Let me start this post by saying that I’m an athiest, so religiously I have no dog in this fight other than being a product of European heritage and western civilization.
In college, I had a professor who argued that the Crusades were really a counter crusade. He argued that it was the Muslims of Arabia who started the original crusade. His point was that the Levant, Anatolia, Eygypt, North Africa, and Spain were all places that in 500 A.D. were predominantly Christian. Over the course of the next few hundred years, Islam conquered those places. They convereted large parts of the local populace and put in place punitive policies against the non-converted population (I realize that these may or may not be equal to Christian countries treatment of non-Christians, I’m not trying to argue whether one side was morally superior).
These days, in many ultra-left circles and among whack-job Islamic fundamentalists its common to hear screeds against the evil western crusaders. Now, I am perfectly willing to grant that the Crusaders weren’t the greatest bunch of guys. For one, they showed their true colors by sacking Constantinople, hurting the very people who they were obsentiallly helping. They also committed some pretty horrible attrocities against Muslims and Jews who they encountered in the Middle East.
In fact, I formerly would have found myself more or less in agreement with those railing against the Crusades. But since hearing the arguement from my professor, I find myself coming around to his perspective. I certainly recognize the odiousness of many of the Crusader’s actions (although I consider them pretty par for the couse for pre-modern times and in that sense no worse than many other conflicts between rival cultures). But putting myself in the shoes of a European Christian circa the 11th century, who could look back on 400 years of Muslim assualt on formerly Christian lands, I can at least sympatize with the general idea behind the Crusades. And I think that it probably is intellectually dishonest to view them outside of the context of the previous 400 year’s history.