Saturday, March 11, 2006

A little bit on the Crusades

From a Zenit interview with Robert Spencer:

Q: The Crusades are often portrayed as a militarily offensive venture. Were they?

Spencer: No. Pope Urban II, who called for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095, was calling for a defensive action -- one that was long overdue.

As he explained, he was calling the Crusade because without any defensive action, "the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked" by the Turks and other Muslim forces.

"For, as most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George," Pope Urban II said in his address. "They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.

"If you permit them to continue thus for a while with impunity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them."

He was right. Jihad warfare had from the seventh century to the time of Pope Urban conquered and Islamized what had been over half of Christendom. There had been no response from the Christian world until the Crusades.

Q: What are some popular misconceptions about the Crusades?

Spencer: One of the most common is the idea that the Crusades were an unprovoked attack by Europe against the Islamic world.

In fact, the conquest of Jerusalem in 638 stood at the beginning of centuries of Muslim aggression, and Christians in the Holy Land faced an escalating spiral of persecution.

Early in the eighth century 60 Christian pilgrims from Amorium were crucified; around the same time the Muslim governor of Caesarea seized a group of pilgrims from Iconium and had them all executed as spies -- except for a small number who converted to Islam.

Muslims also demanded money from pilgrims, threatening to ransack the Church of the Resurrection if they didn't pay.
The whole thing is an interesting read.


  1. WHile I do agree in the general sense that the Crusades were a defensive war designed primarily to reinforce the fragmenting power of the bYzantines in the East, I do not believe that the author is being honest here. First of all, Spencer acts as though the Pope's words were set in stone and very explicit regarding the nature of the Crusades and the mission. The problem is that he omits several key facts regarding the speech Urban supposedly gave which calls his academic honesty into question. First of all, any serious scholar of the middle ages (and presumably one knowledgeable enough to devote a chapter to it in a book about Islam) knows that there are at least fivesurviving versions of Urban's speech and that no two are alike, or even really similar (Fulcher of Chartres, Robert the Monk, The Deeds of the Franks, Balderic of Dol, and Guibert of Nogent), all of which were written no later than the first quarter of the 12th (thus ruling out later forgeries).

    Second of all, a lot of the atrocities Spencer catalogues were centuries old by the time the Crusades were launched, and even then they had largely been committed by the Egyptian rulers of Jerusalem who had been defeated and expelled from the city by the Seljuks about 25 years earlier.

    Third, I would contest Spencer's assertion that the Crusaders did not attempt to convert Muslims. They may not have made a systematic move to convert every last muslim in the Holy Land to Christianity, although it is interesting to note that during the build-up to the crusades and the marches through Eastern Europe, and Germany, the crusaders were more than happy to massacre and forcibly convert the Jews as related by numeous scholars such as Solomon Ben Samson of Worms and others. While I am not familiar with any documentation specifically mentioning the attempts to convert Muslims by the sword, the fact that they were referred to as "devil-worshippers" and were routinely massacred when cities were taken when combined with the Jewish precedent makes a solid case.

    Finally, at the end of his interview Spencer comes off sounding an awful lot like an apologist for the Crusaders, as he alternates between saying that while the Crusades were bad, they were no worse than any other military action of the period and that Westerners should not be embarrassed by the Crusades. However, the fact that the Muslims were usually more than willing to surrender to the generally more tolerant, open-minded and disciplined Byzantines rather than the Crusaders when given a choice(such as at the Siege of Nicaea), it puts to the lie his assertion that the Crusades were "business as usual" and not really to be regretted.

  2. Amer brother! Down with Islamofacism!