Some interesting articles here on the crusades, pro and con as it were.
Debates over the nature of the crusades are some of the most mentally tiring of activities–with the possible exception of listening to crusades scholars debate the origins of the events themselves (cue an excellent and entertaining session on the first day of this past Zoo congress). The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. Firstly, the outrageous claims of those “not down with” the crusades are, by and large, wrong. The crusaders were not “monsters”, incapable of “normal” humanity, and so on. Massacre and brutal warfare was practiced by both sides, and was not a Christian monopoly. Attitudes towards Islam were far more complex than the outraged group portrays as well. Most of the fallacious claims have been exploded by excellent scholarship in the last couple decades. HOWEVER, secondly there is one major problem with the scholarship dedicated to correcting these mistakes, and that is the tendency to emphasize, for reasons unknown to me (but probably having something to do with current politics), the portrayal of the crusades as a series of “defensive” wars. To our own age, this conjures an image of counter-attacking an invading force, or parallels to that scenario. The crusades, in my opinion, were categorically NOT a defensive war, in that sense. To medieval minds, the right of controlling the holy places of one’s faith, as well as foreign powers’ oppressive behavior towards co-religionists, were sufficient conditions for a just war which they might define as “defensive”; but they were waged offensively, towards lands not currently (or even recently) under Christian control. Certainly recovery of lands formerly part of Christendom was a rationale, but it was hardly the only or, I would dare argue, the deciding one. And further, “Christendom” (as in the western part of Europe) was not under any sort of overt threat by 1095; after the Barbastro expedition and the Mahdia campaign, the “strategic” situation in the western and central Mediterranean was at least one of parity, threatening though Muslim military presence might have been at times. The view of “Christendom under threat” also assumes a closer Western affinity with Byzantium than I think can be proved from the sources. So, there are definite weaknesses in the “sympathetic” approach, which need to be borne in mind when reading Stark’s and Madden’s work. On the other hand, Fisk’s reference to “crusader grafitti” is vague, general, and hardly unique to Majorcan Christians. Offensive English grafitti existed concerning the French in the Hundred Years War…
Well, what’s life without some argument and discussion?