I have been meaning to revisit this topic for some time – considering this episode in European history within the context of my views in general about this period. I have found medieval Europe to offer the longest lasting example of a society whose laws came closer to libertarian law than any other place or during under any other (extended period of) time.
But what of the Crusades? Many years ago, I accepted the mainstream view – Christians, for no good reason, decided to invade and slaughter Muslims. Look hard enough at the history of this blog, and I believe you will find one or two posts that take something like this position for granted.
But over the last couple of years my thinking has evolved – after all, there were Christians occupying this land before there were Muslims…and the Muslims didn’t really convert the inhabitants in a peaceful manner. Of course, there were others before the Christians…and so the history goes.
The First Crusade was called at the end of the eleventh century. This was at least four centuries after Muslims conquered much of the Middle East and North Africa, and even more than three centuries after the conquest of Spain.
What took so long? Well, keep in mind that after the fall of Rome, those living in Europe had their hands full with the basic task of creating something approaching a civilized world. They also had their hands full with internal consolidation – often in ways that were less-than-peaceful, with Charlemagne offering a good example. They also had their hands full with the Vikings – who would regularly sail even into Paris and other inland cities and set up shop for plunder.
It was in the tenth century when Europe really started taking some meaningful and sustainable form. This story is well-told by Paul Collins in his book The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century. I have covered this book in several posts, but most relevant here is this post, exploring the Europe that was born in the tenth century. Let’s just say that few of the stereotypes are valid.
So…back to the Crusades…I found an interesting article, Christians in the Middle East – Past, Present and Future.
Christians from the Middle East are frequently asked, ‘When did you or your family become Christians?’ It’s hard for them not to be irritated by the question, and some of them want to answer ‘On the day of Pentecost!’
Yes. They were the first Christians.
The author of this paper, Colin Chapman, continues the history – including the imperialism of the West, the creation of the State of Israel, and the Christian Zionism of America that supports this state.
Many Christians today hold a sense of shame regarding the Crusades: how could a succession of Popes encourage such dastardly deeds? Yet Arab Christians have a wholly different view of the Crusades:
It is important, however, for us to listen to what many Middle Eastern Christians say to us on this subject. When I’ve taught about the Crusades for several years in introductory courses on Islam at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, the message that I heard from students goes like this: ‘Do you western Christians really need to have such a guilty conscience over the Crusades?’
Is it just that the students are ignorant of history? No, not really. The students continue:
‘Surely they were simply the delayed reaction of Christendom – delayed by four centuries – to the Islamic conquest. Western Christians today may want to apologise for the Crusades; but are Muslim Arabs ever going to apologise for the initial Arab Islamic conquests? Were the Crusades not an entirely natural and inevitable reaction on the part of Christendom to the loss of territories which had been ruled by Christians for centuries?’
Which really should be recognized if one wants to speak half-knowledgeably about the Crusades.
While looking more into this issue of conquests, Christendom, and the invasions that continue to shape today’s Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, I came across an interesting bit of history. The Forgotten Armenian Genocide of 1019 AD, by Raymond Ibrahim. Now, I am familiar with the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – and I have touched on this before. But 1019? This is news to me. Ibrahim writes of the recent April 24 commemoration day of the 1915 genocide:
Ironically, most people, including most Armenians, are unaware that the first genocide of Christian Armenians at the hands of Muslim Turks did not occur in the twentieth century; rather it began in 1019 -- exactly one thousand years ago this year -- when Turks first began to pour into and transform a then much larger Armenia into what it is today, the eastern portion of modern-day Turkey.
He describes brutal acts, continuing for decades; hundreds of cartloads of plunder, mostly taken from churches; the siege and destruction of Ani – then the capital of Armenia and known as the City of 1001 Churches; the worst atrocities against those most visibly Christian: priests and monks.
Such is an idea of what Muslim Turks did to Christian Armenians -- not during the Armenian Genocide of a century ago but exactly one thousand years ago, starting in 1019, when the Turkic invasion and subsequent colonization of Armenia began.
The Crusades didn’t happen in a vacuum.