[A few weeks ago in the Silverback Digest we set the record straight of Genghis Khan, one of the most mischaracterized figures in history. Today we are doing the same with The Crusades. With the kind of academic rigor that you’ve come to respect from this publication, I do not even cite the source for this article. (rampant professional incompetence) SB SM]
The Crusades are a funny thing. Today virtually everyone in the Middle East and the Western world knows about them. They are generally reviled and hated and often are framed politically with a modern context.
What’s funny though is that the Crusades matter way more today than they ever did during them. At most the Crusades affected a very small corner of the Muslim world for a pretty short time. The Islamic Empires changed very little if at all and after a few centuries it was all over.
After the European domination of the Middle East after WW1 Muslim Scholars began to preach more and more about the Crusades, claiming the Europeans had always wanted to conquer the Middle East and eliminate Islam.
Guilty Europeans then piggyback off of that and wholesale buy this mythical and political framing of the Crusades.
So what parts are misrepresentations?
- There were never any attempts at conversion
- There were never any attempts at genocide
- When the Christians ruled Jeruslam Muslims were allowed to freely live and work within the city and even enjoyed virtually the same rights as Christians (minus tax rate). When the Muslims ruled Jeruslam Christians were allowed to freely live and work within the city as well. In general, both religions got along pretty well.
- The Muslims were not peaceful by any means. They had conquered the Christian territories of Turkey, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, and Spain. They had also invaded France and sacked Rome.
- Were the Crusades a response to Muslim aggression? Kinda. The Muslim conquest of Byzantine Anatolia spurred the Byzantine Empire to request a crusade from the Pope. The Crusades were not a response to the previous conquests but framing the Islamic Empires as peaceful is horribly incorrect
- The Muslims were not more advanced than the Christians. They were certainly ahead when it came to math and science however the Christians were far better sailors, logisticians, and military architects.
- The Crusades were not particularly violent. Most “Crusades” were just a few battles and that was it. Compared to other wars of the time they were not very large or violent.
- Muslims of the time did not care. The heartland of the Muslim world was untouched- as was pretty much all of the Islamic world. Only a tiny strip of land along the coast was really affected at all. Most Muslims had no idea the Crusades even happened and the few that did know thought of them as another war with Byzantium.
- Religion was a primary motivator but only 1 among many. There were many political, societal, and cultural elements at play as well.
- The Crusader lords and Muslim generals often got along. Saladin and Richard the Lionheart in particular had enormous respect for one another with Richard even proposing his sister marry Saladin’s brother. In general, both sides respected each other though this often changed with the ages.
Were there acts of brutality? Totally. Were the Crusades an unforgivably horrible act of brutality committed against an innocent Empire? No.
Here’s another interesting article on the subject from the website of The Conversation:
Or … you can see Ridley Scott’s view of The Crusades, as depicted in this trailer for the film The Kingdom of Heaven: