Hey, Obama: About Those Crusades

If there’s one thing which irritates me about the left – in general – it is their rank ignorance of history. It is hard to get someone on the left to properly understand what happened even a few years ago – when they were alive and presumptively noticing things happening – let alone anything which happened more than a few decades ago. Now, to be sure, there are a few historical events that the left has latched on to in order to justify their world view…one of them is the Crusades.

To the left, the Crusades were just wanton cruelty – hordes of Christian bigots went into Muslim lands to kill, steal and destroy everything in their path. This was done in the name of religion and, so, religion is bad. This isn’t even a childish view of history – this is a view of history entirely divorced from historical fact. Bring up to a liberal the fact that, for instance, Egypt was once entirely Christian and only became Muslim after the Muslims conquered Egypt in an imperialist war – and then forced, over time, the population to become Muslim, or suffer – and you’ll get a blank stare, or immediate reference to one of the other things liberals heard about: the Inquisition (we’ll deal with that issue some other time). There is just no knowledge on the left of what happened – nor any desire to know what happened because the facts just get in the way of the Narrative.

But, still, I just want to enter into the record, as it were, that the Crusades were a defensive war against a rapacious, cruel enemy who attacked Christian civilization without reason. To give an idea of the flavor of the Muslim way of war, here’s a passage from The Hapsburgs: Portrait of a Dynasty by Edward Crankshaw:

The Turks were not nice fighters. They burned and massacred for the love of it, not in the heat of battle or victory, not in drunken rioting, but in cold blood and under precise instructions from their command. In Perchtoldsdorf, for instance, just outside Vienna, the townspeople and refugees from the surrounding countryside had taken refuge in the church and barricaded it. The Turks first burned down the little town, then sent an envoy to the church to promise safe-conduct to all inside on payment of a certain sum. The pasha in command sat himself down on a red carpet in the ruins of the village square and demanded that the keys of the church and the ransom money be brought to him by a fair-haired virgin who should carry a flag of truce and wear a crown of flowers. The village bailiff’s seventeen-year-old daughter was chosen to lead the way. As the villagers emerged into the light of day they were disarmed and seized. The men were slaughtered on the spot. The pasha reserved to himself the pleasure of killing the unfortunate young girl. The rest of the women and children were sent back to Turkey to be sold as slaves…

That was in 1683, quite a long time after the Crusades – but conquering Muslim armies were like that from the start. Just read up a bit on the captures of Constantinople or Famagusta. At Famagusta, after enduring a siege of 13 months, the Christians were offered terms – surrender and be allowed to leave. And so, in good faith, they surrendered. Nothing doing. Marco Antonio Bragadin, the commander, was flayed alive and his skin stuffed with straw and then sent on to the Turkish Sultan as a trophy; the rest of the Christian population was massacred. It is small wonder that when faced with enemies like this, Christian armies were often ungentle with Muslims when they defeated them.

The Crusades, themselves, were a counter-attack. For four hundred years the Christians had been attacked and forced ever back. One Muslim army made it to central France before being turned back. Muslims were continually boasting of their desire to conquer all of the Christian west – and often making good on their boast as one Christian nation after another fell to Muslim arms. The immediate spur to the Crusades was the Muslim victory over the Christian Greek Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071…with that defeat, the Byzantine Empire was rocked on its heels and no one could say that the Greeks, who had barred the door to Muslim conquest in Europe for 400 years, would be able to stem the tide. An army was needed to redress the balance – and an army was provided: the Crusaders.

In the end, the stated purpose of the Crusades – the recovery of the Holy Land – was a failure. But by projecting power into the heart of Islam and fighting them there, Europe received some breathing room. Time to continue the reconquest of Spain and time for Europe’s nations to become powerful enough to repel the Muslim onslaught when, at long last, the Muslims finally conquered the Byzantines in the middle of the 15th century. They still made the running for a while – conquering Greece, Serbia and Hungary before running up against the rock of resistance known as Vienna. In 1683 they made their last try, as described in that quote above. Only the timely arrival at Vienna of a Polish army commanded by the hero-King Jan Sobieski saved the day, and in the nick of time – Vienna’s defenses were breached the day before the Poles rode in to battle and scattered the Muslim army.

All of that was a long time ago. Let no one say that what happened in the 11th century justifies any action taken in the 21st century. The Muslims have their gripes, but the graves of Europeans in Austria and France attest to the fact that non-Muslims also have their gripes.

The Crusades, Reconsidered

From an excerpt of Jonah Goldberg’s new book, Tyranny of Cliches’:

…Until fairly recently, historically speaking, Muslims used to brag about being the winners of the Crusades, not the victims of it. That is if they talked about them at all. “The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineff ectual re­sponse to the jihad—a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war,” writes Bernard Lewis, the greatest living historian of Islam in the English language (and perhaps any language).  Historian Thomas Madden puts it more directly, “Now put this down in your notebook, because it will be on the test: The cru­sades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world.”…

You can, of course, bring up some bad things which happened during the Crusades – most notably the massacre of the both the Muslim and Jewish population of Jerusalem when the Christians took the city in 1099 as well as Richard the Lionheart’s massacre of 2,700 Muslims at Acre during the Third Crusade.  Bad things.  Should not have been done.  No decent person in 2012 would ever contemplate doing any such thing.  But, by the standards of 11th and 12th century warfare, not at all remarkable.  And any Muslim who wants to whine about it is directed to what Muslims did when they took Constantinople in 1453…many centuries later, when we were all supposed to be much more civilized.

So, I leave aside such complaints – war is always nasty and the hard men of the 11th and 12th centuries, on both sides, did many a cruel act.  But the main facts cannot be disputed:  the Crusades were a counter-attack.  The Muslim attack upon Christianity began, entirely unprovoked, in 634 when some rapacious Muslim barbarians from the Arabian peninsula launched what was at first no more than a large scale plunder raid in to Christian Syria.  Quickly noticing how weak the Christian forces were (the Christian government of the area – the Byzantine Empire – was greatly weakened by a recently concluded, 20 year long war with Persia), the Muslims just poured in to a military vacuum.  For centuries thereafter, Muslim armies conquered Christian lands, massacred and enslaved Christians, treated Christians like dirt when they didn’t murder or enslave them and generally acted like pirates.  Europe was weak from the 7th to the 10th century as the new, Christian civilization developed upon the debris of the old Greco-Roman civilization…and that build up was hampered by the “barbarian wars” which absorbed the energy of Europe often over a period of centuries.  Because of this, the Christians could do no more than hold on…once Europe recovered a bit, there was a chance to push back…and it wasn’t just a push in to the middle east (though that was by far the more famous part), but also a push against the Muslims in Spain.

The only thing bad about the Crusades was that they ultimately failed – they did not extirpate the Mohammedan heresy.  And it is high time that people started to learn the truth about the Crusades.