Islam, the Crusades, and the past as prologue

I can’t help but wonder at the scorn being heaped upon Paul Akers at the Free Lance-Star for his article on Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours.

Why do I wonder? It’s the historical amnesia, as if a defense of Christianity and Western culture against Muslim invaders was somehow criminal. Intolerable. Racist even…

Now I take strong exception at the racism charge. That stems from a deep-seated ignorance of Muslim culture for starters (more multicultural than most give it credit), and therefore a slap in the face to Islam itself.

As for the idea that the Muslim conquests during the seventh century and the subsequent Crusades to the Holy Land could somehow be muddied by 21st century sentiment, I can only cringe. Sanitizing history seems to be a particular pastime of Western apologists for Islam nowadays, akin to what some folks might do to the Crusades themselves (e.g. when the Christians sacked Jerusalem, the Crusaders killed those inside the walls as a “purification” of the Holy City, a crime Saladin graciously did not repeat a century later).

All this having been said, there has always been much criticism as to why the Crusades occured, mostly portrayed as Frankish greed cloaked in religious sentiment.

Not so.

By 1095, the Seljuk Turks had conquered most of Asia Minor, threatening Constantinople itself. Byzantine Emperor Alexios Kommenos I asked Pope Urban II for aid.

Pope Urban responded:

Urban, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to all the faithful, both princes and subjects, waiting in Flanders; greeting, apostolic grace, and blessing.

Your brotherhood, we believe, has long since learned from many accounts that a barbaric fury has deplorably afflicted an laid waste the churches of God in the regions of the Orient. More than this, blasphemous to say, it has even grasped in intolerabe servitude its churches and the Holy City of Christ, glorified b His passion and resurrection. Grieving with pious concern at this calamity, we visited the regions of Gaul and devoted ourselves largely to urging the princes of the land and their subjects to free the churches of the East. We solemnly enjoined upon them at the council of Auvergne (the accomplishment of) such an undertaking, as a preparation for the remission of all their sins. And we have constituted our most beloved son, Adhemar, Bishop of Puy, leader of this expedition and undertaking in our stead, so that those who, perchance, may wish to undertake this journey should comply With his commands, as if they were our own, and submit fully to his loosings or bindings, as far as shall seem to belong to such an office. If, moreover, there are any of your people whom God has inspired to this vow, let them know that he (Adhemar) will set out with the aid of God on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary, and that they can then attach themselves to his following.

What happened afterwards was not the exemplification of Christianity – nor of Islam. The best I can ask for is that for anyone hoping to learn of the Crusades, to do so on their own.

There were vicious examples of brutal tyrrany (Renyald de Chatillion for instance), and yet there were examples of great virtue (Saladin has to be one of the most amazing leaders in history).

The Muslim invasion, the Crusades, the fall of Constantinople, and the Spanish reconquista are all a remarkable chapter in human history, resulting from a world where two different cultures collided. Today, we face the same challenges, and the past is indeed prologue.

It falls to us to remind ourselves that men and women of character have a responsibility to ensure that collision doesn’t repeat past mistakes.

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