The President’s History Lecture

On January 5, President Obama, in a speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, equated the current jihadist threat with “terrible deeds committed in the name of Christ.”  Read the entire speech to get the full context. But if you do, you will find President Obama bending over backward to find some moral equivalency between current terrorism and the Crusades.  Let’s first set the historical record straight.

In 1095 (nearly 1000 years ago by the way) the Crusades began (one of eight) when Pope Urban called for war against the Muslim forces which had attacked and occupied the Holy Land, including Jerusalem.  So, first fact:  The Crusades were not a unilateral attack.  Second, they were a military operation, a multi-lateral engagement from various kingdoms of Europe, led by a few of those rulers.  Third, and you can read more about this, the Muslim forces were not by any stretch “paragons of virtue” when they attacked Palestine.  They themselves report a good deal of slaughter of Christians.

Now when the Crusaders reached Palestine, they did engage in real war with the Muslims, not terrorism.  Reports from both sides tell of bloodshed.  After all, it was a war, unlikely to be bloodless.  The Crusaders won that first round and established  “Crusader Kingdoms” throughout Palestine.  Several  more Crusades followed, more and usually less successful.  In the end, the European Christians gave up and went back to their normal business.  The Muslims were left to control Palestine and continued to do so until after World War One.

Let me now ask the reader:  How is that first (or any subsequent) Crusade morally equivalent to modern terrorism?  One could argue, I suppose, that at times the Crusaders did not fight by the rules of Just War theory—and neither did the Muslims, who had no Just War theory like the Europeans.  The problem with that argument is that to say that sometimes the Crusaders did follow the rules of just war is simply to admit that no theory is likely to work out perfectly because of imperfect people.  So to say that some of the forces did not act as they should have is to say very little.

So why did the president apparently deliberately distort history?  The answer is, to suit his political purposes.  Now I cannot fully understand why he continually refuses to accept the ugly fact that radical Islamic terrorists—they are Islamic, albeit “heretical” by some interpretations, this itself being a contentious point—are out to take the Middle East and to kill all infidels they feasibly can.  In the meantime, they use terrorism to cause other people to cower.

I grant the president is in something of a conundrum.  If he appears too hard-line on Islam, he looks bad to other, more moderate, Islamic allies who might help us with ISIS and other terrorist groups.  But it seems that he goes way too far in conciliation.  Even Jordan, an Islamic nation, has taken a more aggressive stance than we have.

At any rate, my main point was to say that there is simply no moral equivalency between modern Islamic terrorism and Crusading of the Middle Ages by Christians.  The progressives and liberals will now complain that the Crusades were a blight on the Christian faith and show how bigoted and intolerant we really are.  Even if that accusation was merited for that time, what has happened in the West in the last 1000 years, especially after World War Two, and especially in the United States?  Our approach to war has become so much better morally that now there can be no argument at all of moral equivalency.  The president should stop trying to be a historian, or at least study his history before he speaks.

13 thoughts on “The President’s History Lecture”

  1. Excellent point raised. Appeasement through blatant misreading of history is not a policy that has proved successful in the past.

  2. One could also point out that during the Middle Ages when the Crusades occurred, the Muslim factions such as the Turks, Moors, and later the Ottomans, were attacking Europe. They tried conquering Spain, France, the Balkans, and central Europe. The Reconquista in Spain was in fact a crusade itself to drive the Muslim Moors out. The crusades to Palestine were, as Dr. Clauson has mentioned, counterattacks to reclaim what the Muslims had conquered, and by extension, while the crusades were active, it kept Muslim forces fighting on the defensive in the Middle East rather than being able to concentrate on overrunning Europe.

  3. The Crusades were far more than just a “military operation.” According to some account (we lack a transcript of Urban II’s comments, unfortunately), Urban said that participation would lead to the remission of their sins, and that Christ commanded it. Indeed, there was certainly some significant religious motivation behind the Crusades.

    That said, I agree that Mr. Obama erred in mentioning the Crusades. To me that was a weak analogy.

    His analogy on slavery, on the other hand, is on much more solid ground. Indeed, the SBC did not formally apologize for its significant role until 1995! It took that denomination 130 years to [finally] do the right thing.

    A better analogy the president could have used of people “committing terrible deeds in the name of Christ” is the Christian terrorism in this country that took place during Jim Crow, during the dominance of the KKK and during the committing of other acts of terrorism. The sad fact is that KKK (especially in the 1920’s) wrapped itself around Christianity and justified its ideology on the Bible ( as the defenders of slavery did before).

    It also should be pointed out that Thomas Dixon, an author whose work inspired the film “The Birth of a Nation,” was an active Southern Baptist minister who visited and spoke at Baptist churches up until his death in the 1940’s.

    I do hope the president and future presidents do more to help as it is possible Islam experience what got Christianity out of barbarism: the (largely) secular Enlightenment (and, no, this does not mean reviving the hopefully dead Bush Doctrine). John Locke’s words of liberty of conscience ring true three centuries later.

  4. I would continue to insist that the Crusades were a military operation. Yes, they had a religious motivation, but everyone did in that era, so that becomes a moot point, applicable to Christians and Muslims alike. But as I said, the West’s just war theory was different from the Islamic idea of jihad, even though some have labeled the Crusading ideas as “holy war” (equivalent to Muslim jihad). Still, even if we assumed both were alike, this was a genuine war situation in which military forces fought each other. The Muslims had attacked first and taken Palestine. The West countered by attacking the Muslims. But this was not terrorism.

    Now the heart of your point. Nobody denies chattel slavery was supported at times by Christians and non-Christians. This was wrong of course. But it was not terrorism. Slaveholders didn’t go around killing innocent people by beheading and burning. So the analogy there was not good either. The use of the term “Christian terrorism” to describe the KKK may have some applicability here.

    I don’t know what Dixon and “Birth of a Nation” has to do with this, except that racism was associated with a Southern Baptist minister. He wasn’t a terrorist, even though he was no saint. The SBC’s late repudiation of slavery was arguably too late, though I don’t know what the obstacles were, but it was not terrorism at work.

    I don’t quite understand the last paragraph, as there might be a grammar error, but if it means what it says, then I do not agree. The “Islam “experience” did not get “Christianity out of barbarism, ” if by that you mean Islamic civilization influenced Western civilization to a great degree. But you may have meant that the recent “experience” may have gotten Christianity out of barbarism. In that case, I don’t follow at all. You will have to clarify that.

  5. Here is a good article discussing jihad and crusades. It points out that the crusades lasted perhaps two centuries while there have been 14 centuries of jihads.

    And perhaps the comment about barbarism meant that Islam will experience what Christianity did. In other words perhaps Islam will “reform”.

    Lastly, perhaps when referencing slavery and the Bible, Obama forgets that in some cases the slaves (e.g. Nat Turner) and abolitionists (e.g. John Brown) used the Bible as justification for brutal murder themselves, in many cases retarding the anti-slavery sentiments that Christianity was in fact fostering.

    Slavery was incompatible with Christianity and many knew it. Robert E. Lee himself referred to the “mellowing influence of Christianity” as being what would, they believed, peacefully end it.

    But it was in Christ’s name that the ABOLITIONISTS engaged in terrorism and in so doing scared the south into secession and brought the Civil War on. Scripture was misused by BOTH sides in the 19th century slavery debates.

    1. Slavery was NOT incompatible with Christianity. Indeed, the practice is defended in both Old and New Testaments. The fact that the Bible speaks favorably about the practice helps explain why it continued on for so long, and why Bible-believing Christians turned to the Scriptures to justify it. The rallying cry of the Confederacy was “Deo Vindici,” which can be translated into English as “God will vindicate us.”

      The sad truth is that for the vast majority of the time that Christianity has been a major religion, Christians have often defended slavery and white supremacy. Muslims of course have often done the same, if not more so.

      And, no, Islam should not get a free pass while Christians get raked over the coals for their shameful abuse of other human beings during the era of the transatlantic slave trade. After all, around 1 million white Europeans were enslaved by Muslims in the Mediterranean in early modern times (in Italy, the Barbary Coast, and other surrounding areas).

      My point in an earlier post–which I am afraid was lost because some words were missing when I pressed “post comment”–was that Christianity fortunately has lost its inhumane elements due to the influence of the Enlightenment. Christians for whatever (good) reason now no longer consider the Bible’s defenses of slavery as applicable today. It is not the Bible that has changed but rather the mindset of Christians.

      It is a good thing that Christians do not turn to the Bible any longer to justify slavery, or the KKK, or apartheid, or segregation. Hopefully one day we can say that same thing about Islam and terrorism, that some Muslims no longer justify acts of cruelty against the innocent by turning to the Qu’ran,

      Islam in many ways, especially in theocratic societies, is still living in a pre-Enlightenment era. It needs the civilizing influence of the West.


      1. It would be wrong to say that the Bible defended slavery. What it is wrong to say is that the Bible condemned it. But we must remember that the purpose of Christianity is to save souls for heaven not bring social reform for earth. This is why the apostles (Paul and Peter) consistently wrote that slaves were to obey their masters and that masters were to treat their slaves kindly. It was not because they endorsed slavery, and these verses are not an endorsement of slavery, but because in order to further Christ’s Name, Christians were to act differently. The Bible stresses that with God there is no “respecter of persons”. When a Christian slave owner and his slave stand before God they will both be viewed equally, and this Christian doctrine is what ultimately, when understood properly, shows the incompatibility of slavery with Christianity. While a person may still be a slave in a legal respect, the relationship between a Christian master and slave is instructed to be one of equality, they are both brothers in Christ and the slave ceases to become a slave to the master and the master ceases to become a master to the slave. And in fact, the Biblical principles of the slave-master relationship in reality governed the way many in the South operated. While you will find misinterpretations in their views, there was also the prevailing opinion within the South that, had the South been left alone and not provoked, intimidated, etc. by the North, slavery would not long have survived anyway, there would not have been the bitterness left behind by the destruction northern armies wrecked on the south, and, in all probability, we would not be celebrating MLK Day because the Civil Right Movement would have been unnecessary.

        And anyone who thinks the Confederate motto solely refers to slavery or that the war was solely about slavery little understands the Civil War. If the Confederacy solely wanted to preserve slavery, then why, in 1864, did the Confederacy offer to France and Britain emancipation in exchange for help. When it came down to it, the Confederacy was willing to abandon slavery in exchange for independence.

        You are correct, the Bible has not changed and the Christian mindset has changed, just not the way you think it has. The Christian mindset, at least on the issues of race and slavery, is more in tune with the Bible today than in the past.

  6. I am not very educated on the history of the crusades, but I am glad to hear this side of it. I was always taught that these crusades were for the purpose of spreading Christianity throughout the world, but I was never taught the idea that these Crusades were birthed from legitimate warfare in Palestine. I read the articles posted above, and it seems that this very commonly taught idea doesn’t hold as much truth as I previously thought. Obama does have a hard job to keep a strict policy towards Radical Muslims while also keeping the other Muslims allied with the US, but he should be speaking with truthful insight on the past as President of The USA.

  7. I wish other countries would step up into the fight with us against ISIS like Jordan is doing. ISIS killed one pilot and they are retaliating like they should be. We have seen them execute countless of our people on live TV videos and recordings and yet it seems like we are still doing nothing. President Obama needs to step up and not let them feel like they control the world. We need to inspire other countries to come help us and Jordan in the fight against evil ISIS.

  8. That was a nice change of pace to view both sides of the story and how they really do contrast. Good article!

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