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Santorum Blunders: You Don’t Have to Hate Christendom to Hate the Crusades

The conceit behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is that he combines impeccable right-wing credentials on social issues such as abortion with a credible foreign-policy resume. But the problem for Santorum is his inability to stay on message and not run off at the mouth at every opportunity. His loose lips helped sink his attempt to win a third term in the Senate in 2006, and they aren’t doing much to breathe life into his long-shot presidential hopes either.

The latest example of Santorum’s inability to control his utterances was a statement he made in South Carolina on Tuesday during which he rose to the defense of the Crusades, the long series of military campaigns on the part of European Christians to seize control of the territory that is now the State of Israel during the Middle Ages. According to Politico, Santorum said that the negative view of the Crusades that predominates these days is the result of efforts 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.”

While it may be true that many leftists hate Christianity, just as they despise Judaism and the State of Israel, Santorum is on very shaky ground when he attempts to paint the Crusaders as the good guys defending Western civilization. While his claim that the Crusades were not a case of European aggression is debatable — since the Muslims who occupied the Holy Land and the surrounding region at that time were themselves the descendants of invaders who had thrown out the Byzantine Christians who had succeeded the Romans who committed genocide in throwing out the Jews — any effort to portray the Crusaders in a positive light is contrary to historical truth.

From the time of the First Crusade in 1096 to the Ninth and last Crusade at the end of the 13th century, the conduct of the European armies assembled to fight the Muslims was atrocious. Enflamed by hate-filled sermons, Crusaders massacred Jewish communities in Europe on their way to the Middle East and sacked and murdered some of the Christian communities they found in the Levant as well. The victory of the First Crusade culminated in the mass murder of all non-Christians in Jerusalem and brought to a temporary end the Jewish presence in the city. One can argue that their opponents were not exactly human-rights advocates either and that the crusading spirit can be traced in part to a drive to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula and other parts of Europe that had been overrun in the initial period of Muslim conquests in the first centuries after Islam’s birth. But the notion that the Crusaders were anything but an expression of violent religious extremism reflects an absurd lack of historical knowledge.

Santorum’s shaky grasp of history is bad enough, but by using the same speech in which he defended the Crusades to speak in praise of contemporary American military intervention in the Middle East, he has made a colossal blunder that demonstrates his complete lack of understanding of our strategic position and the goals of our military.

There’s no doubt that his cry of “Onward American soldiers” was intended as a defense of our soldiers’ efforts, which he linked to core American values that are, as he correctly asserted, a function of our national faith in the idea of individual rights that stems from our Judeo-Christian ideals. But to even mention the Crusades in the same speech, let alone defend them, confirms Islamist propaganda that sees American forces as latter-day Crusaders.

Santorum may not have intended to draw a straight line between Richard the Lionheart and David Petraeus, but it is hardly a stretch to interpret his remarks as identifying U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Crusaders. Unlike the Crusaders, who came to the region to slaughter Muslims and impose their religion on the survivors, Americans have come to fight the oppressors of Muslims and to facilitate their freedom, and so Santorum’s comments will be catnip to our enemies, who have wrongly tarred our soldiers with this label. While Santorum may no longer be an official of our government and has no chance of being elected president, his comments have the potential to cause great harm not only to our cause but also to our troops.



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