Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What About the Crusades?

I would like everyone on this planet (and every other planet) to read The Real History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden.
As a Crusade historian, I found the tranquil solitude of the ivory tower shattered by journalists, editors, and talk-show hosts on tight deadlines eager to get the real scoop. What were the Crusades?, they asked. When were they? Just how insensitive was President George W. Bush for using the word "crusade" in his remarks? With a few of my callers I had the distinct impression that they already knew the answers to their questions, or at least thought they did. What they really wanted was an expert to say it all back to them. For example, I was frequently asked to comment on the fact that the Islamic world has a just grievance against the West. Doesn’t the present violence, they persisted, have its roots in the Crusades’ brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world? In other words, aren’t the Crusades really to blame?
Well, let's find out. Another taste;
Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman’s famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, The Crusades, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
There is very much more and I urge everyone to read the whole thing, this is excellent scholarship of a kind that we are not accustomed to in the public sphere.

Then, when everyone has finished reading that, read Crusade Propaganda, The Abuse of Christianity's Holy Wars at National Review Online, also by Thomas F. Madden. This is writing that is truly a pleasure to read.
The crusades are quite possibly the most misunderstood event in European history. Ask a random American about them and you are likely to see a face wrinkle in disgust, or just the blank stare that is usually evoked by events older than six weeks. After all, weren't the crusaders just a bunch of religious nuts carrying fire and sword to the land of the Prince of Peace? Weren't they cynical imperialists seeking to carve out colonies for themselves in faraway lands with the blessings of the Catholic Church? A couch potato watching the BBC/A&E documentary on the crusades (hosted by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame no less) would learn in roughly four hours of frivolous tsk-tsk-ing that the peaceful Muslim world actually learned to be warlike from the barbaric western crusaders. No wonder, then, that Pope John Paul II was excoriated for his refusal to apologize for the crusades in 1999. No wonder that a year ago Wheaton College in Illinois dropped their Crusader mascot of 70 years. No wonder that hundreds of Americans and Europeans recently marched across Europe and the Middle East begging forgiveness for the crusades from any Muslim or Jew who would listen. No wonder.

Now put this down in your notebook, because it will be on the test: The crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West's belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world. While the Arabs were busy in the seventh through the tenth centuries winning an opulent and sophisticated empire, Europe was defending itself against outside invaders and then digging out from the mess they left behind. Only in the eleventh century were Europeans able to take much notice of the East. The event that led to the crusades was the Turkish conquest of most of Christian Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Christian emperor in Constantinople, faced with the loss of half of his empire, appealed for help to the rude but energetic Europeans. He got it. More than he wanted, in fact.
Read the rest, why Pope Urban II called the First Crusade in 1095, the Muslim response, Mamluk Egypt, Ottoman Turks. How the Muslims won the Crusades and how (from whom) they learned to hate them. There is very much to read in this piece and if I sound like I am trying to sell it to you, I am.

Here is a last taste;
That's the thing about bin Laden, he is a troublesome mix of the modern and the medieval. He and his lieutenants regularly fulminate about the "nation," a reference to a Muslim political unity that died in the seventh century. They evoke an image of the crusades colored with the legacy of modern imperialism. And they call for jihad, demanding that every Muslim in the world take part. In short, they live in a dream world, a desert cloister where the last thousand years only partially happened.
Read it all. This is a perfect example of the need for a good liberal education. It is because far too many people learn "sound bite" history that it is so completely misunderstood. When there are homicidal freaks like Osama bin Laden willing to commit murder based on their idea of history, it is important.

And, this same lesson applies in the cases of people like Ward Churchill (and very many others) who are providing our children the same kind of poor study that produced the popular misunderstanding of the Crusades. More on that later.

Here is the speech by Pope Urban II that started it all.


Skij Yesh On Domorrow-Walker said...

I'm not sure if "the average American" would consider the Crusades a series of groundless attack on a peaceful and just society - this seems a little like a straw-man fallacy.

It's hard imagining a "general opinion" wherein the Moslem countries are completely peaceful. And, even if they weren't, does that justify violence back on their home soil - just to point out that there is a very critical intermediary here that has to be explicated.



chaoticsynapticactivity said...


OT - You're blog rolled now.

on topic:

It's interesting how someone can take centurites old history and bend it to gain some sort of support for what is happeneing today, particularly in justifying murder, and taking of territory.

Oh, well, can we pray humanity will mature one day?

Photios said...

We are always praying for humanity.

People who seek only that which they want for themselves (in Osama's case that would be a fantasy of the ancient Caliphate) will twist truth as needed to get it.

Ward Churchill is an excellent current case in point. LGF has recently posted a story of his plagerized "art work".