The Muslim Game:
Muslims love talking about the Crusades, and Christians love apologizing for them. To hear both parties tell the story, one would believe that Muslims were just peacefully minding their own business in lands that were legitimately Muslim, when Christian armies decided to wage holy war and “kill millions.”
Every part of this myth is a lie. By the rules that Muslims claim for themselves, the Crusades were perfectly justified, and the excesses (though beneath Christian standards) pale in comparison with the historical treatment of conquered populations at the hands of Muslims.
The crusades are quite possibly the most misunderstood event n European history.
The Crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression – an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
The West may now dominate the Islamic world, but that has only been the case since the late 18th century, when a young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered Egypt and temporarily imposed French rule. This initial European penetration into one of the heartlands of Islam was “a terrible shock” to Muslims, says historian Bernard Lewis. Until then, they had thought of themselves as the victors in the Crusades.
That assumption is understandable. Muslim rulers held the preponderance of power as far as Europe was concerned until the 17th century and had done so, more or less, since the Prophet Muhammad issued Islam’s initial declaration of war against other religious faiths in the seventh century. The Prophet wrote the Christian Byzantine emperor and the Sassanid emperor of Persia to suggest they surrender to his rule because, well, their day was done.
“I have now brought God’s final message,” the Prophet declared. “Your time has passed. Your beliefs are superseded. Accept my mission and my faith or resign or submit … you are finished.”
This claim propelled the armies of Islam to take on the rest of the world.
Muslim armies charged out of the Arabian Peninsula to conquer Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt – all of which, as part of the late Roman Empire, were officially Christian. By the eighth century, Christian North Africa was under Muslim control.
Islam soon swept into Europe, grabbing Spain, Portugal and southern Italy. In the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks conquered much of Asia Minor, or Turkey.
Here are some quick facts about the Crusades:
The first Crusade began in 1095, 460 years after the first Christian city was overrun by Muslim armies, 457 years after Jerusalem was conquered by Muslim armies, 453 years after Egypt was taken by Muslim armies, 443 after Muslims first plundered Italy, 427 years after Muslim armies first laid siege to the Christian capital of Constantinople, 380 years after Spain was conquered by Muslim armies, 363 years after France was first attacked by Muslim armies, 249 years after Rome itself was sacked by a Muslim army, and only after centuries of church burnings, killings, enslavement and forced conversions of Christians. By the time the Crusades finally began, Muslim armies had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world.
Europe had been harassed by Muslims since the first few years following Muhammad’s death.
As early as 652, Muhammad’s followers launched raids on the island of Sicily, waging a full-scale occupation 200 years later that lasted almost a century and was punctuated by massacres, such as that at the town of Castrogiovanni, in which 8,000 Christians were put to death. In 1084, ten years before the first crusade, Muslims staged another devastating Sicilian raid, burning churches in Reggio, enslaving monks and raping an abbey of nuns before carrying them into captivity.
In theory, the Crusades were provoked by the harassment of Christian pilgrims from Europe to the Holy Land, in which many were kidnapped, molested, forcibly converted to Islam or even killed. (Compare this to Islam’s justification for slaughter on the basis of Muslims being denied access to the Mecca pilgrimage in Muhammad’s time).
The Crusaders only invaded lands that were Christian.
They never attacked Saudi Arabia or sacked Mecca as the Muslims had done (and continued doing) to Italy and Constantinople.
The period of Crusader “occupation” (of its own former land) was stretched over less than two centuries. The Muslim occupation is in its 1,372nd year.
The period of Crusader “aggression” compresses to about 20 years of actual military campaign, much of which was spent on organization and travel.
(They were from 1098-1099, 1146-1148, 1188-1192, 1201-1204, 1218-1221, 1228-1229, and 1248-1250).
By comparison, the Muslim Jihad against the island of Sicily alone lasted 75 grinding years.
Christian Europe certainly fought back. In the eighth century, campaigns to recover the Iberian Peninsula began, but it wasn’t until the end of the 15th century that the Reconquista swept Islam out of Spain and Portugal. Other counterattacks were made, the most famous of which were the war-pilgrimages known as the Crusades.
In 1095, Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade. He urged Europeans to aid fellow Christians who were being slaughtered by Muslims. “They (the Muslim Turks) have invaded the lands of those Christians and have depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; they have lead away a part of the captives into their own country, and a part they have destroyed by cruel tortures.” The Crusader army marched deep into enemy territory to reclaim the ancient Christian cities of Nicaea and Antioch, and on July 15, 1099, Jerusalem.
Admittedly it wasn’t a pleasant reclamation. As was standard practice when a city resisted, much of population was slaughtered. That, however, doesn’t mean the threat to which the Crusades were a response wasn’t real.
The Crusades were a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two – thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam.
Unfortunately, subsequent Crusades over the next three centuries weren’t as successful. By the end of the 13th century, the Christian Crusaders had been chased from the Middle East. From then on the concern was no longer about reclaiming Christian homelands, but about saving Europe.
In 1453, Muslims captured the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople (or Istanbul, as it is now known). In the late 15th century, Rome was evacuated when Muslim armies landed at Otranto in an unsuccessful invasion of Italy. By the 16th century, the Ottoman Turk Empire stretched from North Africa and Arabia to the Near East and Asia Minor. They penetrated deep into Europe, conquering Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, Croatia and Serbia. In 1529, the Ottomans laid siege to Vienna. Luckily for Europe, the siege failed; otherwise the door to Germany would have been open. It wasn’t until 1572, when the Catholic Holy League defeated the Ottoman fleet at Le panto, that Islam’s threat to the West finally ended, at least until the late 20th century when the doors to Europe were once again opened to Muslims.
Unlike Jihad, the Crusades were never justified on the basis of New Testament teachings. This is why they are an anomaly, the brief interruption of fourteen centuries of relentless Jihad against Christianity that began long before the Crusades and continued well after they were over. Islam unquestionably won the Crusades, even though Europe was ultimately able to reassert itself and dominate the world. The reasons for this success are much debated, but it’s reasonable to conclude that the West won the war of ideas.
Notions of individualism and freedom, capitalism and technology, and, most of all, the West’s turn from theology to science, carried the day. Religion became in the West an essentially private concern. It is on this “modern” turn that the anti-Crusade attitude developed.
During the Protestant Reformation, when the authority of the Catholic church was under attack, the Crusades began to be regarded as a ploy by power-hungry Popes and land-hungry aristocrats. This judgment was extended by the Enlightenment philosophers, who used the Crusades as a cudgel with which to beat the church.
The Enlightenment view of the Crusades still holds sway. After the Second World War, with western intellectuals feeling guilty about imperialism and European politicians desperate to abandon colonial responsibilities, the Crusades became intellectually unfashionable.
Historian Steven Runciman reflected this attitude in his three-volume study, A History of the Crusades, published in the early 1950s. He cast the Crusades as “morally repugnant acts of intolerance in the name of God.”
Almost single-handedly Runciman managed to define the modern popular view of the Crusades.
The greatest crime of the Crusaders was the sacking of Jerusalem, in which 30,000 people were said to have been massacred. This number is dwarfed by the number of Jihad victims, from India to Constantinople and Narbonne, but Muslims have never apologized for their crimes and never will.
What is called ‘sin and excess’ by other religions, is what Islam refers to as the will of Allah.