The Truth About the Crusades

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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.]

Myths

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.

Facts

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.

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10 thoughts on “The Truth About the Crusades”

  1. I would love to know who feeds this crap to all of you guys as an episcopalian who has read the Koran the Islam of the crusades was far from anti the enemy of Christianity you guys are the ones that are wrong and don’t know what you are talking about. Jesus is mentioned as a holy prophet of Allah in the Koran who Muhammed paid homage to they believed and many muslims of good character believe to day as which is most of them that he was a prophet of god. If they were the enemy of Christianity there would be no homage to them in the Koran. You guys have clearly never read any religious text beyond the bible and so are clueless what you are talking about it is a minority that are evil and cruel I have known many dear muslims in my life you guys are the ones that are religiously intolerant.

  2. Catholics murdering Christians: The Albigensian Crusade 1209 to 1229 Why were the Cathars such a threat to Rome?

  3. The calumnies uttered against the crusades, in which some atrocities were committed in an otherwise honorable enterprise, roughly compares to Sherman’s march to the sea which also was not carried out in a particularly gentle manner. In social activities, especially war, unlike physics, actions do not precipitate equal and opposite reactions. See Japan and atomic bomb.

  4. interesting how some people can know the proper context of the crusades, and still cry foul at the things the crusades got wrong. yes, it is sad that bad things happen in war. show me a war that has not had bad intelligence or collateral damage or some troops gone evil. these are unfortunate. but these things happen not only in crusades, but in all wars. and such things are not the reason why any war is waged. President Bush didn’t wage war on terror so that he could revel in the collateral damage or lack of intelligence that the troops may have suffered at times. they waged a war because it was a just war, it was a war against terror and tyranny. period.

  5. While we may or may not justify the Crusades, we cannot justify some of the atrocities of the Crusaders nor their offshoots…like the outrageous Rhineland massacres of Jews, etc. Some good directions can and do spur bad actions by bad people….times have not changed,

  6. We don’t have 450 years to deal with this problem! I certainly hope we all wake up, and pluck up the courage to fight this enemy and this time defeat it for good.

    Thank you for these facts about the Crusades! I will say this: some fundamentalists DO agree with the Crusades. In fact it is the one thing they will give us Catholics a gold star on 🙂

  7. Good article – ISIS today is nothing new. The original Crusades were fought to combat the first ISIS, the enemy of Christianity and civilization…

  8. Too bad the Crusades were unsuccesful in wiping out this scourge. The devil never gives up. Still roaring its ugly head in the “religion of peace.”

  9. The First Crusade Began in 1095…

    460 years after the first Christian city was overrun by Muslim armies.

    457 years after Jerusalem was conquered by Muslim armies.

    453 years after Christian Egypt was taken by Muslim armies.

    443 years after Muslims first plundered Italy.

    427 years after Muslims armies first laid siege to the Christian capital of Constantinople.

    380 years after France was first attacked by Muslim armies.

    249 years after the capital of the Christian world, Rome itself was sacked by a Muslim army.

    And only AFTER centuries of church burnings, killings, enslavement and forced conversions of Christians.

    By the time the Crusades finally began, Muslims armies had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world.

    So much for Islam/Muslims claiming to be the victim.

    1. It was actually THREE-QUARTERS of the area which was predominantly Christian in 632AD, which was forcibly conquered by Islam, with its inhabitants forced to “convert” (at swordpoint or more subtly with discriminatory taxes, discrimination in employment, etc in a process which is still continuing today), emigrate or die. Taking account of population density and cultural importance, it was more like 90% of Christendom was conquered, suppressed and destroyed. Rome alone was the one major centre which survived and even that came perilously close to falling on more than one occasion. The Moslems ruled large ares of Italy and for 100 years ruled what is now the Riviera, cutting off all communication between France and Italy. Over 1300 years until the 19th century, millions of young Christians were kidnapped from the Mediterranean coast of Europe (and some from as far away as England) by Moslems and made into sex slaves and soldiers fighting for Islam.
      In fact for more than 5000 years, the Middle East “Fertile Crescent” had been the Cradle of Civilization, home of nearly all the inventions and cultural, technical and scientific advances in the world. With the Moslem conquest, this came to an abrupt end and the Middle East became a backward backwater until the late 20th century when it was propped up by the artificially inflated price of oil which just happened to be in great abundance there.

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