category: history, category: politics

The Crusades are nothing for which we need to apologize – all you need to know in one quick post

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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.โ€ฆ 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 Westโ€™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 worldโ€™s leading authorities on the Crusades (and my friend!)

Despite modern laments about medieval colonialism, the [First Crusadeโ€™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
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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 Bishopโ€™s The Middle Ages is literally coming apart โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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.

Letโ€™s have a quick history recap: While Christianity, for centuries, spread peacefully โ€“ 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 wouldโ€™ve had France, too โ€“ they tried invading in 732 โ€“ but were stopped by Charles โ€œThe Hammerโ€ Martel, Charlemagneโ€™s grandfather.)

As Dr. Timothy Furnish, who holds a doctorate in Islamic history, notes: โ€œThe 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.โ€

The event that sparked the Crusades was the Seljuk Turksโ€™ 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 โ€“ 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 โ€˜enlightenedโ€™ 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: โ€œDidnโ€™t most of the Crusaders enlist hoping to become rich?โ€ Nope, and I question your intelligence for even pondering this. Why? Think about it: youโ€™re a nobleman with a nice plot of land, vassals, a few horses, living in the European countryside. Yet youโ€™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 youโ€™ll likely die of dehydration, exhaustion, dysentery, or an attackโ€ฆ 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 โ€“ 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 Scottโ€™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. โ€ฆOnly 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.โ€ฆ [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 โ€“ and there were thousands โ€“ were sold into slavery.

Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, Crusades historian and author, called the film: โ€œOsama bin Ladenโ€™s version of history. It depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilized, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians.โ€

[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 clubโ€™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 โ€“ but didnโ€™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: โ€˜Cubans Do It Betterโ€™ 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 โ€œCrusadesโ€ 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 โ€˜expansion by the swordโ€™ — what prompted the Crusades in the first place, and even preceded it by centuries โ€“ continued, into the very heart of Europe. The Ottoman Turks conquered their fellow Muslims โ€“ thus unifying and strengthening Islam โ€“ and pressed west, capturing Constantinople itself (the crown jewel of Christendom โ€“ 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.

Iโ€™m exhausted just writing that โ€“ 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 attacksโ€ฆ and Iโ€™ll consider accepting the apology. Iโ€™ll be polishing my Templar desk figurine in the meantime.

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UPDATE: Twitter user sends me this image with some harrowing stats:

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UPDATE II: Great piece by Prof Madden.

UPDATE III: map/visual.

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UPDATE IV: useful video

UPDATE V: Terrific article by Prof Madden debunking myths about the Crusades!

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15 thoughts on “The Crusades are nothing for which we need to apologize – all you need to know in one quick post

  1. Good post. The greatest slaveholders in history were the Ottoman Turks. Unfortunately for Americans most of them are very ignorant of histoir. It very well could be their downfall.

    • Actually that was either the British Empire or the Congo Free State but thanks for showing your own inability to recognize the forest for the trees. Devshirme was no different than the Tsarist Russian state’s reliance on serf armies that were ‘recruited’ for 25 years and denied any and all rights.

  2. Anonymous says:

    are you joking? this place was civilized and populated by arabs and persians 4000 years before christianity was even born. 2000 years before judeism was born. the arabs and africans had libraries there while eurpeans were still painting themselves blue and howling at the moon.

    • Persians, yes, Arabs no. The Arameans, definitely, and other Semitic peoples like the Akkadians, but the Arabs were the last ones to expand. That the cultures they took over included so many other speakers of Semitic languages is no small part of how Arabic expanded when and as it did.

  3. Blame Obama, he brought this up for debate. AJ did a fine job exposing the new false narrative that the Crusades were anything more than a call to arms in direct response to the Muslim Hordes cutting a bloody swath through the land.

    • Except that they actually were just that. The Komnenes didn’t call up a bunch of barely literate Frankish thugs so the Franks could declare themselves rulers of what were rightfully lands belonging to the Emperors in Constantinople by legal terms and by religious terms. This was after the 1054 Schism, so the Orthodox, not the Catholic, had the right to those lands if anyone did. When Outremer gave the Greeks the Dolchstoss it forfeited any legitimate claim that these were ‘defensive’ wars.

      Likewise, Christianity cut quite the bloody swathe through the Roman Empire under Constantine, Theodosius, and Charlemagne but people tend to forget this. Even the Northern Crusades represented an extension of this trend, including when they called zealously Orthodox Veliki Gospodin Novogorod ‘pagan’ as much as the actually pagan Kingdom of Lithuania. So no, the Crusades were not defensive wars, they were a horrendously bungled gambit on the part of the Empire of the Greeks, a power-grab on the part of the Papacy, and an institution that perpetuated themselves ad infinitum. The Teutonic Knights in Prussia that wrecked themselves at Tannenberg were just as much Crusaders in their own eyes as the people that blundered (very literally) into victory at Nicaea because the fanatics were just stubborn enough to do more than die.

  4. Let’s be frank here, your view of the Crusades is a highly distorted and filtered one that neglects how much the Byzantines/Eastern Roman Orthodox states had to do with them. Of course if we point out that the Emperors of Constantinople asked for aid and got stabbed in the back by the Catholics who took Byzantine cities and Orthodox Patriarchates, massacred the local Jews and the local Christians, to say nothing of the local Muslims, and were falling all over themselves by the time of the ‘Crusade of the Faint-Hearted,’ not to mention the Fourth Crusade’s self-inflicted wound on the last major Christian state, these things start looking a bit murkier.

    If we add in the Northern Crusades, where such organizations as the Teutonic Knights were engaged in repeated massacres of pagans and Orthodox Christians for nothing more than territorial greed, the picture gets still murkier. From the perspective of the Empire of the Greeks, the Crusades were using barbarians to fight barbarians, only the Franks decided to take lands for themselves. Why the Romans didn’t see that coming is a very good question but it’s not one with a very good or simple answer.

    And I do want to hear how you’re going to rationalize the Doge of Venice butchering his way through Constantinople and briefly imposing a Catholic dynasty on the Greeks is defensive or related to the Muslims. Besides, Christianity didn’t spread peacefully in the Roman Empire, it did so on the legions of Constantine in his civil wars, particularly after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, and on those of Theodosius, and during medieval times on the swords and spears of Charlemagne.

  5. Anonymous says:

    OK so if you hate Obama comparing Islam to Christianity (even though he was merely comparing extremists from every religion) then what ever I get it. Your religion is right there’s is wrong, but to try to justify the crusades is a fucking stretch at best. No matter what religion you are you have to acknowledge that radical Christians during the crusades committed some fucked up atrocities

  6. temujin says:

    there is only one way to analyse this, take a look the representatives of the two religions, what did JESUS teach and do, and did mohamed teach and do ? that will tell the tail. fact is islam has always been barbaric and savage, another fact it is the arb mslim world that first started slavery. nothing good ever comes out of islam.

  7. temujin says:

    it seems as if we will need to start a modern day crusade, islam is completely out of hand, and obama has strengthened the resolve of the terrorists by constantly denying the fact that they are islamic and a serious threat to all of humanity.

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