The 200 year European crusade against Muslim aggression and jihad lasting from 1095 to 1299 is used as a derogatory and hysterical proxy for those who hate and loathe the White man [the white devil], America or Western civilisation in general. The post modern historical rewriting abetted by Hollywood and pulp-pop cultural a-historicity, portrays [as usual] White European man as a barbaric, blood-thirsty crusading criminal – trespassing against the holy, devout, peaceful and far more civilised Muslim. No serious study of the crusades supports such a distorted version of history.
Such a reductionist and absurd view of the crusades has profound implications for our current culture – especially in the face of the 1400 year Muslim jihad – an expansionist imperialism which shows no sign of reform; abatement; or tolerance. It reinforces Western so-called guilt, inferiority and the need to 'pay' for collective and timeless 'sins'. It dislocates current policy by a cultural warping which enforces cultural relativity and the 'truism' that any war fought by the West, anywhere in the world, for whatever reason is immoral, and indeed criminal.
Enter a slim volume by Paine on the Crusades, a work which surprisingly does not criminalise the crusades; and which does not paint the Franks or Westerners as savage idiots drinking divine Muslim blood. It is always with trepidation that one open's up a book on such a sensitive and thought-provoking topic. The author to his credit does not engage in the usual mindless platitudes forwarded as 'fact' by the post modern thought-police industry and he does not ignore the historical context of the 200 year venture.
Nor does Paine slavishly ape Muslim and Islamic writers who propagandize the cruelty of the 200 year crusading enterprise without bothering to put the era into its proper historical context; and who omit Muslim atrocity, blood-letting and the 400 year jihad against Europe which presaged the 1095 declaration by Pope Urban II, that the retaking of the Holy Land was a Christian duty and to roll back the Muslim tide a path to heaven and ever-lasting life – not to mention tax relief and earthly riches.
The crusades were a complex European reaction, fomented by the Muslim desire to destroy the Eastern Roman empire; invade and conquer parts of Western Europe outside of Spain and Sicily which were already under Muslim domination; and to control the most sacred Christian-religious sites in the Holy Land. The provocations committed by Muslims ensured a military response. What other choice was there ?
Paine's view is pretty standard. The crusades were a rather weak [in terms of actual men employed]; and bloody Christian reprisal against Islam. Islam's encroachment into Europe and its constant battle against Byzantium ensured a clash of cultures. The profound faith that both medieval Islam and Christianity imparted to their believers would make any such conflict between the two faiths a bloody and vicious one. Both sides were ruthless. All such faith-based military conflicts engender a viciousness which befuddles the modern secular intellectual.
Some key points that Paine makes which one does not often read about the crusades:
1)-The Crusades were a diverse and dis-unified approach to dealing with the Islamic threat:
The era of Crusading was largely a disjointed effort to repel Islam [from Spain and Sicily for example] or take over the 'Holy Land' which was largely a Frankish-German experiment. The Crusades suffered from a lack of men; unitary leadership and agreed upon objectives. The number of men and money invested into the recapture of the Holy Land was never enough to guarantee the permanence of precariously built Christian states and fortresses. No more than 3000 heavily armed Christian knights were in operation for much of the 200 year Holy Land crusade and in battle the Crusaders were usually outnumbered at least 2:1 by their Muslim opponents. Simply put the Crusades were in total, an expeditionary effort which was underfunded and undermanned.
2)-The Crusaders were a diverse lot with many intra-Frankish conflicts, leadership competitions and usually a lack of unity which proved disastrous on many occasions and ensured the eventual collapse of the Crusader kingdoms by 1300 A.D.
“The novelty of the appeal of the original Crusade became a difficult attraction to recreate. Winning back Jerusalem was an easier thing to sell to the West than holding it and, as it gradually become apparent that the support of Europe was to be a constant requirement, the new Latin rulers of the East must have wondered for how long that support could be relied upon.”
“The Templar's [the fighting monkish order which was created after the First Crusade] pursued a far more rigid policy than most, of refusing to negotiate with the enemy and, for them, the enemy was every Muslim.”
“Behind the push for Constantinople [were].... The Venetians....Why bother paying for the right to trade [with Byzantium and the Muslim world], when they could get this bunch of fools [the Fourth Crusade of 1203] to fight to claim those rights for them [by taking Constantinople which they did in 1204 engaging in a vicious massacre and degradation of the city].”
The 1204 sack of Constantinople – initiated by Venice which carried off most of Byzantium's treasure – was certainly no worse and no bloodier a pillage than the 1453 Turkish conquest. The attack by the Crusaders upon the 'Greeks' who in the main were actually despised by most of the Christian host as profligate un-Christian orientals, only highlights the intra-Christian conflicts which marred all but the First and Third Crusades – the two most successful of the Crusading attempts to win back the Holy Land. The lure of gold, fame and adventure – not to mention the allure of killing Muslims for the sake of Christ – meant that the motives and actions of Crusaders would be hard to manage and unify.
3)-The Crusades were an important milestone in European development and self-consciousness:
“The historical Crusades mark an interesting and important period in the development of Europe. It is an early stage in the development of the European nation-state, and an early of the development of the involvement of Europe in the affairs of the rest of the world.”
“Despite the cost in men and goods some historians have argued that the wealth coming into the Italian city-states during the Crusades, through both easier trade and through conquest, helped kick-start the Italian Renaissance.”
The Crusades mark an important set of psychological and social changes in Europe. For the first time a European wide awareness of a common Christian culture took root. The legacies of Rome, Greece and singular European development were also important markers of uniqueness and superiority. This general ethos was refracted and framed within vibrant local and regional cultures. Thus emerged not only a nationalist feeling of being English, Frankish or Germanic, but also a general belief that Europe was different, proud, richer and moer advanced than the rest of the world - which it clearly was. Islam forced Christian Europe to assess and then defend its own civilisation and this also required the development of local states in which economic, technological and military resources were necessarily developed and deployed in the context of a European culture.
4)-Islam was [and is] not monolithic. Intra-Muslim barbarity was well-known to Crusading leaders and allowed the Crusades to succeed in the first place:
“For the divided state of Islam is at the heart of the early successes of the Crusades. The first three centuries after its irruption among the Arabs and Bedouin...”
The original Islamic schism in 656 A.D. between Shia and Sunni has never been resolved. Competing clans, power centers and military leaders contributed to sundry and vicious intra-Islamic wars – before and during the Crusades. Islam was never unified in the face of the Latin kingdoms which were established after the First Crusade, until the time of Saladin circa 1170 A.D. After Saladin's death the intra-Muslim conflict continued allowing the Latin states to survive another century as they played-off various Muslim parties against one another. Such a fact gives lie to the distortion that Muslims were peaceful, civilised and contented souls – outlandishly attacked by barbarian 'Franks'. Islam's intra-warring was if anything more ruthless and bloodier than most of the inter Christian-Muslim conflicts.
Paine illustrates some points about the Crusades which are lost in the post modern world of historical rewriting. The age of the Crusades was an era marked a remorseless Muslim advance against the Christian world. Conflict was inevitable. The Crusaders were a disparate lot motivated as much by money and fame and short term glory, as by defending the Holy citadels of Christ's religion. The Muslims were likewise a heterogeneous group riven by dissension and competing interests. Neither side was good or faithful to their religious ideals.
What is important about the Crusades is that a small group of Europeans demonstrated that Europe had the wealth, the technology and the sophistication to not only repel Islamic aggression but also, if applied in full force, to eradicate Islam, far from Europe's shores. The ethos behind the Crusading movement is the great untold story. It illustrates the confidence and advancement of European civilisation.