So the Crusades are back in the news due to Obama’s recent remarks, likening them to ISIS.
To push back against their heinous ignorance, I’m copying below the mini-chapter from my e-book on this very topic, explaining how the Crusades were very much a noble cause and a DEFENSIVE (!) war.
Please read and share.
The Crusades are nothing for which to apologize
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.… 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 a full two-thirds of the Christian world.
– Professor Thomas F. Madden, professor of history, author, and one of the world’s leading authorities on the Crusades (and my friend!)
Despite modern laments about medieval colonialism, the [First Crusade’s] real purpose was to turn back Muslim conquests and restore formerly Christian lands to Christian control. The entire history of the crusades is one of Western reaction to Muslim advances. The crusades were no more offensive than was the American invasion of Normandy.
– Professor Thomas F. Madden
I’m a medieval history buff (the first book I bought with my own money was Cathedrals of England, Scotland, and Wales and my copy of Morris Bishop’s The Middle Ages is literally coming apart – sand from all over the world in its binding and pages.) As such, the vilification and twisting of the Crusades by most academics, Leftists, and the media irks me to no end.
As Professor Madden rightly notes, the Crusades were a defensive war against Islamic aggression, Islamic conquest of Christian territories, and the slaughtering of innocent Christian civilians. They were not the war-mongering, imperialist, fanatical cause they are slandered as today. In short: it was a war of self-defense. Got it? The Crusaders were re-conquering (re-conquering!) Christian lands. Engrave that in your mind – much to the contrary of what we are told and taught by liberals, the Crusaders were not invading Muslim lands so much as they were attempting to reconquer Christian lands that the Muslims had taken by force.
Let’s have a quick history recap: While Christianity, for centuries, spread peacefully – Islam, since its 7th century inception, spread through the sword, invading and conquering Christian territories as far away as Europe, slaying Christians, and ransacking thousands of Christian churches. In fact, by the time Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade in 1095, and Christians finally took action after centuries of Muslim aggression, Muslim armies had already conquered a staggering two-thirds of the Christian world: most of the Middle East including Syria and the Holy Land, most of North Africa (including Egypt), most of Spain and Portugal, and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). (They would’ve had France, too – they tried invading in 732 – but were stopped by Charles “The Hammer” Martel, Charlemagne’s grandfather.)
As Dr. Timothy Furnish, who holds a doctorate in Islamic history, notes: “The Crusades, far from being the first time Muslims and Christians fought, were actually merely the first time that Christians, after four centuries of defeats [and lost territory], really fought back.”
The event that sparked the Crusades was the Seljuk Turks’ invasion of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), a Christian territory. At the time, Christendom was divided into the Holy Roman Empire in Western Europe and the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire (based in Constantinople – modern day Istanbul). The Byzantine Emperor, Alexius, officially asked his fellow Christians in the West for aide.
The Crusades satisfied the requirements of a just war in a at least two ways. The Muslims had taken certain Christian territories by force and had thereby denied to Christians, east and west, the opportunity to engage in one of the most important medieval religious exercises, namely, pilgrimages. The concept of the just war not only permits people to defend themselves when directly attacked, it also permits them to go to the aid of others who have been attacked. It is a major index of the arrogant anti-Christian bigotry now prevalent in ‘enlightened’ Western circles that, while the Crusaders are treated as aggressive interlopers against the Muslims of the Near East, little attention is paid to the means by which Islam had come to dominate that region to begin with.
– Dr. James Hitchcock, professor of history and author
Another myth: “Didn’t most of the Crusaders enlist hoping to become rich?” Nope, and I question your intelligence for even pondering this. Why? Think about it: you’re a nobleman with a nice plot of land, vassals, a few horses, living in the European countryside. Yet you’re going to try your luck at nebulous riches ten thousand miles away, by selling everything and riding on horseback/walking/boarding-dangerous-ships to the other side of the world, knowing you’ll likely die of dehydration, exhaustion, dysentery, or an attack… before you even arrive? Basically, your odds of surviving were slim to none. In actuality, the Crusaders embarked on this endeavor because they truly believed it was the noble thing to do – to rescue and aid Christians in the East and reclaim Christian territories. It was, as they proclaimed, the will of God.
Professor Madden notes:
Scholars have discovered that crusading knights were generally wealthy men with plenty of their own land in Europe. Nevertheless, they willingly gave up everything to undertake the holy mission. Crusading was not cheap. Even wealthy lords could easily impoverish themselves and their families by joining a Crusade. They did so not because they expected material wealth (which many of them had already) but because they hoped to store up treasure where rust and moth could not corrupt.
Hollywood has done as much as liberal academia to perpetuate the vicious lies about the Crusades, best evidenced by Ridley Scott’s 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven. Professor Madden wrote an excellent review of the film in National Review, completely demolishing its ridiculous and inaccurate portrayals. Madden notes:
Indeed, all the good [Crusaders] in this movie seem to have no devotion to God at all, only a devotion to tolerance. The bad [Crusaders], on the other hand, are all religiously devout, which causes them to be evil or mad. In other words, the medieval world is portrayed much the same way that Hollywood views America: Smart people either have no religion or do not take it very seriously. The rest are right-wing Christian fanatics. …Only two priests appear in the film, one a twisted corpse mutilator and the other a villain whose strategy for defending Jerusalem is to convert to Islam and leave the people to die.… [T]he good and noble Saladin of this movie lets all the citizens depart with a hearty, good-natured smile on his face. The real Saladin required them to pay a ransom. Those that could not – and there were thousands – were sold into slavery.
Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, Crusades historian and author, called the film: “Osama bin Laden’s version of history. It depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilized, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians.”
[SIDEBAR FOR STORYTIME: I was at the Kingdom of Heaven after-party at a New York City club called Gypsy Tea in 2005. It was a private event — inside the small club it was basically just my three friends and I, Ridley Scott, and some of the cast, including Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom, and Eva Green. We only realized it was the after-party for the film when our friend, one of the club’s managers, clued us in. (Not sure who screwed up the planning, forgetting to send invites to the right people but hey, free bar!). I spent the whole night trying to work up the nerve to go up to Ridley Scott and give him a piece of my mind – but didn’t. I failed the Crusaders, I suck, and I honestly was depressed about that for days and still am whenever I think about it. Liam Neeson gave me a puzzled look — I was wearing a sassy top that read: ‘Cubans Do It Better’ and he kept staring at it, which leads me to believe he mistook me for a pro-Castro Communist and disapproved of my top. Thus, I (heart) Liam Neeson.]
With the fall of Acre, the Crusaders finally went home in 1291 and the “Crusades” as we know them officially ended. But did the Muslims call it a day and keep to their land (they certainly had conquered enough Christian territory), leaving us to ours? Nope! Their campaign of ‘expansion by the sword’ — what prompted the Crusades in the first place, and even preceded it by centuries – continued, into the very heart of Europe. The Ottoman Turks conquered their fellow Muslims – thus unifying and strengthening Islam – and pressed west, capturing Constantinople itself (the crown jewel of Christendom – renaming it Istanbul) in 1453 and much of the Balkans. In 1480, Sultan Mehmed II tried to invade Italy (though he died before he could continue his plans). Spain had to wait until 1492 for its expulsion of the Moors, after several agonizing centuries of battle. In 1529, Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Vienna (thanks to some freak rainstorms, though, they were unable to take the city). In 1571, a European league faced and defeated the Ottomans at Lepanto, saving the Mediterranean. Vienna was again besieged in 1683.
I’m exhausted just writing that – imagine what it felt like for the Europeans, constantly having to fend off this Muslim aggression.
So, remind me again who the aggressors were and why I should apologize for the Crusades? Rather, let me know when Muslims are ready to apologize for usurping over two-thirds of Christian territory, for eight centuries of occupying Spain, for Vienna, for the millions of Christians slain, enslaved, and lost fighting these attacks… and I’ll consider accepting the apology. I’ll be polishing my Templar desk figurine in the meantime.
UPDATE: Twitter user sends me this image with some harrowing stats:
UPDATE II: Great piece by Prof Madden.
UPDATE III: map/visual.
UPDATE IV: useful video
UPDATE V: Terrific article by Prof Madden debunking myths about the Crusades!