Global Resilience Solutions > 2015 > April

Shall We Dispense with the Bullshit? Welcome to the TRUTH about the Crusades…

Given that hardly a week goes by when some commentator, either Muslim or sympathetic to Islam, doesn’t use the Crusades as a shorthand for Western imperialism and encroachment on the Arab world, it’s high time for a reality check. What were the Crusades, what was their historical context, and should they really be such a byword?

We don’t often do posts like this one. However, a key element of human resilience is distinguishing truth from fiction and knowing when you’re being manipulated. Granted, not always an easy task in the modern world, but this is one subject on which we can definitely set the record straight…

The Big Picture

Let’s have a look at that phrase, “the Arab world.” For more than half of the first millennium A.D., there was no such thing. Until Islam comes on the scene in the seventh century, Arabs lived in Arabia. Egyptians, Syrians, Berbers, Assyrians and various other ethnic groups inhabited what we now think of as the “Arab world”. None of these nations were genetically Arab nor did they speak Arabic.

The inhabitants of Egypt and Syria, for example, were by this time largely Orthodox Christian (a mix of Chalcedonians and Monophysites) and spoke Coptic and Syriac respectively, with Greek as a second language – the “lingua franca” of the time.

This is illustrated below – a map of the Mediterranean world as it was in 600 A.D. The vast majority of the Mediterranean coast was, as it had been for centuries, part of the Romano-Hellenistic world.

Byzantine_Empire_600AD

 

Less than a century and a half later, the Islamic caliphate had conquered the ancient Syrian, Egyptian, Persian and Berber cultures, getting as far as Spain and Constantinople. For the remainder of the first millennium, the East Roman Empire fought doggedly with the Islamic invaders, temporarily retaking Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine before a series of invasions by the Turks, an Islamised people native to the Asian steppe, made the continued defence of those provinces impossible.

WALL5295177

Meanwhile in the West, the Islamic Moors established a caliphate in Spain and invaded the Frankish Empire as far as Tours in northern France before being driven back, but this was not an end to Moorish and Arab attempts to conquer European lands. In the tenth century, immediately prior to the Crusades, much of Italy and southern France was under Muslim occupation or attack. From the early ninth to the late eleventh centuries, the history of Italy was dominated by the problem of Islamic invaders. In Spain, the struggle lasted until 1492.

viking_magyar_and_saracen_invasions_in_9th_and_10th_century_europe

In fact, the fundamental problem with many modern attempts to interpret the Crusades is the arbitrary start date of 1095, as though suddenly and for no apparent reason other than religious fanaticism, Christians simply decided to invade a peaceful Middle East.

In fact, Jerusalem had been captured by the Muslims only twenty-five years before, and Antioch, the great metropolis of Syria, in 1084. When the Eastern Emperor, seeing Muslim armies advancing into Asia Minor across from his capital, made his appeal to the Pope for military aid, it was out of desperation. The way that Rome, itself recently on the front lines, reacted was to treat this military request as a rallying cry for the liberation of the heartland of ancient Christianity and of the Christians living under the Muslim yoke. A Europe tired of being constantly on the defensive for nearly four centuries was ready to start taking land back from the invaders.

As you may have noticed from the third map, the tenth century was not a good time for Europe. What we mistakenly call the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome were a time of comparative continuity of Roman law and institutions in many places. After the Muslim attacks on Southern Europe and the Viking attacks in the north, this changed, and the feudal order as we remember it took shape out of the ashes. The Normans, descendants of the Vikings and just as ruthless despite their ostensible conversion, took the opportunity to seize a leading role in Western Christendom, not only conquering England, but leading both the reconquest of Italy and many elements of the Crusades.

In this new and more vicious atmosphere, the Crusaders did commit numerous atrocities, including the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the brutal Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during which they murdered much of the city’s population and destroyed much of its cultural heritage. You’ll notice many of the Crusaders’ atrocities were inflicted on other Christians, however.

And atrocities were certainly something they had in common with their enemy. During the initial wave of Islamic conquest, the populations of Fayum, Tripoli, Cyprus and many other places were massacred. In Spain, Muslim policy in the tenth century was to execute all adult males of any city that resisted and to sell the remaining population into slavery. The Muslim reconquest of Antioch saw the murder of 16,000 Christians and the enslavement of over 100,000. As late as the nineteenth century, many large-scale massacres of already-subjugated Christians are recorded, from the extermination of the population of the island of Chios to blood-baths in Lebanon and Bulgaria.

Nor was the Islamic taste for violence limited to Europe or the Middle East – it has been estimated that Islamic conquests butchered some eight million people in the Indian Subcontinent alone.

Over the next few centuries, the tide of the struggle would wax and wane repeatedly, but eventually enthusiasm for the cause waned, and the Christian Crusader states fell.

The Islamic Jihad, however, was by no means done. By 1453, the East Roman Empire was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks after a long and bloody struggle. History remembers the Sultan’s act of obeisance before Agia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and tends to forget about the long massacre that was going on at the same time. Ottoman expansion on the European continent continued until 1683, when the Ottoman army was defeated at Vienna.

Re-evaluating the Crusades

To say that Muslims when they conquered in the name of their Prophet were simply men of their time and Crusaders the villains of history doesn’t hold up under the larger picture: Islam from its very inception was a force that conquered territory from others and converted their populations by force or by loss of civil rights and heavy taxation.

Christianity, on the other hand, “conquered” the Roman Empire by persuasion, example and appeal to noble and higher principles of love and compassion. Yet Christianity itself was nearly wiped out: Europe itself was subjected to a continuous, relentless whirlwind of inconceivable violent assault by Islam… for over one thousand years.

Part of the Muslim anti-crusader narrative has been that the ignorant bloodthirsty Western knights came in and destroyed the high culture of the Islamic world, rich in art and science. Of course, the high culture to which they are referring was appropriated from the conquered and forcibly converted nations who had created it in the first place. The culture of the Persian, Roman and Hellenistic worlds, not to mention the ancient cultures of Egypt and Syria, fell into Muslim hands through conquest. In short, the argument that Islam represented a more elevated civilisation than that of Western Europe is entirely misleading.

Their anti-crusader rant allows the Muslims to play the victim, a tactic that usually succeeds in garnering the sympathies of the gullible. Historically, though, the Crusades were a few comparatively small blips in a millennium-long campaign of relentless Islamic violence directed against Europe.

So if anyone ever tries to tell you we should be more “sensitive” to Muslim “concerns” because of the terrible things “we” did to them in the Crusades, you’ll now be able to set the record straight.

You’ll notice that many of the facts we’ve exposed you to here, including what’s on the maps, are not things you heard much about in school: Spain was once ruled by Muslims? Vast tracts of present day France and Italy were once under their control? They fought their way to very gates of Vienna? Yes, all true. And the European civilisation that gave birth to so much of what we hold dear survived by the skin of its teeth.

Sad to say, but the bulk of our population is ignorant of history. Because of that, they’re actually taken aback by the demonic cruelty and hate exhibited by today’s Islamic jihadists. If they knew history better, though, they wouldn’t be even mildly surprised.

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


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