Apologists for Islam usually point to the Crusades as Christian behavior similar to Jihad. One popular American text even identifies the Crusades as the beginning of Western colonialism. This view of the Crusades, however, is terribly distorted history. Multiculturalist scholars tend to be very tolerant of everything but Christianity and any aspect of Western culture influenced by Christianity. Hence the Crusades have in recent years been denigrated beyond historical recognition. Yet recent computer-assisted studies of Crusader charters have demolished the foundation of this politically correct and faulty analysis of the Crusades.
A full treatment of the Crusades is far beyond the scope of a short article, but a few facts should be set straight. Within 400 years of Muhammad’s death in 632 AD, militant Islam had conquered by sword and threat an enormous swath of territories that had been Christian for many generations. This included present day Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, North Africa, almost all of Turkey, and much of the Balkans. These areas had been the cradle of Christian faith and learning. The conquered areas included the homes of many of the early Church Fathers such as Augustine, Athanasius, and Polycarp. By 1095, Muslims had conquered two of the three most important Christian learning centers of that era—Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt—and threatened the third, Constantinople (now Istanbul) in modern Turkey. Also in modern Turkey, Chalcedon, the site of the important Church Council of 451 AD, and the seven cities that the Apostle John ministered to and wrote to in the Book of Revelation all fell under the rule of Islam. Thousands of Christians were put to the sword, perished, or were driven from their homes during the Muslim invasion and occupation.
In 1095, Pope Urban II, mourning not only the loss of these historic Christian lands and the oppression of fellow Christians there, but also realizing the impending danger of new Muslim aggression, called for a military campaign to check Muslim expansion and free these lands from their oppressive conquerors. The call to defend Christendom and restore these formerly Christian territories and their peoples to its fold met with a massive and enthusiastic response from knights in all of Christian Europe.
This may seem puzzling to many modern Christians. If so, perhaps we have become too secularized. Perhaps we have been subtly indoctrinated to believe that religious truth is not important and therefore less worth defending than national boundaries and national pride. We have also been influenced in the name of multicultural tolerance and diversity to believe the heretical notion that all religions are equally true and the irrational notion that all religions are equally benign. Perhaps we have become so concerned with our own personal peace, prosperity, and comfortable respectability that we are unable to hear our brethren who are suffering for their faith. In 1198, at the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, Innocent III, a successor to Urban II, wrote:
“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 the heaviest servitude, he does not devote himself to the task of freeing them?”
This may seem insensitive to those who have also been indoctrinated to believe Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. The Koran, the teachings and example of Muhammad, and nearly fourteen centuries of history teach otherwise. Islam was spread by the sword, coercion, and oppression, which are in perfect accordance with the doctrines of the Koran, Muhammad, and Sharia (Islamic Law). Islam then and now is both a religion and a militant totalitarian ideology.
Contrary to the demonization of the Crusaders by modern political correctitude, the motives of the overwhelming majority of these Crusaders were both noble and pious. The First Crusade was successful in restoring Christian rule to key areas in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey, but then almost all the Crusaders returned home, leaving the rescued lands once again vulnerable to Muslim reconquest. And so it went, back and forth, for five major crusades.
Not all the Crusader conduct in these Crusades was laudable. An important thing to realize about the Crusades is that they were in general not well organized, especially in comparison with modern armies. Coordination, logistical planning, and communication were poor. Discipline was often poor. In addition, individual political ambitions were sometimes allowed to obscure overall objectives and principles. This led to many blunders, mishaps, misunderstandings, and even crimes. There were various miscarriages of Christian standards of conduct and justice, but generally these were strongly rebuked by local bishops and the Church in Rome. Even necessary and just wars have a corrupting influence on men. War brings out the best in some men, but at the same time can bring out the worst in even the best men. Yet sinful behavior by some in a good cause does not condemn the cause or those who serve it more nobly. In judging the past and the present, it is essential for Christians to remember and acknowledge the doctrine expressed in Latin that we are all simil justus et peccator, though we are justified through faith in Christ, we are at the same time still sinners.
By and large, the Crusaders followed a noble cause with bravery and self-sacrifice that deserves considerable credit. Their nobility has been too much dismissed and their sins too much exaggerated. Unfortunately, much of the popular media and academia have a predominant worldview inimical to Christianity and strangely hostile to Western civilization. Crusader bashing fits this ideology and is an important propaganda tool for them.
But the truth is that the Crusades were meant to recover formerly Christian lands suffering under the cruel religious oppression of Islam and to prevent further Muslim conquests and tyrannical oppression from advancing further into Europe.