Four Missionaries of Charity Martyred in Yemen

This is awful. These four Missionaries of Charity, members of the order founded by Mother Teresa, were murdered along with the people they were caring for by members of an Islamic terrorist group in Yemen. As the vicar for Southern Arabia says, they were murdered in hatred of the faith, which makes them martyrs. A priest at the facility was taken by the terrorists.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Through the intercession of Blessed Mother Teresa, may they fly to the bosom of the Lord in heaven.

Islamic State, Daesh or Isis: the dilemma of naming the militants

Islamic State, Daesh or Isis: the dilemma of naming the militants:

“The dilemma of what to call Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s terrorist group has been troubling politicians and the media since the militants began their advance across Iraq and Syria.”

The group is battling to hold on to a territory equivalent to the size of the UK, but as Jonah Blank, a former staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tells NPR, they are also waging a “propaganda war”, of which their name plays a crucial part.

While this may not be the most vital concern at this time, it’s something to think about. I’d like to start calling them Dash, just because they don’t like it.

Church in Iraq Protests Law That Would Force Children to Become Muslims

Church in Iraq Protests Law That Would Force Children to Become Muslims |

“Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad said that the legislation, part of a new national identity card law approved by the Iraqi parliament on Oct. 27, would ‘oblige children under 18 to automatically embrace the Muslim religion,’ even if only one parent decides to convert to Islam.”

Book Review: The Glory of the Crusades

The Glory of the CrusadesFrom the time I was a child, I had a passing interest in the Crusades as part of that exciting time of knights and chivalry known as the Middle Ages. They showed up, sometimes tangentially, in many of the books I read, including Robin Hood and Ivanhoe and others. Later, I read about them in connection with current events involving the Middle East and Islamic terrorism. And of course, I absorbed the prevailing narratives about the Crusades that cruel hypocritical Christians slaughtered peaceful Muslims in the Holy Land (not to mention Byzantine Christians as well) in the name of Christ and conquest.

I didn’t really begin to seriously challenge those narratives until I read Hilaire Belloc’s The Crusades, written in the beginning of the 20th century, long before the rise of post-WWII radical Islam and yet prophetic about that future. Belloc’s book was good, but is based on century-old scholarship and really only covers the First Crusade, essentially ignoring those of the next six centuries or so (depending on how you count the Crusades). I looked at other histories of the Crusades as well, but all of them approached the subject from an essentially neutral secular academic outlook.

The new book, The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf, on the other hand, provides a look at the complete history of the Crusades, combining the latest scholarship with a distinctively Catholic viewpoint that explains the phenomenon frankly, but without the a priori hostility so often found in popular treatment of the Crusades.

He begins by addressing the common myths about the Crusades right up front. Noting that the currently accepted narrative about the Crusades accepted in the English-speaking world comes from a Protestant perspective followed by anti-religion Enlightenment philosophy, which was built upon by an anti-colonialist ideology in the 20th century and the current apologetic in the face of Islamic extremism, Weidenkopf outlines the seven myths to be debunked:

  1. The Crusades were wars of unprovoked aggression.
  2. The Crusaders were motivated primarily by greed and the prospect for plunder and riches.
  3. When Jerusalem was liberated in 1099, the Crusaders killed all the inhabitants of the city—so much blood was spilled that it ran ankle deep.
  4. The Crusades were colonial enterprises.
  5. The Crusades were also wars against the Jews and should be seen as the first Holocaust.
  6. The Crusades were wars of conversion.
  7. The Crusades are the source of the modern tension between Islam and the West.

His responses were good and among other things, emphasized the reality that Christians had a different way of thinking about violence in the defense of the Christian faith than they do today, and in fact the word “crusade” is a distinctly modern appellation, whereas those who actually engaged in the practice saw it as an armed pilgrimage. Weidenkopf notes that “it was the teaching of the Church for nearly 700 years that men had a moral obligation to take the cross in order to liberate and defend Christian territory.” Modern approaches to the crusades, even from orthodox Catholics, seem to have difficulty with the idea that the crusaders would have primarily religious reasons for going on crusade, as opposed to primarily mercenary or bloodthirsty impetuses.

In fact, it was the rise of a militaristic Islam bent on conquest that provoked the response of the crusades and specifically it was the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Calpih al-Hakim in 1009 and the persecution of Christians in the Holy Land. This prompted Pope Urban to call for the the First Crusade in 1095, an action that would change the world.

Weidenkopf takes us through each of the crusades–although the definition of crusade got looser over the centuries, Weidenkopf sticks mainly with the various confrontations with Islam–and details both the successes and failures. He doesn’t shrink from the abuses perpetrated by crusaders, but he delves into the hows and whys, dismissing the overly simplistic tales of horror and revealing the truth of the various actions and motivations on both sides.

I was struck time and again how often it was one decision, one bad move, that would doom a crusade and set back the cause. I also learned some new things myself, including the fact that the famed Saladin was never considered a great warrior by his own people, but it was Christians who elevated his legend, even to the point of naming their children after him! It was only after the rise of Islamic extremism in the 20th century that Saladin became a legend in the Middle East, and specifically it was Saddam Hussein who styled himself a new Saladin, both of them coming from the same town in Iraq.

I also enjoyed the exposition about both King Richard the Lionhearted–an English folk hero who, it turns out, was born in France, spoke mainly French, and spent little of his life in England–and King St. Louis IX, the example par excellence of a Catholic king who was said to be the “perfect crusader” and about whom it was said the 13th century was his century more than any other of his contemporaries.

So what about that word “glory”? Are the crusades glorious or are they something of which we should be ashamed? Weidenkopf writes that he uses the word in the same sense as the Hebrew word for glory used in the Old Testament kabod, which means “heavy in weight.” Thus to write of the glory of the crusades is write of their importance to history.

To recognize the glory of the Crusades means not to whitewash what was ignoble about them, but to call due attention to their import in the life of the Church.

Given the many ways the memory of the crusaders has been used and abused in both popular culture and in violent ideologies, we owe it to ourselves to understand the truth of them.

But the time has arrived to change this narrative and present to the modern world the authentic story of the Crusades. For that to occur, Catholics must first learn for themselves the authentic story of the movement that was an integral part of the Church’s history for six centuries. Too many see the Crusades as an aberration in Church history, a sin that should be forgotten and never discussed, swept into the dustbin of history along with equally misunderstood historical cases such as the Inquisition, Galileo, and Pius XII and the Jews. For many Catholics, “the wars of the cross have become like a lingering bad smell in a lavishly refurbished stately home.” The Crusades were an inherently Catholic undertaking. They were promoted by the papacy, encouraged by the clergy, and fought by Catholic warriors. An authentic understanding of the Crusades, rooted in a contemporary perspective, is best achieved by those who believe today what the Crusaders believed. Catholics are uniquely positioned to understand the glory of the Crusades, and to help those outside the Church begin to see it.

Weidenkopf’s The Glory of the Crusades is a good place to start.

The Ground Zero Mosque invokes Cordoba


There’s been a lot of talk about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, the Islamic cultural and religious center that is being planned for a location several blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center in Manhattan. On the one hand, opponents say that the plan is a finger in the eye of America, an effort by Islamic radicals to compound the wound of 9/11 with a massive triumphal landmark. Supporters of the plan say that this is simply a matter of religious freedom, that America is the type of country that will not discriminate against anyone’s religion, even if the co-religionists of the mosque planners were the perpetrators of one of the worst crimes on American soil. And there’s another type of critic who seems mainly to be opposed to the opponents of the mosque, demonizing them as being primarily motivated by hatred and ignorance. I have no time for the latter group because it based on the politics of demagoguery and not reason.

I sympathize with the desire to give the mosque planners the benefit of the doubt. We are indeed a nation that values religious freedom as well as the principle that we don’t tar the innocent with the crimes of the guilty. And yet, I think I sympathize more with the opponents of the mosque.

The fact is that this is not just a mosque, a neighborhood worship space for Muslims to gather in prayer. No, this is a massive $100 million complex that is planned to include theaters, auditoriums, pools, fitness centers, classrooms, restaurants, and a prayer space that can accommodate 1,000-2,000 people. (I say “planned” advisedly since it has become readily apparent that this project exists primarily in the minds of its originators. It turns out they haven’t raised the money and aren’t even close and don’t even have an architect yet. This thing may never get built.)

Size alone is not enough for me to criticize the mosque plan. It’s when I learned of the name originally planned for the building that I got really suspicious: Cordoba House. (They’ve since changed the name to the innocuous sounding Park51 after the controversy erupted.)

The Great Mosque of Córdoba

So what’s the big deal with Cordoba House? You have to know the historical context of Córdoba, Spain. From 711 to 1236, Córdoba was ruled by Muslims who had invaded Spain from North Africa. From 766 to 1031, it was the capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba, which ruled all of the Iberian peninsula and parts of North Africa. The name of the city invokes the al-Andalus, the most successful invasion of Christian Europe by Muslim armies. And the city of Córdoba was the location of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, a massive building which was considered the greatest work of al-Andalus and the symbol of the Muslim foothold in Europe, which they had seen as the first step in the inevitable conquering of Christendom by Islam.

And now we have this new Cordoba House, a massive symbol of the presence of Islamic culture and religion in New York City, a few blocks from Ground Zero itself. (Some supporters of the plan say that the mosque isn’t next to Ground Zero, but is blocks away. Well, it’s certainly close enough that the actual building they plan to purchase was itself damaged in the 9/11 attacks, thus it’s close enough.)

The original name of the project indicates to me what the true motives are. Now, the people behind the project, a group known as the Cordoba Initiative, have claimed that they use the name to indicate “the desire to bring back the atmosphere of, ‘interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.’” You have to have a particularly tortured view of history to call the period of subjugation to Islamic rule a period of interfaith tolerance and respect. In fact, it was a system in which a conquered people were allowed to practice their faith within strict limits and with fewer rights than Muslim citizens. This is the model that the Cordoba Initiative hails as their vision for their new Islamic center. No thanks.

An analog to 19th-century anti-Catholicism?

Going back to the those who demonize opponents of the mosque as being primarily motivated by hatred and ignorance, a particularly odious example is provided by a Catholic News Service story that compares the mosque controversy to anti-Catholicism in the 19th century. The story claims that the motivation is the same: distrust of foreigners who practice a different religion.

At its core, the mosque furor is not unlike what Catholics experienced in the United States for more than 100 years, according to Georgetown University theology professor Chester Gillis. […] While there are a wide range of political, philosophical and even zoning arguments about the Islamic center plans, Gillis sees anti-Muslim sentiment — based in misconceptions and xenophobia — at the core of the debate.

“The neophytes in society are always on the outside,” Gillis said. “With Catholics, people feared they would have loyalty to a foreign power, the Holy See.” With Muslims, he added, people fear a possible connection to an Islamic government or to a terrorist organization.

That is a red herring. The big difference is that there were no radical Catholics who, in the name of their religion, carried out terrorist attacks on Americans here and abroad. Nor were radical Catholics, sponsored by Catholic countries, publicly carrying out a multi-decade war on America and all she stands for.

Gillis noted that the “No Irish Need Apply” signs common in Massachusetts early in the 19th century were rooted in fears over how American society might be changed by immigrants, but particularly by their Catholic faith and culture.

The fear of Catholics extended beyond the refusal to hire Irish immigrants.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes mobs descending upon a cathedral in Cincinnati in 1853, on churches in New Jersey, New York, Maine and New Hampshire the following year. It tells of a Maine priest who was dragged from his church, robbed, tarred and feathered; of Ohio churches being blown up and convents burned in Massachusetts and Texas.

Can anyone cite one instance of a mob descending on an Islamic mosque anywhere in the US. Has there been a single imam dragged from his mosque, robbed, tarred, and feathered, or the modern equivalent. In fact, it seems to me that Americans have gone out of their way to show to their Muslim neighbors that they don’t hold them collectively responsible for the acts of 9/11. But when confronted with what seems an obvious attempt to link Islamic triumphalism and the aim to establish the worldwide caliphate, it’s understandable there would be (civil) opposition. The refusal to rent space or sell a building formerly used for Catholic worship to be used for Islamic worship is certainly not in the same league as burning down buildings and committing violent acts against persons. And the implication otherwise is offensive.

In the end, it may not matter much what the motivation is behind Park51, née Cordoba House, because it looks like it may never get built.

The Cordoba Initiative hasn’t yet begun fundraising for its $100 million goal. The group’s latest fundraising report with the state attorney general’s office, from 2008, shows exactly $18,255 — not enough even for a down payment on the half of the site the group has yet to purchase.

The group also lacks even the most basic real estate essentials: no blueprint, architect, lobbyist or engineer — and now operates amid crushing negative publicity.

Whether it’s built or not, the issues raised — and the fault lines in America’s debate over our often difficult relationship with Islam — will be debated long after this particular story fades from the front page.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas F. Madden’s New Concise History of the Crusades

I’ve just finished reading Thomas F. Madden’s “The New Concise History of the Crusades”, a popular history of the Crusades written from the point of view of the new crop of crusade scholars trying to debunk the common misconceptions of the Crusades concocted since the late eighteenth century.

This is not a whitewash of the Crusades, but a well-researched and explained look at the successes, failures, and motivations of the Crusades from the intensely devotional to the mundane, being sure to examine the crusaders and their foes in the context of the times and culture they lived, not holding them to the standards of today or of our culture.

The book was updated after 9/11 to place the Crusades within the geopolitical context of today. The last chapter examines how the Crusades have been perceived since the seventeenth century and very relevantly among the Muslim people of today. You might be surprised (but then again you might not) that what you’ve been told in the media about Muslims nursing grudges against the West for the crusades for the past seven centuries is a lot of bunk. In his penultimate chapter, Madden concludes:

It is not the crusades, then, that led to the attacks of September 11, but the artificial memory of the crusades constructed by modern colonial powers and passed down by Arab nationalists. They stripped the medieval expeditions of every aspect of their age and dressed them up instead in the tattered rags of nineteenth-century imperialism. As such, they have become an icon for modern agendas that medieval Christians and Muslims could scarcely have understood, let alone condoned.

What could have been

The history of the Crusades fills me with sorrow because of the sorrow they wrought for all of Christendom. Along with many other failings during the Middle Ages—the political intrigues and ecclesiastical heterodoxy and more—the Crusades sapped the attention and resources of Europe as well as the prominence and esteem for the papacy and led to the Protestant Reformation as well as the so-called Enlightenment, which ended in the rejection of so much popular faith and devotion in the name of secularism.

Madden claims convincingly that Protestantism owes its existence to the threat of the Muslim armies of the Ottoman Turks:

The Protestants and the Turks had a mutually beneficial, although unintentional, relationship. The Turkish threat distracted the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor long enough for Luther to nurture his movement and secure his position. Because of his wars with the Turks and their allies, Charles V was unable to remove Protestants from his northern domains. As Kenneth Setton has noted, “without them [the Turks], Protestantism might conceivably have gone the way of Albigensianism.”

And yet if they had been successful in capturing the Holy Lands and beating back the armies that would have followed, including the Mongols and the various Turks and Tamerlane’s forces and what have you, would we be better off?