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?