Medieval crusades and the 21st century conflicts

History has such an inspiring effect, don´t you agree?

This post is the result of an interesting conference I assisted recently relating the Crusade as a conceptual use in thought and public discourse today.  Crusade (cruzada in Spanish) is a concept which actually was first used long after the physical action started (to be precise about two hundred years after). If the first official crusade was around 1095 (ordered by Pope Urban the IInd), the concept itself did not appear before the 13th century. Common concepts in the context of military expeditions and conquests with religious ties usually were and still accompanied by phrases like ‘war of justice’ or ‘Just War’ (Guerra Justa), ‘Holy War’ (Guerra Santa), ‘Pilgrimage’ (peregrinaje) etc. With regard to Christianity, there are also terms such as Campaign or Journey of the Cross, (Campaña de la cruz, Latin: expeditio christus). Yet, a different denomination reminds the more economical side talking about the Jesus Christ’s Affaire or Business (el negocio de Jesucrito, or negotium christus in Latin).

In those times the land ownership was of the feudal lord. As this method of taxation was already very common in two thousand years, a successful pyramid method had considerable economic value. Thus, with the growing threat, it became important for the feudal lords to adhere to a much larger confederation. Therefore, it seems to be justified to annex and occupy lands beyond the border stationing loyal governance as the land’s sovereign. In particular, when land ownership interest is between the Church and Muslims, the sworn enemy of the Christians all through the Middle-Ages and beyond. And so it was that thousands of people, mostly peasants, step out to defend their faith and to bring wealth and fortune to themselves and for their mother church. Those brave soldiers became with time the known soldier priests (monjes soldados), devoted men or opportunists who joined the different Orders of the Crusades under oath of priests with the divine mission to shed the blood of the enemy and to conquer and expand its reign territory (not to confuse with colonialism).

There were different Orders at the time of the Crusades, distinguished by the goal, violence, and the various competences as well as the diversity of their origin (country, culture, etc.). Probably amongst the more known Orders today is that of the Knights Templar (with the Red Cross logo).

templerThe idea of Just War is all too familiar. For many centuries people are fighting in the name of their sovereign, whether divine or not, and the name of Christ religion was not very different. The end justified the means, they say, yet while that can be perceived as right for a divine reason, is it also true for simple conquering land and slaughtering the habitats for more wealth and power? In fact, the use of the term just war was used since early ages. The ancients Greeks fought the Barbarians (all that were strangers and didn´t speak their language) with that same devoted approved violence. In trispectivist view, it is when an individual all wants to become universal all, while the way to achieve such an aspiration is by violent interaction. The aspiration of power is to create certain parts of your identity equal to the majority.

And so, the Just War can be compared the concepts mindset to a famous maxim: “If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72:1). Indeed a famous saying and can claim to be “right” but without a specific context, anyone can use it to his advantage and always be sure that… he’s right.

In brief, we can resume three main reasons to defend oneself under the spiritual context:

1 – The first and perhaps most important is the economical reason. Church Goods means many assets all over the world. Every Christian has the duty to donate his church 10% of his earnings in addition to more sporadic donations during prayers, buying products and special personalized prayers etc. As such, the more believers and subjects or local officials who must appear in churches, the more profit and political power you will have. The human resource means the accumulation of lands and many properties that are an integral part of the organization (residential seminary, houses of worship, public spaces, etc.).

2 – Many towns and villages were under different sorts of beliefs that began to dissipate slowly with the globalization of occupying large scale monotheist beliefs. From the other hand, Christendom was in awe in front of the rapid conversion to Islam in the Middle East and Northern Africa, as to how two centuries of roaming villages and individuals had become a victorious empire under the banner of the half moon (6th centuries 8th). Therefore, conquering all lands between the Christian Europe and the Holy Land meant strengthening the status and pushing back the enemy from the heart of Christianity (in Italy and Southern France).

3 – To deal with segregation and local political problems, you need a common enemy. This may be one of the known effective strategies against uprisings in the kingdom. And if possible, a common enemy from afar, strong enough to be a worthy adversary who will make it a Holy war with endless praises and glory.

For the Muslims the Just War is what is called Jihad. Although it is not part of the five most important pillars of Islam (to believe (creed), to pray, to give alms, to fast and pilgrimage) but it is, no doubt, repeatedly mentioned by the messiah Muhammad as essential for the expansion of Islam (6th century AD). Each warrior of a Holy War is recognized as a martyr and his place in heaven is assured. Moreover, the spiritual level of the ones who fight for the cause is considered elevated and much stronger than the pacifist, docile believer.

During the Crusades, the same idea of ​ martyr was also widely used among Christians. Therefore, the warriors who conquered and ransacked villages on their way east in the name of Jesus their God, were extremely regarded and popularized.

bush-crusaderIn our era, the Just War continues to be part of the daily speeches, whether in the third world with poverty and lack of education as in the so-called developed countries. Nixon in 1973 and President Carter six years later used the same idea of ​​going to war in Asia and the Arab countries out of fear of the enemy’s control of what was already back then the most important raw material of our time. In 2001, George Bush Junior had a slip of the tongue in a post 11-S speech in which he mentioned a Crusade against the enemy to restore order in Iraq and world peace. This happens year after year in every country regardless of the political situation, spiritual and educational level of its habitats, as it seems, human beings are not as changed as we sometimes want to believe.

As well-known, this perspective of Just War is not unilateral, meaning, we can easily find the multiple use of fighting the infidel, protection of our faith from the Muslim side. Suleiman Abu Ghiz, the spokesman of Al Qaeda, made a clear parallelism between the conquests of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs by saying that they will not allow the tragedy of what happened in Al – Andaluz (Andalucía, the Spanish autonomy where Granada is located) to repeat in Palestine. What he meant was that they will not give up a key geographical strategically important point, to fall into the enemy hands. Strike your enemy before he strikes you.


And while we are talking about hundreds of years of history of people and about beliefs of hundreds of millions of people, it’s impossible not to think about its future implications. One of which is the improvement of warfare technology that can only lead to automated war, as “Just” as they may seem now. As the Crusaders, even though they started with a noble and trust worthy cause in the first Crusade (as romanticized and idealized by the likes of Sir Walter Scott), by the fourth one, they were nothing more than mere mercenaries. Their need of gold had them ride from Venice to Constantinople as swords for rent, fighting and killing for the highest bid, draining the European resources… again.

What really is “Just” and what is Fear?