Dante is frequently represented — most notably by Edward Said in the "Introduction" to Orientalism, but also in the contemporary popular imagination — as a detractor if not an enemy of Islam and Muslims. This paper will explore counterpoints to this portrait of Dante as exemplary of a typically agressive and imperialist Western mentality.
Beginning with a close analysis of the central cantos of Paradiso — where Dante is given his military marching orders, his world-historical mission, by one who was famous as a crusader against Muslim peoples (Dante's great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida), I will show how Dante revises the ordinary logic of crusade. Similar to the Brethren of Purity's notion of jihad as an internally-directed non-violent struggle with the self, Dante's crusade involves an internal and discursive rather than an external and physical violence. After treating the question of crusade in Paradiso, I will show how Dante's re-thinking his mission as a crusader is the logical correlary of his political vision for global peace. The paper will close by considering other instances, both in Dante and in some of his contemporaries (the political philosopher Marsilius of Padua and certain of the radical Spiritual Franciscans) of a late medieval movement toward a new model of governance--a model according to which one's religious identity would be irrelevant to one's full inclusion in the political community.