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The Crusades

by history repeats itself Monday, Sep. 24, 2001 at 12:48 PM

President Bush calls for a new "Crusade." The Arab world never forgot the last one.

When I heard Mr. Bush utter the word "Crusade" in describing his "War on Terrorism" I cringed. Apparently his speech writers and advisors need to brush up on the history of the clash between the West and the Arab World. As a starting point... I would suggest the book, "The Crusades Through Arab Eyes." Written by Amin Maalouf, the work is a chronicle of the traumatic encounter between hordes of rampaging Christian Knights bent on conquering the Holy

Lands (starting in 1096), and the Arab resistance led by the likes of Saladin... a name still held in the highest regard in the Arab World.

When Bush said "Crusade"... ripples of anguish spread throughout the Middle East and the Islamic World. Try and find Maalouf's book at your local bookstore (ISBN -0 8052-0898-4), or order it online at

And now... some follow up information from the Website.

Bush Enters Mideast's Rhetorical Minefield

September 21, 2001

By Jonathan Lyons

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush's use of the term "crusade" to describe his fight against terrorism has ignited fears in the Muslim world that U.S. military action is little more than an excuse to unleash holy war. What's more, say experts on the world of Islam, Bush's unscripted remarks last weekend could play into the hands of the very Islamic militants the president blames for the twin attacks on New York and Washington that left more than 6,500 dead or missing.

"This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while," Bush said on Sunday after stepping off the presidential helicopter. On Tuesday, the White House said Bush regretted use of the term.

A nervous Muslim world was abuzz with warnings from politicians and newspaper commentators of a renewed military threat emerging from the West. "They (the United States) want to open a battle against Islam," Sheikh Ahmed

Yassin, founder of the militant Muslim movement Hamas, told Reuters in the Gaza Strip earlier in the week.

"Using the word 'crusade' casts the matter in theological terms, as a case of our religion against theirs," said George Saliba, a scholar of medieval Islamic history at Columbia University in New York. "It says, I will recruit

God to my side. This is a dead end and has never produced a positive result."

Aside from recalling a historical trauma for the Muslim world, said Saliba, such rhetoric threatens to place the United States on the same footing as Osama bin Laden, Washington's chief suspect in the attacks, who has openly

proclaimed his group "The World Islamic Front against Jews and Crusaders."

"They (the militants) want to tap into the reservoir of submerged hatred in the Muslim world. The game for us is to shift that ground, to change their game rather than to play along."

To grasp the full weight of a word -- crusade -- that has largely shed its historical baggage in the West, say analysts, one has to recall the shock to refined Muslim sensibilities when the first Christian warriors arrived at

the end of the 11th century.

According to the Arab chronicles, those they called the Frankish warriors, the "Faranj" or "Franj," were truly barbarians. Local accounts, confirmed by the knights themselves in a letter to the pope, said the crusaders resorted to eating the dead bodies of their enemies. They were also famous for their wholesale slaughter of Jews and even rival, eastern Christians. "All those who were well informed about the Franj saw them as beasts superior in

courage and fighting ardor but in nothing else, just as animals are superior in strength and aggression," wrote the Arab historian Osama Ibn Munqidh.

Linguistics has also done its part to keep the Muslim world focused on the religious wars that the word "crusades" represents. Unlike English, where the link has become obscured, the Arabic term clearly contains the root word

for "cross."

All this has not been lost on the White House, which is actively recruiting Muslim governments to what it hopes is a grand coalition. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged he was prepared to jettison it's code name for the coming operation, Infinite Justice, after Muslim clerics objected that such power was reserved for God.

Despite the dread that the Christian knights and their unruly camp followers inspired in repeated attempts to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim hands, the crusades themselves were of little initial significance to the greater world of Islam. The empire was wealthy and vast and the threat appeared limited to its periphery. The spectacular success of the Kurdish warrior known in the

West as Saladin, who at last crushed the crusaders, appeared to reinforce this view. Only the most far-sighted saw the kernel of a future threat to the faith.

All that changed, however, with the arrival of the European colonial powers in the early 19th century, giving birth to an Islam of resistance that targeted these new "crusaders."

It is this rhetoric that militants like bin Laden -- and even many middle-class Muslims -- reflect today, often depicting Israel as a "crusader state" propped up by a United States out to crush the legitimate economic,

political and cultural aspirations of the Islamic world. "The crusades as an historical event were more important to medieval Christianity than to medieval Islam," said Hamid Dabashi, a fellow academic at Columbia. "Only in

the colonial context did they reemerge as a symbol of the hated West."

Of course, say critics, the use of the term to depict the White House's self-proclaimed war on terrorism suffers from yet another handicap. In the words of Sheikh Yassin of Hamas: "They have to look back at the experience of the crusades. In the end, they were defeated."

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