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Jason Holliston
Wednesday, August 25, 2004  
Historical Perspective on the Crusades

I read lots of blogs every day -- about 40, actually. There's not nearly enough time to read every word that's written, and far and away not enough time to read all the articles and columns that are linked to. Honestly, even if I got paid a hefty sum to sit in a chair and read all day, I'd be hard pressed. So, I scan headlines, retrieved via RSS, and read only word-for-word a scant few blogs and only the interesting stuff from the rest. Luckily for me, I also have in my daily stable five Catholic-focused web logs.

One of them is "A Saintly Salmagundi" (I had to look it up: salmagundi is "a collection containing a variety of sorts of things"). Today he linked to an article on Crisis written by the Crusade historian Thomas F. Madden, an associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. It's great stuff, and instructive to just about anyone. Also check out a column written by him on The National Review back in November of 2001.

The Crusades, whether we want them to be or not, have a great impact on how we value Western Civilization and how the Islamic world views us:

Doesn't the present violence, they persisted, have its roots in the Crusades' brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world? In other words, aren't the Crusades really to blame?

Osama bin Laden certainly thinks so. In his various video performances, he never fails to describe the American war against terrorism as a new Crusade against Islam. Ex-president Bill Clinton has also fingered the Crusades as the root cause of the present conflict. In a speech at Georgetown University, he recounted (and embellished) a massacre of Jews after the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and informed his audience that the episode was still bitterly remembered in the Middle East. (Why Islamist terrorists should be upset about the killing of Jews was not explained.) Clinton took a beating on the nation's editorial pages for wanting so much to blame the United States that he was willing to reach back to the Middle Ages. Yet no one disputed the ex-president's fundamental premise.

He's right, of course. If you were to poll Americans and Europeans on whether the Crusades were a just cause or not, what do you think the results would be? How prevalent are the misconceptions I hear so often? The lessening of the Crusades value and the magnification of the Crusades mistakes are a result of both centuries-old anti-Catholic bigotry, and the more recent anti-Western Civilization ideologies pushed by figures in our midst. How we feel about the Crusades, here in America, really does reflect how we feel about America and our culture in general. Is it worth fighting for? The crusaders certainly thought so.

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