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One further casualty of the Sept. 11 attacks may be the word and even the concept “crusade,” which seems well on the way to the same graveyard of perfectly good expressions like “Dutch treat” and “Welsh rarebit,” among others. Lots of Muslims don’t like the term because it calls up unpleasant associations. Therefore, if they don’t like it, we can’t use it.

The West (that term too is probably objectionable; after all, where exactly is the “West”?) became aware of just how offensive the word “crusade” is to Muslims right after Sept. 11, when President Bush made the blunder of using it in his description of the American war on terrorism. “This crusade, this war on terrorism,” the president announced, “is going to take a while.” “Muslims,” The Washington Post reports this week, “were stung.” ["The Crusaders' Giant Footprints",Washington Post, Oct 23, 2001]

Only a thousand years ago, you see, “the West,” which then consisted of little more than a few gangs of mounted and armored bandits who had given themselves fancy titles, decided to invade the Middle East, which was under the control of the Muslims. The Westerners launched the invasion as a religious war, to reclaim the lands of the infidels (the Muslims) and protect Christian holy places i n the region, and therefore the wars were called “crusades” because of the cross the medieval knights wore and fought for. The Muslims, as the Post is most careful to explain, did not care for that.

“To them,” the Post‘s story assures us, “‘crusade,’ even uncapitalized, is a profoundly loaded term. It evokes not just a war against their people, who were hacked apart, man and child, 1,000 years ago, until the streets of Jerusalem and other cities ran deep in blood. It evokes an unprovoked war against their religion and their every way of life—a war they see mirrored today in the steady corrosion of Islamic values by a globalizing Western culture they believe undermines their families, trivializes learning and profanes their God.”

Only deep into the story does the Post mention, while expounding on how tolerant Islam was, that “Islam spread north and westward from Arabia into the crumbling remnants of the old Roman Empire.” Indeed. And just how did Islam “spread,” do you suppose? Well, now, actually, as the Post finally notes in passing, “Midway through the 8th century, Arab forces had conquered most of the Middle East and were on their way to Spain.” Just so.

The point is that (a) the Arabic Muslims, energized by their new faith, embarked on a jihad (that term might be as offensive to Westerners as “crusade” is to Muslims, but that’s OK) to conquer everything in sight, and (b) most of the lands they conquered—in the Middle East and North Africa—were or had been provinces of the Roman and Byzantine Empires and were Christian. The Muslims might have sat around wondering, 300 years later, why the dickens these “Westerners” were invading “their” territory, but someone should have explained to them that it was largely because they conquered the lands from Christians.

Also, as the Post notes, Muslim rulers by the 11th century had started mistreating Christians under their power, attacking Christian pilgrims and desecrating Christian holy places. Much of the rest of the Post‘s story is devoted to explaining how civilized the Muslims were compared to “Western Christendom … sunk in the Dark Ages of violence, ignorance and superstition.”

Well, maybe so, depending on whether you think Christianity is more ignorant and superstitious than Islam, but the point is that the West, through the Crusades themselves, was beginning to lift itself out of the centuries-long aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions. The Crusades were in fact one of the first efforts of Western Man to expand beyond the narrow borders in which he was born. They were indeed often brutal, as most wars eventually are, but so far from being a period for the West to deny and be ashamed of, they ought to be a source of pride.

In the end (or at least up until now), the West surpassed the Muslim civilization, but it ought to tell us something about the state of the West today that no sooner did Muslims start kicking back on Sept. 11, than the West started apologizing for what it did a thousand years ago. The Crusades as a historical episode are now on the same moral plane as slavery and the discovery of America, and without understanding what’s happening or why, Western leaders are happy to abandon every legacy of their race and civilization if only no Non-Westerners are “offended.” If the modern West has no more confidence in itself and its historic achievements than that, then the “West” really should be buried because it’s already dead.

• Category: History • Tags: Crusades 
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One anniversary that’s not on this year’s calendar is the 900th observance of the capture of Jerusalem by Christian crusaders on July 15, 1099. As a matter of fact, it’s an anniversary that’s probably never been on any year’s calendar, since virtually everyone forgot about it sometime around the year 1600. But some never forget, and they’re getting ready to do what 20th century man is supposed to do, at least in the West: apologize for it.

The London Sunday Telegraph reported last month that a movement is afoot among the Christian churches to apologize for the Crusades. The Crusades, you will recall, were a kind of medieval equivalent of making the world safe for democracy—in this case, Christianity—and a good many Europeans took themselves off to the Middle East to carve into confetti anyone who wasn’t as Christian as they were. In the process, a good many Europeans got their behinds kicked by the locals. Eventually the Crusades failed, and most people went home.

But as with most historical episodes (the Crusades went on for a couple of hundred years), there were good things and bad things about them. The good things included a more or less authentic desire to enlighten the world with what the European Christians of the time deeply believed was religious truth. The bad things included pillaging, conquering, and massacring a lot of folks who never harmed the Crusaders. Nevertheless, whatever the good or the bad, only idiots would consider apologizing for them today.

But idiots, of course, is exactly what we’re dealing with, and I for one would prefer the Crusaders. The Telegraph reports that on July 15 this year a delegation of idiots from Europe and the United States calling themselves the “Reconciliation Walk” plans to go to Jerusalem and apologize to Muslim and Jewish leaders for the Crusades.

They will wear T-shirts saying “I apologize” in Arabic and distribute apologetic messages to Muslims on the streets. About a thousand such apologizers have already worn out their welcomes in the area by getting an early start on the guilt trip. Yet the Telegraph also reports that the Christian churches in Europe and the United States are preparing a public expression of repentance for the Crusades.

There are several reasons these people are idiots, not the least of which is that the historical memory of the Crusades has almost entirely vanished today. Assuming the Crusades were wrong, no one feels the wrong any more, nor can anyone seriously claim that all the wrong was on the Christian European side. Apologizing for the Crusades is like looking up a kid you stole candy from when you were in kindergarten and telling him you’re sorry. He not only doesn’t remember the theft; he doesn’t even remember you.

Some church leaders are arguing that there should be no apology from Christians until Muslims also show remorse for the killing they carried out themselves. The problem with that is that it’s moral equivalence. If Christians knocked off a few Muslims in the siege of Jerusalem, that’s no worse than the killing the Muslims themselves committed. The problem with moral equivalence is that it assumes both sides are wrong and does nothing to place ethical blame where it ought to lie. From church leaders we have a right to expect more than this.

Yet right or wrong, the fact that modern Westerners can’t even defend the Crusades as a manifestation of Western man and his civilization tells us a good deal about what’s wrong with Western man today. Western man no longer believes in himself or the civilization his ancestors created, crusaded for, and died for. In place of believing in it and defending it, our religious and political leaders are ashamed of it and want to apologize for it—even for those parts no one remembers.

The Crusades certainly involved some inglorious and unheroic deeds, not all of them committed against Muslims. Christians themselves were often the victims, as in the sack of Constantinople in 1204. But if the Crusades were not entirely right, a healthy civilization can still recognize them as a necessary part in the adventure of our own people in history. The importance of the Crusades is that they were one of the first expressions of the process of heroic dynamism and expansion that distinguishes our civilization from most others.

The same mentality that drove medieval warriors to wage war for the cross in the Holy Land also drove Columbus to the New World and Americans to the Moon. Without that spirit, the West—and America—will shrivel and die and would never have existed at all. That, of course, is exactly what the idiot party wants, and it’s exactly why they deserve a good kick in the behind from the Crusaders still kicking around.

• Category: History • Tags: Crusades 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”