How to Think About the Crusades
If there is one thing that everybody knows about the Crusades, it is that they were a Bad Thing. In the eyes even of most Christians, let alone others, the Crusades were a crime against humanity, one for which apologies are due, especially to Muslims. President Bush’s early reference to the war on terror as a “crusade” was seen as a catastrophic blunder, justifying the accusations of Osama bin Laden and other Islamists who habitually refer to their enemies as “crusaders,” with all the negative connotations the word now possesses.
Condemnation of the Crusades is based on the premise that they were a barbaric, unprovoked war of extermination and conquest, waged against a superior and incomparably more tolerant civilization—in brief, an archetype of Western imperialism. Today, when the very idea of a holy war is utterly alien to Western sensibilities, it is the United States that is identified by its critics, especially in Europe, with the religious fanaticism and military rapacity of the crusaders. The Nobel Prize-winning German novelist Guenter Grass, writing soon after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, decried the “religious fundamentalism,” “moral decline,” and “organized madness” of the United States, and proposed that Pope John Paul II, “who knows how lasting and devastating the disasters wrought by the mentality and actions of Christian crusaders have been,” issue a formal apology to the Muslim world. Kingdom of Heaven, the Crusade movie by Ridley Scott released in the spring, reflects many of these same attitudes.
About the Author
Daniel Johnson is a columnist for The New York Sun and was formerly a columnist and senior editor for the London Times and Daily Telegraph.