Sixteen years after the attacks of September 11, it’s probably the case that the “excuse” of the Crusades as a motivating factor behind the violence of al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups has somewhat diminished in plausibility.
Of course, the Islamofascists may well aver that events of more than 900 years ago still burn in Muslim consciousness, but that doesn’t make it so. Osama bin Laden made reference to the Crusades as, no doubt, has Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS. But the truth is they abhor the West because their understanding of Islam demands hatred of and war against the infidel: then, now, always. This is the only “root cause ” that matters.
In any case, most of us will never have occasion to debate a terrorist on the matter. Indeed, we’re much more likely to go toe-to-toe with a jihadi liberal about the Crusades and their impact, which is what makes Thomas F. Madden’s new primer invaluable.
The Crusades Controversy: Setting the Record Straight  is a 50-page broadside against the serial stupidities and half-truths of those who believe, in Professor Madden’s words, that the Crusades were “the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general.”
In fact, they were “a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslim armies had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world.” The armies that marched and sailed from Western Europe into the Byzantine Empire and on to the Holy Land came in response to pleas from Christians in the East to save them from the weaponized religion of Mohammed.
Those Christian warriors summoned by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095 were not a rabble of “lacklands and ne’er-do-wells” spoiling for a fight wherever they could find one. They were a cross-section of European society that included many of the wealthiest, most powerful men in Europe, not a few of whom lost fortunes – and their lives – in the struggle to liberate the original homeland of Christianity, which had been established not by the sword, but through peaceful conversions half a millennium before the birth of Islam.
Pope Innocent III, successor to Urban II, asked the crusaders:
How does a man love according to divine precept his neighbor as himself when, knowing that his Christian brothers in faith and in name are held by the perfidious Muslims in strict confinement and weighed down by the yoke of heaviest servitude, he does not devote himself to the task of freeing them?
Jerusalem had fallen to Islam more than 400 years before the crusaders liberated the holy city in 1099. But as Innocent suggests, the reconquest was only partly about restoring Christians to power in the heartland of the faith. The crusaders’ journey and the battles they fought were also a promised liberation from the burden of sin: an indulgence through which they might reach heaven.
Crusaders were sinners. They undertook the Crusade not only to defend their world, but to atone for their sins. By the nature of their profession, warriors put their souls at risk. The Crusade was a means for them to save their souls.
In any event, the triumph in Jerusalem, which electrified Europe, was short-lived. By 1291, Acre – the last Christian stronghold in the Middle East – had fallen, and what we call “crusades” in the centuries that followed became defensive, the last battle of which occurred at the Siege of Vienna in 1529.
But the Crusades ended not because a “final battle” against Islam had been won (there would be another Battle of Vienna in 1683), but because the rise of nation-states, corruption in the Church, and the coming of Protestantism had weakened the will to continue crusading.
Within Europe new ideas were brewing. . . .Born out of a unique blend of faith, reason, individualism, and entrepreneurialism, those ideas produced a rapid increase in scientific experimentation with immediately practical applications. By the seventeenth century European wealth and power was growing exponentially. Europeans were entering a new and unprecedented age.
In the Islamic world, of course, this sort of progress stalled.
Pretty much since the 18th century, the reputation of the Crusades has followed a kind of rollercoaster path, although with more falls than rises. Perhaps the lowest point came when Bill Clinton said, in a speech after 9/11, that at that 1099 liberation of Jerusalem Jews were burned alive in a synagogue and Muslim men, women, and children were slaughtered on the Temple Mount – the crusaders knee deep in blood.
What’s more, Muslims were largely not conversant with the reality of the Crusades until after WWI. The first Arabic-language history of the Crusades appeared in 1899, making Muslims’ “long memory” of the Crusades about as long as their memory of jazz. Everything from 1099 through Saladin and the several Battles of Vienna came to modern Muslims principally through 20th-century European colonial histories.
It is this colonial imperialism that contemporary Muslims have reacted to so violently. To wit: “This became particularly pronounced after the creation of the state of Israel, which Arabs contended was a new crusader kingdom. The fact that Israel was Jewish was irrelevant.”
In the end:
It is not the Crusades that led to the attacks of September 11, but an artificial memory of the Crusades constructed by modern colonial powers and passed down by Arab nationalists and Islamists. This new memory strips the medieval expeditions of every aspect of their age, dressing them up instead in the tattered rags of nineteenth-century imperialism.
Another way of saying this is that the Enlightenment, spawning the modern Left, is the source of modern Islamist rage about the Crusades. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are acting out a Western, anti-Christian fantasy that’s not even of their own making.
Of course, there are other spurs to Islamist attacks. Bringing the whole world into submission is a pretty big one.