The Crusades cause people too much confusion. The view seems to be, there is little to defend in them, and even many Catholics tend to grow weary of “Crusades apologists.” Weren’t the Crusades an appalling example of an excess of violent zeal to beat down infidels? (For the Church only sent warriors after the Muslims because they were not Catholic. That is what we are told.) Even John Paul II apologized for them*, and surely no one wants to repeat that sad episode in Church history.
[*That’s the presumption, anyway. The pope did not apologize for the Crusades of themselves, but only for misdeeds done in battle.]
Outside the Church, the view seems to be that the Crusades are to blame for radical Islam today. If that statement seems far-fetched, consider that it was made just last year, on a prominent anti-Catholic blog, by an ex-Catholic named John Bugay. Read the wild things he says.
In Rome’s historical quest to dominate the world, it has perpetuated all kinds of falsehoods. Insofar as Rome disfigured the gospel … it was an enabler of Mohammad. And through some of its machinations in the Middle Ages (such as the quest for world domination—domination of the east—and the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the opponent of Jews), it became a teacher of, a motivation for, and an example to, radical Islam today: that heretics must be tortured and killed.
In a follow-up post the very same day, Bugay went further, claiming that “Roman crusading fossilized Islam into a fanatic posture.” The Crusaders, we are asked to think, so hardened the hearts of Muslims toward Christians that, even today, one thousand years later, they are sawing off heads. The Crusades are to blame for ISIS!
Now, if this kind of thinking were to be found only on wild sites like Triablogue, it could probably be laughed at and ignored, but in fact it is a very common myth about the Crusades. In the wake of 9/11, no less a person than Bill Clinton said the following, in a 2001 speech at Georgetown:
[W]hen the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem [in 1099], they … proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple Mount. … [T]his story [is] still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it.
“We are still paying for it.” The idea here, in what Mr. Clinton said, is that not only are Christians guilty of atrocity too, but that Islamic violence today can be blamed directly on the Crusades.
This view of the Crusades is false, and medieval historians have long known it to be false. President Clinton’s speech prompted a reply in the Intercollegiate Review by Dr. Paul Crawford, an expert in the Crusades. Here are some facts that seldom get mentioned by Mr. Bugay, Mr. Clinton, and those who share their jaded view of Church history.
In A.D. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. …
By A.D. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula. Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.
Now, what happened in the hundred years between 632 and 732 was that Muslims invaded and conquered every one of those lands. Only now and then did Christians push back. And it did not end in 732. Let us read more.
In the hundred years between 850 and 950, Benedictine monks were driven out of ancient monasteries, the Papal States were overrun, and Muslim pirate bases were established along the coast of northern Italy and southern France, from which attacks on the deep inland were launched. Desperate to protect victimized Christians, popes became involved in the tenth and early eleventh centuries in directing the defense of the territory around them.
The popes were “desperate,” but not to do ill deeds. Their purpose was “to protect victimized Christians.” That’s the history. That’s the truth. It was not until 1095—more than 450 years after all this Muslim plunder of Christian nations began—that Pope Urban II at last called the First Crusade to drive the enemy out of their lands.
Dr. Diane Moczar also writes about all this. The title of her book is Seven Lies About Catholic History. Here is some of what she says.
Unprovoked Muslim aggression in the seventh century brought parts of the southern Byzantine Empire, including Syria, the Holy Land, and Egypt under Arab rule. Christians who survived the conquests found themselves subject to a special poll tax and discriminated against as an inferior class known as the dhimmi. Often their churches were destroyed and other harsh conditions imposed. For centuries their complaints had been reaching Rome, but Europe was having its own Dark Age of massive invasion, and nothing could be done to relieve the plight of the eastern Christians.
… By the eleventh century, under the rule of a new Muslim dynasty, conditions worsened. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of the Crucifixion, was destroyed, and Christian pilgrims were massacred. In 1067 a group of seven thousand peaceful German pilgrims lost two-thirds of their number to Muslim assaults. By this time the popes, including St. Gregory VII, were actively trying to rally support for relief of the eastern Christians, though without success. It was not until the very end of the century, in 1095, that Pope Urban’s address at Clermont in France met with a response.
But let us not forget the misdeeds of the Crusaders. They were really a bad lot. I am sure glad people like Bill Clinton are always bringing this up with wagging finger, since it is no doubt right to point out how truly evil is the man who fights to free a nation from tyrants and aggressors. I am all broke up about the men who threw the tea off the ships. I am all broke up about the men who stormed the beach and took the cliffs. That kind of thing just should not be stood for.
Dr. Moczar gives us a few more facts to bear in mind here.
The Muslim occupiers of Jerusalem, from inside and on top of the walls, kept pace with the Christian army as it moved slowly around the city, jeering at and mocking the soldiers. They went further: they took crucifixes and profaned them in full view of the troops. Horrified, outraged, and nearly maddened at the sacrileges, the armed groups stormed the city furiously. Lack of coordination among the several units of the army made for a chaotic situation, with commanders losing track (and often control) of their men.
Brutal the fighting was, as no doubt it is in any city in warfare. But were large numbers really slaughtered unmercifully? Did the horses really wade in blood up to their knees and the men up to their ankles? The answer to both questions is, most probably not. … The troops who were left to defend Jerusalem were there to fight, and they did so. …
As it was, the capture of Jerusalem, although a blot on the crusaders’ record, hardly vitiates the whole crusading enterprise. Yes, the siege should have been better organized so that the individual commanders had better control of their men, which would have prevented whatever indiscriminate killing of non-combatants took place and also caused less physical damage to the city. We would like it to have been otherwise, but we were not there and we are certainly not obliged to apologize for it: only the guilty themselves can do that, and both they and those who fought the enemy honorably have long since answered to God for their behavior.
We need to keep in mind what this kind of taunting, blasphemous gesture would have meant to a medieval Catholic who had already had his homeland conquered by Muslims. They were fighting not for their own cause, but for all that the Cross meant to them. Context matters. Nor do we have to answer for what they did. They have already done so.
But keep in mind one more thing. Nothing the crusaders did was out of character for the nature of warfare at the time. That can not be said about ISIS. That cannot be said about the demons and monsters who cut off heads, with a knife, in front of a camera. That cannot be said about the demons and monsters who make a video showing a man being caged and torched. That is the kind of thing the Crusaders were trying to stop.
But what can we say of Muslim attitudes toward the Crusades? Dr. Crawford’s article helps us there too. “Up until quite recently,” he says, “Muslims remembered the crusades [only] as an instance in which they had beaten back a puny western Christian attack.” The Crusaders lost. There was no Arabic word for the Crusades until the nineteenth century. In fact, all the histories before that time were by Christians, and their attitude toward the Crusades was positive. The first Muslim history would not be written until 1899. That is hardly what one would expect if there had been all this violent anger waiting to boil over. Dr. Crawford tells us more. Note this.
What we are paying for is not the First Crusade, but western distortions of the crusades in the nineteenth century which were taught to, and taken up by, an insufficiently critical Muslim world.
Imagine that! The Muslims have been getting all their ideas about the Crusades from anti-Catholics. So if the violence today has anything at all to do with the Crusades, it has to do with myths about them. It does not have to do with anything based in fact.
The facts show why Islam is an inherently violent and murderous ideology. It has been from the start. Far from the Church being eager to take up arms and send people into battle to kill the infidel, it had the supernatural patience of waiting through 450 years of plunder before Pope Urban II called the first Crusade.
But if radical Islam is rising up and getting out of control once more, it is the wrong time for a game of false equivalence. It is, instead, time, once again, for a serious moral evaluation of the causes for just war to protect the lives and homes of Christians.
I would not wait 450 years this time.