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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
History Channel takes grand
look at pivotal Crusades
The Crusades lasted close to 200 years and constituted one of the
pivotal events in world history. To most Americans, they might as well
be a fable like "The Lord of the Rings," but not nearly as well known.
No surprise here. Muslims pinched off the last pitiful vestige of
Crusader occupation in 1291, two centuries before Columbus sailed the
ocean blue. The Crusades mean nothing to American history, whatever they
may mean to the American future.
|The Crusades lasted close
to 200 years and constituted one of the pivotal events in world
But the Crusades are discussed in Middle East cafes as if they happened
last week, says historian/novelist Tariq Ali, one of many scholars and
historians who describe events in The History Channel documentary "The
Crusades: Crescent & the Cross."
"Crusades" is a two-part, four-hour program. Part I ends in July 1099
with the Catholic capture of Jerusalem, only three years after some
60,000 French, German and Italian crusaders set out to capture the
cradle of Christendom. But the first crusade affected events for the
next two centuries.
It began in duplicity, yet always had a streak of idealism. Each side
believed ardently that it was serving God and that absolutely anything
it did to the enemy worked to his glory. In 1095, Pope Urban II devised
a "Wag the Dog" scheme to consolidate long-dissipated church power,
unite Europe's scores of tiny warring kingdoms and send the most
bellicose knights on a mission that could use their reflexive fury.
Urban's immediate excuse for the Crusades was a plea for help from
Alexius, emperor of Constantinople who feared that his weakening kingdom
might fall to the ever-strengthening Muslims, who had occupied Jerusalem
for 400 years. But Alexius had asked for only a battalion of elite
knights, not four divisions of infantry and cavalry. Jerusalem made holy
war possible. Jesus and Mohammed had died there.
Urban was a charismatic leader who used his peculiar powers to
promulgate one of the most bracing recruiting programs ever uttered. As
pope, he guaranteed salvation to all participants. They could not be
damned, no matter what dreadful things they would do to infidels. And
they were encouraged to enrich themselves as thoroughly as possible.
Urban defined an infidel as any non-Catholic, which caused the Crusades
to start before anyone left town. Surprised European Jews were
slaughtered by the thousands and their properties looted.
The concentration of "Crusades" on the first five years emphasizes the
Europeans' only real success in 200 years, the capture of Jerusalem. In
the process they slaughtered some 30,000 inhabitants -- men, women,
children, Muslim, Jew and Christian. That event, among many other
atrocities, gave the word "crusade" the same implication to Muslims then
and now that the word "Holocaust" now has.
Fate played an elaborate joke on the crusaders. The first crusade seemed
to be God's gift to the Catholics. Along with some skilled leaders, they
got some incredibly lucky breaks, even though only some 13,000 survived
to take Jerusalem. European luck began to run out, but gradually over an
often cruel occupation. Not until 1187 did Muslims recapture Jerusalem,
inspiring the last two ill-fated crusades.