The Right Coast

May 05, 2005
God wills it (or not)
By Tom Smith

Arguing world history, especially if it bears significantly on the history of the Jews, with Maimon is a job for someone braver than I, or at least better read. I have ordered a couple of books on the Crusades recommended by loyal readers and, assuming I actually read them, I will be far, far better informed than I am now.

Having said all that, I will just express some doubts as to whether it is really all that clear that the Crusades did not contribute to the security of Europe at a time when the Mohameddans, if I may use that quaint term, were doing a credible job of conquering the world. Maimon suggests the Crusades actually weakened Byzantium and made it more vulnerable to the Ottoman Turks. I am not even close to having an informed opinion on this. I am just at the crude level of wondering whether, with an expansive Islam on the march in the 11th century, the establishment of Christian kingdoms in the Near East did not act as an obstacle and distraction to Islamic expansion.

It is interesting that some of the debate might turn on how one defines "Crusades." The old Catholic Encyclopedia wants to define all wars against Muslim "invaders" as Crusades or Crusade-like. Under that definition, the expulsion of the Moors from Spain would count as a Crusade. While sometimes the behavior of the Spanish and French makes one wonder, I think I am glad the Spaniards did that. Though, it may well not have been good for the Jews, what with the Inquisition and all. If you took all European resistance to the expansion of Muslim empire or empires into Europe, or attacks that had that effects, as part of Crusades broadly defined, it's hard for me at least to see how there ever would have been a Europe without such wars. I may well be missing some important dynamic in my simple minded way of looking at it, however. Certainly it would be impossible to justify the Sack of Jerusalem, which stands out as a particularly horrible event, in terms of early medieval geopolitics, except as an exercise in speculation.

I do not think it is fair to compare the Crusades or any of the other religiously-inspired sanguinary episodes in European history to Communism. For one thing, the scale of bloodshed is orders of magnitude different. In a bad month, Stalin killed more people I should think, than in any of the religious wars one has heard of. For another, the Crusaders were not trying to enslave the world to a particularly odious ideology, though this is no doubt what PC historians would have us believe, not just about the Crusades but about the sale of Coca-Cola.

Christianity has its critics, and it would be hard to argue it has done well by the Jews, but at least in my world view, I don't see how everything that is valuable in European civilization could or would have evolved without it. In a world were there were not even organized states as we know them, I am not sure how one would defend a nascent European civilization, except by inspiring a counter religious fanaticism. Yes, this is eggs and omlettes. But it is not as if anyone could draft a secular army and send it to some defensible lines in Turkey somewhere. How this argument would come out depends on historical knowledge I certainly don't have. At present, I am just not convinced that the Crusades, at least broadly defined, did not play a role in defending Europe against Mohammedan invasion. And I am also going to be careful about what I believe from contemporary historians (including Catholic ones) who, for mysterious reasons of their own, are usually on the other side from me on every other issue, such as whether defeating Communism was a good idea.