Islamic Crusades: An Introduction
On November 7, 2001, less than two months after the 9/11 attacks, former President Bill Clinton addressed our new state of affairs with a high-profile speech at Georgetown University. In addressing the root causes of the conflict, he said the following:
“Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless. Indeed, in the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple mound. The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple mound, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees. I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it.”
This statement, along with many others that point to past Western sins to excuse modern-day anti-Western atrocities, are conventional wisdom for the Left. Similar thoughts have been repeated on college campuses, media outlets, workplaces, bars, throughout public discourse. Yet to anyone with a solid grasp of history, this statement is absurd and non sequitur. Not because the event is described inaccurately – though the president should have realized that the “up to our knees in blood” line was a common medieval exaggeration – but because the conclusions drawn are spurious.
First, Clinton points out that Jews as well as Muslims were victims in the Siege of Jerusalem. Indeed, European Jews were also victims; as religious fervor swept the continent, some restless Christians without the means to march to the Holy Land took out their aggression on local non-believers. The Western Latin Christian crusaders also fought with the Eastern Orthodox Christians who lay between them and the Muslim Middle East, climaxing in the Crusader sack of Constantinople in 1204. Western Christians even committed atrocities against each other, as they fought over rights to newly conquered lands and jockeyed for influence back home. If we follow the Left’s warped logic, all of these groups would have legitimate grievances against the West for the crusades, and all would have been justified in carrying out a 9/11-style attack in 2001. Yet it was only the Muslims who saw fit to carry out such an act, and I can’t help but think that Clinton would have been less sympathetic if a group of Jews or Orthodox Christians had murdered 3,000 people on that day.
Second, the chain of responsibility makes no sense. As we know, the United States of America did not exist during the Crusades; Columbus would not even land in the New World for another 300 years; and so Clinton references our European lineages as proof of our guilt. Yet 1/3 of American citizens are not of European descent. Of the 2/3 that did come from Europe, many are not Western Christians, and many more came from nations that did not take part in the Crusades or only participated peripherally. The United Kingdom, our founding colonial power, and the source of many of our laws, traditions, and early citizens, was one of these peripheral nations. Indeed, most crusaders were from France, which is why the Muslims at the time referred to all Crusaders simply as “Franks”. And France sticks out as the only large European nation that never sent great numbers of immigrants to America.
I hope this brief explanation has illustrated to you why I refer to the statements of Clinton as absurd, but my aim here is not merely to debunk the Crusades. My aim is to diminish the Western world’s self-destructive obsession with the perceived sins of our past interactions with the Muslim world; whether it’s the Crusades, the legacy of European colonialism, tensions over oil resources, or the existence of Israel. These flashpoints, while they are legitimate subjects for debate and reflection, have been taken out of context, scandalized, and fashioned into a weapon that threatens to destabilize Western society as a whole.
The liberal establishment highlights selected Western sins, and wraps a layer of current events around them to further their political goals. In this series, I will highlight what I believe are the far more horrific episodes in Islamic history that are neglected, marginalized or simply ignored by the media and academic establishment. I will explore the history of Islamic imperialism, Islamic colonialism, Islamic genocide and Islamic crusades; and believe me there is plenty of material to work with.
For those who already see America and the West as positive forces in our world, I hope this will provide you ammunition for arguments with liberal friends. I hope it helps you continue the conversation, when they try to blunt it by citing the wrongs of the Crusades or colonialism to excuse any and all Muslim actions in the present. My purpose here is to put the Crusades in context; as a brutal religiously-inspired conquest of land, yes, but just one among many, most of which were committed in the name of Mohammed rather than Jesus.
For those on the left who bother to hear me out, I hope you treat my testimony about the victims of the Islamic violence with the same seriousness that you treat the stories of Western exploitation that you are so quick to catalog. I believe in the course of this series you will come to understand, as I did, that your apologetics for Islam work directly against the values you claim to promote. That whatever sins the West has committed, the Islamic world has committed them more often and more severely, and that you who strive to tear the edifices of your own civilization down have been allowed to thrive in the West, while your counterparts in the Muslim world are executed, imprisoned, or intimidated into a deep silence.
And so it is in this spirit, that I ask you all to join me in an exploration of what I call, the Islamic Crusades. I promise you at the very least that it won’t be boring. And I suspect that all of us, myself included, will learn something in the process. Let’s begin.
Islamic Crusades 1: The Occupation of Constantinople
Welcome to Islamic Crusades, Episode 1: The Occupation of Constantinople. In the introduction to this series, I quoted Bill Clinton’s 2001 address in which he cited the Crusades as a root cause for the 9/11 attacks, and specifically singled out the sack of Jerusalem in 1099 as an example of Western brutality that still poisons our relations with the Muslim world today. In this video I will tell the story of the merciless siege, destruction and exploitation of a great Christian city. The atrocities were at least as horrific as those in Jerusalem; men, women and children were massacred, the city was burned and looted, and ancient Christian churches were destroyed or converted into Mosques. It not only marked the fall of a city, but the death of a culture, and the end of a 1,100 year old empire. This terrible event occurred in 1453 AD, 354 years closer to our own time than the siege of Jerusalem; yet it is not used by Christians to justify violence, it is not cited as motivation for Christian suicide bombers to kill civilians, in fact you would be hard-pressed to find it mentioned anywhere in the public discourse. Here’s the story:
By the 4th century AD the Roman Empire, in steep decline, was divided in two. A Western Latin-speaking half governed from Rome, and an Eastern Greek-speaking half ruled from its purpose-built capital city of Constantinople, completed in 330AD. As the West went through its death-throes, buckling under barbarian invasions over the next few centuries, the East managed to preserve itself and thrive, and would continue for another thousand years as the sole remaining repository of Roman civilization. The Emperor Constantine I, a convert, legalized Christianity in the Empire, a revolutionary act which laid the very foundations of Christendom. For reasons of clarity, historians refer to this long-lived Christian incarnation of the Eastern Roman Empire as The Byzantine Empire.
The capital, Constantinople, was built at the strategic meeting point of East and West, of Europe and Asia, of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Its heart was known as the Golden Horn, featuring an ideal natural harbor and a commanding overlook of the strategic Bosporus Straits. Great basilicas and churches were constructed, as well as a forum, and a hippodrome that could hold 80,000 people. The pinnacle of the great city was the Hagia Sophia, or Church of Holy Wisdom. Completed in 537 AD by the Emperor Justinian, it stood as the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a millennium. Its central dome was 182 feet high and 102 feet in diameter, and it was filled with stunning mosaics, architectural wonders from across the empire, and holy relics including a 50 foot tall silver icon.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Constantinople was the largest and richest city in Europe, dwarfing Rome, Paris and London. It was the prime hub of a trading network that stretched across Eurasia. It preserved libraries full of invaluable ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts, when instability and disorder caused the mass destruction of this valuable knowledge elsewhere.
Byzantine security relied on pacifying an assortment of barbarian tribes to the West, and keeping the sophisticated Persian Empire at bay to the East. The Byzantines and Persians warred continuously for a century, battling for control of Armenia, the Fertile Crescent and the Holy Land. When the determined and zealous Islamic juggernaut burst out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century, both empires were too weak to mount a proper defense. Christian Syria fell to the Muslims in 637, Christian Armenia and Egypt in 639, and North Africa in 652. By 661 the Byzantines had lost all their holdings in the greater Middle East, and nearly half of their core territory of Anatolia. In 674 the Arabs laid siege to Constantinople itself, but were thwarted by a harsh winter and their inability to breach the famous Theodosian Walls. They tried again in 717. This time they were defeated at sea by the Byzantine fleet, with a revolutionary naval weapon known as Greek Fire. This 2nd victory delayed the Muslim crusaders for nearly 700 years.
The Byzantine Empire acted as a firewall for that period, preventing a major Islamic incursion into a Europe that was both fragile and fragmented. Those seven centuries however, saw a slow and steady decline of Byzantine power.
The Arab threat had been replaced by a newly Islamized horde of Turkish nomads from the steppe. A new breed of horseback warrior, known as the Ghazis, endlessly harassed the Byzantine frontiers. They sustained a continuous series of raids into the empire, plundering valuable resources and slowly chipping away at Byzantine territory. Several of these Ghazi tribes united under Osman I, and created the Ottoman Empire. By the mid-15th century the Ottomans controlled most of Anatolia, and had crossed the Dardanelles to seize a sizeable beachhead of territory on the European side. They had bypassed the city of Constantinople, which was now confined to a small pocket, surrounded on all sides, slowly squeezed and choked. It was a ripe, vulnerable prize for the Islamic conquerors.
In 1453, the Mediterranean, Europe, Christendom, and the world, changed forever. The Ottomans under Sultan Mehmed II amassed 100,000 troops outside of Constantinople, including 20,000 Janissaries, an elite guard made up of Christian slaves.
They bombarded the city for 40 days, and finally breached the ancient walls on Tuesday May 29th of 1453, a date which the Greek world considers unlucky to this day. The following is a contemporary account of the destruction:
“Bands of soldiers began now looting. Doors were broken, private homes were looted, their tenants were massacred. Shops in the city markets were looted. Monasteries and Convents were broken in. Their tenants were killed, nuns were raped, many, to avoid dishonor, killed themselves. Killing, raping, looting, burning, enslaving, went on and on. The troops had to satisfy themselves. The great doors of the Hagia Sophia were forced open, and crowds of angry soldiers came in and fell upon the unfortunate worshippers. Pillaging and killing in the holy place went on for hours. Similar was the fate of worshippers in most churches in the city. Everything that could be taken from the splendid buildings was taken by the new masters of the Imperial capital. Icons were destroyed, precious manuscripts were lost forever. Thousands of civilians were enslaved; soldiers fought over young boys and young women. Death and enslavement did not distinguish among social classes. Nobles and peasants were treated with equal ruthlessness.”
The Turks built four Minarets around the defiled Hagia Sophia, transforming it into a mosque. It served as the chief mosque of Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, for over 500 years. If you visit the site today you will find the Christian features replaced by the mimbar from which the Muslim Imams preached, huge Medallions honoring Islamic Caliphs, works of art showing the Qaba in Mecca, and Islamic footbaths used for cleaning before prayer… these are the same footbaths that Muslim pressure groups have successfully installed at airports, universities and other institutions across the Western world.
A process of ethnic and religious cleansing begun by the Arab Muslims in the 7th century, and continued by the Ottoman Turkish Muslims in the 15th century, was completed by the new modern state of Turkey in the 20th century. The remaining pockets of Greek Christians on the North and West coasts were massacred or exiled, while 1.5 million Armenian Christians were decimated in the East, in a genocide that foreshadowed the Holocaust. It was an inspiration to Adolf Hitler who justified the viability of his radical plans by asking, “After all, who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
And indeed, who speaks today about the Fall of Constaninople? Turkey today is 99% Muslim. The native populations have been exterminated or expelled. There is no one to protest, no one to start an uprising, no one to appeal to the UN and EU to send troops and break the occupation. For 555 years the city of Constantinople has suffered a deep cosmic humiliation, and only the skeletons of the ancient buildings, silent witness to it all, are there to protest.
The next time the intimidating voices of Islam, or their leftist apologists in the West, excuse murder, violence, rioting and grievance mongering by invoking the Occupation of Jerusalem, you need to tell them about the Occupation of Constantinople.