        • My key phrase is, “It was a business decision.”
          So what we must consider is what the business decision will be this time for how to best profit from White supremacy, since it goes without saying that equality is Bad For Business.

          Theodore Allen’s book “The Invention of the White Race” proposes that the #1 priority for the colonial oligarchy in spreading slavery to the American mainland was the need to chain down laborers. White indentured servants were no good because they could flee from one colony to another and live under an assumed name free of their obligations. Africans were easy to stigmatize and they were far from home no matter what they did. Freeing the indentured Whites made them collaborators in the persecution of the new slaves, thus providing the cornerstone for our social order to this day.

          But today, the problem the oligarchs face is that they don’t need us to work; they’ve got machines and foreigners. They need us to spend, but in order for us to spend more while they pay us less, they’ve done everything to extract all our savings and get us into debt. Which leads to these inconvenient financial crashes that risk a lot of their loot. And maybe they fear that one day the consumers will unite against them.

          So they again need to co-opt Whites into being enforcers oppressing non-Whites, but enforcers of what? Our debts are only useful if they can be turned into some kind of property that the rich can again speculate on.

          I believe that the Final Solution is to bring back slavery. Not because it is productive. But because it will distract us in the same way the war machine distracts us. Instead of us building useless weapons so that our country can pointlessly push the world around and we become ever less secure and more paranoid, we will do it to each other in an isolated America.

          The key is that the public’s fear of crime makes it willing to subsidize prison slave labor. From the point of view of private prison owners, that labor suddenly becomes superior to automation or outsourcing. From the macroeconomic view, it’s not, because the public is pouring in tax $ to make up the difference. But the public – or at least the paranoid White part of it – is satisfied with this reduction in its standard of living because for them the point of society is placing them as Masters over the subhumans whom their all-White juries will put in prison, and some of the subsidy becomes prison jobs for Whites. The country will get poorer and poorer, but the most armed and hateful will increasingly become the phalanx protecting the prison industry, and their standard of living will be the only True American standard of living that matters. The prisoners will be rented out to private business, as was the Southern practice until the 1930s. Again, the subsidy makes this worthwhile.

          Now, here’s what’s really evil. The more ambitious mainstream Whites will think they can be successful entrepreneurs by exploiting this slave labor. They will be co-opted by their egos. Most of them will fail, and they will fall into debt in turn. But they’re correct-colored, so they will be sentenced to be prison guards instead of prisoners.

          Wonderfully twisted, isn’t it? I’m writing a novel about this premise, where of course things don’t go as planned.

        • super – The “trickle-down theory” within White Dominionism is a bit more complex than merely a “business decision.”

  3. getoffmedz says: ‘Racism is a BIRTH DEFECT in the white population’

    I did not know that you get born with particular opinions. Interesting. Also, of course completely false. Not to mention that racism is not a white invention. Ask the Chinese what they think of the rest, the Japanese what they think of Coreans, The Turks what they think of the Kurds, and so on. Also, racism is first about looking down on others, fear is not the primary thing.

    • You misunderstand – Normal humans are born free of discrimination and hate. Those who hate from birth are DEFECTIVE be they Turks, Japanese, Chinese or U.S.A. white trash. Racists FEAR those not the same and sublimate by acting superior and arming themselves to the teeth.

    • Like most folks, you’re confusing the proper definition of prejudice and racism. Racism is an ideology of how a society should be governed, which really means economic exploitation. Before White Europe invaded the world, slavery was not race-based, and usually was something you could theoretically work your way out of. That made sense as an incentive to obey.

      White racism was literally invented after the oligarchs realized they needed to have slaves instead of indentured servants to make their economy work. Before that, there was merely prejudice. Racism provided universal principles for all “Whites” to wage war on all others. The condemnation of an entire continent to slavery, with all Whites trained to collaborate, meant that incentives were no longer necessary; it was brute force, working an entire people to death with no likely way out. The ideology that is concocted to carry out this monstrous scheme is racism, whether in colonial America or the Third Reich.

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