Since 9/11, there have been a number of books and articles re-fighting the legacy of the Crusades. In particular, the slaughter in Jerusalem at the end of the First Crusade usually is taken to be evidence of the wickedness of the whole project. Dad29 links to a piece today that points out a fact that doesn't normally make the cut:

Violence against, and persecution of Jews was never encouraged, tolerated, or condoned by the Papacy. Christianity did not need a thousand years to “clean up its act” with regard to Jews; in response to the atrocities carried out by soldiers in the crusading armies, Pope Calixtus II issued the bull “Sicut Judaeis” in 1120, which declares, among other things that:
[The Jews] ought to suffer no prejudice. We, out of the meekness of Christian piety, and in keeping in the footprints or Our predecessors of happy memory, the Roman Pontiffs Calixtus, Eugene, Alexander, Clement, admit their petition, and We grant them the buckler of Our protection.
In other words, when Christians carried out acts of violence against Jews, they were doing so in disobedience to their religion, and their spiritual leaders. This was also the case during the unfortunate sack of Constantinople in 1203, in which Christian turned upon Christian during the Fourth Crusade.
What is often also forgotten is that there had been some Christian pushback against the Islamic nations before 1095. One reason that the Normans won at Hastings in 1066 is that the Anglo-Saxon army had been in the north fighting Harald Hardrada, the Viking king, only days before; they'd finished a brutal battle at Stamford Bridge, and then had to force march to intercept the invading Normans.

That same Harald Hardrada had fought in Sicily with the Byzantines, as part of the Varangian Guard. This is told of in the Heimskringla. These campaigns were in the 1040s.

The reconquest of Spain began in 1085 with the fall of Toledo to Alfonso VI of Leon and Castille. We were looking at a scene from El Cid just the other day, as you'll recall.

So by 1095, when Pope Urban preached the Crusade, it was not out of desperation and fear of imminent destruction. It was in part out of a sense that the tide had been turning, and that the once-unstoppable forces of Islam had begun to be rolled back. The atrocities committed against Christians in the Holy Land didn't seem impossible to correct, with Toledo in recent memory and with an ally in the East.

That said, the First Crusade was a miracle. The ally in the East proved treacherous, and a student of the war will be stunned that they carried it off at all. They did so only by the smallest margin, capturing Jerusalem with an Islamic army advancing upon them. I met one of the descendants of the man who led that army, while I was in Iraq; in those days, his tribe (of whom he was one of three brothers who were the paramount sheikhs) had run a kingdom in the north of what is now Iraq. He was very proud of that fact, and he knew that I would know just which army he meant when relating the story -- as indeed I did.

So, you see: the past is with us. It is not, as Requiem for a Nun put it, even past.

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