The following article from First Things is very interesting. I learned the “new view” of the Crusades while I was in college. I’m thankful I was taught history by historians rather than by ideologues. There was certainly a lot that cannot be defended about the Crusades, but it was no worse than any other war, and had far more moral justifications than many modern conflicts, not to mention the fact that there is far more ethical dissonance with our contemporary capability of dealing death at a distance. At any rate, take a look:
The Greedy Younger Son is not the only myth historians have discarded. It may surprise some to learn that the Crusades were almost never profitable, since booty was so scarce. Or that the Christian settlers in the so-called Crusader Kingdom were not themselves Crusaders. Or that the Crusades met all the criteria of a just war, especially in their defensive nature. Or that the Crusades had nothing at all to do with colonialism. Or that the Crusades were in no way wars of conversion. Or that the Crusades were not related to Muslim jihad (except insofar as they were a defense against it). Or that the Muslim world knew nothing at all about the Crusades before the nineteenth century.
If your image of Western civilization relies on a depiction of the Crusades as an insane and bloodthirsty attack on a peaceful and sophisticated Muslim world, then you are not going to like what recent historians have to say. This is apparent in some of the responses to these new works. In a New Yorker review of the books by Asbridge and Phillips, the journalist Joan Acocella seemed a little miffed by what she found coming out of the academy. How can two professional historians talk of piety, devotion, and selflessness as Crusader motivations? “Does this mean that Asbridge and Phillips think the Crusades were OK?” she asks incredulously. No, it means they think it is their job as historians to uncover the truth. Acocella speaks approvingly of the much older works by Runciman and John Julius Norwich, who is no historian. The entry of scholars into popular Crusade history does not seem to be welcomed in all quarters.
One of the lessons for us to take out of this is that History is often used for political purposes. All one has to do is look at the size of the Muslim world to know that the Holy Land is a tiny fraction of it. When modern scholars say that Muslims knew nothing of the Crusades until the 19th century, they mean that Muslims didn’t think of them any differently from any number of other wars, and that, for the most part, they were relatively insignificant in their history. In fact, Muslims really only took notice of the Crusaders when the Europeans were foolish enough to attack the pilgrimage routes to Mecca. It was only when Egyptians under Brittish rule went to Oxford to study that the Muslim world was exposed to the idea of “Crusade” and came to see it, given their own political context as a precursor to colonialism.