Posts Tagged “crusades”

Godfrey in his siege tower at the Assault on Jerusalem, July 15, 1099. By Anonymous ([1][2]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsI’ve just posted a static page on what I call the Great Neocrusade, a movement which comprises a large part of the Religious Right in the US and whose goal is to eradicate Islam from the country, and then the rest of the world. I first called attention to it — and gave it that name — some five years ago. Since then, this foolish and childish effort hasn’t abated one bit.

Along the way, Neocrusaders have done a lot of idiotic things, such as passing laws forbidding shari’a (or Islamic) law, even though the US Constitution already forbids imposing religious law on Americans. They’ve also done some much more harmful things, such as destroying mosques, and even threatening churches under construction merely because they appear to be mosques.

As a student of the Middle Ages, I know quite well how the original Crusades worked out. In short, they didn’t — at all! They were a sequence of expeditions that spanned two centuries, which collectively ended in dismal failure. Yes, I said a failure … in spite of the fact that the First Crusade had apparently succeeded, with the capture of Antioch in 1098, Jerusalem in 1099, and Tripoli in 1109. (The Crusaders also seized Edessa in 1098, but that had long been a Christian city under Armenian leadership, and they got it via betrayal rather than war. Woops!) Edessa had fallen by 1144, Jerusalem by 1187, Antioch in 1268, and Tripoli in 1289, and were at last driven from the Holy Land in 1303 with the fall of their last fort on the island of Arwad.

Undertaking a modern version of a Crusade … albeit not as overtly military as before … seems stunningly foolish — at least, to those who haven’t done what the Religious Right has done, which is to redefine the medieval Crusades as a glorious and morally-upright effort to save Christendom from annihilation (cached) by attacking Saracens thousands of miles away and who were no threat to them. Really, there’s no way a religion with as large a worldwide presence as Islam has could be eradicated from the United States. Not only is it unconstitutional even to try, it simply can’t work! No sane person ought to attempt any such thing.

But clearly we’re not dealing with people who are altogether “sane.” They’ve been driven mad by their rage, and they’re not capable of thinking clearly. They naïvely think that getting rid of Islam will get rid of terrorism and thus make them safe; but this reasoning ignores the uncomfortable reality that there’s terrorism within the ranks of Christianity in the US, which will continue even if the Neocrusaders somehow manage to toss all Muslims out of the country.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Westminster KnightIn my experience, Christians are hypersensitive to any mention of the Crusades (along with other glorious parts of Christianity’s history such as the Inquisitions, witch-hunts, and more). They just don’t want to hear about them … even if they’re actually part of the history of their religion. They petulantly refuse to acknowledge these events as examples of their religion’s history, and get their knickers in knots when anyone dares confront them with them.

Naturally, then, what President Barack Obama said last Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast has them in a towering rage (WebCite cached article). The Washington Post, among many other media outlets, reported on their anger and fury (cached):

President Obama has never been one to go easy on America.…

His latest challenge came Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast. At a time of global anxiety over Islamist terrorism, Obama noted pointedly that his fellow Christians, who make up a vast majority of Americans, should perhaps not be the ones who cast the first stone.

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And 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. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

These remarks kicked up so much sanctimonious outrage among the “Christian Nation” that NASA scientists probably picked up the sound of it from their New Horizons probe out by Pluto.

Some Republicans were outraged. “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”…

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.”

As someone who studied the Crusades in college — unlike all these outraged commentators — I think it’s time to clear up a lot of misconceptions about them:

  1. Christians these days think the Crusades were a legitimate military response to the military threat posed by Muslims. While it’s true that Muslims in the east did threaten Christians near them, and had been fighting the Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantium) for centuries, one must remember the Crusades were carried out by western Europeans … mostly of French origin. In the 11th century when the Crusades were launched, no Muslim was a threat to the French. Not even close! The Muslim advance into western Europe which began around the turn of the 8th century had been halted at the Battle of Tours in 733/4. In the over three centuries which followed, the Muslim state in Spain had been surrounded and eroded by its Christian neighbors. The Emirate of Granada did not, in any way, threaten any of the mostly-French lords who embarked on the First Crusade.
  2. While it’s true that the Byzantine Empire was engaged in fighting against Muslims — which was the reason its Emperor Alexius I Comnenus wrote to Pope Urban II to request assistance in 1095 — the First Crusaders ultimately ended up not helping shore up Byzantine defenses. Quite the opposite: They left the region near Constantinople in the dust and plunged straight through Anatolia (at a frightful cost in terms of lives lost, since they had no idea what they were doing and weren’t prepared for such a venture) and into the Levant as quickly as they could. Once there, and once they’d made some conquests (e.g. retaking Antioch), they didn’t restore those lands to the Byzantines; instead, they kept them for themselves.
  3. The Holy Land itself had been in Muslim hands since the early 7th century, but there were still Christians living there, and western Christians had been able to go on pilgrimages there pretty much the entire time. The Muslim rulers had allowed monks to tend to pilgrims there (most of them needed some assistance after their long journey). That Muslim overlords held the region hadn’t really put a dent in Christians’ ability to live and worship there.
  4. The main danger posed by Muslims to Christendom, at the time the Crusades began, was not in the Holy Land, and didn’t involve the French. The real danger was that the Seljuk Turks would overwhelm Byzantium and other Christian states near it. Had the French — who, living as they did at the western end of the Mediterranean and weren’t threatened by Muslims — really wanted to help defend Christendom, the proper strategy would have been for them to place themselves at the disposal of Alexius and work with the Byzantines to rebuild their state and reacquire their lost territory. Then they would have helped Byzantium maintain more defensible borders.
  5. In fact, a little over a century after the First Crusade embarked from western Europe, a subsequent expedition — the Fourth Crusade — didn’t even bother going to the Holy Land at all. Instead, its armies went after their fellow Christians, the Byzantines. They drove out two Emperors in succession, sacked Constantinople, made one of their own Emperor, and left the Eastern Roman Empire a shell of its former self. Byzantium later recovered somewhat, but it was never the same again, and entered into a long decline.
  6. The idea that the Crusaders were trying to defend Christianity is belied by the way in which they treated the eastern Christians they came across. In addition to fighting with the Byzantines more than they cooperated, they also seized Edessa, an Armenian Christian state. They drove out the local Orthodox hierarchy, including the Patriarch of Jerusalem, installing a replacement of their own who was loyal to the Pope. Overall, their relations with eastern Christians were never very good, and the Crusaders never actually acted like their guardians.

In sum, the idea that the Crusades were a rational and proper military response to a genuine military threat, is — quite simply — fucking laughably ridiculous. French armies had no legitimate business making a beeline through many hundreds of miles of territory and trying to home in on the Holy Land. Their expedition was hideously expensive — in terms of money, resources expended, and lives lost — and punctuated by atrocities like the massacre that took place when they captured Jerusalem in 1099. None of that contributed in the slightest to the defense of Christendom against Muslim expansion. Again, had this been the Crusaders’ true goal, they’d have assisted the Byzantines in rebuilding and refortifying their Empire.

It was also often said — particularly back in the ’80s when I was studying the subject in college — that the Crusades weren’t motivated by religion, but rather by a desire for new territory. But this makes little sense. Most of the princes who made up the First Crusade had been engaged in various military expeditions for years, before deciding to embark on their expedition to the Holy Land. Bohemond of Taranto, for example, had invaded the Balkans and fought the Byzantines there some 15 years prior, and he’d engaged in a few other minor wars and skirmishes. Had he stayed home, he’d have continued those same expeditions, and could well have won new lands that way. The same was true of Raymond of St Gilles, who had fought Muslims in Spain already, and could certainly have continued doing so, had he wished to, instead of crossing the Mediterranean. There’s quite simply no way these princes’ desire to reach and retake the Holy Land in particular makes any sense, unless they’d been at least partly motivated by religion.

Getting back to the main point: Obama’s mention of the Crusades as well as other things like slavery and Jim Crow, was not an “attack” on Christians or Christianity. They are an actual part of Christian history. To deny this is to be delusional. They happened … period. Maybe modern Christians would prefer not to hear about them, but too fucking bad. Complaining that the Crusades were “1,000 years ago” (they weren’t, if you recall they were a sequence of expeditions that began in the 1090s but ended with the fall of Acre in 1291) also isn’t going to help. “It’s history,” Obama’s self-righteous critics say. “They’re in the past. They’re over. So what?” It may be true that the Crusades and Inquisitions have been over for centuries, but they were only two of Obama’s examples of the use of religion to support immorality. The others (slavery and Jim Crow) are both much more recent. Witch-hunting, which Obama didn’t mention, happens to be a present-day pastime of African Christians.

Obama also didn’t “blame” modern Christians for the Crusades; that objection is just more delusional paranoia. He also didn’t say Christians are as bad as ISIS; that too is a childish fabrication which multiple Rightists have spewed.

The real lesson Obama had delivered — and which the “Christian Nation” refuses to hear, no matter how true it may be — is that any religion can be used to justify evil. Yes, even Christianity! It happened in the past — both in the distant past, and in more recent times — and it could, conceivably, happen again. That it offends Christians to be told this, only shows how childish they really are. It’s time for them to pull on their big-boy pants and act their ages instead of getting all bent out of shape because they like thinking that the president they despise, Barack HUSSEIN Obama, is “attacking” them for something.

P.S. I still don’t get how or why Christians find it necessary to host big splashy events like “national prayer breakfasts.” After all, the founder of their own religion explicitly and unambiguously ordered them never to express their piety publicly. So why do they insist on doing it? Why won’t they obey their own Jesus?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Albigensian Crusade 01I’ve been told that Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, failed vice-presidential candidate, and princess of the GOP and of the teabaggers who infest it, isn’t nearly as stupid or insane as she seems to be. “Crazy like a fox” is the expression I’ve heard.

Even so, I can’t help but wonder if Ms Palin is aware she recently spoke in a manner befitting a medieval Crusade leader. My guess is, she doesn’t know it, because like most Americans, especially of the Religious Right sort, she has no education in medieval history. No, I think she spewed some of her own insane lunacy, and it only just happens to sound that way. Politico reports she made remarks about President Obama’s plan to attack Syria sometime over the next few weeks (WebCite cached article):

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is condemning potential American military action in Syria, charging it would be President Obama “saving political face” and saying, “Let Allah sort it out.”

She did this in a Facebook posting, complete with a picture of her standing with members of the military (cached). How patriotic of her!

I immediately recalled my own medieval studies: “Let Allah sort it out” is Ms Palin’s own version of a common paraphrase of an order reportedly delivered in the field by a Papal legate leading a Crusader army in southern France.

The occasion was the attack on Béziers in 1209. The army of legate Arnaud Amalric was concerned about how to tell the loyal Catholics in the town from the heretic Cathars. What he reportedly told them, was “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius,” or in English, “Kill them all. The Lord knows who are his own.” Whether or not he actually said this, is a matter of some conjecture. What is more certain, is that by the legate’s admission, his own men killed Catholics and Cathars indiscriminately. So even if he hadn’t given such an order, he might as well have, because that’s how his men behaved.

The other question I have about Ms Palin’s criticism of the impending attack on Syria, is that I seriously wonder if she’d be condemning it, had either John McCain or Mitt Romney been in office and made the same decision. Her running-mate, McCain, in particular has been scrapping for a war in Syria for quite some time now (cached). I’m not sure she’d be so outspoken against such a move, if a Republican president had proposed it.

In any event, I’m not sure a bone-chilling pronouncement of doom on people, some of whom she has to know would be innocent, is the best way for Ms Palin to talk about the Syrian civil war and the manner in which the US should deal with it. I’m also pretty sure that some propagandists in the Islamic world will pick up on her medieval-Crusade-style language and use that as evidence that the US is engaged in a modern-day “Crusade” to wipe out Islam as a religion and kill all Muslims. (Not that this is possible for us to do, obviously, but that won’t stop them from saying so.) We just don’t fucking need people spewing this kind of rank bullshit.

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Gustave Doré, Crusades, the Discovery of the True CrossLots of Christians are embarrassed by the Crusades, the series of military expeditions by western European Christians against Muslims (and on one occasion, eastern Christians) in the Middle East, in the name of reclaiming the Holy Land in the name of Jesus Christ. Most Christians these days dismiss them as but a momentary aberration, but they lasted from the final years of the 11th century, to the fall of Acre at the end of the 13th … so they can hardly be considered a single, discrete moment of collective Christian madness. Few Christians these days are capable of understanding what the Crusades were without waving them off as being “in the past,” and fewer still are willing even to talk about them very much.

While the subject of the Crusades makes Christians uncomfortable, it’s rare for them to explicitly and plainly lie about their nature. Yet that’s precisely what former Pennsylvania Senator and militant Christianist Rick Santorum did, however, as Politico explains (WebCite cached article):

Rick Santorum launched into a scathing attack on the left, charging during an appearance in South Carolina that the history of the Crusades has been corrupted by “the American left who hates Christendom.”

“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical,” Santorum said in Spartanburg on Tuesday. “And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom.”

To say the Crusades were not an expression of Christian “aggression” is anti-factual and laughable. Of course they were! How could they not be? The massacre of Jerusalem in 1099 — to name just one event during the First Crusade — was most certainly “Christian aggression” — unnecessary, barbaric and horrifically excessive, at that. The list of other moments of “Christian aggression” that took place during the entire course of the long sequence of Crusades is long and bloody. For Santorum to deny their “aggression” means he’s either grossly ignorant of the Crusades, or a liar. (Or maybe both.)

Santorum’s idiotic diatribe included this revealing little snippet; referring to the concept of equality, Santorum said:

“It’s become part of our national religion, if you will,” he continued.

Uh, Rick … umm, you might want to read your First Amendment and see if you can digest the fact that the US cannot legally have a “national religion.” OK? And if you’re going to insist nonetheless that we do have one, I wish you the best of luck forcing me to worship it. Go ahead, Rick. Have at it. Make me follow your “national religion.”

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Here we have yet another journalism FAIL. WTVF-5 in Nashville teased a report that supposedly would link a local Muslim group with terrorism … then finally aired it, and the result was that there was no apparent connection (WebCite cached version). However, some viewers — apparently of the Christian persuasion — didn’t actually catch that last part, and they reacted as one would expect a bunch of outraged, sanctimonious, hyperreligious nutjobs to react, as the Nashville Scene blog reports (WebCite cached article):

After Sensationalized TV Report, Vandals Strike Nashville Mosque

Vandals spray-painted insults on a mosque overnight and left a hate-filled letter to Nashville’s Muslims. Islamic leaders blame Channel 5’s sensationalized two-night report about a crackpot organization’s unfounded accusations of terrorist ties against a Middle Tennessee Muslim community.

“Muslims Go Home” and a Crusade-style cross were scrawled across the front of Al-Farooq Islamic Center on Nolensville Road, says Salaad Nur, a spokesman. He says the mosque, which primarily serves members of the Somali community, has contacted the police and the FBI.

But that isn’t all the vandals did:

“They also left a letter at the youth center that says Muslims are friends of Satan and we are here to destroy the United States and to destroy Israel and things of that nature,” he says. “We’re a little bit shaken up. I hope this is just a scare and things don’t get any worse than this.”

According to successive updates of this blog entry, neither Channel 5 nor the other local TV stations have done much to acknowledge the possibility of a connection between this report and the vandalism. Hmm. I wonder why?

Note to Christians: The Crusades ended centuries ago. The successive campaigns against “the Saracen” are long over. Not all Muslims are terrorists trying to wipe out you, or Christianity, or Israel. Some of them — really! — just want to live their lives in peace. (Yeah, I know about Islam being “the Religion of Peace” and all that … but still, while some are terrorists, not all are.) Just stop it already. OK?

Hat tip: Romenesko blog at Poynter Online.

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Rick Warren — about whom I’ve blogged many times, the fundamentalist preacher who built a megachurch in southern California, and created the lucrative “Purpose-Driven” publishing empire — just revealed his complete ignorance of freethought and atheism. According to the Raw Story:

Not believing in a Supreme Being takes more faith than believing in one, according to Pastor Rick Warren. “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” Warren told Fox News anchors Steve Doocy and Martha MacCallum Monday.

Warren puts forth arguments against atheism which are so old and tired that he has little rational excuse for trotting them out yet again. I’ll go over them one by one:

“You know, Steve, if I’m walking down a mountain and I see rock out of place and I go ‘that’s an accident.’ If I’m walking down a mountain — on the trail — and I find a Rolex that’s evidence of design,” he explained. “It actually takes more faith not to believe in God than to believe in God.”

This is known as William Paley’s “watchmaker analogy,” a teleological argument, which is fallacious, and for several reasons. One of those failures is that it’s based solely on a subjective determination of what must have been “made.” Subjectivity can never be construed as objective veracity. Another failure is, one can know a watch is only human-made because one can walk into a factory and see them being designed and crafted. When it comes to the Universe, however, it is not possible to watch an “intelligent designer” (or deity) manufacture a new universe. (At least, no one has yet done so … and I don’t expect it ever will happen.) So, Rick, strike one!

While Warren scoffs at atheists, he seemed to respect every other belief system. “The are 600 million Buddhists in the world. There are 800 million Hindus. There are one and a half billion Muslims and there are 2.3 billion Christians. The actual number of secularists in the world is actually quite small outside of Europe and Manhattan,” said Warren.

Warren’s appeal to numbers … i.e. there are billions of “believers” but nowhere near as many non-believers, ergo, believers must be correct … is fallacious. This fallacy goes by many names; formally as argumentum ad populum, and less formally as the appeal to popularity, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to consensus, democratic fallacy, appeal to the majority, etc. It fails, because reality and veracity are not up for a vote. That many people believe something does not automatically make it true. At one time nearly all human beings thought the Earth was at the center of a universe only a few thousand miles across; we have, however, found this is not so. If one followed Warren’s reasoning, we’d have dismissed Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo as mindless cranks and would still think we were at the center of the universe. So, Rick, strike two!

Bashing on atheists isn’t new for the pastor who has also compared gay marriage to pedophilia.

Warren is wrong here, folks. Gay marriage has nothing to do with pedophilia. It can’t … because marriage (of any kind) is a partnership between adults capable of entering into a contract; while pedophilia is an adult having sex with a minor. The two are completely and totally unrelated — and by definition. So, Rick, strike three — you’re out!

But wait, there’s more!

In April of 2007, Warren told Newsweek that he “never met an atheist who wasn’t angry” and that “far more people have been killed through atheists than through all the religious wars put together.”

While it is true that 20th century massacres and atrocities have killed more people than anything prior, and not all of them were done for religious reasons, keep in mind that these were political regimes, not religious ones.

The medieval Church which orchestrated the Inquisitions, was primarily a religious organization. The wars in the Middle East known collectively as the Crusades, had at least some religious motivation. The invasions of Europe and the Middle East by central Asians, under Genghis Khan and then under Timur the Lame — in their time the single most devastating conflicts in all of history, which were not exceeded until the 20th century — were partly motivated by religion: In Genghis Khan’s case, because his Mongol gods of heaven told him he would be a mighty ruler, and in Timur’s, because he wanted to spread Sunni Islam in places which were, in his day, primarily Shi’ite.

As for people like Hitler, who orchestrated the Holocaust, it hardly seems possible for him to have repressed and then slaughtered so many Jews, if not for centuries of Christian-inspired anti-Semitism. One can, therefore, also chalk up the atrocities of the Third Reich — at least partly — to religion.

Not to mention the fact that, while Warren condemns — and dismisses — atheists as “angry,” I definitely see a lot of sanctimonious anger on the part of lots of religious folk, too. Including himself! So, Rick, not only have you struck out, you whiffed an extra time!

If anyone isn’t clear, by now, what kind of bellicose, sanctimonious, ignorant creep Rick Warren is … well, you now have your evidence. He’s also proven himself a hypocrite by dismissing atheists as “angry” without acknowledging the religious are often just as angry, if not moreso. (Note to Rick: Your own Jesus specifically, clearly, explicitly, and unambiguously ordered you, as his follower, never to be hypocritical. So I’d be careful if I were you.)

Hat tip: iReligion Forum at Delphi Forums.

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