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The Crusaders Were Right

Christopher Howse argues that the anti-religious tone of the current film “Kingdom of Heaven” is based on very poor understanding of history.

The Crusaders were right after all (London Telegraph | Opinion)

“If we could just take God out of the equation,” says Sir Ridley, like John Lennon in Imagine, “there’d be no f—ing problem.” A more realistic view of history requires less retrospective fantasy and more brain work. It means forcing our heads round to see what motivated men and women centuries ago. Try thinking the unthinkable – that the Crusaders were right, and that we should be grateful to them.

The First Crusade won back Jerusalem (pro sola devotione, “for the sake of devotion alone”, in the idealistic terms in which it was launched) from Muslim control in 1099, not as an isolated incident but as part of a centuries-long effort to roll back the map of territory overrun by warlike Islamic expansionism since the seventh century. The jihad of Mohammed’s followers first won the Arabian peninsula (killing or subjugating Jewish and Christian rulers and tribes) and its programme had no end but the conquest of the whole world under unified Islamic rule. There was no tolerant agnosticism there. In response to this unparalleled strategy of aggression, the main “Crusade” developed not in the Holy Land but in Spain, taking nearly 800 years to expel the Moorish invaders. It was as if the French Resistance struggled for centuries to throw off German rule. Amid the confused warfare even the cultured but short-lived Caliphate of Cordoba (929-1016) was hardly the garden of peaceful co-existence generally supposed.

It takes no great counter-factual leap to see what would have happened if Crusaders had not fought back. Gibbon for once got it right when he imagined a Muslim England where “the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet”.

That, you might think, need not be so bad. But we wouldn’t now be complaining how boring the election is. There would be no election and no free press in which to complain.

Quite right. While there’s little doubt in my mind that religious zeal can be used to motivate the masses in support for a war, wars are fought primarily for political reasons. The Muslims were fighting to spread Islam, to be sure, but they were mostly seeking political empire. As Juan Cole points out, “The fact is that Saladin, no less than his Christian rivals in Jerusalem, was less interested in fighting for a faith than in consolidating power.”

Of course, the idea that church and state are other than one and the same is a relatively modern conception. In Christianity, it took the Thirty Years War to make the separation of the “two swords” a reality. Indeed, the modern international system, based on secular sovereignty at the nation-state level, dates from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) that ended that war. There has not been a similar revolution in Islam.

Don Sensing and Arthur Chrenkoff have more.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘”If we could just take God out of the equation,” says Sir Ridley, like John Lennon in Imagine, “there’d be no f—ing problem.”‘

    I wonder how long his directing career would last in Saudi?

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  2. McGehee says:

    I wonder if the Saudis would let him direct the video that would “cap off” that career?

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  3. Anderson says:

    Leaving aside the pathetic inability of Hollywood to work “God” into the crusades, the overall history of the post seems questionable. What evidence is there that the Moors were expansionist after the battle of Tours, let alone in the 2d millenium?

    And I don’t see how fighting over Jerusalem kept the Muslims out of London. An early version of Bush’s “flypaper” excuse?

    The crusades in the Holy Land were largely ineffective, with only the 1st & 3d, if I recall aright, making even a temporary difference. And the 4th crusade did more to bring the Muslims into Europe than the other two did to keep them out.

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  4. Jim Henley says:

    Gee, how did the Crusaders treat the Christians of Byzantium and the Jews of the Holy Land, I wonder? Speaking of killing and subjecting.

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  5. DC Loser says:

    Wow. James is quoting Juan Cole to buttress his argument?

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  6. Anderson says:

    Gee, how did the Crusaders treat the Christians of Byzantium and the Jews of the Holy Land, I wonder? Speaking of killing and subjecting.

    Schismatics & Christ-killers, Jim! Deus lo volt!

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  7. FireWolf says:

    Good article today James!

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  8. legion says:

    I think Howse needs to brush up a little more on non-Christian history… Under the Moors in southern Europe, and especially Iberia, Jews were treated far better than they were by Christians anywhere else on the planet. It wasn’t until Isabella and Ferdinand took over that the Jews were pogrom’ed and persecuted there.

    Also, why is Christian expansion throughout Europe inherently “good”, while Muslim expansion over the Middle East inherently “bad”? While Islam might not have been very conciliatory with local Christians, Howse doesn’t seem to recall how the Christians treated the Pagans, Druids, etc. in Europe.

    And I think someone already mentioned the lack of Muslim expansion after a certain point… “It takes no great counter-factual leap to see what would have happened if Crusaders had not fought back. ” ?!? Howse is full of crap.

    The overall impression I get is one over overweening bigotry – anything that other religion does is bad, while anything my religion does is good. I’m certainly no defender of religious bigotry and extremeism, but someone should tell Howse it doesn’t look any better when Christians do it than when Muslims do it.

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  9. Around the Blogosphere
    The Crusaders were Right! Outside the Beltway Vermont town wants to secede to New Hampshire (…hm, they can do that?)…

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