There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the Crusades, usually portraying Muslims as the innocent victims. Check out this little history refresher…
Thomas F. Madden, medieval historian and expert on the Crusades, believes that the world could use a refresher course, starting with the undeniable facts:
Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins.
Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years. With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful.
Muslims had already conquered all of North Africa and Spain by the eighth century, and in the eleventh century, Asia Minor was overtaken as well. Christian culture was being dissolved, and Christians were forced to leave behind their faith and convert or die. At this point, the emperor in Constantinople called for help from fellow Christians in western Europe, thus, giving birth to the Crusades.
It is often assumed that the central goal of the Crusades was forced conversion of the Muslim world. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the perspective of medieval Christians, Muslims were the enemies of Christ and his Church. It was the Crusaders’ task to defeat and defend against them. That was all. Muslims who lived in Crusader-won territories were generally allowed to retain their property and livelihood, and always their religion. It was not until the 13th century that the Franciscans began conversion efforts among Muslims. But these were mostly unsuccessful and finally abandoned. In any case, such efforts were by peaceful persuasion, not the threat of violence.
As in all wars, religious or political, there were mishaps and crimes, but plundering and senseless slaughter of civilians were a rarity. Still, these condemnable war crimes seem to be the only part of the Crusades that people remember. However, these acts were strongly condemned and punished by the Church.
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