Crusading for An Apology

  In the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush used a word that you are not supposed to use in polite company: crusade. Bush meant it in a figurative sense. It was a way of describing his determination to eradicate terrorism. But for most of the commentariat, "crusade" is synonymous with the worst kind of religious zealotry. No, make that Christian zealotry. And for the elite, crusades are a potent reminder of the kind of evil that men do in the name of Christianity. While it's undeniable that the Crusades were a dark chapter in Christian history, that's not the whole story and the whole story points, in part, to some of the real differences between Christianity and Islam. What we call the Crusades took place between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. As Jonathan Riley- Smith of Cambridge University has written, they were "waged for the recovery of Christian territory or people, or in their defense." For instance, the goal of the First Crusade, proclaimed in 1095, was the recovery of Jerusalem from Muslim hands. As Riley-Smith writes, it is undeniable that the Crusaders were "capable of acts of great cruelty." It's this cruelty that has earned the Crusades their terrible reputation. For instance, after taking Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders slaughtered innocent men, women, and children: Muslims, Jews, and even Christians. While the evidence suggests that the death toll has been grossly exaggerated by Islamic historians, there's no justification for what they did. Not that Christians are making any excuses. On the one thousandth anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem, Pope John Paul II apologized for the actions of the Crusaders. He called the events in Jerusalem and others like it departures from the Spirit of Christ and his Gospel. As of yet, there hasn't been a similar apology for the actions of Muslim armies against Christians and Jews. Not because there isn't anything to apologize for. On the contrary, as historian Bat Ye'or tells us, Islam's spread was the product of military conquest, not peaceable conversions. And the degree of massacre, enslavement, and other brutality exceeded anything being done in Christian Europe. The reason that Christianity can own up to its failures lies in the distinctives of its worldview. When the Pope speaks of departures from the Gospel, he is referring to the injunction to love, not only our neighbor, but our enemy. There is no equivalent for this in Islam. In fact, the Qu'ran commands Muslims to wage war on the unbeliever and to annihilate him. By contrast, Christians are to win them over by acts of compassion and charity. It's this aspect of its worldview that enables Christianity to critique its own actions. And it's what compels us to apologize for not living up to our beliefs. But there's nothing in the Islamic worldview that would compel a similar apology on Islam's part. Historian Samuel Huntington has written, and September 11 has proven, that the two civilizations created by Christianity and Islam remain in conflict. It is vital to understand the differences between them and help people to appreciate those differences. A good place start is by determining which of the two knows how to say "I apologize." For more information: Jonathan Riley-Smith, "Reinterpreting the Crusades," The Economist, 23 December 1995. Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude: Seventh-Twelfth Century. Trans Miriam Kochan and David Littman (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1996). Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Touchstone, 1998).


Chuck Colson



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