GOP Crusaders

Print More


Visiting a private Christian school in South Carolina two days ago, former PA senator and would-be GOP presidential nominee Rick Santorum opined, “The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is
somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left
who hates Christendom. They hate Christendom. They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem.”

Since I happened to be teaching the history of the First Crusade today, I thought I’d try this out on the students, who’d had the opportunity to read various contemporary accounts of that notable historical event. After a minute or so of stunned silence gazing at the words I’d projected on the screen, one of them blurted out, “That’s ridiculous. That’s just completely ridiculous.”

I doubt the students’ palpable sense of outrage had anything to do with a deeply ingrained hatred of Western civilization. More likely, it had to do with having read Fulcher of Chartres’ report on the crusaders’ capture of the Temple Mount in 1099:

Many of the Saracens who had climbed to the top of the Temple of Solomon (Al Aqsa Mosque) in their flight where shot to death with arrows and fell headlong from the roof. Nearly ten thousand were beheaded in this Temple. If you had been there your feet would have been stained to the ankles in the blood of the slain. What shall I say? None of them were left alive. Neither women nor children were spared.

Santorum’s way of disclaiming an “Onward Christian Soldiers” ideology of war-making in the Middle East didn’t exactly help:

What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking
about are core American values. ‘All men are created equal’–that’s a
Christian value, but it’s an American value. It’s become part of our
national religion, if you will. The point I was trying to make was that
the national faith, the national ideal, is rooted in the Christian ideal–in the Judeo-Christian concept of the person.

Santorum is hardly the only Republican presidential aspirant rallying Christendom against Islam these days. Appearing recently on Fox and Friends, front-runner Mike Huckabee denounced a couple of Protestant churches for permitting Muslim congregations to worship in their sanctuaries with the words:

If the purpose of a
church is to push forward the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then you have a
Muslim group that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow
him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated, I
have a hard time understanding that.

That kind of harks back to the rhetoric of Pope Urban II, who, responding to a request from the Byzantine emperor, urged the flower of European knighthood to have at the Seljuk Turks:

Oh what a disgrace if a race so despicable, degenerate, and enslaved by demons should thus overcome a people endowed with faith in Almighty God and resplendent int he name of Christ!

Not so long ago, a Republican president was insisting that Islam was a religion of peace and inviting imams to sup at the White House. Last summer, the 9/11 mosque controversy made clear that his ban on using Islam in partisan politics had come to an end. Now that the 2012 election cycle is off and spinning, the call to crusade is back, with a vengeance.

  • The issues surrounding the Crusades are not nearly so black and white as either side has been portraying them.
    ‘Tis true the behavior of the combatants–on both sides of the Crusades–was reprehesible by modern standards (though not consistently outrageous in context). ‘Tis also true that the religious justification and goals were thoroughly flawed.
    However, Christendom had good reason to be worried about militant Islam. They had watched Muslim armies conquer much of the known world over the course of four centuries, steadily encroach on Europe from east and West, and pick at the Mediterranean underbelly of the continent.
    In short, the defensive instinct of Europeans was spot on, but they reacted very badly when called to action.

  • sharon

    “issues surrounding the Crusades are not nearly so black and white as either side has been portraying them.”
    Is genocide a Christian value? I think not. Yet genocide has been done in the name of Christianity. It’s a little disingenuous to claim as a defense that “they did it, too.”

  • Dale Price

    “Is genocide a Christian value? I think not.”
    And as reprehensible as the wholesale slaughter of Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem in 1099 was, it was NOT a “genocide.” Had the Crusaders truly been genocidal, they would have kept marching on down to Mecca and wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving Muslims and Jews resident in the Crusader states. (1) They didn’t and (2) they did, in considerable numbers. Criticism of the Crusades is legitimate, but it’s utterly ridiculous to call it a genocide a la the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, etc.