Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Crusades: A Response to Islamic Aggression

John J. O’Neill’s latest essay shines a light on the historical reality of the Crusades, which were a defensive action against the forcible expansion of Islam into territories that had been part of Christendom for centuries.


The Crusades: A Response to Islamic Aggression
by John J. O’Neill

One of the most potent myths of our age is that the Crusades were little more than an unprovoked attack by a barbarous Europe against a quiescent and cultured Islamic world. According to conventional ideas, the seventh and eighth centuries constitute the great age of Islamic expansion. By the eleventh century — the time of the First Crusade — we are told that the Islamic world was quiescent and settled and that, by implication, the Crusaders were the aggressors. Indeed, the Crusaders are routinely portrayed as a horde of barbarians from a backward and superstitious Europe irrupting into the cultured and urbane world of the eleventh century Near East.

This at least is the populist language often employed on television and in newspaper articles. In my recent book Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization, I have shown however that before the advent of Islam Christians had no concept of “Holy War” at all, and that it was from the Muslims themselves that Europeans took this idea. I showed too that the Crusades, far from being an unprovoked act of aggression on the part of Christian Europe, was part of a rearguard action aimed at stemming the Muslim advance which, by the start of the eleventh century, was threatening as never before to overwhelm the whole of Europe.

Notwithstanding the evidence presented in Holy Warriors, the consensus among the majority of medieval historians is that the threat from Islam had very little, if anything, to do with the Crusades; the Muslims were simply the convenient targets of a savage and brutal Europe, mired in a culture of habitual violence and rapine. The “energies” of Europe’s warrior-class, it is held, were simply directed by the Papacy away from internal destruction onto the convenient targets of the Islamic world. This, for example, is the line taken by Marcus Bull in his examination of the origins of the Crusades in The Oxford History of the Crusades. In an article of almost ten thousand words, Bull fails to consider the Muslim threat at all. Indeed he mentions it only to dismiss it:

“The perspective of a Mediterranean-wide struggle [between Islam and Christianity] was visible only to those institutions, in particular the papacy, which had the intelligence networks, grasp of geography, and sense of long historical tradition to take a broad overview of Christendom and its threatened predicament, real or supposed. This is a point which needs to be emphasized because the terminology of the crusades is often applied inaccurately to all the occasions in the decades before 1095 when Christians and Muslims found themselves coming to blows. An idea which underpins the imprecise usage is that the First Crusade was the last in, and the culmination of, a series of wars in the eleventh century which had been crusading in character, effectively ‘trial runs’ which had introduced Europeans to the essential features of the crusade. This is an untenable view.”(Marcus Bull, “Origins,” in Jonathan Riley-Smith (ed..) The Oxford History of the Crusades, p. 19)

With what justification, we might ask, does Bull dissociate the earlier Christian-Muslim conflicts of the eleventh century in Spain, Sicily, and Anatolia from the First Crusade? The answer can hardly be described as convincing. “There is plenty of evidence,” he says, “to suggest that people regarded Pope Urban II’s crusade appeal of 1095-6 as something of a shock to the communal system: it was felt to be effective precisely because it was different from anything attempted before.” (Ibid) Of course it was different: the Pope had called a meeting of all the potentates and prelates of Europe to urge the assembly of a mighty force to march to Constantinople and eventually to retake the Holy Land. It was new because of its scale and its ambition. But to thus dismiss the connection with what went before in Spain and Sicily — and Anatolia — is ridiculous. Such a statement can only derive from a mindset which somehow has to see the Crusaders as the aggressors and to thereby detach them from the legitimate defensive wars which Christians had been fighting in Spain and throughout the Mediterranean in the decades immediately preceding 1095.

The fact is, in the twenty years before the First Crusade, Christendom had lost the whole of Anatolia, an area greater than France, and a region right on the doorstep of Europe. In 1050 the Seljuk leader Togrul Beg undertook Holy War against the Christians of Anatolia, who had thus far resisted the power of the Caliphs. We are told that 130,000 Christians died in the war, but that, upon Togrul Beg’s death in 1063 the Christians reasserted their independence and freedom. This was however to be of short duration, and no sooner had Togrul Beg’s nephew Alp Arslan been proclaimed Sultan than the war was renewed. In 1064 the old Armenian capital of Ani was destroyed; and the prince of Kars, the last independent Armenian ruler, “gladly handed over his lands to the [Byzantine] Emperor in return for estates in the Taurus mountains. Large numbers of Armenians accompanied him to his new home.” (Steven Runciman, The History of the Crusades Vol. 1 (Cambridge, 1951) p.61) Indeed, at this time, the entire Armenian nation was effectively transplanted hundreds of miles to the south and west.

But the Turkish attacks continued. From 1065 onwards the great frontier-fortress of Edessa was assaulted yearly. In 1066 they occupied the pass of the Amanus Mountains, and next spring they sacked the Cappadocian metropolis of Caesarea. Next winter the Byzantine armies were defeated at Melitene and Sebastea. These victories gave Alp Arslan control of all Armenia, and a year later he raided far into the Empire, to Neocaesarea and Amorium in 1068, to Iconium in 1069, and in 1070 to Chonae, near the Aegean coast. (Ibid.)
- - - - - - - - -
These events make it perfectly clear that the Turks now threatened all the of Empire’s Asiatic possessions, with the position of Constantinople herself increasingly insecure. The imperial government was forced to take action. Constantine X, whose neglect of the army was largely responsible for the catastrophes which now overwhelmed the Empire, had died in 1067, leaving a young son, Michael VII under the regency of the Empress-mother Eudocia. Next year Eudocia married the commander-in-chief, Romanus Diogenes, who was raised to the throne. Romanus was a distinguished soldier and a sincere patriot, who saw that the safety of the Empire depended on the rebuilding of the army and ultimately the reconquest of Armenia. (Ibid.) Within four months of his accession, Romanus had gathered together a large but unreliable force and set out to meet the foe. “In three laborious campaigns,” writes Gibbon, “the Turks were driven beyond the Euphrates; in the fourth, and last, Romanus undertook the deliverance of Armenia.” (Decline and Fall, Ch. 57) Here however, at the seminal battle of Manzikert (1071), he was defeated and captured and all of Anatolia was irretrievably lost.

Any honest reading of these events leaves us in no doubt whatsoever that the aggressor was Alp Arslan and his Turks, and that Romanus Diogenes’ march into Armenia was a last-ditch counter-attack by the Byzantines to prevent the loss of all of Anatolia.. Yet observe how the battle is described in the recently-published Chambers Dictionary of World History: “The Byzantine Emperor, Romanus IV Diogenes (1068/71), tried to extend his empire into Armenia but was defeated at Manzikert near Lake Van by the Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan (1063/72), who then launched a full-scale invasion of Anatolia.” (Bruce Lenman (ed.) Chambers Dictionary of World History (London, 2000) p. 585)

We see in the above a graphic example of the disinformation disseminated by the mentality of political correctness, where the victim is transformed into the aggressor and the aggressor portrayed as the victim.

Alp Arslan was killed a year later, and the conquest of Asia Minor, virtually all that was left of Byzantium’s Asiatic possessions, was completed by his son Malek Shah (1074 — 1084). These conquests left the Turks in possession of the fortress of Nicaea, on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, and the survival of Constantinople in question.

These then are the major political events which prefigured the First Crusade. Within a space of thirty-five years the Turks had seized control of Christian territories larger than the entire area of France, and they now stood poised on the very doorstep of Europe. We are accustomed to think of the Crusades as first and foremost an attempt by Christians to retake the Holy Land and Jerusalem; but this is a mistake. The Emperor Alexius Comnenus now made his famous plea to the Pope, not to free Jerusalem, but to drive the Turks from his door, to liberate the huge Christian territories in Asia Minor that had so recently been devastated and annexed by the followers of the crescent. It is true, of course, that the Turks, who had also assumed control of Syria/Palestine, now imposed a barbarous regime in that region; and that the sufferings of Christian pilgrims as well as native Christian populations in that region, described so vividly by Peter the Hermit and others, provided a powerful emotional impetus to the Crusading movement among ordinary Europeans; but the relief of pilgrims was not — to begin with at least — the primary goal of the Crusaders. Nonetheless, the barbarous nature of the Turkish actions in Palestine was a microcosm of their behavior throughout the Christian regions which they conquered, and the nature of their rule in the entire Near East is described thus by Gibbon in his usual vivid manner:

“The Oriental Christians and the Latin pilgrims deplored a revolution, which, instead of the regular government and old alliance of the caliphs, imposed on their necks the iron yoke of the strangers of the north. In his court and camp the great sultan had adopted in some degree the arts and manners of Persia; but the body of the Turkish nation, and more especially the pastoral tribes, still breathed the fierceness of the desert. From Nicaea to Jerusalem, the western countries of Asia were a scene of foreign and domestic hostility; and the shepherds of Palestine, who held a precarious sway on a doubtful frontier, had neither leisure nor capacity to await the slow profits of commercial and religious freedom. The pilgrims, who, through innumerable perils, had reached the gates of Jerusalem, were the victims of private rapine or public oppression, and often sunk under the pressure of famine and disease, before they were permitted to salute the holy sepulcher. A spirit of native barbarism, or recent zeal, prompted the Turkmans to insult the clergy of every sect; the patriarch was dragged by the hair along the pavement and cast into a dungeon, to extort a ransom from the sympathy of his flock; and the divine worship in the church of the Resurrection was often disturbed by the savage rudeness of its masters.” (Chapter 57)

The ordinary peasants of Europe may not have been fully cognizant of the danger from the east, but the ruling classes and the Church could not have been anything but alarmed. Yet even if the peasantry and artisans of Europe knew little about Anatolia, they would certainly have had some knowledge of the Muslim threat. It is Marcus Bull’s suggestion that they did not which is untenable. The advances of Abd er-Rahman III and Al-Mansur through northern Spain in the latter years of the tenth century would have sent a flood of Christian refugees into southern France; and the raids even into southern France which continued well into the eleventh century would have sent refugees from there fleeing into central and northern France. These people would have spread knowledge of the danger throughout western Europe. Granted, peasants and manual laborers would have had a very imperfect understanding of Islam and what Muslims actually believed; but that is not the point: They knew enough to know that Muslims were enemies of Christ; that they waged war against non-combatants and enslaved women and children, and that they had conquered all of Spain and threatened France.

And this is a point that needs to be stressed repeatedly: The reality is that, far from being quiescent and peaceful, by the latter years of the tenth century Islam was once again on the march. Muslim armies waged wars of conquest against non-believers from one end of the Islamic world to the other; from Spain in the west to India in the east; and this new aggression was not confined to the eastern and western extremities, but proceeded along the entire length of Islam’s borders. The Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Georgia and Byzantium were threatened with extinction, and Muslim armies fought with Christians in Sicily and other Mediterranean lands. Many aspects of this new Islamic thrust, particularly those which occurred around the beginning of the eleventh century in Spain and India, are strangely reminiscent of the earlier Islamic expansion in the eighth century, so reminiscent indeed that they might even cause the casual observer to wonder whether the birth of Islam has been somehow misdated and moved into the past by several centuries. So, for example, we are told that the main Islamic invasion of India began with the conquests of Mahmud of Ghazni, a Turkish-speaking prince based in Afghanistan, who launched a series of 17 campaigns into Northern India. These began in 1001 and ended in 1026, just four years or so before his death; a series of campaigns, we should note, which caused immense destruction and loss of life in the country. By the 1020s Mahmud ruled an empire that included much of the Indus Valley, Afghanistan and Persia. Yet these conquests, at the start of the eleventh century, seem to echo those of Muhammed bin Qasim, three centuries earlier, who created an Islamic Empire in roughly the same region (circa 710).

It is strange too that Mahmud of Ghazni’s name differs but little from that of his predecessor. Only the “n” in Ghazni differentiates it from Qasim, a word which could equally well be written as Qasmi.

In the western end of the Islamic world we encounter the same phenomenon. “In the tenth century,” says Runciman, “the Moslems of Spain represented a very real threat to Christendom.” (Runciman, op cit. p. 89) Under Abd er-Rahman III (912-961) the followers of Muhammad found a leader who promised to repeat the successes of the eighth century. As founder of the Cordoba Caliphate, he presided over a new age of splendor and military power. His forces battled the Christians to the north, and the boundary between the two religions was marked by the battles he fought. The most decisive of these were at Simancas (939), between Salamanca and Valladolid on the Duoro River, where he was stopped. These were areas that had been overrun by the Muslims two centuries earlier, though the Christians had apparently retaken them in the interim. In many ways then Abd er-Rahman III resembles his ancestor and namesake Abd er-Rahman I, who conquered these areas in the eighth century. And this new conquering impulse continued under Al-Mansur (980-1002), whose career was to see Muslim power once again enveloping all of Spain, including the far north. He burned Leon, Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela, and, copying his Muslim predecessors almost three centuries earlier, advanced over the Pyrenees. We are told that in Al-Mansur’s time, “Never had the Christians found themselves in such a critical position.” (Louis Bertrand, The History of Spain (2nd ed. London, 1945) p. 57)

It was the attacks of Al-Mansur that finally roused Christian Europe into undertaking the Reconquista, which commenced with the campaigns of Sancho III (called the Great) of Navarre and the Norman Baron Roger de Tony in the 1020s. Yet these events recall the earlier beginning of the Reconquista with the victory of Don Pelayo at Covadonga around 718.

The reader might well wonder why this “revival” of Islamic conquest in the eleventh century seems so uncannily to resemble the Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries. That indeed is a moot point: one to be discussed in a future article. For the moment, all that needs to be emphasized is that, contrary to popular belief, the tenth and eleventh centuries constitute a period of massive expansion by Islam, an expansion felt all along Islam’s boundary with Christendom. The Crusades were clearly part of an attempt to stem this aggression.

Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization, is published by Felibri Publications. For information, see the Felibri website.

Previous posts by John J. O’Neill:

2009 Oct 6 Islam and the Dark Age of Byzantium
  Nov 10 How Muslim Piracy Changed the World
  Dec 2 Islam and the Rise of Violent Anti-Semitism
2010 Jan 11 How Islam Breathed New Life into Slavery and the Slave Trade In Europe


Ron Russell said...

It has always amazed me how many contemporary historians will re-write history to conform to current norms and values with utter disregard to past historical records. Theirs seems to be an agenda of indoctination rather than truth. I have seen this happen time and time again in past years as old history books were tossed aside in favor of newer ones that reflect, not the truth, but a new more popular version of past events. It has often been said that the victors write the history, but here we seem to have the reverse with the victors feeling an unwarrented guilt for what they see a past abuses and writing that into their accounts. One can easily pick and choose and come to any preconceived conclusions ignoring the total mass of evidence.

mace said...

There's a tendency to see history in segments( useful to propagandists)rather than as a continuous process,of course the Crusades were a counter-attack in response to 400 years of Islamic aggression.All we need to do is refer to a map of the Meditteranean world in the early 7th century and one of the 11th, to understand which side was the aggressor.Selective amnesia is not confined to Moslems and blinkered Western historians,the Japanese also suffer from that affliction.

I've just started reading "Holy Warriors" -very interesting indeed.It's always seemed obvious to me that Islamic control of the Meditterranean crippled European economic and cultural development for centuries and for example, Moslem slavers still menaced Western Europe into the 17th century.The only "gift" that the Moslems gave Europeans was to force them to look for sea routes to South and South East Asia.

O'Neil's book is the first work I've read that presents a coherent picture of the destructive influence of Islam on Western civilization. I hadn't realized the extent to which Greco-Roman civilization was recovering before it was extinguished by the Islamic onslaught. Recommended.

Anonymous said...

This made me remember about a discussion I had with a silly man who was rambling about how tolerant the Muslims were in Andalusia, myth that I totally destroyed with historical facts and quoting people from that time. Anyway, I'm really appalled each time I talk to foreigners(from the West) whose perception of history is so distorted by what they were taught in schools. Here we are taught about the real version, close to what John O'Neill wrote in this essay. But again, we couldn't really talk about how peaceful and tolerant the Muslims were considering they tried to enslave us for centuries and we had to fight them all the time(up until WW1 or so). But again, we are subjected to a forced memory erase about what happened in 1989-1990 and our history books are a fraud about that, so I'm unsure if they could fail to brainwash us - they'd need to erase every single aspect of the truth though.
If anyone cares to read that debate I had. :P

PatriotUSA said...

I am currently reading a book on the re-writing of American history. I have to read it in short bursts as I get too upset at what has been white washed out of our history books and historical archives. One can really see the effects of the toxic stews of diversity, multiculturalism and Pcness as history has moved on from the early 1960's.

The Crusaders were a
reaction to the
threats of the massive
Islamic expansionism.
One can take this into todays battle with Islam. Except
now it is after complete
and total global domination,
We are allowing this to happen right under our noses.

Professor L said...

And so the history wars continue.

I don't think all is lost however. About a hundred years ago, the famed Conflict Thesis (of conflict between religion and science) was proposed by two Englishmen (with works that were of dubious academic quality), generally as a swipe against the Catholic Church. Nowadays, historians would laugh at you if you felt the Conflict Thesis was true; it's really that bad.

Still, it remains in embedded in popular culture, even as it has been thrown out of the halls of academia.

Coming back to the topic, though the idea of Muslims as the victims of a senseless attack has appeal to the appeasers of today, if it is not supported by the evidence (as so lucidly pointed out in this essay), then it will ultimately collapse. The victors may try to rewrite history however it so pleases them, but without truth and breadth of scope, they can never establish a lasting historical account that will stand up to scrutiny (returning to my example, the only examples of the Conflict Thesis were Galileo and Giordano Bruno; the former was actually accused of lese majeste against the Pope in counter-Reformation Italy, and the latter had many heretical ideas, for which he was executed. Their scientific ideas were of no consequence; and remember that Copernicus was a Polish monk).

heroyalwhyness said...

I'm currently reading John J. O'Neill's book "Warriors" and have been following his essays posted here and at

As one who never appreciated reading or studying history, I have a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, the current whitewash of history also escaped my attention for the most part.

After 9/11 I had the good fortune of finding Robert Spencer's where he placed the context of the Crusades in proper historic perspective. IIRC, that's also the site that brought me to GoV since Fjordman, Dymphna and Baron Bodissey posted elucidating comments capturing my full attention.

Anyway, with limited exposure to history, it's no coincidence the history lessons I absorbed in parochial school during the early 60's smoothly synch with O'Neill's timely work, where the 'orientalism' hoisted upon current generations laboriously attempts to plug a round hole with an awkwardly square peg. It just doesn't fit. The Islamic narrative does not make sense. The Islamic world as it is today reflects centuries of insipid illiteracy and economic stagnation inflicted by the chains of that degenerate prophet's doctrine. All the architecture and art and music, technology and philosophy that stands today - exists despite Islam.

I'm currently reading O'Neill's book, Holy Warriors in which he argues ". . .at length that a great majority of the things commonly regarded as "Medieval" were in fact introduced to Europe from Islam, and that it was Islam, and not the Huns, Vandals and Goths, which terminated Classical Civilization, the rational and humane civilization of Greece and Rome. This civilization survived in Europe and in North Africa and the Near East until the seventh century, at which point it was terminated by the Muslim conquests." "
It's an easy read thus far, yet ONeill's calling into question a period of nearly 300 years history due to the absence of archeological artifacts across the entire Mediterranean region that should have existed if these years had also existed - gives me pause.

I prefer the scholarly reference style of Dr. Andrew Bostom and Bat Ye'or to O'Neill's more casual suppositions, yet recommend O'Neill's book to entertain his theory as a launching point for further exploration.

S said...

'native barbarism, or *recent zeal*'

meaning converts to islam - a problem even then

Profitsbeard said...

How many know that Islamic invaders also once sacked Rome, itself?

846 AD.

The whitewash of the endlessly-expansionistic bloody Death Cult of the Koran has required entire oceans of self-abnegating denial by craven, self-blinding 'historians'.

Primarily since the post-WW II era (coincidentally [sic] when we began to really need oil from Muslim-occupied regions and did not wish to offend them with any uncomfortable facts about their religion's documented behavior and ultimate, totalitarian earthly aims), when "Occidentalism" began to be critiqued as "racist" and "imperialist" in order to slander the unpleasant details about the brutal and intolerant acts of marching Mohammadism contained within the works.

This absurd revisionist lunacy about "peaceful Islam" has filterd uncriticallly into left-leaning (West-despising) academic class, the cowardly mass media, pocket-protecting entertainment productions, and has steered the careers and ensured the timidity, when facing Islam, by pandering politicians.

And suicide is painless, too.

Dymphna said...

@ rebellious vanilla (btw, I've been meaning to comment on your clever nic for some time):

We're a lazy bunch. It does take a moment, but if you use the HTML template at the top of the comment box, you'll make your link "live" and people will click on it. They're less likely to cut and paste.

Your blog is definitely worth seeing...Here is the post you referenced: The Myth of Al-Andalus...

That whole essay is lucidly informative. Just one small clip:

...but the main idea is this. The so called nice behaviour of Moors towards the Christians and Jews is a load of serious historical revisionism...

I heard the same made-up things from other people, even read an article in WSJ about it, in which he blamed the lack of reformation of Islam on the Inquisition which aborted the changes of Islam that started to take place in Andalusia

I like the phrase "a load of serious historical revisionism". When someone says "a load of" it's usually followed by four-letter scatological terms rather than an actual idea.


Dymphna said...


Your link, too:

The Muslim Sack of Rome and St. Peter's in 846 A.D.

Please leave links rather than URLs.

I wish blooger had the capacity to automatically make URLs into links. It's a good system and surely can't be that hard??

christian soldier said...

Thank you for the history and fabulous painting ---the horses are executed beautifully...and- so are the humans...

Anonymous said...

Dymphna, thank you. Most of my blog is written in a period that preceded one of my biggest epiphanies ever and when I read it, I'm not pleased with it, actually. This is my biggest problem with writing in general - what I will write today is something I won't agree with in a month as I experienced more. lol. Basically, most of what I wrote is like that except the technical aspects like economics or global warming and so on. This is why I'll take a break from writing things until I learn more. :P