The taking ofJerusalem in 1099 during the First
Crusade)from a mid- 14th century edition of
History ofJerusalem by William ofTyre. In
2001) just weeks after the terrorist attacks against
New York and Washington) D. C. )former us.
president Bill Clinton claimed that the captur~
and sack ofJerusalem was still remembered
by Muslims in the region) implying that the
descendants of crusaders ought to shoulder their
burden of the blame. Many other observers likewise
began to see the root causes of Islamist attacks as
lying in the crusades of the Middle Ages.
Religious warfare, once thought to be an artifact of a distant past,
has reemerged in recent years. A spate of Islamist terrorist attacks
have reminded the western world that for many people religion is
still a reason to kill and to be killed. That is a hard lesson for the
West, which long ago relegated religious belief to personal preference
and celebrates religious diversity; it requires westerners to look
beyond modern sensibilities to a medieval world view that, for them,
has largely passed away-for it has not passed away everywhere.
Out of a desire to understand today's events, many commentators
turned to Christianity's holy wars: the crusades. It was their legacy,
some contended, that had led directly to the attacks.When President
George W Bush spoke of the new war on terrorism as a "crusade"
he was roundly criticized for the perceived suggestion that it was a
war of Christianity against Islam. His aides apologized, saying that
the president had only used the term in its sense of a campaign, but
in the Middle East the remark was thought to confirm a popular
-../ assessment ofAmericans and Europeans as "crusaders."
So what were the crusades and who were the crusaders? After
many decades of rigorous investigation by historians of the Middle
Ages we are now much better able to answer. However, much of this
research lies in academic publications aimed at specialists rather than
lay readers, while many books aimed at a mass market perpetuate errors
and misunderstandings that were corrected decades ago. As a result,
outside the academic world the crusades remain badly understood.