One of the memes – the unconscious, uncritical, lazy thoughts that spreads from person to person like a virus – that has been particularly virulent during this ground-zero mosque controversy is that Christians have no standing to criticize the violence of Islam, given a supposedly violent Christian history. And no one event is more often invoked as an example of Christian hypocrisy than the so-called “Crusades” (so-called, because no one who fought in them called them that).
The latest and most appalling example appears in the NY Times, courtesy of a Nicholas D. Kristof. Among the many absurdities one can find in this column, including definitive claims as to the intentions and desires of Osama bin Laden, Kristof writes,
Remember also that historically, some of the most shocking brutality in the region was justified by the Bible, not the Koran. Crusaders massacred so many men, women and children in parts of Jerusalem that a Christian chronicler, Fulcher of Chartres, described an area ankle-deep in blood. While burning Jews alive, the crusaders sang, “Christ, We Adore Thee.”
What could be more logical, more pertinent, more relevant, than to invoke thousand-year old wartime excesses as proof that Christians have no grounds to criticize Islam?
One can go the route of modern liberal Christianity and make statements about how either a) the Crusades were a “mistake” and never should have occurred, or perhaps b) that while they may have been justified at the time, Christianity has undergone sufficient “reforms” to prevent such things from happening again, while Islam has not.
I totally reject the first notion, and I will explain why I don’t really agree with the second either. But let’s start with the first: that the Crusades were an example of unjustifiable religious violence on the part of Christians, moreover one that can be constantly invoked to equivocate Christianity and Islam as religions that are both prone to violence.