Look at you [Georgetown student body]. You are from everywhere. Look at us and you will see how more diverse America has grown in the last thirty-plus years. The terrorists killed people who came to America not to die, but dream, from every continent, from dozens of countries, most every religion on the face of the earth, including in large numbers Islam.This paean to the putatively inherent value of racial and cultural diversity is ubiquitous in the political, educational, and business spheres of the modern West. The sacredness with which multiculturalism has been imbued is the subject of Gottfried's book. I found it to be too lacking in quantification and too orthogonal for my tastes, but that owes to my lack of enthusiasm for nuance and insinuation, not the professor's capabilities as a writer. Spare me the preamble and get to the point! That's advice I should follow more often than I do. So, on to the meat of this post.
The contemporary conventional description of the Crusades characterizes them as opportunistic, proto-colonialist undertakings, designed to plunder the wealth of a more advanced Arab world.
The colonial charge is risible. Crusading was extremely expensive. The first crusade was primarily funded privately, largely by those leading it. Godfrey of Bouillon, who would become the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (KoJ), sold the entire county of Verdun to the king of France and still had to mortgage Boullion itself to finance his expedition. In God's Battalions, Rodney Stark reports that "a typical crusader needed to raise at least four or five times his annual income before he could set forth". The poor, who comprised much of Peter the Hermit's following, were a constant drain on crusading efforts and were vociferously discouraged from taking part by the papacy itself. Subsequent crusades were financed in large part through taxation, first on the clergy and then on the general public.
Further, there had never been any prospect of the Kingdom of Jerusalem becoming a source of revenue for Europe. Over the course of its nearly two-century existence, the kingdom was perpetually propped up by men, supplies, and massive financial transfers from Europe. If anything, Europe acted as a "colony" of the KoJ. The Templars, who rivaled the major Italian banking houses in their breadth, made money in Europe to spend on sustaining their fortified castles, knights, sergeants, and squires in the holy land. In fact, likely the first ever income tax in the West was levied on those in England and France to finance the third crusade--now that's a genuinely ugly legacy of the crusading period! Returning from King Louis IX's second (and fatal) crusade, King Edward I of England would be the last person to lead a significant crusading effort from Europe. Twenty years later, with largescale support from the continent having dried up, the KoJ was, quite literally, driven into the sea by Muslim forces--the kingdom's last remnant was the Templar's island fortress at Arwad, a couple of miles off the Syrian coast.
That the Islamic world was more advanced than that of Europe at the time is debatable (and beyond the scope of my historical knowledge). Certainly, though, European military technology was superior to that of the Arabs or Turks. Without the crossbow, it is almost impossible to imagine that the KoJ could have ever come into being. With a range of up to 200 yards for which men could become accurate in a matter of hours (whereas traditional longbows took years to master, both in required arm strength and aiming ability), crossbow bolts could pierce full plate armor. At a much closer range, Muslims arrows often became harmlessly stuck in Christian chain mail. The use of saddles and stirrups, combined with horses much larger than those ridden by Arabs and Turks, allowed European cavalry, equipped with lances, to charge with force sufficient to both impale and knock opponents off their horses at the same time. In contrast, sometimes riding without either, and often placing their stirrups further forward to allow a rider to sit while riding, many Muslim riders carried only carried swords and bows.
While the crusaders may have attributed their successes to the will of God, these advantages were crucial in delivering repeated crusader victories against larger, better provisioned Muslim forces fighting on their own soil.
Of course, the crusades were hardly unprovoked. Before Islam was born, Christendom existed throughout North Africa, most of western and southern Europe, and in what is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey. A century after Muhammad died, Islam had conquered all of North Africa, most of the Middle East, and much of Spain. It would penetrate Europe all the way into France, reaching a high mark in 732 before the famous battle of Tours, when the Franks, led by Charles Martel, placed unmovable infantry lines in phalanx formation in front of Muslim cavalry. It proved deadly for the aggressors, who are thought to have been killed at rates as high as 10-to-1, despite outnumbering the Franks at something like 2-to-1.
When Urban II called for the first crusade at the Council of Claremont, it was in response to Byzantine emperor Alexius Commenus' plea for aid against the Seljuk Turks, who had made their capital Nicea, only 60 miles to the southeast of Constantinople. This came at a time when Christian pilgrims from both the Latin West and orthodox East were regularly robbed and harrassed by 'saracens', often fatally, on their way to Jerusalem.
The taking of Jerusalem during the first crusade is often used to epitomize the supposed ugliness that transpired for 200 years on account of the crusaders. Said Clinton:
First of all, terror, the killing of noncombatants for economic, political, or religious reasons has a very long history as long as organized combat itself, and yet, it has never succeeded as a military strategy standing on its own, but it has been around a long time. Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless. Indeed, in the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple mound. The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple mound, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees. I can tell you that that story is still being told to today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it.The memory of the crusades did not exist in the Muslim world until the turn of the 20th Century, when the first Arab history of it was written. The Europeans were only one relatively minor group among many fighting for a stake in what has since come to be referred to as the Middle East. The 11th and 12th centuries are largely the story of expanding Turkish power in the Arab world and the competition between Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad to become and remain the cultural center of the Islamic world. Jerusalem wasn't that important, and the other coastal cities even less so, especially since control of the seas was dominated by Byzantium throughout the crusading period.
Indeed, when the first crusade arrived to take Jerusalem, a majority of the city's population was Christian. The Arab governor of the city expelled them when he became aware of the approaching crusader forces. It was a prudent move, as Antioch (which was also majority-Christian at the time) had a year earlier fallen from Fatimid (Muslim) hands in part because after Bohemond of Taranto bribed a sentinel into leaving a gate to the city unlocked and unguarded, crusader forces were joined by Christian residents of the city in battling Muslim forces in the streets.
Jews were represented among the Fatimid ranks defending Jerusalem from crusader forces. Undoubtedly, crusaders storming the city had seen their brothers in arms dispatched by the steel and arrows of Jerusalem's Jews. That the they--or the synagogue they retreated into--would have been accorded special treatment following the city's fall is a rather egregious imposition of contemporary sensibilities onto the medieval past.
Had the city surrendered, it is almost certain that no ensuing massacre would've occured. It was a standard rule of warfare at the time that if a scaling of the walls had to be attempted--inevitably resulting in the deaths of many executing the siege--due to the city holding out against its attackers, a cruel fate awaited those inside if the city was penetrated.
With word of an enormous Fatimid army coming from to Jerusalem's aid from Eygpt, the crusading camp was in a desperate situation. It was running low on food and potable water, and the intensifying summer heat continued to take a brutal toll on the crusaders (who were more heavily armored than the Muslims were). The crusaders had been travelling through hostile territory for more than two years with their ultimate objective finally at hand. Jerusalem's Muslim and Jewish inhabitants were threatening to have them annihilated by a large Eygptian army headed their way by refusing them entry to the city. So when Godfrey's forces took control of a section of the city's walls that allowed crusaders to mount the walls and take to streets, it's little wonder that Jerusalem's inhabitants would be made to pay.
The predictable fate of the city's residents is often juxtaposed to the relatively humane treatment the Jerusalem's Christian population would suffer when Saladin retook the city in 1187. Instead of being massacred, most of them were merely enslaved. But the city's Christian inhabitants, many of them refugees from other KoJ cities already fallen to the Ayyubids, surrendered rather than fight on. As Edward Gibbon, who shared the general disdain for the crusades that characterized the Enlightenment period, wrote in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
Of some writeres it is a favourite and invidious theme to compare the humanity of Saladin with the massacre of the first crusade. The difference would be merely personal; but we should not forget that the Christians had offered to capitulate, and that the Mahometans of Jerusalem sustained the last extremeties of an assault and storm.The image of Saladin as a paladin, sustained largely from the overtaking of Jerusalem (and maybe the way the two words rhyme?), is contradicted by the Kurd's* more typical (and again, understandable) brutality. After the battle of Hattin, he personally beheaded several captured members of the KoJ's military orders and happily allowed not only his soldiers but also imams and other Muslim religious practicioners to take part in the decapitations.
If historical objectivity is the aim, instances of the reverse occuring (which are as common, if not more so) should be similarly stressed. In 1153, for example, accompanied by both Hospitallers and Templars, Baldwin III took Ascalon after a surrender agreement allowing inhabitants to leave peaceably with their belongings was reached and carried out. More than a century later, the Mamluk Baibars, besieging a Templar castle in the Galilean uplands, proposed terms of surrender: Stop resisting and be allowed to withdraw without bodily harm to Acre. Upon opening the gates and surrendering the castle, Baibars had the entire Templar force beheaded.
That those of European ancestry should somehow carry on their shoulders a perpetual sense of guilt on account of the crusades typifies the mores of the "secular theocracy" of multiculturalism that Gottfried laments in his book. These are the same mores dictating that the slavery be thought of primarily as the act of white Europeans holding sub-Saharan Africans in bondage, despite slavery having existed throughout most of the world long before Europeans were capturing blacks, and having in fact likely been born in Africa only to be (mostly) extinguished on a global scale by northwestern Europeans. The crusades were military expeditions to reclaim land lost to Muslims over the preceding four centuries. Those undertaking them were believed to be divinely inspired, involved in pious undertakings for the good of Christians everywhere. They should not be anachronistically judged by Geneva convention standards, but viewed in context of those existing at the time.
* Today, Saladin keeps a relatively lower profile in the Arab world than he does in the Occident, presumably on account of his ethnicity.