Skip to comments.Crusade Propaganda: The abuse of Christianity's Holy Wars
Posted on 11/02/2001 4:48:53 AM PST by Darth Reagan
The abuse of Christianitys holy wars.
By Thomas F. Madden, the author of A Concise History of the Crusades and coauthor of The Fourth Crusade, is associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
November 2, 2001 8:00 a.m.
ince September 11 the crusades are news. When President Bush used the term "crusade" as it is commonly used, to denote a grand enterprise with a moral dimension, the media pelted him for insensitivity to Muslims. (Nevermind that the media used the term in precisely the same way before the "gaff.") Attempting to capitalize on this indignation, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, crowed "President Bush has told the truth that this is a crusade against Islam." Yet clearly the crusades were much on the minds of our enemies long before Bush brought them to their attention. In a 1998 manifesto, cosigned by the leaders of Islamist groups in Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Osama bin Laden declared war against the "Jews and the Crusaders." If you didn't guess, the Americans are the crusaders here. On the day the U.S. strikes on Afghanistan began, in a live-from-a-cave address, bin Laden declared Bush to be "the leader of the infidels" in a worldwide war against Islam. He previously warned that "crusader" Bush would lead the infidel forces into Afghanistan "under the banner of the cross."
So, what do the medieval crusades have to do with all this? After all, doesn't the Muslim world have a right to be upset about the legacy of the crusades? Nothing and no.
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.
Pope Urban II called the First Crusade in 1095. Despite modern laments about medieval colonialism, the 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. As it happened, the First Crusade was amazingly, almost miraculously, successful. The crusaders marched hundreds of miles deep into enemy territory and recaptured not only the lost cities of Nicaea and Antioch, but in 1099 Jerusalem itself.
The Muslim response was a call for jihad, although internal divisions put that off for almost fifty years. With great leaders like Nur ed-Din and Saladin on the Muslim side and Richard the Lionheart and St. Louis IX on the Christian side, holy war was energetically waged in the Middle East for the next century and a half. The warriors on both sides believed, and by the tenets of their respective religions were justified in believing, that they were doing God's work. History, though, was on the side of Islam. Muslim rulers were becoming more, not less powerful. Their jihads grew in strength and effectiveness until, in 1291, the last remnants of the crusaders in Palestine and Syria were wiped out forever.
But that was not the end of the crusades, nor of jihad. Islamic states like Mamluk Egypt continued to expand in size and power. It was the Ottoman Turks, though, that built the largest and most awesome state in Muslim history. At its peak in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire encompassed all of North Africa, the Near East, Arabia, and Asia Minor and had plunged deep into Europe, claiming Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia. Under Suleiman the Magnificent the Turks came within a hair's breadth of capturing Vienna, which would have left all of Germany at their mercy. At that point crusades were no longer waged to rescue Jerusalem, but Europe itself. Christendom had been shrinking for centuries. The smart money was all on Islam as the wave of the future.
Of course, that is not how it turned out. But surprisingly the rise of the West was not the result of any military victory against Muslims. Indeed, the Ottoman Empire survived largely intact until the end of World War I. Instead, something completely new and totally unpredictable was happening in Europe. A new civilization, built on the old to be sure, was forming around ideas like individualism and capitalism. Europeans expanded on a global scale, leaving behind the Mediterranean world, seeking to understand and explore the entire planet. Great wealth in a commercial economy led to a fundamental change in almost every aspect of Western life, culminating in industrialization. The Enlightenment turned Western attention away from Heaven and toward the things of this world. Soon religion in the West became simply a matter of personal preference. Crusades became unthinkable a foolishness of a civilization's childhood.
As for the Islamic world, it was left behind. Even today Muslim countries struggle to catch up. It is a difficult task, for they are seeking to reconcile their own culture with modern concepts that are uniquely western. Invariably this tension has led to charges among Muslims that their religion and their world is being sold out. Those Muslim leaders who have dealt with the West have been labeled apostates and sometimes targeted by jihad warriors. Indeed, the vast majority of Islamist terrorism over the last century has been aimed at other Muslims. The division, starkly put, is between those who wish to adopt the benefits of Western culture while retaining a devotion to Islam and those who consider any concession to the West to be an abjuration of faith. In short, it is a division between the medieval and the modern worlds.
Which brings us back to the crusades. If the Muslims won the crusades (and they did), why the anger now? Shouldn't they celebrate the crusades as a great victory? Until the nineteenth century that is precisely what they did. It was the West that taught the Middle East to hate the crusades. During the peak of European colonialism, historians began extolling the medieval crusades as Europe's first colonial venture. By the 20th century, when imperialism was discredited, so too were the crusades. They haven't been the same since. In other words, Muslims in the Middle East including bin Laden and his creatures know as little about the real crusades as Americans do. Both view them in the context of the modern, rather than the medieval world. The truth is that the crusades had nothing to do with colonialism or unprovoked aggression. They were a desperate and largely unsuccessful attempt to defend against a powerful enemy.
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.
The book is mentioned on the web page for "Christianity Today" but I don't know what POV the web page comes from.
[Adapted from Brundage] Never in the thirteenth century was there to be a general coalition of Western kings for a Crusade, as there had been in 1187. This was in part due, no doubt, to the internal politics of thirteenth century Europe, in part to the gradual decline of the Crusading movement itself. That the spirit of the Crusade was not dead is amply proved by the eight large expeditions from various quarters of Europe during the thirteenth century. The survival of the Crusading spirit during the century is further shown by the extraordinary movement in 1212 which is known as the Children's Crusade. This expedition which, of course, was not a Crusade at all in the strict sense of the term attracted thousands of children and young adults from northern France and western Germany to its banners.
The "Crusade" was preached in France by a peasant boy named Stephen from a village near Vendome. In Germany, a boy named Nicholas from Cologne started the movement . The sorry business was summarized by a chronicler in these terms:
In this year occurred an outstanding thing and one much to be marveled at, for it is unheard of throughout the ages. About the time of Easter and Pentecost,4 without anyone having preached or called for it and prompted by I know not what spirit, many thousands of boys, ranging in age from six years to full maturity, left the plows or carts which they were driving, the flocks which they were pasturing, and anything else which they were doing. This they did despite the wishes of their parents, relatives, and friends who sought to make them draw back. Suddenly one ran after another to take the cross. Thus, by groups of twenty, or fifty, or a hundred, they put up banners and began to journey to Jerusalem. They were asked by many people on whose advice or at whose urging they had set out upon this path. They were asked especially since only a few years ago many kings, a great many dukes, and innumerable people in powerful companies had gone there and had returned with the business unfinished. The present groups, morever, were stfll of tender years and were neither strong enough nor powerful enough to do anything. Everyone, therefore, accounted them foolish and imprudent for trying to do this. They briefly replied that they were equal to the Divine will in this matter and that, whatever God might wish to do with them, they would accept it willingly and with humble spirit. They thus made some little progress on their journey. Some were turned back at Metz, others at Piacenza, and others even at Rome. Still others got to Marseilles, but whether they crossed to the Holy Land or what their end was is uncertain. One thing is sure: that of the many thousands who rose up, only very few returned.
Chronica Regiae Coloniensis Continuatio prima, s.a.1213, MGH SS XXIV 17-18, translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 213
Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover he gave permission for use of his translations.
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.
© Paul Halsall December 1997
Other histories say that the childrens crusade never really happened. It was a medeival 'urban legend' based on a fairly large number of young, landless men and boys (homeless) who drifted throughout Europe at the time.
Actually, it's much worse than that. During the entire period that Spain was struggling to defend the Western Mediterranean against Islamic agression the (Anglican) English and (Calvinist) Dutch were actively engaged in piracy and warfare against Spain, and, therefore as de facto allies of Islam.
I believe several of Medina-Sidonia's captains in 1588 were veterans of Lepanto.
It was uttered by the Bishop commanding (!) a siege during the Albigensian Crusade, when confronted by one of his subordinate commanders who questioned the wisdom of torching an entire town that held orthodox believers as well as Cathars.
You do recall correctly -- the actual phrase is: "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.", uttered by Arnold Amaury, head of the Cistercian Order at the battle and sack of Bezier in 1209. Your translation is good.
However, a point is being missed here. First, this particular phrase was used in the Albigensian Crusade, which was not a holy war against Islam, but rather, the (ruthless) putting down of a Christian heresy.
But there is an even more relevant point -- my earlier one about the pitfalls of Whig history. You simply cannot project modern attitudes and assumptions retroactively onto medieval events. People in this time believed in their religion. Life was, as Hobbes put it, "nasty, harsh, brutish, and short." Abbe Amaury's shocking comment was meant sincerely -- he was not concerned about life in this world; it was infinitely more important that one be properly prepared for the next world. After all, life is temporary, while the afterlife is eternity. If it took the deaths of a few devout, believing Catholic brothers to wipe out a heresy (which put all of our souls in danger), "God would look after His own."
Primitive? Perhaps. I would put it differently. One might say, "positively medieval."
I think much of the problem we are having today is because Protestant America has a view that makes it difficult to accept the reality of this invasion. Protestants have no history of Muslim invasion and reconquests of their land from them.
Islamic fundamentalists still believe in exactly that concept.
The threat they pose to our civilization will only be eliminated when the Islamic world is westernized.
Thus Bin Laden and his cohorts are correct when they say that this is a Jihad, for we will be forced to, albeit reluctantly, westernize all of Islam to ensure our survival.
You are correct and I think even George W. Bush would privately agree with you. The only stumbling block I see is if they kill all of us first!
We are faced with the nation's first postmodern war.
It is a war of networks against nations, begun with irrational acts that defy the rational imagination. It is a holy war where one side is secular, and a struggle for democracy involving a deposed king and local warlords.
We seek phantom leaders hiding in caves and defying satellite detection. Our enemy seems to be both everywhere and nowhere. He inflicts tens of billions of dollars of damage with $5 box cutters and stops Congress with an anthrax-laced envelope delivered with a 34-cent stamp.
What kind of war is this? Who is the enemy and why does he hate us? Patriotic Americans mull these questions in their minds. Many, not satisfied with the superficial consensus that our assailants are simply "terrorists," seek to know the driving forces behind these crimes. * * *
Some see our assailants as Islamic fundamentalists who hate our immoral lifestyles permeated with abortion and pornography. Others consider them agents of repressive regimes who hate our democratic values. Others paint them as Arab nationalists who hate our support for Israel, and our sanctions against Iraq.
Helpful as these profiles may be, they do not explain fully the horrific attacks.
This is not the work of downtrodden camel drivers or medieval imams nursing centuries-old grudges. These are men savvy in the postmodern world of image and simulacra.
Many of the turbaned Taliban spewing forth Arabic diatribes are the European-educated sons of businessmen who drank heavily of our Coca-Cola and languished in the comfort of our consumer society. Some attended the London School of Economics where they mixed their Mohammed with their Marx.
These are conspirators who understood the American psyche so well that they timed their attacks to be a television spectacular. They understand the media's ability to turn every anthrax scare, air incident, or stock market jitter into a hype-filled story to wear down American resolve.
This is psywar where image is all important and military power can be reduced to tiny bacteria spores. The main battlefield is the American mind, while distant Afghanistan is but a minor theater.
Our enemy also has a genius for stagecraft and casts himself with utmost care. His flowing robes, turbaned head, and battle-hardened features seem to embody all the rancor of embittered Islam over the centuries. Afghanistan could not be a better backdrop for resurrecting the idea of this age-old struggle.
Indeed, they shoot us with images created for our consumption and broadcast over our networks. Yet, behind the stage of world events, a more menacing drama emerges.
In truth, Western-educated bin Ladens cannot only be seen as the heirs of medieval Islam. They are also postmodern revolutionaries with cell phones and Internet web sites. Their fundamentalism not only harkens to a distant past; it also stems from a reconstructed and remystified Islam tailored to be a powerful rejection of all things Western.
Today's bin Ladens are the disciples of a new generation of revolutionary ideologues who have reinterpreted Islam's past. In their passionate cries against Western hegemony they have called upon all oppressed peoples to arise. In their tirades against capitalism, they extol the merits of a more radical socialism. When railing against secular society, they introduce esoteric religious doctrines.
Drawing upon a wealth of purported and real grievances, they have managed to unite an explosive mixture of egalitarian metaphysics, anti-consumer socialism, and Oriental mysticism that could just galvanize not only Moslem fanatic minorities but many Western anti-globalist radicals in a furious struggle against modernity itself.
Their main target would not be modernity's so censurable moral wasteland but the "oppressive" framework of logic, order, and the rule of law that sustains the West and its economic power.
This is a different jihad, where all malcontents from Seattle to Genoa are incited to revolt. It is a recycled class struggle on a global scale where the contenders spill beyond the limits of the nation-state. It is what Catholic thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, in an update of his book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, called a worldwide clash of ideologies pitting poor nation against rich, anti-consumerism against consumerism, the Third World against the First.
Indeed, the real target threatens to be the very premises of modernity - the unified, rational, and universal order that ensures Western prosperity. And the protagonists, who live off the very system they hate, have the uncanny ability to turn modernity against itself, as was so well demonstrated in the September 11 attack.
These invisible warriors seek more than just military targets. They hide, like computer viruses, amid the great interconnected systems they want to demolish. They see that the financial markets, the postal system, the transportation network and so many other structures of our life can all be paralyzed by prime-time paranoia. In this war, a grain of sand (or anthrax) grinds the gigantic and vulnerable gears of our modernity to a halt.
They attack us for what we represent: the remnants of order. If America stops, the very backbone of the modern order (with its many shortcomings) is shattered, and the foundation is laid for a fragmented, anarchical, and subconsumerist new world "order," as envisioned by their ideologues, both Eastern and Western.
Until we understand clearly what drives our assailants, and until we learn how to counter their psywar tactics, we are vulnerable.
This is America's new challenge. May God help us in this endeavor.
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