By G. Michael Stathis
Lecture given at Southern Utah University, November 30, 1995
Introduction: November 27, 1995, marked the 900th anniversary of Pope Urban II’s call for holy Crusade at Clermont Ferrand. The general objective of these ‘holy wars’ was to establish Christian control over the holy places of Palestine, especially the church of the Holy Sepulchre. From 1095 to 1493 the nobility and common folk of Europe sewed crosses on their tunics and took oaths to defend Christendom from the scourge of Islam and to attempt the capture of Jerusalem.
The Crusades were an event crucial to the development of the modern Middle East and Europe and were even more significant as a chapter of international relations. Clearly, these holy wars intensified already hostile relations between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East. However, they also served as a singular impetus to cultural and economic contacts that led to the European Renaissance, the Age of Exploration and the rise of the great commercial centers of Western Europe. The modern significance of the Crusades is evident in contemporary relations between the West and the Middle East which continue to be strained as well as in the phenomenon of religious conflict which persists to plague civilization.
The Crusades were not wars between states or nations but a great ideological conflict between two cultures: Christian Europe and the Islamic Near East. The former was intent on capturing Jerusalem and the holy places of Palestine while the latter attempted to hold these same places and repulse a barbaric invader.
Ideology took the form of religion which gave the Christian Crusade and the Muslim reaction, jihad, an intensity that has stigmatized East-West relations from the 11th century to the present. Religion as ideology provided the necessary justification on both sides for war and unspeakable atrocity.