The Crusades and Historical Ignorance
The above video is a salute to Rick Santorum, former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, for understanding the essential nature of the Crusades as a defensive reaction to Islamic aggression. In the video below we have a rather mindless reaction to the same quote from a talking head from the liberal group Young Turks, who, judging from his comments, gained his knowledge of the Crusades from the laughably ahistorical crusader bashing flick Kingdom of Heaven (2005).
Ignorance of the depth displayed in the video above is always to be lamented, and is not unusual, as noted by Dr. Thomas Madden, one of the foremost of the scholars of the Crusades, who, over the past 40 years, have revolutionized our knowledge and understanding of that epoch:
The crusades are quite possibly the most misunderstood event in European history. Ask a random American about them and you are likely to see a face wrinkle in disgust, or just the blank stare that is usually evoked by events older than six weeks. After all, weren’t the crusaders just a bunch of religious nuts carrying fire and sword to the land of the Prince of Peace? Weren’t they cynical imperialists seeking to carve out colonies for themselves in faraway lands with the blessings of the Catholic Church? A couch potato watching the BBC/A&E documentary on the crusades (hosted by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame no less) would learn in roughly four hours of frivolous tsk-tsk-ing that the peaceful Muslim world actually learned to be warlike from the barbaric western crusaders. No wonder, then, that Pope John Paul II was excoriated for his refusal to apologize for the crusades in 1999. No wonder that a year ago Wheaton College in Illinois dropped their Crusader mascot of 70 years. No wonder that hundreds of Americans and Europeans recently marched across Europe and the Middle East begging forgiveness for the crusades from any Muslim or Jew who would listen. No wonder.
Jonah Goldberg, in his just released book Tyranny of Cliches, demonstrates that he is aware of the current scholarship on the Crusades:
The great irony is that the zealot-reformers who want to return to a “pure” Islam have been irredeemably corrupted by Western ideas. Osama bin Laden had the idea that he was fighting the “new crusaders.” When George W. Bush once, inadvertently, used the word “crusade,” jihadists and liberal intellectuals alike erupted with rage. It was either a damning slip of the tongue whereby Bush accidentally admitted his real crusader agenda, or it was a sign of his stunning ignorance about the Crusades. Doesn’t he know what a sensitive issue the Crusades are? Doesn’t he know that the Crusades belong alongside the slaughter of the Indians, slavery, and disco in the long line of Western sins?
After all, it’s been in the papers for a while. In 1999, Muslim leaders demanded that Pope John Paul II apologize for the Crusades. “He has asked forgiveness from the Jews [for the Church’s passivity in the face of the Holocaust], so he should ask forgiveness from the Muslims,” Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, told the New York Times.3 Across the country sports teams have been dropping their crusader mascots because they’re offensive to . . . someone. Wheaton College changed their seventy-year-old team name from the Crusaders to the Thunder (no word from Thor worshippers yet as to whether they are off ended). Even Campus Crusade for Christ opted to change its name to Cru partly because the word crusade has become too radioactive. “It’s become a flash word for a lot of people. It harkens back to other periods of time and has a negative connotation for lots of people across the world, especially in the Middle East,” Steve Sellers, the organization’s vice president told Christianity Today. “In the ’50s, crusade was the evangelistic term in the United States. Over time, different words take on different meanings to different groups.”4
I’ll say. Until fairly recently, historically speaking, Muslims used to brag about being the winners of the Crusades, not the victims of it. That is if they talked about them at all. “The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad—a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war,” writes Bernard Lewis, the greatest living historian of Islam in the English language (and perhaps any language).5 Historian Thomas Madden puts it more directly, “Now put this down in your notebook, because it will be on the test: The crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world.”6
Go here to Big Government to read the brilliant rest. One of the major problems with our political discourse in this country today is the extent to which our failing educational system, alloyed with usually intellectually incurious, and frequently heavily politically indoctrinated, elites, have produced broad swaths of people who hold degrees from colleges and universities, but who are bone ignorant on a vast array of fairly basic topics, especially in regard to History. Ignorance is often disastrous, but in regard to History, the sum total of the experiences of Man on this globe, especially so. Final word to Dr. Madden:
The problem dates back to the 1960s, when core-curriculum/general-education requirements at many schools were loosened up to make way for more freedom, which ultimately meant more courses in the major. After all, if someone comes to college to study engineering, why should he or she have to study the Hittites? I have listened to my share of parents outraged that their pre-med child is failing my history course. Why, they ask, does a doctor (or engineer, or lawyer, or journalist, or whatever) need to know history? It has no bearing on their lives at all and simply gets in the way of courses that do matter.
Sadly, too many colleges and universities have come to agree with those parents. The end result is a history-education vacuum in America. We have become a society with no long-term memory. We keep discovering anew what we have encountered many times before. For too many Americans, the lessons of the past are restricted to the tiny portion of it with which they have personal experience.