Sat, Dec 19, 2009 | By Vincent Carroll and Thomas F. Madden (edited by Crethi Plethi)
The Crusades and Islam
Since 9/11, we often hear so-called “experts” in the West say that the Crusades especially have been the main cause for the negative attitude of Muslims towards the so-called “Christian countries,” which is totally wrong given the expansionist and violent history of Islam. A U.S. News & World Report cover story “takes for granted the idea that the Crusades constitute a looming grievance against the West that rightly resonates to this day.” While America was still an undiscovered part of the world during the Crusades in the Middle east (1095-1291), the Islam still considers the US as the Great Satan and it all can be explained because of the Crusades. The mentioned U.S. News & World Report was written by Andrew Curry and first published on april 31, 2002 (The first Holy War – During the Crusades, east and west first met on the battlefield) and republished on april 7, 2008 (The first Holy War – the truth about the epic clash between east and west).
To obtain a good understanding of the historical background on the Crusades and the Jihad, we republish some interesting articles which are a response on the allegations in the Andrew Curry article that the Crusades are responsible for the Islamic Jihad against the West. The first article is from a newspaper column by Vincent Carroll, member of staff of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.
U.S. News gets History wrong
by Vincent Carroll
You look at the U.S. News & World Report cover story on the Crusades, and you figure they’ve got to be kidding. You know they can’t be serious in proclaiming the Crusades “the first major clash between Islam and Western Christendom,” or in headlining the Crusades – in both print and in the version at USNews.com – as “The First Holy War.”
No sober journalist or historian could claim that “During the Crusades, East and West first met – on the battlefield,” and expect any reader even casually familiar with world history not to leap out of the chair in exasperated shock.
It’s a gag, almost certainly, when U.S. News quotes the Ibn Kaldun chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington D.C. and U.S. Navy Academy in Annapolis, Akbar Salahuddin Ahmed, as solemnly maintaining that “The impact of the Crusades created a historical memory which is with us today – the memory of a long European onslaught.”
No serious news journal would let such a statement stand without some mention of what happened before 1099 and the sack of Jerusalem by the likes of Tancred and Godfrey of Bouillon. Surely there must be at least one editor at U.S. News familiar with the broad outline of Muslim/Christian conflict during the 500 years that preceded the First Crusade. Someone at the magazine must know that the Near East and North Africa had been the heart of Christian settlement before the Muslim blitzkrieg rolled out of Arabia and conquered everything in sight to the north, east and west.
Ah, but our dodgy U.S. News editor might protest, please notice: We didn’t say the Crusades were the first clash between Muslims and Christians. We said they were the first clash between Islam and “Western Christendom.” Arab imperialism in North Africa and the Middle East doesn’t count.
But why not? If the impact of the Crusades “created a historical memory” for Muslims, why isn’t the historical memory created among Christians by the Muslim conquests of the previous five centuries worth mentioning? And why call the Crusades the “first holy war” when Muslims had been exhorting jihad against the infidel practically from the outset of their expansion?
But of course U.S. News is wrong even on its own limited terms. The Crusades were not the first major clash between Islam and Western Christendom, if Western Christendom is defined in this case, as it must be, as non-Orthodox Europe during the Dark and Middle Ages. There had been many, starting long before the Crusades.
- Didn’t the Islam take Antioch and Alexandria from the Christians in 633?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Gaza in 635 and made Damascus capital of the Caliphs?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Jerusalem in 637?
- Didn’t the Arabs attacked Armenia in 639 and destroyed the library of Alexandria in 641?
- Didn’t the Arabs destroyed the Persian Empire in 641 and Islam replaced the religion of Zoroaster?
- Didn’t the Muslims conquer Tripoli (Libia) in 643?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Cyprus in 649?
- Didn’t the Arabs attack North Africa in 670 and destroyed Carthage (Tunis) in 697?
- Didn’t the Arabs siege Constantinople (Istanbul) in 671?
- Didn’t the Arabs reach the Indus River (Pakistan) in 674?
- Didn’t the Arabs finally overrun Armenia in 694?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Algiers (Algeria) in 700 and wiped out Christendom in North Africa?
- Didn’t the Arab Gen. Tarik ibn Ziyad defeat King Roderic in a decisive battle in 711 that brought most of Spain into the Arab domain?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Lisbon in 716?
- Didn’t they move into Sardinia in 720, and grab a foothold in France at Narbonne in 720?
- Wasn’t Charles Martel’s victory over the Arabs at Tours (or Poitiers, in the traditional understanding) in 732 one of the pivotal battles in Western history and halting the Arab advance in Europe that every educated person, including those who get jobs at U.S. News, has read about at one time or another in their lives?
- Wasn’t Charlemagne himself returning from a campaign against the Muslim Saracens in 778 when his rearguard was ambushed and decimated by the Basques, in a massacre memorialized forever in the Chanson de Roland?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Crete in 826, plunder the Greek Isles and take Sicily and Sardinia in 827?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Marseille in 838 and settle in Southern Italy?
- Didn’t the Arabs sack Rome and damage the Vatican in 846?
- Didn’t the Arabs conquer Malta in 869?
- Didn’t Muslims sack Salonika (Greece) in 904?
- Didn’t the Arabs destroy the Monastery of Monte Cassino in 994 and sack Pisa in 1004?
- Isn’t it the case, as Paul Fregosi reminds us in his book, “Jihad in the West,” that during the Islamic expansion, “a large part of Europe was taken, occupied for centuries, sometimes devastated, and some of it was Islamicized. Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Sicily, Austria, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Rumania, Wallachia, Albania, Moldavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Armenia, Georgia, Poland, Ukraine, and eastern and southern Russia were all Jihad battlefields.”
- Isn’t it true that the Arabs took the Islamic expansion also to the east as far as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China?
- Isn’t it finally true, as Piers Paul Read observes in his book “The Templars,” that “From the time of the Prophet Mohammed’s first razzia, the Christian’s perception was that wars against Islam were waged either in defense of Christendom or to liberate and reconquer lands that were rightfully theirs“?
Shouldn’t the viewpoint reflected in Read’s statement at least be acknowledged in a national magazines cover story on the Crusades? But no, it is not. Like so many articles on the Crusades since the attacks of Sept. 11, U.S. News takes for granted the idea that the Crusades constitute a looming grievance against the West that rightly resonates to this day. And it would be funny, this journalistic malpractice, if it didn’t buttress the convictions of the fanatics who are still seeking revenge.
Timothy Furnish states in his article, How the Media misconstrue Jihad and the Crusades, that “…the Crusades far from being the first time Muslims and Christians fought, were actually merely the first time that Christians, after four centuries of defeats, really fought BACK.”
The Crusades in the Checkout Aisle: Crusade Nonsens from the U.S. News & World Report
In the Crusades in the Checkout Aisle: Crusade nonsens from the U.S. News & World Report, Thomas F. Madden, points out numerous errors in the Andrew Curry article:
— “Curry also reports massacres in Jerusalem after the Crusader conquest in 1099 so drastic that the streets ran knee-deep in the blood. He then contrasts that with the Muslim conquest of the city in 1187, when good and sophisticated Saladin killed no one, allowing the inhabitants to leave freely after paying a token ransom. However, no scholars now accept the grossly exaggerated reports of the massacres at Jerusalem in 1099. None of them are from eyewitnesses. The stories of piled -up bodies and rivers of blood come from European chroniclers eager to portray a ritual purification of the city. Muslim sources, although lamenting the deaths, number the dead at only a few thousand. In any case, the killing of defenders who refused to surrender was the accepted standard for both Muslims and Christians in the Middle Ages. Someone at U.S. News & World Report should really take a look at a map of Jerusalem and then calculate how much blood would be necessary to fill the entire city to knee depth. All of the people in the region could not bleed that much. It is also not true that Saladin spared the lives of the Christians in Jerusalem because he was more tolerant or wise. Saladin actually planned to massacre the Christians in retaliation for 1099. But the defenders negotiated a surrender in which they promised not to harm the Muslim population or the Muslim holy sites in the city in return for the lives of the Christians. In other words, quite unlike 1099, in 1187 the Christians surrendered the city peacefully and thereby saved their lives. Like the Crusaders in 1099, Saladin acted within the accepted standards of his time.”
— “Saladin gets a lot of play in this article since it focuses so heavily on the Third Crusade. The real Superbowl of Crusades, it was the Third Crusade that pitted Saladin against Richard the Lionheart of England. Curry believes that Saladin is ignored by the history books in favor of Richard — which only demonstrates that Curry needs to read more history books. He also contends that Muslims still remember Saladin well for “his generosity in the face of Christian aggression and hatred.” Here Curry has fallen into the trap that he warns his reader about. Modern Muslims learned about the Crusades from Western, not Muslim, historians. The truth is that it is in the West that Saladin has been extolled as a paragon of chivalry since the Middle Ages. Some medieval Europeans even named their children after him! However, in the Muslim world Saladin has always taken a back seat to two other medieval rulers: Baybars and Kalavun. These Egyptian sultans successfully led their slave armies against the Christians of the Crusader Kingdom, brutally crushing all resistance, massacring entire cities after promising to spare their lives, and finally eradicating all traces of the Crusaders in Palestine and Syria. Those are the exploits that are still celebrated in the Middle East, although they are oddly missing from this article.”
— “Following poorly informed popular historians, Curry also gets the legacy of the Crusades wrong. He reports that although the military operations against the Muslims failed, they did give the Europeans a taste of the splendid and sophisticated culture of the East. Soon new luxuries began flowing into Europe and new ideas from well-stocked Arab libraries. Therefore, by peeling back the veil on the wider world the Crusades led directly to Europe leaving the “Dark Ages” and entering the modern world.”
— “All of that is wrong. There was virtually no intellectual or cultural interaction between Muslims and Christians in the Crusader Kingdom. The Christians in the Levant saw themselves as transplants. They were manning an outpost of Christendom in order to defend Christian access to the holy sites. They had no interest in Arab libraries, nor did the Muslims have much interest in the ways of the infidels. While it is true that Aristotle came to the West through Arab translations, those were acquired in Spain where Christians and Muslims did interact. As for the eastern Eastern luxury goods, they arrived in Europe via Egypt or Constantinople – not the Holy Land. The rise and fall of the Crusader Kingdom had almost no effect on Mediterranean trade between Christians and Muslims. The rise in demand for luxury goods in western Europe was fed by an equivalent internal rise in commerce and towns during the eleventh century. It had little to do with the Crusades.”
— “Curry ends his article by lamenting the Crusade’s “legacy of misunderstanding and animosity” that is “still with us today.” There was and is animosity between Islam and the West, to be sure. But it predates the Crusades by many centuries. As for misunderstanding, this article, although clearing up a few things, serves to keep that unfortunate tradition alive.”