Sunday, February 15, 2015

The First Victims of the First Crusade

By SUSAN JACOBY, NYT, FEB. 13, 2015

THE first victims of the First Crusade, inspired in 1096 by the supposedly sacred mission of retaking Jerusalem from Muslims, were European Jews. Anyone who considers it religiously and politically transgressive to compare the behavior of medieval Christian soldiers to modern Islamic terrorism might find it enlightening to read this bloody story, as told in both Hebrew and Christian chronicles.

The message from the medieval past is that religious violence seldom limits itself to one target and expands to reach the maximum number of available victims.

Just as the Crusades were integrally linked to Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages, terrorist movements today are immersed in a particular anti-modern interpretation of Islam. This does not imply that a majority of Muslims agree with violent religious ideology. It does mean that the terrorists’ brand of belief plays a critical role in their savage assault on human rights.

Cultural ignoramuses portrayed President Obama’s references to the Crusades and the Inquisition at the recent National Prayer Breakfast as an excuse for Islamic terrorism, but the president’s allusions could and should have been used as an opportunity to reflect on the special damage inflicted in many historical contexts by warriors seeking conquest in the name of their god.

Times were hard in northern Europe when the crusaders began to gather in the spring of 1096. A disappointing harvest in 1095 had brought famine to the poor. As James Carroll observes in “Constantine’s Sword,” there is “no doubt the crusading impulse rescued many serfs, but also landowners, from desperate economic straits.”'

(More here.)

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