Monday, February 1, 2010

No Apologies for the Crusades

Following 9/11, U.S. President George W. Bush proclaimed a "crusade" against the perpetrators. For this he was criticized, as the word might offend some Muslims -- the perpetrators of the disaster. In his book, The Future Church, John L. Allen jr. writes, ". . . guilt for sins of the past, from the Crusades . . . " Too much Western literature perpetuates this error.

Anyone offended by the word seems shy of history.

The term "crusade" appeared centuries after the events it purports to describe. The inconclusive numbering also came later. Muslim historians named each battle after the nationality of the invader. Nor were these attacks directed exclusively against Muslims. In the one billed as the Fourth, Christians from Western Europe sacked Christian Constantinople. On another occasion, a Muslim prince collaborated with the Frankish military to attack other Muslim prince.

Some of these attacks were motivated by the need to expand European trade. The failure of the 1160s series of invasions of Egypt stimulated the urgency to reach the Far East by way of South Africa. Muslims deemed the 1497 voyage of Vasco da Gama into the Indian Ocean as an intrusion into their trade routes.

Long before these campaigns began in 1095, Islam had attacked or overrun Christian lands such as Jerusalem (638), Egypt (640), North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean (709), Spain (711), France (732), Italy (820), Sicily (827), Anatolia (1071).

Europeans lived in constant fear of Muslim raiders in search of slaves and loot. The 903 sack of Thessaloniki in northeast Greece netted 30,000 Christians for Muslim slave markets. These raids occurred as far north as Ireland. Muslim piracy on the Mediterranean Sea, and belief that the gateway to Europe was always open, struck fear throughout the continent.

[The long process of liberating Europe began with failed Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683. In 1801, the United States Navy and the marines put an end to the piracy and the enslaving of Europeans as well as Americans.]

Initially, the Crusades were a reaction to the persecution of Christians in the Holy Land. Religious celebrations were abolished, churches destroyed, Christians deprived of their possessions, then hanged, and tombs were plundered. The initial motive for the first Crusade was the retrieval of holy relics and the protection of pilgrims. Commercial interests came later.

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