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Perry writes: "At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama made a statement that you wouldn't expect to be controversial: violence in the name of religion is a global problem and it's bad."

Conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg, who said the Crusades were a response to Muslim aggression. (photo: LA Times)
Conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg, who said the Crusades were a response to Muslim aggression. (photo: LA Times)

Conservatives Want to Rewrite the History of the Crusades for Modern Political Ends

By David M. Perry, The Guardian

07 February 15


t the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama made a statement that you wouldn’t expect to be controversial: violence in the name of religion is a global problem and it’s bad.

He referenced the war in Syria, the killings in Nigeria, anti-Semitism’s resurgence in Europe and religious violence in India. He admitted that it can be hard to “counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.” Then he offered a longer thought about humility:

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

The subsequent controversy fuelled by right-wing American commentators and politicians has shown that humility is in short supply.

The response was furious. Right-wing radio and TV talking heads aired long rants about Obama’s “attacks on Christianity”. Jonah Goldberg claimed the Crusades were a justified action against Muslim aggression and the Inquisition was a well-intentioned anti-lynching measure. Ross Douhat spent his morning on Twitter defending conservative Catholicism more generally.’s Erick Erickson declared that Barack Obama was not a Christian in “any meaningful way”. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argued that since the medieval Christian threat was over a long time ago, we should just focus on combating radical Islam.

Jindal is wrong. While relatively few contemporary Christians are calling for the crusades these days (although crusader iconography is not uncommon in the US military), it’s a mistake to believe in Christian exceptionalism – the idea that Christianity alone has solved its problems – while other religions are still “medieval”. One of history’s lessons is that any ideology, sacred or secular, that divides the world into ‘us versus them’ can and will be used to justify violence.

But when we talk about the past, we’re often really talking about ourselves. In my scholarship, for instance, I look at the ways in which medieval people developed stories about holy war as a response to contemporary problems – which often had little to do with the Crusades.

This kind of tale-telling happens today as well. Matthew Gabriele, a history professor at Virginia Tech, has written about the dangerous nostalgia for the Crusades by right-wing commentators and politicians. In an email, Gabriele told me, “It stems from an understanding of the past as unchanging, one where Christians have always been at war with Muslims and always will be at war with Muslims. It’s an argument that doesn’t care for historical context and one that relies on a false equivalence — either “they” (Muslims) were worse than “us” (Christians) or “they” (Christians of the past) are not “us” (Christians of the present).”

In other words, either the bad stuff done by long-dead Christians has nothing to do with modern Christianity; or maybe the Crusades weren’t so bad for Muslims and Jews after all.

But the Crusades were pretty bad. Historians debate the precise extent and savagery of the violence, but we generally agree that the intensity of the religiously-motivated brutality was staggering. We argue, for example, whether there really was cannibalism during the First Crusade (probably), and whether blood really flowed up to the combatants’ ankles in the Temple of David in 1099 (probably not). But there’s no question that crusaders were sometimes driven to slaughter non-Christian civilian populations both in Europe and in southwest Asia, all in the name of religion.

Obama’s statements therefor reflect well-accepted historical knowledge. The Inquisition led to the execution of many people guilty – at most – of thought crime. Christianity has been regularly and explicitly used to justify colonization, slavery, cultural destruction and racial discrimination. These are simply undisputed facts, and if they make us uncomfortable, it’s worth thinking about why. Moreover, it’s vital to recognize that abolitionists and pacifists, just like those calling for inter-faith harmony today, have drawn strength from their religious convictions.

Reminding the public about ugly moments in the history of Christianity does not make one anti-Christian. To compare the Jordanian pilot who was burned to death by Isis militants to the public burning of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas does not make one un-American. To acknowledge such comparisons instead gives one the moral authority to call out other acts of violence and atrocity, including those that are justified via religion.

That’s the real message of President Obama’s address at the National Prayer Breakfast. We need humility. We must recognize our fallibility, we must study the past to understand why things happen, and then we must try to do better. History – and not just the one written by the “victors” – is critical for illuminating both our present and our future; how ideologues try to rewrite it reveals the power of the stories we tell about to past to shape the future they hope to construct. your social media marketing partner


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+60 # skeeter 2015-02-07 16:12
"Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support error and roguery all over the earth." Thomas Jefferson 1785
+54 # Ausmar 2015-02-07 16:41
"... crusaders were sometimes driven to slaughter non-Christian civilian populations..." . Not only non-Christian populations, but Christian as well. The sack of Constantinople (the seat of the eastern Christian church) by the Christian hordes of the 4th crusade featured the indiscriminate slaugter of the entire population... And as for burning people alive (not in a cage, but tied to a wooden pole) the Catholic Inquisition had that down to an art...
-71 # skylinefirepest 2015-02-07 23:33
What you boys tend to forget is that the Crusades were a friggin thousand years ago...this was not yesterday this was going on. There is only one primary religion cutting off peoples heads, burning them alive, making women into sex slaves, and making children into bombs today...extremi st Islam, I believe they call it. Does that strike a bell with any of you apologists???
+58 # Ken Halt 2015-02-08 00:09
sfp: While the Crusades happened long ago, the Crusade mentality is still with us, as exemplified by your post. The US, a supposedly Christian (and thus humanitarian) nation, is responsible for more deaths, orders of magnitude more deaths, than ISIS. The US kills with state sponsored terrorism, i.e., illegal "pre-emptive" wars, with mindless drones just because we can, and justifies civilian casualties as "collateral damage". The US responsibility for civilian casualties since 2003 is counted in hundreds of thousands, refugees in the millions, but this is of no concern to you? Have you any idea how labored your ignorant opinion is to the victims of US aggression?
+10 # Akeel1701 2015-02-08 06:59
sfp is just being a cupid stunt - I wouldnae pay him/her/it any more attention
+8 # Akeel1701 2015-02-08 06:56
If you do yer research (and I mean proper research - not reading it from a f-ing FAUX NEWS site or something) ye'll find that none of what you describe is Islamic. Looks like you're the apologist for Western Imperialism....
+26 # cwbystache 2015-02-08 07:36
the bell it strikes is with burning people alive with napalm in Viet Nam.
+10 # Helen Marshall 2015-02-08 12:53
Exactly, cwbystache, has this "pest" ever seen any pictures of Vietnamese children being burned by napalm???
+9 # suzyskier 2015-02-08 13:46
Just because it was a thousand years ago doesn't make it any less true, besides the Inquisition was maybe 400 years ago. Christians have killed millions of Jews just in the past century. I am just saying no one is guilt free. There are always people in the fringe. Don't paint everyone with the same brush.
+4 # Cassandra2012 2015-02-08 14:39
'Hindus' in Ahmedabad (Gujerat where the current PM is from) and in part of the UP in India burnt women and children alive in their houses... not thousands of years ago, but maybe a decade ago, so as to vent their hatred and get their property7....
The Holocaust which killed millions of Jews and Gypsies and others as well was just 70 years ago, ... and then there is Yugoslavia, etc. also with its religion-based atrocities.
+3 # Granny Weatherwax 2015-02-08 15:46
Troll alarm - please don't feed it.
+1 # dsepeczi 2015-02-09 13:51
Quoting skylinefirepest:
What you boys tend to forget is that the Crusades were a friggin thousand years ago...this was not yesterday this was going on. There is only one primary religion cutting off peoples heads, burning them alive, making women into sex slaves, and making children into bombs today...extremist Islam, I believe they call it. Does that strike a bell with any of you apologists???

Really, skylinefirepest ? Is radical Islamists the only ones that cut off people's heads and burn people alive ? When the US decides to use one of our drones to use a missile laced with white phosphorous to bomb a home/market place/wedding because we believe someone we want dead is in there and we decide we're willing to take out the innocents with the guilty in the process, what do you think happens to the victims ? Aren't they separated from their heads, as well ? Aren't they burned beyond recognition ? Is the way we slaughter the innocent women and children that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time more humane because death, presumably, comes quicker ? Or maybe it's more humane because we can't hear their screams over the sound of the blast ? I know those images of them burning a man alive are horrific but, really, we're doing the same thing ... only we're doing it far more often and have far more blood on our hands. To recognize that we're not always right is the basis for negotiations and a path to peace.
+34 # dyannne 2015-02-08 00:18
If one cannot admit to a dark side, he is most likely doomed to play it out unaware he is doing so.
+21 # bubbiesue 2015-02-08 00:24
Jews, always a very small proportion of the world population, were also devastated in Europe by the Crusades and, in Spain especially, by the Inquisition. In fact, Jews were affected disproportionat ely to other populations because in the Dark Ages they were required to live in segregated communities in Europe and easily identified.

There have always been subtle anti-Jewish currents in the U.S., no matter that Jews are today at every level of society from Skid Row to the Supreme Court, and have been here about as long as anybody, coming with the Spanish explorers (yes, the Conquistadors) and later, from Brazil to Manhattan in pre-Revolutiona ry times, just trying to survive.
+34 # Jerome 2015-02-08 03:00
To those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a hellfire missile or napalm or white phosphorus or a seemingly endless number of diabolic weapons - whether or not one is a combatant - there is no difference in their suffering and dying, not different than being burned alive in a Hitler furnace, not different than a tortured by fire lynching, not different than an ISIS caged and not different to their loved ones and community. Somehow we must just stop killing.
+12 # backwards_cinderella 2015-02-08 04:24
The Crusades have never ended.
+13 # Tigre1 2015-02-08 06:06
Dear Cindy: what an insightful comment. Thank you.
I might add that the facts of torture and hatred seem to crop up due to religious rules. Our competing religious creeds have inevitably set us against each other...there will be no end to this until those creeds and their ability to marshal and direct human energies...are extirpated.

Don't hold your breath...
+14 # fredboy 2015-02-08 07:47
The Crusades were an engaged, mass perversion of rape, mass murder, and genocide. Unholy. Anti-Christian.
0 # Dion Giles 2015-02-13 01:18
Indeed the Crusades and the Inquisition were part of a centuries-old war AGAINST Christianity by the Church of Rome which began the moment the tyrant Constantine set it up in the Fourth Century, subsuming in the imperial state the rogue sects that had co-operated in return for derivative secular power not significantly different from (though more grandiliquent than) the power of the Vichy regime in wartime France. Most of the tens of thousands of martyrs to the Church of Rome were Christians put to death as "heretics" for such "offences" as seeking commoner access to the Bible in their own languages.
+12 # hectormaria 2015-02-08 08:37
To Conservatives (paraphrasing a Spanish saying and Gore): The most severely blind person is the who does not want to see...inconveni ent truths.
+11 # shraeve 2015-02-08 10:26
You people have tragically short memories. President G.W. Bush called his Iraq war a crusade. After the USA conquered Iraq but before the whole thing fell apart, there was open discussion among US Xians about going over there and converting Muslims to Xianity.
-23 # WaaDoo 2015-02-08 10:38
When the President is able to use the term "Islamic Terrorsim"..... THEN he has the moral right to use the Christian Crusades issues. The two are very different, but he uses only one of the terms
+4 # skeeter 2015-02-08 23:27
Quoting WaaDoo:
When the President is able to use the term "Islamic Terrorsim".....THEN he has the moral right to use the Christian Crusades issues. The two are very different, but he uses only one of the terms

Has it ever occurred to you that calling them simply "terrorists" instead of "Islamic Terrorists" serves to separate and isolate them from the Islamic population at large? Fighting terrorism is not only about killing people...there is also a huge propaganda component. For instance...woul dn't it have been a better strategy to refer to the 9-11 terrorists as "criminals" instead of elevating their status by calling them Jihadists, Islamic Terrorists etc., essentially giving them political and religious cover for what they do and putting them on par with the largest most capable military on Earth? Words matter. Call them criminals,treat them like criminals not warriors... hunt them down like criminals...and most important of need to start a war in the Middle East that will result in the deaths of countless tens of thousands and destabilize the region for decades to come.
-1 # skylinefirepest 2015-02-09 22:38
I guess it hasn't occurred to you, like obumma, that they are not simply ey are ISLAMIC TERRORISTS and should be announced and treated as such.
+2 # rradiof 2015-02-08 12:12
Siege of Jerusalem,637 A.D. Look it up. Over and out. P.S. A lot of faux Brian Williams ahistoric types on this site. Liars lie. It's what they do.
+4 # angelfish 2015-02-08 13:28
It was what it WAS, just as it is what it IS today. Why there is any argument over FACT is ludicrous and dishonest, to say the least. The thing that I find most alarming is, that after ALL this time, we have learned NOTHING! It's sad to realize that, for the most part, the majority of us have NOT crawled out of the Swamp and attained the humanity that is SO needed to repair this sorry Planet. Too many would rather be RIGHT than achieve it. SO sad, and in the end, deadly for everyone.
-7 # corals33 2015-02-08 13:48
The world is entering a final phase of the industrialized mind-set. Religion as practiced today has to be phased out and replaced with the religion of the technocrats. The eastern realm will be made to mirror the cynicism of the west in regard to religious belief while being attuned to the need for micro-chips instead of prayers to the unknowable. President Obama is only another minister preparing his congregation for the new awakening.
+2 # Trish42 2015-02-08 14:52
+5 # Trish42 2015-02-08 14:58
All traditional, exclusionary religions have been responsible for evil in the world. I will concede that Muslim extremists seem to be behind Christians in barbaric acts. Western Christianity has evolved a bit more, but all religions continue to be used to justify horrible behaviors. Who was it who said that evil men will always do evil things, but it takes religion to make people do it cheerfully....
0 # PABLO DIABLO 2015-02-10 19:29
More people have died in the "name" of Christ than Hitler killed.

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