Islamophobes Want to Recreate Crusades They Dont Understand at All

By Gabriele, Matthew | Sunday Gazette-Mail, June 11, 2017 | Go to article overview

Islamophobes Want to Recreate Crusades They Dont Understand at All


Gabriele, Matthew, Sunday Gazette-Mail


Recent terrorist attacks in London have sparked a new wave of clash of civilizations rhetoric that brand of political language that characterizes events like those in London as the West vs. the East, Christianity vs. Islam. To defeat the terrorists, this logic holds, we must obliterate these savages from the face of the earth, as the conservative actor James Woods tweeted. In the wake of the attacks in London, some openly wished for an end to Islam altogether, posting under the #NoMoreRamadans hashtag.

Frequently, these kinds of statements refer longingly to the Crusades. Shortly after news of the attack in London spread, a writer at the white-nationalist website Breitbart tweeted that the crusades need to come back. He quickly deleted the tweet, but columnist Kurt Schlichter of the conservative website TownHall tweeted that he, too, thought that Christians were the unequivocal good guys in the Crusades and that he supported the Crusades. Then, Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Louisiana, wrote on Facebook that all of Christendom . . . is at war with Islamic horror and that the only solution is to kill them all.

This wasnt the first time. Last year, during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama mentioned the fact that all religious groups have perpetrated violent acts throughout history, citing the Crusades as evidence. That remark sparked a vigorous response from the right, focusing primarily around a defense of the medieval Crusades.

Before that, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told a group of schoolchildren that the left criticizes the Crusades because they hate Christendom. Santorum, too, held that the Crusades were purely a defensive war against Islamic aggression. And theres plenty more where that came from.

Exploiting a simplified, misleading story of the Crusades (namely, that they were primarily a Western, Christian, defensive response to Middle Eastern incursion on Christian lands) isnt a strictly contemporary phenomenon. It came into fashion during the age of colonialism and was reborn again in the early 20th century. In both of those cases and in our own current climate the imaginary parallel between the Crusades and our own conflicts does much more to advance our own political causes than to represent the Crusades accurately.

As scholars of the Crusades have shown for several generations, there was no necessary evolutionary movement toward the Christian conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. The Arab conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century was long forgotten by that time, and Latin Europe felt little if any pressure from the highly divided Seljuk Turks, who were quite busy fighting one another as well as the Fatimids in Egypt.

Even during their march toward Jerusalem, the crusaders themselves showed absolute willingness to ally with some Muslim leaders against other Muslims (or even fellow Christians). Things only got more complicated once the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in the 12th century, when the Emperor Frederick II was criticized by contemporaries for his supposed friendliness with Muslims, even after he recovered Jerusalem for the Christians in 1229.

In other words, the story is not nearly so simple as Christians vs. Muslims locked in a black-and-white battle for contested lands.

The popular conception of the Crusades comes not from their historical reality, but from two related places: First, from 19th- and early 20th-century scholars of the Crusades, such as French historian Joseph-Francois Michaud or the German Heinrich von Sybel or the American George Lincoln Burr, who saw their research linked to contemporary nationalistic colonial projects in Africa and the Middle East; and second, from the resurrection of those ideas by 21st-century conservatives, such as cold warrior Robert Spencer, Santorum and many surrounding the presidency of George W. …

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