Rick Santorum Says Don’t Hate on the Crusades!

Feb 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

"Ah, the Crusades! Good times!

Former Pennsylvania senator and wannabe presidential candidate Rick Santorum likes to demonstrate just how unqualified he is for public office. His latest position defines his ideas about foreign policy with the Islamic world and can be summarized as follows: “Don’t hate on the Crusades!”

Politico informs us that Santorum believes that the consensus negative view of the Crusades these days is the result of efforts by “the American left who hates Christendom.”

Oh! We’ll have to mark that down in our revised history books! Kids, can you spell C-h-r-i-s-t-o-f-a-s-c-i-s-m?

To give a fool his due, he was in a good place both temporally and spatially (and ecumenically as far as I know) when he decided to defend the long history of Christian holy wars against Islam: Yes, he was in South Carolina on a Tuesday in February in the year 2011. Probably the last time the setting was so right was on the eve of the Civil War.

Moderation and fact have run their course in Republican politics in South Carolina and he undoubtedly felt it was safe to be stupid in such a crowd. Trouble is, people like Santorum don’t seem to realize that this is NOT the Middle Ages anymore and we have recording devices a bit more advanced than a monk’s stylus.

So out came the verbal diarrhea:

“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom.”

It’s not that Santorum is alone in this thinking. Just as conservative Catholics have re-written the Inquisition to be more a touchy-feely group hug thing, or the Burning Times to really be the fault of nasty old Protestants, they have convinced themselves that the Crusades were really a defense war against Islamic aggression.

That’s what the well-named P.I.G. series says, after all. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) by Robert Spencer, a publication of conservative publisher Regnery, which publishes such conservative stalwarts as Haley Barbour, Ann Coulter, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, columnist Michelle Malkin and Barbara Olson. Mr. Spencer’s qualifications are that he is the director of the Islamophobic Jihad Watch and an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation., a conservative think-tank.

Conservatism's Idea of a Foreign Policy Toward the Islamic World

So you can see that Santorum is in swell company when he preaches the general swellness of the crusades. You might have a clearer idea of this mindset when you realize they also think the Dark Ages were the “true” Age of Reason and that the Enlightenment heralded the “true” Dark Ages.

Now it is true that Islam rode a tide of conquest – a jihad – from the seventh century to through the eighth. It is true that Islam conquered the Zorastrian Persian Empire and swept away much of the Christian Roman Empire, as well as the Christian Visigothic Kingdom in Spain before the tide ebbed. It is also true that even before this the Christian kingdoms of the West had engaged in a brutal series of anti-Pagan crusades in Europe, genocide on a vast scale. To put it bluntly, Christianity of the time had no moral high ground upon which to stand.

The Crusades themselves were a misbegotten affair born of Christian intolerance. The Roman emperor Alexius Comnenus had asked for military help against the Seljuk Turks, who had recently overrun Anatolia (modern Turkey). What he got was a vast holy war. Not at all what he wanted or expected. It was not only the Turks who paid the price, but Alexius’ own Christian subjects, who were raped, robbed, pillaged, and murdered.

The Jews en route didn’t fare well either; they were slaughtered with wild abandon in the Rhineland, in Mainz, Trier, Metz, Cologne. How this was part of a holy war on Islam, or how it served to recover Jerusalem, perhaps Mr. Santorum can explain.

There was nothing new in all this. Wars were brutal. Any wars. But holy wars added to the brutality. It wasn’t simply a matter of conquering territory or even liberating Jerusalem, but of exterminating all the unbelievers there, or forcibly converting them to Christianity. This the earlier Christian crusaders had done to Europe. Now they would do it to the Middle East. When they captured Jerusalem, they slaughtered every man, woman, and child in the city, Muslims and Jews.

All in the name of their god. It was real Old Testament stuff, “dedicating” a city to God.

None of this was desired by Alexius. He wasn’t fighting a holy war. He was fighting a war to recover his lost real estate, his rich recruiting grounds in Anatolia, the heartland for centuries of the Roman Empire in the East.

In the introduction to a recent book, R. Joseph Hoffmann has provided a list illustrating the long history of monotheistic violence, a list which could be longer, if it were made to extend back to the period prior to 554 or the period between 554 and 1032 while Christians were slaughtering pagan Germans with wild abandon, but it is still illustrative of the scope of monotheistic violence in general and of Christian anti-Semitism specifically:

554, at Clermont, slaughter of Jews and forced baptism of 500

1032, Fez, Muslim troops kill 6,000 Jews in bid to reconquer Spain

1066, Grenada, 4,000 Jews killed

1096, Germany, from Mainz to Speyer, thousands of Jews slaughtered

1099, Christian slaughter of Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem

1148, Christians and Jews in Islamic Spain forced to accept Islam or die

1209, Beziers, Christian forces kill 20,000 Albigensian heretics – fellow Christians – and hundreds of Jews

1236, across France, 3,000 Jews killed in an failed attempt to organize a Crusade

1298, professional “Jew Killers” move across Germany, looting, burning, and killing as many as 4,000 Jews

1328, 5,000 Jews killed in Navarre

1614, Frankfurt, 2,000 Jews killed[1]

Needless to say, and contrary to any arguments Christian apologists might attempt to raise, such things did not happen prior to Christianity’s dominance. Incomplete as it is – and Hoffmann admits that it does not include “the deaths of heretics by the thousands during the Inquisition, or the loss of life in contemporary struggles between Islam and the other monotheistic traditions” – this list is shocking.

The point I am trying to make here is that the Crusades are not an isolated incident. This is not the case of a heretofore peaceful, loving, Christian culture driven to an extreme reaction by Islamic aggression. The crusades are the norm, not the exception, of Christian behavior. And if the Crusades were to be explained as a response to Islamic aggression we could expect them to have taken place in the seventh century or early eighth century, when Islam was actually overrunning all those formerly Christian territories, not two hundred years later. Western Christianity was not under attack, had not been for two centuries.

Rick Santorum is wrong. You do not have to hate Christianity to find the Crusades an appalling episode in history. The Crusades were aggression, they were the latest in a long string of aggression, and when Christendom was done with Islam it turned its attention to Eastern Europe and continued its Crusades there, slaughtering Pagan Lithuanians and Balts. None of this includes twp crusades against other Christians, the sol-called Albigensian heretics in 1209 and against the Roman Empire itself in 1204, essentially destroying the empire and leaving it helpless before it’s Islamic enemies, thus opening the way for an ever greater threat to Christian Europe: the Ottoman Empire.

The problem for Santorum is that he wants more Crusades. He sees American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as Crusaders and again, he is not alone. Bush, after all, labeled the war as a Crusade and American soldiers are engaged in religious activities in Islamic countries, handing out Bibles and proselytizing. But Santorum is wrong. We are not engaged in a holy war against Islam. It’s a stretch to even call it a just war, given Bush’s ulterior motives in attacking Iraq. The truly humorous aspect of this, something which will not remain humorous if Santorum ever finds his way into the White House, is his putting everything down to this:

“They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem.”

This from the latest in a long line of conservative Christians who have hated everything outside Christianity and have spent the better part of twenty centuries trying to eradicate it, are still trying to eradicate it today with their Crusade against secularism. And you don’t hate them, do you Rick?

Somehow, I don’t think Islamic hate is the real problem here. Because when the Jews were trapped in their synagogue in Jerusalem in 1099 and the Crusaders were burning it over their heads, burning those innocent Jewish men, women and children alive while they sang, “Christ, We Adore Thee!, Thee are our light, our direction, our love,” I don’t think anyone inside or out was thinking about Islam hatred of Christian culture.


[1] R. Joseph Hoffmann, ed., The Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006), 7-8. Gerd Lüdemann believes that Christian intolerance and violence may have consumed “at least a million people per century” over the past two millennia. See The Acts Of The Apostles: What Really Happened In The Earliest Days Of The Church (2005:383).

37 responses so far