This essay could have been entitled: "No More Crusades, or Crusades Never End; They Just Replay from Then to Now, from Medieval Monks to Modern Missionaries." For many Christians-people whom we identify as our fellow believersthe Crusades began over 900 years ago in 1090 and never ended. They still continue. Crusaders are alive and well in 2003. For crusaders, what Pope Urban II announced was not an isolated message from the European middle ages but a new moment in world history, an awakening of Christendom to the threat of Islamdom. The message of the Crusades remains an eternal message, valid for all times and all places: We Christians have to wage war, either physically or metaphorically, against Muslims on all fronts. In his own words, Pope Urban II declared, "In our days God has fought through Christian men in Asia against the Turks and in Europe against the Moors." And so, by Crusader logic, we latter day Christians must fight on and on and on, in every continent and in every age, to reclaim what we lost to those Saracens in 711-before Thomas Aquinas was ever born, before Martin Luther ever preached, or before King Henry VIII ever decided "enough with papal restrictions, I'll handle my own marital options."
But Crusades are two way warfare: Crusader logic is matched by Islamist, or Islamic extremist, rhetoric. If continuous strife between the Christian West and the Muslim East has been the enduring legacy of the Crusades, it echoes, and also abets, the vengeance sought by Islamists. Islamists claim to speak on behalf of eternal Qur'anic values, even though they do not speak for all Muslims, nor do they speak with one voice. Militant Muslims are a fractious minority. They are those minority Muslims for whom the jingoistic expression of faith is also the sole authentic mode for their true belief. The sine qua non of Islamic belief is "No god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God." Once a person has made that affirmation with total sincerity, he or she becomes a Muslim, and for most Muslims, the very next obligations after professing faith are peaceful. They include prayer, fasting, almsgiving and perhaps pilgrimage. Islamic observance is a rigorous daily regimen. To be a faithful Muslim is an emotional and physical challenge, yet for a very few of the faithful-the militant minority of Muslims-it is not enough to say No god but God, to pray, to fast, to give to the poor and perhaps to journey to Arabia, to Mecca and Medina, as pilgrims. For the militant Muslim minority, the necessary sequel to professing the faith is defending the faith. Instead of daily prayer, almsgiving, fasting or pilgrimage, the very next step required of all believers in Allah and his last prophet, Muhammad, is to wage war, holy war, jihad.
Militant Muslims are in effect Crusader Muslims in reverse. They are everything to the Crusaders that the Crusaders are to them: unflinching warriors of the faith. They embrace the term jihad as holy war. They project themselves as holy warriors. Other Muslims contest that definition of jihad as at once too narrow and bellicose. Yet militant Muslims prize jihad or holy war as the flip side of faith. First you believe, and then you fight for what you believe. Holy war must be waged against all unbelievers. It is the model and the legacy of the earliest Muslims. Those who first accepted God's revelation to Muhammad and became Muslims were compelled to wage war against their adversaries. They fought to ensure the toehold of Islam in Arabia. For militant Muslims, there is no separation between seventh-century Arabia and twenty-first-century America. Both are marked as realms of ignorance. Both are battlegrounds, pitting good against evil, them against us.
And so the creed of Crusaders-to kill the infidel Saracens-is matched by the creed of militant Muslims-to kill the infidel Christians. Both creeds attract warriors for the faith, each side is willing to preach and to act on behalf of their sacred trust against all enemies. …