|Robert Spencer on the Battles Still Being Waged
WASHINGTON, D.C., 11 MARCH 2006 (ZENIT)
The Crusades may be causing
more devastation today than they ever did in the three centuries when
most of them were fought, according to one expert.
Robert Spencer, author of "Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the
Crusades)" (Regnery), claims that the damage is not in terms of lives
lost and property destroyed but is a more subtle destruction.
Spencer shared with ZENIT how false ideas about the Crusades are being
used by extremists to foment hostility to the West today.
Q: The Crusades are often portrayed as a militarily offensive venture.
Spencer: No. Pope Urban II, who called for the First Crusade at the
Council of Clermont in 1095, was calling for a defensive action
one that was long overdue.
As he explained, he was calling the Crusade because without any
defensive action, "the faithful of God will be much more widely
attacked" by the Turks and other Muslim forces.
"For, as most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them
and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far
west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is
called the Arm of St. George," Pope Urban II said in his address. "They
have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have
overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and
have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.
"If you permit them to continue thus for a while with impunity, the
faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them."
He was right. Jihad warfare had from the seventh century to the time of
Pope Urban conquered and Islamized what had been over half of
Christendom. There had been no response from the Christian world until
Q: What are some popular misconceptions about the Crusades?
Spencer: One of the most common is the idea that the Crusades were an
unprovoked attack by Europe against the Islamic world.
In fact, the conquest of Jerusalem in 638 stood at the beginning of
centuries of Muslim aggression, and Christians in the Holy Land faced an
escalating spiral of persecution.
Early in the eighth century 60 Christian pilgrims from Amorium were
crucified; around the same time the Muslim governor of Caesarea seized a
group of pilgrims from Iconium and had them all executed as spies
except for a small number who
converted to Islam.
Muslims also demanded money from pilgrims, threatening to ransack the
Church of the Resurrection if they didn't pay.
Later in the eighth century, a Muslim ruler banned displays of the cross
in Jerusalem. He also increased the tax on non-Muslims
that Christians had to pay and forbade Christians to engage in
religious instruction of their own children and fellow believers.
Early in the ninth century the persecutions grew so severe that large
numbers of Christians fled for Constantinople and other Christian
cities. In 937, Muslims went on a rampage in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday,
plundering and destroying the Church of Calvary and the Church of the
In 1004, the Fatimid Caliph, Abu 'Ali al-Mansur al-Hakim, ordered the
destruction of churches, the burning of crosses, and the seizure of
church property. Over the next 10 years 30,000 churches were destroyed,
and untold numbers of Christians converted to Islam simply to save their
In 1009, al-Hakim commanded that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in
Jerusalem be destroyed, along with several other churches, including the
Church of the Resurrection. In 1056, the Muslims expelled 300 Christians
from Jerusalem and forbade European Christians from entering the rebuilt
Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
When the Seljuk Turks took Jerusalem in 1077, the Seljuk Emir Atsiz bin
Uwaq promised not to harm the inhabitants, but once his men had entered
the city, they murdered 3,000 people.
Another common misconception is that the Crusades were fought to convert
Muslims to Christianity by force. Glaringly absent from every report
about Pope Urban's address at the Council of Claremont is any command to
the Crusaders to convert Muslims.
It was not until over 100 years after the First Crusade, in the 13th
century, that European Christians made any organized attempt to convert
Muslims to Christianity, when the Franciscans began missionary work
among Muslims in lands held by the Crusaders. This effort was largely
Yet another misconception revolves around the Crusaders' bloody sack of
Jerusalem in 1099.
The capture of Jerusalem is often portrayed as unique in medieval
history, and as the cause of Muslim mistrust of the West. It might be
more accurate to say that it was the start of a millennium of
anti-Western grievance mongering and propaganda.
The Crusaders' sack of Jerusalem was a heinous crime
particularly in light of the
religious and moral principles they professed to uphold. However, by the
military standards of the day, it was not actually anything out of the
In those days, it was a generally accepted principle of warfare that if
a city under siege resisted capture, it could be sacked, and while if it
did not resist, mercy would be shown. It is a matter of record that
Muslim armies frequently behaved in exactly the same way when entering a
This is not to excuse the Crusaders' conduct by pointing to similar
actions. One atrocity does not excuse another. But it does illustrate
that the Crusaders' behavior in Jerusalem was consistent with that of
other armies of the period since
all states subscribed to the same notions of siege and resistance.
In 1148, Muslim commander Nur ed-Din did not hesitate to order the
killing of every Christian in Aleppo. In 1268, when the jihad forces of
the Mamluk Sultan Baybars took Antioch from the Crusaders, Baybars was
annoyed to find that the Crusader ruler had already left the city
so he wrote to him bragging of his
massacres of Christians.
Most notorious of all may be the jihadists' entry into Constantinople on
May 29, 1453, when they, according to historian Steven Runciman, "slew
everyone that they met in the streets, men, women and children without
Finally, it is a misconception that Pope John Paul II apologized for the
Crusades. He did not.
There is no doubt that the belief that Pope John Paul II apologized for
the Crusades is widespread. When he died, the Washington Post reminded
its readers "during his long reign, Pope John Paul II apologized to
Muslims for the Crusades, to Jews for anti-Semitism, to Orthodox
Christians for the sacking of Constantinople, to Italians for the
Vatican's associations with the Mafia and to scientists for the
persecution of Galileo."
However, John Paul II never actually apologized for the Crusades. The
closest he came was on March 12, 2000, the "Day of Pardon."
During his homily he said: "We cannot fail to recognize the infidelities
to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the
second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have
occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the
service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes
sometimes taken toward the followers of other religions."
This is hardly a clear apology for the Crusades.
Q: How have Muslims perceived the Crusades then and now?
Spencer: For centuries, when the Ottoman Empire was thriving, the
Crusades were not a preoccupation of the Islamic world. They were, after
all, failures from a Western standpoint.
However, with the decline of the military power and unity of the Islamic
world, and the concomitant rise of the West, they have become a focal
point of Muslim resentment of perceived Western encroachment and
Q: To what extent are false ideas about the Crusades being used by
extremists to foment hostility to the West today?
Spencer: The Crusades may be causing more devastation today than they
ever did in the three centuries when most of them were fought
but not in terms of lives lost and
property destroyed. Today's is a more subtle destruction.
The Crusades have become a cardinal sin not only of the Catholic Church
but also of the Western world in general.
They are Exhibit A for the case that the current strife between the
Muslim world and Western, post-Christian civilization is ultimately the
responsibility of the West, which has provoked, exploited, and
brutalized Muslims ever since the first Frankish warriors entered
Osama bin Laden has spoken of his organization not as al-Qaida but of a
"World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," and called
in a fatwa for "jihad against Jews and Crusaders."
Such usage is widespread. On November 8, 2002
shortly before the beginning of
the Iraqi war that toppled Saddam Hussein
Sheikh Bakr Abed Al-Razzaq Al-Samaraai preached in Baghdad's Mother of
All Battles mosque about "this difficult hour in which the Islamic
nation [is] experiencing, an hour in which it faces the challenge of
[forces] of disbelief of infidels, Jews, crusaders, Americans and
Similarly, when Islamic jihadists bombed the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah,
Saudi Arabia, in December 2004, they explained that the attack was part
of larger plan to strike back at "Crusaders": "This operation comes as
part of several operations that are organized and planned by al-Qaida as
part of the battle against the crusaders and the Jews, as well as part
of the plan to force the unbelievers to leave the Arabian Peninsula,"
the jihadists said in a statement.
They also said that jihad warriors "managed to enter one of the
crusaders' big castles in the Arabian Peninsula and managed to enter the
American consulate in Jeddah, in which they control and run the
In the face of this, Westerners should not be embarrassed by the
Crusades. It's time to say, "enough," and teach our children to take
pride in their own heritage.
They should know that they have a culture and a history of which they
can and should be grateful; that they are not the children and
grandchildren of oppressors and villains; and that their homes and
families are worth defending against those who want to take them away,
and are willing to kill to do so. ZE06031103