Obama, the Crusades, and moral equivalence

Obama’s inartful attempts at moral equivalence in his recent speech has, among other things, been an unmitigated disaster for the American Muslim community. Gracious, generous, and ecumenical-minded Christian ministers and leaders who have been standing by moderate Muslim leaders and supporting them in speaking out against ISIS have now been put on the defensive, and are now having to explain to journalists and audiences that Christianity is not a threat to world peace, and is not wreaking havoc and mass murder across the globe, the way Islamism is. Just try to imagine the awkwardness of a Christian minister and an Imam sitting together while the minister explains this to an inquiring journalist or an audience and you’ll know what I mean.

I have hitherto been very reluctant to blog on this issue, because matters of my faith (Islam) I regard as personal. But there has to be a point at which this denialism about Islamism and terror by PC know-nothings gives way to something approaching reason and truth. The President will not speak the truth, so let me.

Ever since 9/11 and even before that, the phenomenon of Arab and Islamist terrorism in the world has been a deep source of shame to Muslims everywhere. Human beings, being the fallen creatures that we are, deal with this shame in the different ways that psychology has properly identified:

DENIAL. The sovereign, all-purpose defense mechanism, surpassing all others. Refers to someone repudiating reality, usually in the service of a strongly-cherished delusion. Examples: 1) Problem? What problem? All religions are violent, and the bad actors in the present terror phenomenon are violent extremists having nothing to do with Islam, and 2) “The tide of war is receding.” Get the picture?

RELATIVIZATION. Easing guilt and shame by convincing yourself that everyone else should be as guilty and ashamed as you are, for any reason that you care to imagine. Example: Ever hear of the Crusades, Slavery, the Michael Brown shooting? Get off your high horse.

REVERSAL. Turning shame and guilt into someone else’s problem; the most popular defense mechanism this side of denial. Example: No, you’re the problem. It is America, Israel, and the West that are at war with Islam, and Muslims are defending themselves.

DISPLACEMENT. A close cousin of reversal. This involves transferring anger, hostility, or blame from one object or person to a safer, less threatening one. Example: Woman kicks husband, husband runs downstairs and kicks dog. Thus, Islamist terrorism from the Middle East is the fault of American wars against Muslims, Israel’s “oppression” of Palestinians, settlements in the West Bank, and American support for Israel. There’s your problem. Fix all that, and no more terrorism.

CANDOR. A lonely, forlorn, and much-shunned alternative to all of the above. Otherwise known as the truth; nemesis of Obamaspeak. Example: Anyone is a Muslim who recites al-shahada and observes the Pillars. There simply is no Christian or Jewish (or Hindu or Buddhist) analogue or equivalent to the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism in the world today. It is a phenomenon occurring within the Islamic faith, for Islamists cannot be Islamists without being Muslims to begin with (Note to President Obama and the Left: see how that works?). ISIS/ISIL, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, and Hamas are terrorists who all draw their ideologies from Islamic sources such as the Qur’an and the Hadith. That is the truth, and nothing but. It is no less true, however, that their borrowings are selective, self-serving, and distorting. That is also the truth, and nothing but.

FACT. An item recognizable with the aid of candor; a symptom and artifact of reality, buttressed by an accurate appraisal of events and circumstances. Example: President Obama is the helmsman of staggeringly incompetent and irresponsible foreign policy, and continues to be the best friend of our enemies and the best enemy of our friends.


And now, to the Crusades. Were they an atrocity that should humble Christians who would presume to denounce the savagery of ISIS and other Islamist groups? Let’s see.

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, his successors in the Rashidun and Ummayad caliphates expanded the realm of Islam from the narrow confines of the Arabian peninsula north into what is today Iraq, east through Persia to Afghanistan and north-west India, west into the Levant and across North Africa, up through Spain, across the Pyrenees, and into France, only to be stopped cold by Charles Martel (“the Hammer”) and his Franks at the battle of Tours in 732. There the party ended, and the Umayyads beat a sorrowful and grumbling retreat back across the Pyrenees, to reflect soberly upon the reasons for Allah’s sudden and abrupt disfavor, and regroup for future efforts.

From this period onward, the lands of Islam and those of Byzantium and Christian Europe were in a struggle for mastery of Spain, the Near East, the Levant, and the Eastern Mediterranean. It is in the context of that struggle, that any examination of the Crusades must be considered.

Thus, the question of whether the Crusades were an act of aggression or self defense is a complicated one. Jerusalem had not been under Roman/Christian/Byzantine dominion for some 461 years—and, as is well known, they had seized it from a certain other people. However, the undertaking of the First Crusade had four proximate causes.

First there was the threat of the threat of the Seljuk Turk sultanate to that of Asia Minor and the south-east Balkans. The Seljuks, who were hated by Muslim and non-Muslim alike, were renowned for their savagery and prowess in battle, as the Byzantines under Romanus IV found out when the Seljuk chieftain Alp Arslan routed him and his army at Manzikert (1071).

When the lunatic Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in 1010, Muslims under his successor Ali az-Zahir, worked tirelessly to rebuild and restore the edifice. The Muslim traveler Nasir I Khosru in 1047 said the restored church was a “spacious building built with the utmost care.” When the Seljuks took over in 1070, they ravaged the city and terrorized all non-Muslims, the horrors of which reached the ears of Gregory VII, Victor II, and Urban II.

The second reason, closely related to the first, was the weakening of the Byzantine Empire. Should the Turks take Constantinople and cross the Bosphorus, all hell would break loose on Europe, undoing the victory at Tours in 732.

The third reason was frankly economic and broadly strategic. The Italian city-states who were the navy and merchant fleet of Europe, were anxious to expand the realm of power into the Levant and the Near East and gain access, and control of the markets and ports.

The fourth, though unspoken at the time, was the disunity of Christian Europe; feudal barons and Norman buccaneers could now fight Muslims in a Holy War instead of each other, and give papal rule over the continent a much-needed boost.

The idea of a crusade to reclaim the Holy Land had long been one near and dear to the popes, dating back to the ninth century. Sylvester II, Gregory VII both dreamed of launching one. The decision of Pope Urban II, having taken all factors in mind, took the plunge, and addressed the crowd at Clermont in Auvergne in 1095:

“Let your hatred depart from among you; let your quarrels end! All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion!”

This is consistent with what Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said to the Knights Templar, at Vazelay on the eve of the Second Crusade:

“The Christian who slays the unbeliever in the Holy War is sure of his reward; more sure if he himself is slain. The Christian glories in the death of the pagan, because Christ is therefore glorified.”

Thus, the casus belli of the First Crusade was initially to repel the Seljuk Turks from the Byzantine realm of Anatolia, but once the Crusaders defeated the Turks at Nicaea (1097), Dorylaeum (1097), and Antioch (1098), the brutal and unlovable Seljuks were dealt a well deserved defeat–and not just by the Crusaders. The Arab Fatimids, who were still smarting from having been ejected from Jerusalem by the Seljuks in 1070, now saw their chance, and, sniffing the wind, lent solace and comfort to the Seljuks after their defeat at Antioch by booting them out of the Holy City, and thus the Seljuks had ceased to be a threat. Thereafter, the Crusades were for Jerusalem, the Holy Land, and all the lucrative ports of the Levant. As with the Muslims after the death of the Prophet, Crusade was now for empire and conquest.

However, to view the Crusades in such narrow terms by our modern standards (as President Obama, and many Muslim chroniclers and historians have and still do) in terms of aggression and atrocity would be unfair. When Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade, he certainly had other political motives in mind, but, in the main, the actions he took were a reflection of his sincere piety, his desire to rescue the Eastern Christians, and to reclaim for Christianity Jerusalem and the Holy Land away from the (to him) infidel Muslims. In doing this, his honorable motives were beyond reproach. Both Christians and Muslims sincerely believed in, and fought for their faiths.

That the moral teachings of both religions have been imperfectly and inconsistently applied throughout history, especially in the Middle Ages when intolerance and inter-faith hatreds were rife, only goes to show that all Muslims in that day and age followed and obeyed the Qur’an about as well as their Christian European counterparts always followed and obeyed the moral precepts of Christ and the Bible. The wretched treatment of Jews by both certainly bears this out as well.

Muslims were and are guilty of abusing and violating the Qur’an’s strictures on fighting only in self-defense (Qur’an 2:190-193, 60:8-9, 22:39-40, et al) in their wars of expansion following the death of the Prophet, and when the Crusaders sacked and indiscriminately slaughtered their way into Jerusalem in 1099, killing thousands of Jews and Muslims, it was certainly not the Sermon on the Mount that was guiding their conduct, and this was reflected in the violent exhortations of their chaplains and religious leaders. Man, alas, is a fallen creature, and his character is often his fate, be it for good or for evil. The best solution to this ancient dilemma is to respect freedom of conscience for all, a notion that is embraced by the nations of the West, and is fundamental in the Muslim holy book, but not yet embraced in the Muslim world today.


In his “Day of Pardon” speech in March, 2000, Pope John Paul II spoke the following words:

Let us forgive and ask forgiveness! While we praise God who, in his merciful love, has produced in the Church a wonderful harvest of holiness, missionary zeal, total dedication to Christ and neighbour, we cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions.

This is not quite the “apology” for the Crusades that many sought to portray it as. Rather, it was a heartfelt and sincere plea of a general nature for humility and reflection–to “forgive and ask forgiveness,” like a pastor beckoning his parishioners to reflect upon all the times when they and those before them have strayed from the teachings of the faith, and to go and sin no more–in other words, a message applicable to all peoples and all faiths for all time. This man was a very, very great soul.

I wish I could regard President Obama’s recent Prayer Breakfast speech in the same light. Rather, this speech was awash in the usual left-leaning, multicultural political correctness, and insipid attempts at moral equivalence, reflecting his fantasy-based worldview and ungainly attempts at denying the peril of the global Islamist menace, the empowering and expansion of which has been the signature event of his presidency. The President genuinely believes his words are received as a sign of good faith by a thankful, grateful audience who otherwise misunderstand our good intentions, and that the responses of his critics are just so much nattering and chattering.

They are not so received. Rather, they are received by friend and foe alike as a sign of weakness and lack of righteous conviction. From this purblind misperception flow the cardinal errors of his presidency, and the current disasters of the Obama foreign policy stem from four factors in particular: one, a dangerous naivete on the part of the President concerning rogue regimes being amenable to friendly persuasion instead of the credible threat of force, two, a proclivity towards appeasement as a practical solution, three, a profound disinterest in foreign affairs, and four, a glib and shallow understanding of the issues at hand.

Points one, two and four were well illustrated in Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009. However much the Arabs may have welcomed the criticism of both Israel and Bush in this speech, the tribal-minded among them could not have failed to see the faithlessness of his treatment of his ally, or the self-serving cynicism in his disparagement of one of his own countrymen in a foreign land. There is an old Arab saying: it is my brother and I against our neighbor, and all of us against the stranger. The President was revealed as a feckless, faithless, ingratiating equivocator who could be played for the duration. He just did not understand: the Arabs respect strength and resolution, and they despise weakness like a cockroach to be stomped on a kitchen floor.

As to point three, this may well be the most dangerous all around. Obama treats dealing with foreign affairs the way a petty adolescent treats having to take out the trash: as an annoying and loathsome chore. Added to this petulant disdain for presidential statecraft, President Obama’s approach to foreign affairs has always been heavy with progressive notions of Western guilt, the conviction that conflicts are the result of misunderstandings that can be dispelled by patience and dialogue, and the belief that foreign policy, like all government, ought to be therapeutic.

To all this, there has always been the subordination of foreign affairs to domestic considerations such as the President’s political standing and viability; truth be told, this President, in his disinterest in what occurs beyond our borders, has always been wont to stress the importance of “nation building at home,” his highest priority in the war on terror currently being to shutter the Guantanamo Bay prison, where the poor, bedraggled mujahadin are made to suffer the indignities of their plush, air-conditioned cells, along with the prayer mats, Qur’ans, and the three square meals provided them daily by Great Satan—all while dreaming dreams of jihad and mass murder of the American kafir when they are released. A recent article reported:

J. Wells Dixon, an attorney who has represented Guantanamo prisoners, spoke about what this issue means for Obama’s record in the White House. “If the president doesn’t succeed in making substantial steps to closing Gitmo now, it will have a very severe impact on his legacy,” said Dixon, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Mr. Dixon need not worry; for this “legacy” is this administration’s highest, most hallowed priority project, surpassing all others. It will most certainly not be interrupted by anything as nettlesome as the war on terror, the very phrase of which was long ago banished from the President’s lexicon, as well as being a war that he only last year declared to be at an end. Posterity, long-waiting but patient, will accept nothing less.

The President’s worldview is thus a perfect snapshot of fashionable, left-leaning Western academic opinion: In sum, that the furies wreaking havoc both in and from the Middle East come not from culturally and politically dysfunctional societies long wedded to a centuries-old pathology of violence, oppression, corruption, and cultural stagnation, but, rather, from the bad behavior of the United States (especially under Bush and Cheney), and, of course, Israel, who, he believes, has behaved badly with our blessing for far too long.


The Crusades happened long, long ago. Current attempts to relativize and de-Islamicize the current global phenomenon of Islamist terror are pathetic, are harmful to the cause of fighting that phenomenon, and empower no one but the Islamists, who see our weakness and lack of conviction in fighting this war. What could be more comforting than an enemy who is not only confused about whether he is at war with you, but whether is even at war at all. No one can fight an enemy that can’t be named, and how can anti-Islamist Muslims fight this war if they do not name this enemy?

About the Author
Robert Werdine lives in Michigan City, Indiana, USA. He studied at Indiana University, Purdue University, and Christ Church College at Oxford and is self-employed. He is currently pursuing advanced degrees in education and in Middle Eastern Studies.