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Modern Aftermath of the Crusades

3/13/2006 - 5:30 AM PST

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Robert Spencer on the Battles Still Being Waged

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 13, 2006 (Zenit) - The Crusades may be causing more devastation today than they ever did in the three centuries when most of them were fought, according to one expert.

Robert Spencer, author of "Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)", claims that the damage is not in terms of lives lost and property destroyed but is a more subtle destruction.

Spencer shared with us how false ideas about the Crusades are being used by extremists to foment hostility to the West today.

Q: The Crusades are often portrayed as a militarily offensive venture. Were they?

Spencer: No. Pope Urban II, who called for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095, was calling for a defensive action -- one that was long overdue.

As he explained, he was calling the Crusade because without any defensive action, "the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked" by the Turks and other Muslim forces.

"For, as most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George," Pope Urban II said in his address. "They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.

"If you permit them to continue thus for a while with impunity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them."

He was right. Jihad warfare had from the seventh century to the time of Pope Urban conquered and Islamized what had been over half of Christendom. There had been no response from the Christian world until the Crusades.

Q: What are some popular misconceptions about the Crusades?

Spencer: One of the most common is the idea that the Crusades were an unprovoked attack by Europe against the Islamic world.

In fact, the conquest of Jerusalem in 638 stood at the beginning of centuries of Muslim aggression, and Christians in the Holy Land faced an escalating spiral of persecution.

Early in the eighth century 60 Christian pilgrims from Amorium were crucified; around the same time the Muslim governor of Caesarea seized a group of pilgrims from Iconium and had them all executed as spies -- except for a small number who converted to Islam.

Muslims also demanded money from pilgrims, threatening to ransack the Church of the Resurrection if they didn't pay.

Later in the eighth century, a Muslim ruler banned displays of the cross in Jerusalem. He also increased the tax on non-Muslims -- jizya -- that Christians had to pay and forbade Christians to engage in religious instruction of their own children and fellow believers.

Early in the ninth century the persecutions grew so severe that large numbers of Christians fled for Constantinople and other Christian cities. In 937, Muslims went on a rampage in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, plundering and destroying the Church of Calvary and the Church of the Resurrection.

In 1004, the Fatimid Caliph, Abu 'Ali al-Mansur al-Hakim, ordered the destruction of churches, the burning of crosses, and the seizure of church property. Over the next 10 years 30,000 churches were destroyed, and untold numbers of Christians converted to Islam simply to save their lives.

In 1009, al-Hakim commanded that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem be destroyed, along with several other churches, including the Church of the Resurrection. In 1056, the Muslims expelled 300 Christians from Jerusalem and forbade European Christians from entering the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

When the Seljuk Turks took Jerusalem in 1077, the Seljuk Emir Atsiz bin Uwaq promised not to harm the inhabitants, but once his men had entered the city, they murdered 3,000 people.

Another common misconception is that the Crusades were fought to convert Muslims to Christianity by force. Glaringly absent from every report about Pope Urban's address at the Council of Claremont is any command to the Crusaders to convert Muslims.

It was not until over 100 years after the First Crusade, in the 13th century, that European Christians made any organized attempt to convert Muslims to Christianity, when the Franciscans began missionary work among Muslims in lands held by the Crusaders. This effort was largely unsuccessful.

Yet another misconception revolves around the Crusaders' bloody sack of Jerusalem in 1099.

The capture of Jerusalem is often portrayed as unique in medieval history, and as the cause of Muslim mistrust of the West. It might be more accurate to say that it was the start of a millennium of ...

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