Revisiting the Crusades. (Religion & Philosophy)

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Revisiting the Crusades. (Religion & Philosophy)


"The Real History of the Crusades" by Thomas F Madden, in Crisis Magazine (Apr. 2002), 1814 N St., N W., Washington, DC 20036

Thanks to Osama bin Laden, the Crusades have been getting a lot of bad press lately. The terrorist warlord has often alluded to them--denouncing the U.S. war on terrorism as a new Crusade against Islam, for example--and some Westerners seem to accept his notion that the West committed a grievous injustice.

All this talk leaves Madden, a Saint Louis University historian, dumbfounded. The notion that the Crusades were "brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world" smacks of historical revisionism. Yes, the Crusades were bloody and the Crusaders at times merciless, but far from being wars of aggression, the Crusades were defensive measures taken to protect the Christian world from overthrow by warmongering Muslim rulers.

Following the death of Muhammad in the seventh century, Muslim conquerors rapidly spread their faith with the sword, toppling Christian regimes in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. By the 11th century, Islam had replaced Christianity as the dominant world religion, spreading across most of the Middle East, as well as North Africa and Spain. After Muslims conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), vastly reducing the extent of the Byzantine Empire, Pope Urban II convened the Council of Clermont in 1095 to rally "the knights of Christendom." Their mission was to liberate Jerusalem and other holy places, and to rescue the Christians of the East from Islamic rule. The First Crusade was an ad hoc and ill-funded affair, yet it ended in victory in 1099 when the Crusaders took Jerusalem and began to establish Christian states in the region. Few would last more than a century.

Although it's been said that the Crusaders were little better than pirates "who took advantage of an opportunity to rob and pillage in a faraway land," Madden observes, recent scholarship suggests otherwise. …

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