Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Should Christians apologize for the Crusades?

Does Christianity have a past history of atrocities, with no moral right to denounce religious violence in the 21st century? Are Christians who are killed today getting what they deserve for past sins?

Were Christians violent Crusaders?
The news reports this week related the account of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya whose heads were sawed off – all on video of course – with a masked man holding a knife and stating, “All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes”. He went on to say, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.” [1] President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5, 2015 also mentioned the Crusades: "Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” [2] Former President Bill Clinton, during a speech at Georgetown University shortly after 9/11/01, placed at least some blame of the increase in Islamic terrorism on Christian Crusades: “Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless,” he declared. “Indeed, in the First Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with three hundred Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple Mount. The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple Mount, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees. I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East, and we are still paying for it”. [3] Is that true that Christians are no better than religious terrorists of today and should apologize for past atrocities?

A very brief history leading to the Crusades
First, it is crucial to note that the Crusades were a defensive strategy designed to stop violent Muslim aggression. By 637 A.D., only five years after Muhammad’s death, Muslims had conquered Jerusalem, which had been the Jews’ holy city for more than a millennium and a half. By 732 A.D., conquering Muslim armies marched into Spain and had reached the city of Tours, France, where Charles Martel (Charles “the Hammer”) saved Europe by repelling them. [4]

When many people today hear of the Crusades, they simply accept the narrative on face value without understanding the background. It is important to understand that the Middle East of the medieval period was primarily Christian, with some Zoroastrians in Persia and Jews in Palestine. Christianity had spread – through evangelism, not threat of force – to regions now known as Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and throughout much of the former Roman Empire.

Beginning in the early 7th century, Muhammad and his growing army made razzias (raids) in Palestine and Arabia until the time of his death in A.D. 632. Within two years of his death, Abu Bakr, the first caliph, launched the Great Jihad. In the next three decades, “Muslim armies subdued the entire Arabian Peninsula, and conquered territories that had been in Greco-roman possession since the reign of Alexander the Great. [5]

Jihad campaigns occurred in the following locations after the death of Muhammad:
• Iraq (A.D. 633-643)
• Egypt, Palestine, Libya (A.D. 640-646)
• Armenia (642)
• Tunisia (647)
• Cyprus, Greek islands, and Anatolia (649-654)
• Cicilia and Cesarea of Cappadocia (650)
• Southern Egypt/northern Sudan (652)
• Sicily pillaged by Muslims (652 and 668)
• Rhodes attacked by Muslims (654)
• Balkans, Constantinople attacked (669 and 674-680)
• Morocco and Algeria (682-683 and 699-705)
• Spain (711-718)
• France (717,720,725,732,734,743,759)
• Persia (748-749)
• Afghanistan (749)
• Balkans (782)
• Spain again (796,822,852,886)
• Armenia (847-861)
• Thessaloniki (904)
• Mesopotamia invasions by the Turks (11th Century)
• Georgia, Armenia, and Anatolia (11th and 12th Centuries)
• Syria and Palestine (11th Century) [6]

The above list is a small sample of some of the Muslim invasions into regions which were primarily Christian (or other non-Muslim) that preceded the Crusades. From about 630 A.D. until 1095 when Pope Urban II decreed the first Crusade, Muslim aggression had spread throughout the Middle East, into Asia Minor, northern Africa and southern Europe. Medieval Historian Barry Collet, Melbourne University, commented on the notion that Christian crusaders were terrorists as “historically inaccurate” and “grossly misleading”. He stated the terrorism had already begun under the Muslim regime and “the Crusaders felt they were intervening to stop the bloodshed that was already going on.” [7]

The first Crusade
By the end of the 11th Century, Eastern Europe (Byzantine Empire) was threatened by advancing Muslims from the Turkish region. In 1095, General Alexius in the east made a request of Pope Urban II to supply troops from the west to confront this threat. In November 1095, the pope called for Western Christians to assist the Byzantines and recapture the Holy land from Muslim control. In 1096, four armies of Crusaders were assembled and began traveling east. By June of 1099, they had worked their way to Jerusalem. Muslims had no intention of giving up land they had previously conquered, so for the next two centuries, six crusades were launched. The last Crusade occurred after Muslims captured Tripoli in 1289. A fleet of warships from Venice and Aragon arrived to defend what remained of the Crusader states in 1290. [8]

Were the Crusades wars of unprovoked aggression against peaceful Muslims?
This is the exact opposite of the truth. From the time of Muhammad, Muslims sought to conquer the Christian world. By the end of the 11th century, Islamic armies had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world and taken most of Spain. [9] They were advancing through Europe and, it is almost certain if not for the Crusades, all of Europe would have come under Islamic rule.

Were atrocities committed during the Crusades?
Yes. Atrocities are committed during most wars. This does not excuse those done by people fighting against Muslim aggression. One group of Crusaders, led by Count Emicho, was reported to have massacred Jews in various towns in the Rhineland in 1096, drawing widespread outrage and causing a major crisis in Jewish-Christian relations. And in 1099, after entering Jerusalem, Crusaders allegedly slaughtered hundreds of men, women, and children. Though the Crusades were originally decreed by a Roman Catholic Pope, not all crusaders adhered to honorable conduct during wartime.

Violence and the founder of Christianity
Jesus of Nazareth never conquered any people or territory. No one disputes the historical fact that he was crucified and, furthermore, all of the original disciples, with the exception of John (exiled) and Judas (suicide), were martyred for their faith. Other prominent early church fathers did not utilize military conquest or threat of violence, but were murdered for simply being non-violent Christians: Stephen, Paul, James, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, Polycarp, and so on. None took up the sword as a crusader, but rather were killed by non-Christians for their faith.

Neither Jesus nor his disciples used violence at all – with the exception of Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus, a slave of the High Priest. And this incident is very telling of Jesus’ attitude toward violence. He healed the ear (Luke 22:51) and told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:51).

Violence and the founder of Islam
Muhammad was a military leader and conqueror. According to the biography The Life of Muhammad, written by Islamic historian Ibn Ishaq (died 768 A.D.), Muhammad personally beheaded approximately 700 Jewish male captives, then sold the women and children into slavery. In 627, Muhammad and his army of about 3,000 attacked a Jewish tribe at Medina and ordered the beheadings. In 628, they conquered Jews at Khaybar, who paid the jizya to be allowed to live. In 630, Muhammad and his army conquered Mecca.

Comparison of the scriptures
The Qur’an states:
• “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: Smite ye above their necks” (Sura VIII.12).
• “fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them” (Sura IX.5).
• “strike terror into the hearts of the enemies” (Sura VIII.60).
• “Fight those who believe not in god nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by god and his apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, (even if they are) of the people of the book, until they pay the jizya” (Sura IX.29). [10]

Christian attitudes toward violence found in the Bible:
• Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:4).
• Peter wrote, “Do not repay evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:8).
• Paul wrote, “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).
• Hebrews states: “Pursue peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14).
• James wrote, “the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace”.
• Just before Stephen died from stoning, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

Using the Crusades as an excuse for violence today is a completely disingenuous argument, yet a well-worn tactic. After numerous and repeated offensive attacks, when the victim finally mounts a defense, accuse the victim of being the aggressor. Unfortunately, this public relations strategy is effective on those who don’t know history.

[1] Jared Malsin and Chris Stephen, The Guardian, “Libya and Egypt launch air strikes against Isis after militants post beheadings video”, 16 Feb 2015.
[2] James Taranto, “Obama’s Crusades”, Wall Street Journal, 6 Feb 2015.
[3] Robert Spencer, “Crusaders were ‘terrorists’”, Jihad Watch, 8 Mar 2006.
[4] Frank Turek, “Obama Hijacks Christianity to Defend Islam”, Townhall, 6 Feb 2015.
[5] Thomas F. Madden, “Inventing the Crusades”, First Things, June 2009.
[6] Andrew G. Bostom, Editor, The Legacy of Jihad, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008), pp. 368-382.
[7] Constantelos, “Greek Christian and Other Accounts of the Moslem Conquests of the Near East,” p. 125.
[8] History.com staff, “Crusades”, A&E Networks, published 2010, accessed 16 Feb 2015.
[9] Thomas Madden, “The Crusades”, interview by Zenit International News Agency, Oct 2004.
[10] Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Qur’an, (Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 1987).