The Crusades may be causing more devastation today than they ever did in the
three centuries when most of them were fought, according to one expert.
Robert Spencer, author of "Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the
Crusades)" (Regnery), claims that the damage is not in terms of lives lost and
property destroyed but is a more subtle destruction.
Spencer shared with ZENIT how false ideas about the Crusades are being used by
extremists to foment hostility to the West today.
Q: The Crusades are often portrayed as a militarily offensive venture. Were
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
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
"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
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.
Later in the eighth century, a Muslim ruler banned displays of the cross in
Jerusalem. He also increased the tax on non-Muslims -- jizya -- that Christians
had to pay and forbade Christians to engage in religious instruction of their
own children and fellow believers.
Early in the ninth century the persecutions grew so severe that large numbers of
Christians fled for Constantinople and other Christian cities. In 937, Muslims
went on a rampage in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, plundering and destroying the
Church of Calvary and the Church of the Resurrection.
In 1004, the Fatimid Caliph, Abu 'Ali al-Mansur al-Hakim, ordered the
destruction of churches, the burning of crosses, and the seizure of church
property. Over the next 10 years 30,000 churches were destroyed, and untold
numbers of Christians converted to Islam simply to save their lives.
In 1009, al-Hakim commanded that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
be destroyed, along with several other churches, including the Church of the
Resurrection. In 1056, the Muslims expelled 300 Christians from Jerusalem and
forbade European Christians from entering the rebuilt Church of the Holy
When the Seljuk Turks took Jerusalem in 1077, the Seljuk Emir Atsiz bin Uwaq
promised not to harm the inhabitants, but once his men had entered the city,
they murdered 3,000 people.
Another common misconception is that the Crusades were fought to convert Muslims
to Christianity by force. Glaringly absent from every report about Pope Urban's
address at the Council of Claremont is any command to the Crusaders to convert
It was not until over 100 years after the First Crusade, in the 13th century,
that European Christians made any organized attempt to convert Muslims to
Christianity, when the Franciscans began missionary work among Muslims in lands
held by the Crusaders. This effort was largely unsuccessful.
Yet another misconception revolves around the Crusaders' bloody sack of
Jerusalem in 1099.
The capture of Jerusalem is often portrayed as unique in medieval history, and
as the cause of Muslim mistrust of the West. It might be more accurate to say
that it was the start of a millennium of anti-Western grievance mongering and
The Crusaders' sack of Jerusalem was a heinous crime -- particularly in light of
the religious and moral principles they professed to uphold. However, by the
military standards of the day, it was not actually anything out of the ordinary.
In those days, it was a generally accepted principle of warfare that if a city
under siege resisted capture, it could be sacked, and while if it did not
resist, mercy would be shown. It is a matter of record that Muslim armies
frequently behaved in exactly the same way when entering a conquered city.
This is not to excuse the Crusaders' conduct by pointing to similar actions. One
atrocity does not excuse another. But it does illustrate that the Crusaders'
behavior in Jerusalem was consistent with that of other armies of the period --
since all states subscribed to the same notions of siege and resistance.
In 1148, Muslim commander Nur ed-Din did not hesitate to order the killing of
every Christian in Aleppo. In 1268, when the jihad forces of the Mamluk Sultan
Baybars took Antioch from the Crusaders, Baybars was annoyed to find that the
Crusader ruler had already left the city -- so he wrote to him bragging of his
massacres of Christians.
Most notorious of all may be the jihadists' entry into Constantinople on May 29,
1453, when they, according to historian Steven Runciman, "slew everyone that
they met in the streets, men, women and children without discrimination."
Finally, it is a misconception that Pope John Paul II apologized for the
Crusades. He did not.
There is no doubt that the belief that Pope John Paul II apologized for the
Crusades is widespread. When he died, the Washington Post reminded its readers
"during his long reign, Pope John Paul II apologized to Muslims for the
Crusades, to Jews for anti-Semitism, to Orthodox Christians for the sacking of
Constantinople, to Italians for the Vatican's associations with the Mafia and to
scientists for the persecution of Galileo."
However, John Paul II never actually apologized for the Crusades. The closest he
came was on March 12, 2000, the "Day of Pardon."
During his homily he said: "We cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the
Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second
millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among
Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for
the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken toward the followers of
This is hardly a clear apology for the Crusades.
Q: How have Muslims perceived the Crusades then and now?
Spencer: For centuries, when the Ottoman Empire was thriving, the Crusades were
not a preoccupation of the Islamic world. They were, after all, failures from a
However, with the decline of the military power and unity of the Islamic world,
and the concomitant rise of the West, they have become a focal point of Muslim
resentment of perceived Western encroachment and exploitation.
Q: To what extent are false ideas about the Crusades being used by extremists to
foment hostility to the West today?
Spencer: The Crusades may be causing more devastation today than they ever did
in the three centuries when most of them were fought -- but not in terms of
lives lost and property destroyed. Today's is a more subtle destruction.
The Crusades have become a cardinal sin not only of the Catholic Church but also
of the Western world in general.
They are Exhibit A for the case that the current strife between the Muslim world
and Western, post-Christian civilization is ultimately the responsibility of the
West, which has provoked, exploited, and brutalized Muslims ever since the first
Frankish warriors entered Jerusalem.
Osama bin Laden has spoken of his organization not as al-Qaida but of a "World
Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," and called in a fatwa for
"jihad against Jews and Crusaders."
Such usage is widespread. On November 8, 2002 -- shortly before the beginning of
the Iraqi war that toppled Saddam Hussein -- Sheikh Bakr Abed Al-Razzaq Al-Samaraai
preached in Baghdad's Mother of All Battles mosque about "this difficult hour in
which the Islamic nation [is] experiencing, an hour in which it faces the
challenge of [forces] of disbelief of infidels, Jews, crusaders, Americans and
Similarly, when Islamic jihadists bombed the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia, in December 2004, they explained that the attack was part of larger plan
to strike back at "Crusaders": "This operation comes as part of several
operations that are organized and planned by al-Qaida as part of the battle
against the crusaders and the Jews, as well as part of the plan to force the
unbelievers to leave the Arabian Peninsula," the jihadists said in a statement.
They also said that jihad warriors "managed to enter one of the crusaders' big
castles in the Arabian Peninsula and managed to enter the American consulate in
Jeddah, in which they control and run the country."
In the face of this, Westerners should not be embarrassed by the Crusades. It's
time to say, "enough," and teach our children to take pride in their own
They should know that they have a culture and a history of which they can and
should be grateful; that they are not the children and grandchildren of
oppressors and villains; and that their homes and families are worth defending
against those who want to take them away, and are willing to kill to do so.