It’s not new, this ugly scene in Iraq with good Christian soldiers marching forth to do combat with Islam. Today’s fighting is ranging over battlegrounds our ancestors fought on a thousand or more years ago when two powerful religions – Roman Catholic Christianity and equally powerful Islam – clashed in the name of God and the love of Allah..
Muslim’s were in possession of Jerusalem, Christendom’s holiest city and ruled the Middle East in general and that was more than Pope Urban II could tolerate. He called the Catholic nations of Europe to unite in holy war and in 1095 the First Crusade to free Jerusalem was launched. Four years later the city fell to the crusaders, several ‘Christian” states were established – and the battle defeated Muslims immediately declared “jihad”, their term for a holy war which they swore wouldn’t end until they again controlled the Middle East.
The battle is still going on with ISIS fighting to again re-establish an ancient Muslim state, and the western democracies fighting to bring freedom and enlightenment to a nation wishing to remain Islamic and live under strict Islamic law.
Bloody wars to give one religion predominance over another have been around since men began to worship different Gods. Over the centuries we have romanticized the leading warriors in the blood spilling contests – and never more so than in the six holy crusades to “free” the world (especially Jerusalem which had been recaptured by the Muslims during the Second Crusade —1147-49).
In British schools Richard the Lionheart is still honoured as a triumphant King-knight. In Muslim countries Saladin is still revered as the great defender of Muslim faith.
When King Richard the First and Saladin clashed in the Third Crusade the Christian-Muslim fight was already a century old. Toward the end of the Second Crusade Saladin came close to eliminating the entire crusader invasion force at the battle of Hattin, the final battle in his war to eliminate the Crusader’s Kingdom of Jerusalem. That humiliating defeat sparked an all-Europe call for a Third Crusade (1189-92) to punish Saladin.
Richard is credited doing that with the defeat of Saladin at the battle of Arsuf, the re-capture of Jaffa and the re-establishment of The Kingdom of Jerusalem. Richard and Saladin in a peace treaty signed by both in 1192 confirmed the agreement. Ironically The Kingdom did not contain the Jerusalem itself. Richard had looked down on the city from surrounding hills but, possibly war weary, refused to lay it siege, took his army home leaving the city in Muslim hands. A grim part of Richard’s Christian record in the field is the story that unable to guard or feed 2,000 captured Muslim soldiers, he ordered their execution by sword and spear. All 2,000,
There were other crusades – always with the white banner emblazoned with the Red Cross on flags or across knightly chests. The most bizarre of all holy wars was The Children’s Crusade in 1212, thousands strong and lead by a 12-year-old. No room to tell about it here but it was real and is worth a Google to begin to understand – the religious, mad, fanaticism of the day, and the echoes of that same madness today.
Other echoes. In all the Crusades the main recruiting enticement to the soldiers in both armies – Christian and Muslim – was immortal life. Christian’s answering the papal call to arms were guaranteed immediate forgiveness of all their sins and a reserved place in heaven. Muslim foot soldiers got – and still get – the same offer with a promised dash of sensual pleasure.
All troops supporting Cross or Crescent were also assured their cause was righteous and that to kill an “infidel” – Muslim or Christian – would please Allah or God.
Makes a person wonder, doesn’t it?