Who started the crusades?
April 6, 2002 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Who started the crusades? Catholic historian Thomas Madden argues that the crusades "were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world." Given all the talk about the crusades in the wake of 9-11, an accurate understanding of the history seems important. But is this accurate or just Catholic revisionism?
posted by boltman (21 comments total)
In other news, Hitler was a very sensitive man, and an excellent painter.
posted by bradth27 at 11:25 AM on April 6, 2002

Gosh, Godwin peeked in early. ;)

While Muslim conquest of the Christian world at the time was violent and bloody, I don't think it behooves the Roman Church to lay blame on Muslim conquerors for fomenting its own violent and bloody religious war on the region. I'm no historian, but from what I do know of the conflict, there were no good guys in the Crusades: each was guilty of getting quite literally medieval on the other.
posted by brownpau at 11:41 AM on April 6, 2002

Oh, and I think Saladin was a cool warrior.
posted by brownpau at 11:42 AM on April 6, 2002

Even if all the claims this article makes are entirely true, it's still the case that popes at the time, and the author's beloved Bernard of Clairvaux himself, preached that you would go to heaven if you killed a Muslim. And Islam at the time didn't say anything like the same about Christians. The author's point seems to be that the Crusades saved Christendom. That's false - Charles Martel saved Christendom a few hundred years earlier - but even if it were true, why should we rejoice that such a bloodthirsty religion was saved?

And one more thing. The author neglects to mention why the sainted Bernard argued against killing the Jews. He said that the Jews should be left alive only as a reminder of the suffering they inflicted on Jesus. Ugh.
posted by Gaz at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2002

Also worth a look: Medieval Life and the Hundred Years War.
posted by sheauga at 11:52 AM on April 6, 2002

This is not history its propeganda. Ironically it sounds just like the call to arms that started the Crusades in the first place. Pretty soon they'll be calling Jews part of the problem .. oh wait. Thank God organized religion doesnt have power over the state in the West it once did or we'd be in WWIII right now. Which is precisly the problem with Muslim countrys in the Middle East, no seperation of church and state and theyre faceing the same bloody Holy wars the West allready went through.
posted by stbalbach at 12:26 PM on April 6, 2002

Good grief, the ferrets are on the corpse.

Calling out the Crusades as some sort of unique postmodern colonial-imperialist genocide seems ... bizarre. Sure, the Christians went off at various times to seize parts of the Holy Lands, but that region certainly wasn't treated as a demilitarized zone by the various local powers, either. Why the hell should history end in 732 at Tours, with the Europeans, precognitively recognizing that they would one day be the dominant culture of the entire globe, sitting down and parceling off permanent borders. "al-Rahman, oui oui, bonne battaille, no cross ze Loire again, d'accord?"

We don't need to justify the Crusades as some sort of response to Muslim aggression that might have been avoided if Christians had just taken a few anger-management classes. Nationalism didn't exist. Internationalism didn't exist. Peoples moved across the swathes of the known world with alarming alacrity -- heck, half the people in Spain were descended from Goths who'd begun their peripatetic journeys on the Baltic Sea. England wasn't England until the German Angles crossed the Channel. Countries didn't have borders, they had frontiers that were constantly changing as alliances, bloodlines, blood feuds, and yes, wars swept things one way or the next. In this context, what was especially and uniquely wrong about the Crusades?

Even if you remove the religious context, it's clear that the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean is particularly strategically important. In the days before circumnavigation under sail, the ports of Syria and Palestine represented the end points of key trade routes which then could transfer to ship and reach all parts of the basin. Whether or not there was a religious basis for holding the lands, there was clear economic interest in doing so for any power -- be it Christian, Moslem, or idol-worshippers. The lands there would have been fought over in any case. Perhaps some of the leaders of the day recognized the religious basis for the pretext that it was, or perhaps not.

Can we leave the bullshit behind and just agree that the Muslim and Christian worlds were jockeying for advantage against each other from the very beginnings of the former's rise? Why on earth would someone privilege the Muslim conquest? Should we be nice guys now and give back Spain, just to prove that we're not all that bad? Of course not. Will Muslims apologize if enough of them move to Spain to become a majority again? Will they be nice enough to give us back all of Turkey, where half the New Testament was written?

As it happens, this article seems to come in lockstep with a much superior similar revisionist view by the NRO, by Thomas Madden -- whose interesting conclusion is roughly the Muslims won the Crusades, so why are they still pissed?; and Ginger Stampley had a couple great posts about it, referencing the Madden article.
posted by dhartung at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2002 [1 favorite]

But is this accurate or just Catholic revisionism?

Um, one guy's theories != All Catholicism's attempt to "rewrite history." It's not like the Pope had to sign off on this article before it was published.

A lot of this thread is edging a bit too close to "The Jews control the media, you know" - style commentary.
posted by aaron at 2:57 PM on April 6, 2002

Dhartung, this should be a MetaTalk post, but thanks for furthering the debate. I've learned much by reading your post.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:05 PM on April 6, 2002

I still blame The Knights Templar.
posted by Dagobert at 3:46 PM on April 6, 2002

aaron: how about "is this accurate, or does this guy just have an axe to grind?"
posted by boltman at 4:22 PM on April 6, 2002

US News this week also has a worthwhile rundown of the Crusades. I have some quibbles with it -- this, too, is beset by post-colonialism; but at least it puts the 20th century struggles in context with the older ones, amid a discussion of mainly the key taking of Jerusalem and its retaking by Saladin.

One interesting thing most people don't know: rather than an Arab, Saladin was a Kurd.
posted by dhartung at 4:42 PM on April 6, 2002

aaron: how about "is this accurate, or does this guy just have an axe to grind?"

Infinitely preferable!
posted by aaron at 5:20 PM on April 6, 2002

That Saladin was a Kurd is common knowledge, dhartung, at least for the culturally literate, of which category in which I do not include myself. Yet I knew it.

And, christ, posting links from the internet--like they're pearls of wisdom rather than a wad of imperfectly autodidactic opinions from someone with a computer and a lot of free time--if the new economy is an information economy, the currency is being debased way beyond any Weimar nightmare. We're all getting buried by wheebarrows of counterfeit factoids.
posted by y2karl at 6:52 PM on April 6, 2002

y2karl - is there something wrong with posting links from the Internet, or have I been completely misunderstanding the whole point of metafilter?
posted by swell at 7:45 PM on April 6, 2002

No. But it's the internet. Not the Gospel. Not worth even a magazine sidebar, usually.
posted by y2karl at 9:37 PM on April 6, 2002

at least for the culturally literate, of which category in which I do not include myself.

not for nothin', y2karl, but you may be one of the most culturally literate beings I've ever encountered.
posted by jonmc at 8:32 AM on April 7, 2002

That Saladin was a Kurd is common knowledge, dhartung, at least for the culturally literate, of which category in which I do not include myself. Yet I knew it.

Must be awkward reaching around to pat yourself on the back like that. But it's funny to watch.

One must ask, though: if posting links to the internet is such a debasement, why are you here?
posted by dhartung at 9:28 AM on April 7, 2002

forget about the Abbasid Caliphate? aaron? (Harun al-Rashid). 1054- schism of the east?.... the advance of the Seljuq turks, the weakening of Byzantine, the ambition of the italian city-states (trade and all) and of course Urbans' decisions to make a push...ala 'Dieu li volt', had alot to do with it. Also the rise of Sabbah could have made the west even more nervous with this almost impervious yet fanatical leader.
posted by clavdivs at 11:04 AM on April 7, 2002

I had links from warblogs especially in mind when I wrote that--it's bad enough Thomas Friedman thinks he's a freelance Secretary of State, but the avalanche of virtual chickenhawk armchair generals post 9/11, with or without warblogs, posting their never-omit-needless-words grand strategic opinions--now that is a debased currency.
posted by y2karl at 11:51 AM on April 7, 2002

My very own passive-aggressive stalker. I suppose I should be flattered.
posted by dhartung at 5:07 PM on April 7, 2002

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