Post-classical history



NEW CRUSADERS?

From Sir Walter Scott to Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush

In the emotional aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush began to articulate his response: “This crusade . . . this war on terror is going to take a while.” Thus, unwittingly or not, he offered up one of the most incendiary remarks of recent years. His choice of the word “crusade” was a propaganda gift to Osama bin Laden, who could claim that, just as crusader forces had unleashed death and destruction on the medieval Muslim world, now Bush called for the repeat of such a phenomenon. While the validity of bin Laden’s analogy can be questioned it is worth considering how and why the idea of a “crusade”—whatever it now means—has survived into the twenty-first century. As we have seen already, crusading—in its various forms—continued to be a potent concept long after Frankish control of the Holy Land had ended in 1291.

THE POST-MEDIEVAL REPUTATION OF CRUSADING

In post-Reformation Europe, the disdain of Enlightenment thinkers, ignoring the brutality of their own era, did much to relegate the crusades to a distant and discredited past. Criticism of crusading during the medieval period had been sporadic and short-lived. It was usually provoked by the collapse of an expedition or when the target of a particular campaign, such as the Albigensian crusade, was especially controversial. With the advent of Protestantism, judgments on the Catholic holy war became far harsher. The failure of the majority of the crusades to the Holy Land made the movement a particularly tempting target and writers such as Thomas Fuller (who wrote c. 1639) launched vitriolic attacks on the immorality of the papacy as the promoter of such a worthless bloodbath. He also claimed that the Catholic Church had made an immense profit from the crusades: “Some say purgatory fire heateth the pope’s kitchen; they may add, the holy war filled his pot, if not paid for all of his second course.”1 Equally culpable were the gullible, sinful participants: “Many a whore was sent thither to find her virginity; many a murderer was enjoined to fight the holy war, to wash off the guilt of Christian blood by shedding the blood of Turks.” In any case, Fuller believed little of value had emerged from the medieval period at all: “One may wonder that the world should see most visions when it was blind; and that age, most barren in learning, should be most fruitful in revelation.”2

William Robertson dismissed crusading as “a singular monument of human folly” in 1769, while several decades later Edward Gibbon argued that “the principle of the crusades was a savage fanaticism” which “had checked rather than forwarded the maturity of Europe.” In mid-eighteenth-century France, Voltaire described crusading as an outbreak of blind religious zealotry and gave it the ironic label “une maladie épidémique.” Taking the sickness metaphor further he insisted that the only thing that Europeans gained from the crusades was leprosy; he also decried the leaders’ arrogance and derided their military failings.3 In 1780 the German Wilhelm Friedrich Heller thundered: “Urban and Peter [the Hermit]! The corpses of two millions of men lie heavy on your graves and will fearfully summon you on the day of judgement.”4 In the United States, Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that the crusades were perceived as “a monument of folly and tyranny” and that claims to be the voice of God were “shrill and evil.”5

Sir Steven Runciman echoed some of these damning judgments in his hugely influential three-volume A History of the Crusades, first published 1951–54 and still in print over fifty years later. By faith Runciman was a Calvinist, and by academic inclination a Byzantinist; two reasons why the crusades were never likely to emerge with much credit from his writings. The closing lines of his work convey a lacerating final judgment: “There was so much courage and so little honour, so much devotion and so little understanding. High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness; and the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost.”6 In more modern parlance Runciman described the crusades as “a tool of unscrupulous western imperialism.”7 Through sheer ubiquity Runciman’s work has done much to form attitudes to the crusades, in the English-speaking world at least. It has created the impression that a primitive idea, born of superstition and barbarity, was stone dead by the end of the medieval period and was worthy, at most, of a place in Romantic literature.

In reality, across much of nineteenth-century Europe, particularly those areas that had remained Catholic, the concept and legacy of crusading provided rulers and policymakers with a remarkably accessible shorthand to a series of powerful ideas. The international nature of the medieval crusades gave these lands a collective or, if required, a selective past to draw upon. Self-evidently papal appeals, preaching tours, and offers of indulgences were, in most cases, inappropriate; the modern age highlighted the more secular principles of morality and heroism. Thus it was no longer the papacy that called for, or invoked, crusades but often royalist governments or particular groups—frequently nationalist in tone. As the historian Marc Bloch wrote: “Once an emotional chord has been struck, the limit between past and present is no longer regulated by a mathematically measurable chronology.”8 Crusading history was a rich store of ideals and images that could be made relevant and appropriate to a variety of contemporary events. Colonial expansion into North Africa and the Middle East, coupled with nascent nationalism in, for example, Italy, offered potent outlets for the revival of some form of crusading mentality.

There are, of course, several fundamental differences between colonialism and crusading: the latter was originally conceived as defensive in nature, while colonial empires were quintessentially expansionist. Plus, while one can suggest that the crusades to the Holy Land were, in a broad sense, a form of religious colonization on behalf of the Catholic Church, a conventional understanding of colonialism with the organized dispatch of governing representatives and the passing of money and resources back to a homeland was, with the exception of the enclaves of the Italian trading states, absent during the medieval age. With nineteenth-century conquests coterminous with the energy of the emerging Romantic movement and the stimulus of an ongoing interest in the culture of the East (Orientalism), crusading—or a mutated subspecies of the genre—found a relevance that it had lacked for centuries. Contrary, therefore, to the impression offered by Gibbon, Robertson, et al., crusading was not dead but remained a vigorous and evolving phenomenon. This nineteenth-century reawakening is, in turn, the prime reason why the idea has carried over into the present and explains why the word and the concept continue to be used in both secular and political arenas today.

THE CRUSADES IN LITERATURE

The emergence of the Romantic movement did much to restore interest in and respect for the Middle Ages after the dismissive and condescending treatment it had received in the preceding period. Above all else, the writings of Sir Walter Scott proved crucial in generating enthusiasm for the medieval world and the crusades.9 The nineteenth century was an era when reading and literary culture expanded dramatically, and Scott’s exotic adventures sold in astounding numbers and were translated all across Europe. His perspective of the crusades was, broadly speaking, a positive one, yet as a Calvinist he strongly disapproved of their “intolerant zeal.”10 On the other hand, crusading presented a perfect stage for chivalric values to shine forth and it was through this prism that he forged an association with the glamour and the excitement of great deeds in the mysterious Orient. The crusades were the setting for four of his novels: Ivanhoe (1819), The Betrothed (1825), The Talisman (1825), and Count Robert of Paris (1831). In The Talismanhe set Richard and Saladin up as opposites: the king of England was “a pattern of chivalry, with all its extravagant virtues, and its no less absurd errors;” he “showed all the cruelty and violence of an eastern sultan. Saladin, on the other hand, displayed the deep policy and prudence of a European sovereign.”11 As one recent commentator wrote, the sultan “was patently a modern liberal European gentleman, beside whom medieval westerners would always have made a poor showing.”12 In the story, Sir Kenneth of the Leopard, a (seemingly) poor Scottish crusader, befriended a Muslim emir; this man (eventually shown to be Saladin himself) came to the crusader camp and healed King Richard of sickness. Religious motives are not, however, entirely absent from The Talisman;Sir Kenneth considers “his good sword as his safest escort and devout thoughts his best companion.”13 Yet faith must compete with love and the Knight of the Leopard was transfixed by his feelings for the lady Edith: “A Christian soldier, a devoted lover, he could fear nothing, think of nothing, but his duty to heaven and his devoir to his lady.”14 The hero fell into disgrace when he failed to guard the royal standard, drawn away by a message supposedly sent by Edith. In Scott’s depiction of chivalric virtues, Sir Kenneth “thought of her as a deity” and believed that his “sole object in life was to fulfil her commands.”15 He narrowly escaped execution when a furious Richard learned of his neglect but recovered his standing when, disguised as a Nubian slave, he saved the king’s life and revealed himself as the brother of the king of Scotland. Saladin then gave an amulet with healing powers (the talisman) to his Christian friend. The sultan shared in the chivalric values so important to Scott: “let us leave to mullahs and monks to dispute about the divinity of our faith, and speak on themes which belong to youthful warriors—upon battles, upon beautiful women, upon sharp swords, and upon bright armour.”16 A strong supporting cast included the master of the Templars—a brave man, but one anachronistically described by King Richard as “a worse pagan [than Saladin], an idolator, a devil-worshipper, a necromancer, who practises crimes the most dark and unnatural in the vaults and secret places of abomination and darkness.”17

This intriguing, if historically challenged, plot was propelled by Scott’s narrative powers into a major bestseller. It was outstripped, however, by Ivanhoe, which, in turn, inspired a vast number of poets, artists, sculptors, and other authors. This was an international success with translations into French (where perhaps two million of Scott’s novels were sold by 1840), German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Its influence was immense: 290 Ivanhoe-derived dramas have been produced; in 1820, no fewer than sixteen versions of the story were staged across England, and various operas, including one by Rossini, were performed. A further manifestation of the cultural impact of Scott’s creation was the popularity of his characters in the costume balls held by the royalty of the day. In short, he had produced a compelling and noble tableau that the public devoured. Other artists and composers took crusading figures as their primary actors: Edvard Grieg composed Sigurd Jorsalfar (Sigurd the Crusader), after the Norwegian king who visited the Holy Land in 1110); crusade-themed operas by Verdi, Schubert, and Spohr were also performed across Europe during the nineteenth century.18

The combination of European colonial power and an interest in the Orient prompted many to visit the Levant to see the world of the crusaders and the Holy Land for themselves; incidentally, this was a practice that caused Walter Scott to worry that people might fault the authenticity of his descriptions of the region given that he had not traveled to the East in person.19 Tellingly, perhaps, almost all of his settings in The Talisman feature desert landscapes, as if he was unaware of the more fertile districts. Travelers were as diverse as the writer Anthony Trollope, future prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (later the author of the Young England Trilogy, subtitled “The New Crusader”), and Mark Twain. The latter wrote The Innocents Abroad (1869) about his travels, and in Jerusalem he viewed the sword of Godfrey of Bouillon (it can still be seen today, although closer inspection reveals it to be a thirteenth-century weapon), and he delighted in the “visions of romance” such an object stirred up. For him “no blade in Christendom wields such enchantment as this . . . it stirs within a man every memory of the holy wars.” The Prince of Wales visited Jerusalem in 1862, as did his sons two decades later. Another prominent royal, Prince Albert, made a more public contribution to the preservation of the crusading ideal with his commission to Baron Carlo Marochetti for a splendid equestrian statue of Richard the Lionheart. First shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851, a bronze replica was erected in front of the House of Commons in 1860 where it remains today, standing proudly outside the heart of the national government. This majestic figure, defiantly brandishing a sword, vividly conveys the nineteenth-century devotion to chivalry and pride in British achievements overseas, values much heralded in the literature of the day.

THE CRUSADES IN THE AGE OF NATIONALISM AND IMPERIALISM

Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and Syria (1798–1802) marked a starting point for Europe’s revived interest in the history of the Near East. Ironically, it began with the capture of Malta from the surviving Knights Hospitaller, effectively ending their standing as an independent political body after centuries of power in the central Mediterranean. The literature produced at this time began to stir interest in Orientalism and thence the crusades. In 1806 the Institut de France offered a prize for an essay concerning “the influence of the crusades on the civil liberty of the peoples of Europe, upon their civilisation, and upon the progress of their culture, commerce and industry”—a series of categories that betrayed a far more enthusiastic view of the crusades than that of the Enlightenment age.

The Romantic writer Chateaubriand visited the Levant and his works became enormously influential in France. To him the crusades represented an idealized Christian past: “In modern times, there are only two noble subjects for epic poetry: the crusades and the discovery of the new world.”20 Chateaubriand encouraged others to write about the subject. In post-Revolutionary France, Joseph Michaud’s Histoire des croisades set the tone by providing a ringing endorsement of the crusades as a source of glory and achievement for the French people and the French nation.21 Nineteen editions were published between 1808 and 1899 and there was a special children’s version too (the book was also translated into Russian, English, Italian, and German). Michaud was, however, careful to deplore the massacre at Jerusalem in 1099 and he was extremely guarded in his comments on the efficacy of miracles and visions. To him, the crusades had a positive aspect in that they created a sense of unity among the participants and they reduced internal warfare—both appropriate to his desires for contemporary France; they also stimulated chivalry and trade. Michaud regarded the crusades as especially “French,” although, as we saw earlier, in medieval times this was recognized in ethnic terms alone.22The nationalistic pulse at the heart of Michaud’s viewpoint is revealed here: “If many scenes from this great epoch excite our imagination or our pity, how many events fill us with admiration and surprise! How many names made illustrious in this war are still today the pride of families and of the nation! What is most positive of the results of the First Crusade is the glory of our fathers, this glory which is also a real achievement for a nation. These great memories establish the existence of peoples as well as that of families, and are, in this respect, the noblest source of patriotism.”23 Saint Louis loomed large in Michaud’s thoughts too. He wrote: “the memory of the saint-king has been, for me, like a spirit encouraging the pilgrims to set out for Palestine.”24

King Charles X (1825–30) highlighted several traditions from the medieval age; for example, he chose to be crowned in Rheims Cathedral, thereby emulating the Capetian crusading monarchs; he also identified himself particularly closely with the crusader-saint Louis IX. In 1830 Charles initiated an invasion of Algeria and the leader of the campaign, General Bourmont, explicitly recalled the memory of Saint Louis as he set out on his new crusade. Charles had ordered the expedition to help generate a sense of national unity, as well as to reduce the threat of piracy in the Mediterranean. He claimed that the enterprise was “for the benefit of Christianity,” although Bourmont’s capture of Algiers on July 3, 1830, failed to save Charles’s line from defeat by King Louis-Philippe and the Orléans dynasty.

While Louis-Philippe’s continued involvement in North Africa had more of an imperialist hue compared to the actions of his predecessor, the age of the crusades remained prominent in his thinking. The king’s desire to recall a magnificent past—and to legitimize the present regime—was most dramatically revealed by his commission of a historical museum for the royal palace at Versailles.25 This was an attempt to reconcile the Revolutionary and the Napoleonic eras with the July Monarchy and, in Louis-Philippe’s words, to assimilate “all the glories of France” in one place. The crusades were designated the first stage of French history: as a formative influence on “national” unity and, with their purportedly positive effect on the peoples of the East, they dovetailed well with the contemporary political climate. Five entire rooms were devoted to the crusades and over 120 pictures were commissioned, collected, and displayed, including Émile Signol’s Capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders on 15 July 1099, Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse’s Louis VII Taking the Banner of the Cross for the Second Crusade at Saint-Denis, 11 June 1147, and Eugène Delacroix’s Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, 12 April 1204 (now in the Louvre Museum, Paris), along with works closely connected to the ongoing North African wars, such as The Death of St Louis Before Tunis on 25 August 1270; other rooms at Versailles included images of the conflict in Algeria, thereby memorializing these events in the national consciousness.26

One visitor to these latter rooms gave voice to this sense of continuity: “We there find again, after an interval of 500 years, the French nation fertilising with its blood the burning plains studded with the tents of Islam. These are the heirs of Charles Martel, Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert Guiscard and Philip Augustus, resuming the unfinished labours of their ancestors. Missionaries and warriors, they every day extend the boundaries of Christendom.”27 The rooms also displayed the coats of arms of families with crusading ancestors. When the gallery opened 316 arms were shown, but so great was the perceived importance of such a heritage that protests from families not included caused it to close within a year. People “found” documents attesting to their lineage and in 1843 the rooms reopened with a further sixty-two families represented. In fact, a trio of master forgers had set up a lucrative business to generate fully convincing “medieval” charters, often complete with seals, to sate the demands of those desperate to be honored. The full extent of these forgeries was only revealed in 1956, understandably a matter of genuine dismay to some of the surviving families.28 While the July Monarchy fell in 1848, the impetus provided by Louis-Philippe and his Bourbonist predecessor, Charles X, caused crusading to remain prominent in the mind-set of French efforts overseas for decades to come.

As the Ottoman Empire slid into decay during the nineteenth century, so French involvement in the Middle East intensified; one consequence of this was an increased standing for the various Christian communities across the region, a change in the status quo that provoked serious discontent among the Muslims.29 In the summer of 1860 violence engulfed eastern Lebanon and an estimated eleven thousand Christians were killed. By July the trouble had extended to Damascus and a mob tore through the Christian quarter pillaging, raping, and killing the inhabitants. One eyewitness wrote of seeing hundreds of dogs who had died of a surfeit of human flesh; the district, which included churches, a monastery, and consulates, was utterly devastated. A writer in Le Correspondantsuggested that this had been part of a Muslim conspiracy that planned to “exterminate all Christians” and that it was necessary for “a new crusade of Christendom and civilisation” (by which he largely meant the French) to set up an independent Christian state in the region; a proposal that bears an uncanny resemblance to the boundaries of the modern state of the Lebanon.30 Napoleon III dispatched a French fleet to fight the Ottomans and as they set out he urged the men to prove themselves “worthy descendants of those heroes who had gloriously carried the banner of Christ to those lands.”31 Several pamphlets connected the medieval and modern periods; one compared the current pope, Pius IX, to Urban II and another called for a new crusade.32

While little came of this “crusade,” Ottoman rule in Syria finally collapsed in 1918. The next two years saw a short-lived Arab government before the League of Nations mandated French rule. Paul Pic, professor of law at the University of Lyons, regarded Syria as “a natural extension of France,” a view shared by many of his countrymen.33 Historians enthusiastically reinforced this sense of national pride and placed the contemporary occupation of the area in a continuum with their medieval territories in the Levant; in 1929 the historian Jean Longnon wrote that “The name of Frank has remained a symbol of nobility, courage and generosity . . . and if our country has been called on to receive the protectorate of Syria, it is the result of that influence.”34 This proud memory of the medieval past effectively reinforced and recapitulated the essence of mid-nineteenth-century nationalist rhetoric to produce a positive perception of the crusading period.

At the same time as the French invasions of Algeria the notion of crusading became visible in another nationalist movement, although on this occasion the focus was inward-looking: namely the effort to create a united Italy. A leading figure among the democratic patriots was Giuseppe Mazzini, who derived huge inspiration from Francesco Hayez’s painting Peter the Hermit Preaches the Crusade, first exhibited to great acclaim in 1829.35 Mazzini was attracted to the alluring combination of religion and politics represented by crusading and he used it as a symbol or concept to draw people together in his bid for progress. He wrote that the picture showed everyone “driven on by a single, true and binding force, the thought that pervades each mind: ‘God wills it, God wills it.’ . . . Unity is felt here without being seen.”36 His Young Italy group, a secret society (albeit one with fifty thousand members), had an overt religious dimension: God desired Italy to become unified and independent, and if believers had to sacrifice their lives in the holy struggle, then so be it. This cause would have a national, ethical faith, rather than a religion channeled through the papacy—a particularly radical concept in the homeland of Saint Peter’s Church.37 Mazzini’s planned insurrections failed miserably and in 1837 he was forced to go into exile in London; eventually, however, he returned to Italy to play a part in the unification process and he continued to use the image of the crusade in his calls for liberty, nationalism, and, eventually, internationalism.38

Mazzini was not the only nationalist to invoke the medieval past in Italy. In 1848, during an attempt to drive out the ruling Austrians and to secure the liberation of Italy, King Carlo Alberto launched a halfhearted invasion of Lombardy. Other Italian rulers joined his campaign and Pope Pius IX, who had been reluctant to fight another Catholic country, dispatched an expeditionary force led by General Giovanni Durando. In his determination to push Pius into outright support for the nationalist cause, Durando hoped to convince the public that his undertaking had complete papal— and therefore divine—sanction. His men advanced dressed as crusaders, complete with crosses sewn on their uniforms; he also issued a strident press release: “Soldiers! . . . The Holy Father has blessed your swords, which, united now with those of Carlo Alberto, must move in concord to annihilate the enemies of God, the enemies of Italy, and those who have insulted Pius IX . . . such a war of civilisation against barbarism is accordingly not just a national war but also a supremely Christian one. . . . Let our battle cry be: God wills it!” Pius was, predictably, furious at this arrogation of his authority; he promptly repudiated the war and reminded everyone that he was the head of all Christendom and not just Italy alone.39

In this century of the birth of nations another new arrival, in 1831, was the state of Belgium. Ideas of crusading played little part in its actual formation but as the Belgians began to establish a sense of the past they seized upon Godfrey of Bouillon, the first ruler of Jerusalem, and a man whose family hailed from the Ardennes region (although some believe that he was born in Boulogne, which means that he can be a French hero as well). Godfrey was also pious (and Catholic, of course), fearless and successful, and his fame as the conqueror of Jerusalem had assured him of a place in history and literature throughout the ages; the huge equestrian statue standing in the Place de Brussels demonstrates Godfrey’s centrality to this nineteenth-century sense of self.40

As we saw earlier, the Iberian Peninsula had a long and ultimately successful history of crusading. This, coupled with the immense residual authority of the Catholic Church, meant crusading ideas were often revived at times of turbulence and crisis. Napoleon’s invasion of 1808 and his subsequent disestablishment of the Catholic Church provoked huge resistance from traditionalists.41 One royal polemicist compared Napoleon to Sultan Mehmet II and some pressmen claimed that the war with the French was as holy as the struggle against the Prophet Muhammad. Ironically, therefore, the French, the nation with the greatest crusading heritage, became equivalent to Muslims in the developing struggle to preserve Spanish identity.

Later in the century the restored monarchy under Don Carlos emphasized the country’s Catholic past and laid heavy stress upon the reconquista. The eleventh-century warrior El Cid was frequently invoked as a defender of Spain and Christianity. The fact that El Cid was a hired hand who sometimes fought for Muslim paymasters and that Christian Spain had several rival monarchs during his lifetime was irrelevant. From the early twelfth century the legend of El Cid had developed to satisfy the need for a national Christian hero.42 In 1859–60 the Spanish attempted to emulate the French by conquering part of North Africa, in this case, Morocco. While some disliked giving the campaign a religious edge, many pressmen enthusiastically revived past glories and called upon the spirit of their ancestors who had made “the Moorish multitude bow before the sacred sign of the cross and bite the dust.” Several poets and dramatists also made explicit references to earlier crusaders. The Spaniards’ heavy losses in Morocco and the subsequent decline of their overseas empire began to limit their enthusiasm for crusading imagery, but in 1921 the clergy described the war in North Africa as a crusade and two years later, King Alfonso XIII made a speech at the Vatican in which he offered to lead a new crusade if the pope was to call one.43 These were, however, relatively isolated instances of such language and ideology but, as the tensions between traditionalists and the modern world reached breaking point, the early twentieth century saw one further opportunity to recall the medieval age.

In 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out and in their struggle against the Republican government the Catholic Church soon found common ground with the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco. As the conflict intensified the Catholic hierarchy formed a vital pillar in the rise and legitimization—at home and abroad—of Francoism. While his ideological appeal had many different dimensions there is little doubt that he enthusiastically engaged with the Church’s representation of himself and his cause as a holy crusade.44 In August 1936 a canon of Salamanca Cathedral gave a radio broadcast titled “The Lawfulness of the Armed Rising,” which concluded with a stirring call to arms: “Our war is holy. Our battle-cry that of the crusades: God wills it. Long live Catholic Spain.”45 On September 30 the bishop of Salamanca built upon a recently issued papal endorsement for the nationalists and published a text—approved by Franco himself—that presented the rebel cause as “a crusade against communism to save religion, the fatherland and the family.”46 Within weeks the archbishop of Toledo had made the same point, again calling the war a crusade and providing a further moral buttress for Franco’s party. Republican attacks on religious institutions gave the idea of fighting to save the Church a special currency because crusading tapped into a deep well of historical memory as well as giving a moral imperative to the rebels’ actions. Unlike a medieval crusade, spiritual rewards were not on offer simply for participation, although death in the Nationalist army was treated as martyrdom and the fallen were often memorialized as crusaders.

Franco was careful—in contrast to his German and Italian allies—not to submit the Church to the authority of the state and thereby to jeopardize the backing of an institution so valuable to his fight and so vital to his self-image. In November 1937 he spoke to a French journalist about contemporary matters: “our war is not a civil war . . . but a crusade . . . we who fight, whether Christian or Muslim, are soldiers of God.”47 The caveat about Christians and Muslims is an interesting point. In spite of his identification as a crusader Franco saw no irony in employing thousands of Moroccan Muslims in his forces and it was these men who perpetrated many of the worst excesses of the war. The next month, the ceremonial swearing in of the first Consejo Nacional was an occasion heavy with historical symbolism.48 The venue was the medieval monastery of Santa María de Real de las Huelgas, near Burgos. The fifty incoming committee members swore loyalty to Franco in front of a statue of Christ and the battle standard from Las Navas de Tolosa—an immensely potent symbol of Spanish crusading success—which, as we saw earlier, had proved a seminal moment in the advance of medieval Spain.

In April 1940, arguably at the height of his powers, and in celebration of the first anniversary of his victory in the Civil War, Franco presided over the construction of a colossal monument to dead Nationalists: the Valley of the Fallen. Once again his words reveal religious and moral justification as being at, or near, the top of his thoughts: “The dimension of our Crusade, the heroic sacrifices involved in the victory and the far-reaching significance this epic has for the future of Spain cannot be commemorated by a simple monument.”49 The general himself was also depicted as a crusader in a mural entitled Franco: Victor of the Crusade placed in the Military Historical Archive in Madrid.

In the aftermath of World War II Franco’s ambitions had to be less grandiose although in 1955, as he unveiled a statue of El Cid at Burgos (the region where El Cid had grown up and where his tomb lies), he reflected on his own achievements and his place in history. He argued that “the great service of our Crusade, the virtue of our movimiento is to have awakened an awareness of what we were, of what we are and what we can be.” He presented El Cid as the symbol of a new Spain: “in him is enshrined all the mysteryof the great Spanish epics: service in noble undertakings; duty as a norm; struggle in the service of the true God.” Thus, implicitly, he set out both his own definition of a crusade and offered himself as the modern-day Cid.50

Britain made some use of crusading imagery during the nineteenth century; hardly a surprise given the impetus from literature, drama, and art we noted above. Not every conflict, however, was appropriate to such ideas, or produced a significant outburst of crusade-connected comment. The Crimean War (1854–56), fought between Russia and a coalition of the Ottomans, British, French, and the kingdom of Sardinia, was one such scenario. It was a matter of some irony that the “crusading” lands of Britain (itself Protestant, of course) and France fought on behalf of the Muslim Ottomans against another Christian power, Russia.51 By contrast, events in Bulgaria during May 1876 produced a surge of crusading rhetoric. The Ottomans suppressed an insurrection in which perhaps twelve thousand Christians were slaughtered. In spite of this Prime Minister Disraeli continued his alliance with Turkey and in doing so he provoked the anger of many, including the former prime minister and recently resigned leader of the Liberal Party, William Gladstone. The latter wrote a pamphlet entitled Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, which sold 200,000 copies. “Vindictive and ill-written—in that respect, of all the Bulgarian horrors, perhaps the greatest,” was Disraeli’s tart response.52 In contrast, Gladstone’s magnificent rhetoric condemned “a murderous harvest from soil soaked and reeking with blood.” He claimed that the Turks were responsible for scenes “at which Hell itself might blush,” and he concluded that “no Government ever has so sinned; none has proved itself so incorrigible or, which is the same, so impotent for reformation.”53 A group of clerics and men of letters formed the Eastern Question Association and held over five hundred public meetings to deplore the moral detachment of the government. High Churchmen and Catholics alike thundered against the government policy. William Stead, a northern newspaper editor, felt the “clear call of God’s voice” and did much to inflame the agitation. He wrote that the crusades were no longer an enigma to him; the historian Edward Freeman was accused of “crusading bluster” and several contemporaries such as the MPs Joseph Chamberlain, John Bright, and George Russell (nephew of former prime minister John Russell) described Gladstone’s efforts as a crusade.54 A young Oscar Wilde, then at Oxford, wrote a sonnet on the massacres and lamented “Over thy Cross the Crescent moon I see” and urged Christ to return “Lest Mahomet be crowned instead of thee.”55

For crusading—a creation of the papacy—to survive in a Protestant country required more than an occasional resonance in foreign affairs. There was, of course, a substantial Catholic minority in Britain, but the perceived tie between crusading and Rome was partially dismantled through the cult of Christian militarism. In the course of the nineteenth century the manly virtues of fighting to extend the empire were linked to Protestant teaching—the notion of “muscular Christianity” so integral to the English public school system. Warrior-saints were important in the teachings of the Church, and the heroes of history—including Richard the Lionheart—became popular material for stories of great deeds; hymns such as “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” composed in 1864, set out a similar message.56

The most obvious contemporary candidate to be labeled a crusader was General Charles Gordon, killed by Muslims at Khartoum in 1885. Even before his death he had been identified as a Christian knight and his “martyrdom” only confirmed this. In 1909 he featured in a book, Heroes of Modern Crusades: True Stories of the Undaunted Chivalry of Champions of the DownTrodden in Many Lands. Links between the spirit of the empire and the higher purpose of the crusades were explicitly set out by Professor J. A. Cramb of the University of London in 1909: “This ideal of Imperial Britain—to bring to the peoples of the earth beneath her sway the larger freedom and the higher justice—the world has known none fairer, none more exalted, since that for which Godfrey and Richard fought, for which Barbarossa and St Louis died.”57

When it came to World War I, it was almost inevitable that the emotive pull of a crusade came to form a part (and one must keep a due perspective on this) of the Allies’ propaganda effort, although the Germans made a particular play on holy war too. In spite of the apparent paradox of Anglican clergy using the ideology of Catholic holy war, several churchmen wholeheartedly adopted the language of crusading. Presumably they felt that the moral force of their case was an appropriate parallel to that of the medieval age and this, combined with its demonstrable currency in popular and political culture over the previous hundred years, meant that it was a potent and recognizable theme.58

Lord Halifax called for a formal declaration of holy war against Germany, and Anglican clergy such as the bishop of London spoke of “a great crusade . . . to save the world.” Prime Minister David Lloyd George made a speech at Conway in May 1916 in which he claimed men were flocking to join “a great crusade” for justice and right and his collected speeches were entitled The Great Crusade. Others drew parallels of martyrdom and compared the sacrifice and the fears of soldiers leaving their families to those of the medieval crusaders. A young Harold Macmillan, future prime minister, fighting at Ypres in May 1916, described both the devastation of war and “the thrill of battle;” he reminded the reader (his mother) that it was easy to lose sight of the moral and spiritual strength of the Allies: “Many of us could never stand the strain and endure the horrors which we see every day, if we did not feel that this was more than a war—a Crusade. I never see a man killed but think of him as a martyr. All the men (tho’ they could not express it in words) have the same conviction—that our cause is right and certain in the end to triumph. And because of this unexpected and almost unconscious faith, our allied armies have a superiority in morale which will be (some day) the deciding factor.”59Austen Chamberlain, then president of the Liberal Unionist Association, sketched out a detailed concept of the crusading cause, covering chivalry, morality, justice, and economic and political advantage: “[We should be wrong] if we thought we are merely embarked in a chivalrous crusade on behalf of another nation, without our interests being engaged . . . it is not for Belgium only we are fighting. It is not merely a crusade for right and for law against wrong and brute force—though it is all of that—but it is a struggle for the vital interests of this country.”60 Aside from directly invoking God, these points are all shared with the medieval crusades and represent an idealized, secular version of its forerunner.

Other countries employed the crusading theme too. When the Americans entered the war their troops were led by General John “Black Jack” Pershing and the first official government war picture, filmed by the U.S. Signal Corps as a report of his activities, was titled Pershing’s Crusaders. The advertisement showed the general riding at the head of his troops with the Stars and Stripes fluttering beside him; in the background ride two ghostly medieval crusaders, both clearly bearing the cross upon their shields as they watch over the American troops.61

In France, perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea was invoked as well: one recruiting poster proclaimed: “Pour achever la croisade au droit” (“To finish the crusade for right”); Germany also called upon a medieval and crusading past, and victory over the Poles in August 1914 was seen as revenge for the defeat of the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410. The Germans created a massive memorial on the battlefield and this came to be the burial place of the revered German commander of the day, General Paul von Hindenburg, who was depicted as a medieval knight. In later decades Adolf Hitler and the Nazis adopted these concepts and staged nationalist ceremonies at the site.62

Poetry, such an integral part of the public conduct of World War I, made reference to the crusades. The Irish poet Katharine Tynan believed in the cause:

Your son and my son, clean as new swords
Your man and my man, now the Lord’s
Your son and my son for the Great Crusade
With the banner of Christ over them—our new knights made.63

Frederick Orde Ward, St. John Adcock, and Gordon Alchin all composed poems with crusading themes, with the third of these authors included in the very popular anthology The Muse in Arms. Some poetry criticized the Germans, rather than simply extolling the virtues of the Allied troops; an idea that can be found beyond the leading poets of the age and among schoolchildren too. In June 1916 a pupil at the prestigious Charterhouse school compared the nobility and valor of Godfrey of Bouillon with the ambitions of the kaiser in the East:

Would-be protector of the Muslim power,
And Over-Lord of the whole rolling world,
Ambition-led, o’er all men else he’d tower;
But grasping all, will from his Throne be hurled.
64

Probably the most famous poet to invoke crusading imagery, albeit in a letter rather than verse, was Rupert Brooke, who died of blood poisoning in April 1915 as he traveled to Gallipoli. In a somewhat naive expression of enthusiasm, he wrote to a friend: “This is probably the first letter you ever got from a crusader. The early crusaders were very jolly people. I’ve been reading about them. They set out to slay the Turks and very finely they did it when they met them.”65

In the public perception, by far the most appropriate episode to be clothed in crusading imagery was General Edmund Allenby’s Palestine campaign, which culminated in the recovery of Jerusalem on December 9, 1917. A famous Punch cartoon showed Richard the Lionheart gazing at Jerusalem with the caption “At last my dreams come true;” a reference to the king’s failed attempts to take the city on the Third Crusade (1189–92).66 In March 1918 the Department of Information released a forty-minute film called The New Crusaders: With the British Forces on the Palestine Front.67 Victory in the Near East provided a real opportunity to celebrate an Allied success and to distract public attention from domestic economic problems and the horrors of the Western Front. Officials sensed a chance to play upon the “sentimental, romantic and religious” connections of the Holy Land; the director of government propaganda was the thriller writer John Buchan, no less. Yet in spite of this seemingly propitious moment there were compelling reasons not to stress the “Last Crusade” theme too heavily. Britain’s nearest ally in the region was the Muslim ruler of the Hejaz, and panicked officials insisted how utterly “ill-advised” it would be to label the campaign a crusade. Allenby himself was acutely aware of this sensitivity because some of his troops were Muslims who refused to fight their coreligionists.68 Even more serious, perhaps, was the legacy of German encouragement for the proclamation of a jihad against the British and their allies, an effort to arouse a holy war across India and the Middle East. As we will see below, this was largely a failure, but it remained, in theory at least, a terrifying prospect. In consequence of these concerns the Department of Information issued a D notice to the press restricting coverage due to national security concerns on November 15, 1917: “The attention of the Press is again drawn to the undesirability of publishing any article, paragraph or picture suggesting that military operations against Turkey are in any sense a Holy War, a modern Crusade, or have anything whatever to do with religious questions. The British Empire is said to contain 100 million Muhammadan subjects of the king and it is obviously mischievous to suggest that our quarrel with Turkey is one between Christianity and Islam.”69 From an official perspective, therefore, a crusading comparison was erased.

Once Allenby had secured Jerusalem there was a need to strike a balance between a military triumph and the wider political and religious agenda; this explains Allenby’s modest entrance into the city. He marched in through the Jaffa Gate—a carefully considered contrast to the staged splendor of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s arrival on horseback through a special breach in the walls in 1898. Allenby’s approach was meant to highlight the kaiser’s immense arrogance rather than trumpet an act of Christian symbolism. The general emphasized free access to Jerusalem for all faiths and showed overt respect to Muslim interests; perhaps, in part, as a way of trying to soften the impact of the Balfour Declaration (November 2, 1917), which marked a major step toward the creation of a Zionist state, Israel.70 The press drew parallels with a metaphorical crusade against the Germans, rather than the Muslims: “In its essence it is a vindication of Christianity. At a moment when Christendom is torn by strife, let loose through the apostate ambitions of those who have returned in practice to the sanguinary worship of their ‘Old German God,’ it stands forth as a sign that the righteousness and justice that are the soul of Christian ethics guide Christian victors even in the flush of triumph.”71

Yet the more obvious ties to the medieval age, combined with a sense of national pride, soon surfaced as well: “During the British occupation of Palestine we have been very sedulous in considering the feelings of others . . . some have wondered whether we had any religion of our own. This Easter in Jerusalem has been the answer. The British Army has celebrated the greatest festival of the Church in a place where the English under arms have never before prayed at Easter. King Richard never reached the Holy City but King George’s men communicated and sang the Easter hymns.”72 For the troops in Palestine it seems that a sense of biblical culture rather than a crusading ethos drew them onward, but in the wider popular memory the label of a crusade became firmly attached.

In the aftermath of the campaign this would be heavily reinforced. One of Allenby’s troops, the actor Vivian Gilbert, embarked upon a North American lecture tour in 1923 and published his account of the war entitled The Romance of the Last Crusade: With Allenby to Jerusalem. To modern eyes this is a peculiar blend of a travelogue populated by music-hall cockneys, combined with genuinely harrowing descriptions of warfare, particularly the terrible moment when the legs of Gilbert’s servant were blown off, leaving his master to comfort the dying man and to compose a letter home to his family.73 Gilbert was certain that he had taken part in something with a medieval analogue: “were we not descendants of those same crusaders?” He imagined sharing identical hardships in the same lands as his forefathers; after the capture of Jerusalem he concluded: “In all, ten crusades [were] organised and equipped to free the Holy City, only two were really successful—the first led by Godfrey of Bouillon, and the last under Edmund Allenby.”74Allenby, however, continued to try his utmost to dislodge the connection; in 1933 he argued: “Our campaign has been called ‘The Last Crusade.’ It was not a crusade. There is still a current idea that our object was to deliver Jerusalem from the Muslims. Not so. Many of my soldiers were Muslims. The importance of Jerusalem lay in its strategic position. There was no religious impulse in this campaign.”75 Such protestations aside, the appellation had stuck and, as we will see below, percolated into the Muslim world as well.

In the aftermath of the war the word “crusade” sometimes came to take on a generic meaning for the conflict as a whole. Perhaps the best example of this was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey, created in 1920 and adorned with a medieval sword donated by King George V. The committee in charge of the burial fretted over public interpretation of the weapon and, as they feared, the popular press duly labeled it a “crusader’s sword.” In 1923 the Order of Crusaders, a group imitating the Military Orders, held a service in the abbey and, with the Duke of York among their number, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and honored him as their Principal Knight and Supreme Head. Other memorials made reference to the notion of crusading: British Imperial war cemeteries were adorned with a Cross of Sacrifice, a design viewed “as a mark of symbolism of the present crusade” by the Imperial War Graves Commission architects; a significant number of local commemorative windows and statues made reference to the war in comparable terms. Images of King Richard—sometimes alongside Saint Louis of France to symbolize the Anglo–French alliance—and Saint George were used in places as diverse as Eton Chapel and the parish church of Hadlow in Kent. Crusading was defined as “freedom, mercy, righteousness and truth” in the fine memorial The Spirit of the Crusaders erected at Paisley, Scotland; this recognized a kindred spirit with the medieval warriors, although it noted that the ideal the contemporary soldiers strove for was similar, rather than identical, to that of their predecessors.76

The Great War had brought horror on a scale unprecedented in human history and, in tandem with the stirring rhetoric, there was understandable criticism of the terrible losses and suffering. Again, one can find references to crusading, although in the case noted here, a specific parallel was drawn between the Children’s Crusade and the slaughter of young soldiers. Archibald Jamieson wrote a pamphlet called Holy Wars in the Light of Today and observed of the Children’s Crusade: “rightly do we condemn the ‘hallucination’ of 1212, why, therefore, did we recruit the boy-life of our nation, and organise our youth in school and church for military purposes in the sacred name of ‘patriotism’?”77 Siegfried Sassoon was less than impressed with the use of crusading motifs: “Bellicose politicians and journalists were fond of using the word crusade. But the chivalry (which I have seen in epitome at the Army School) had been mown down and blown up in July, August and September and its remnant finished the year’s crusade in a morass of torment and frustration.”78

During World War II fewer links were made between crusading imagery and contemporary warfare. In the first instance, the utter carnage of World War I had, to a great extent, shattered any notions of warfare as a chivalric exercise. Between 1939 and 1945, genocides, mass civilian casualties, and the displacement of millions moved the scale of the conflict even further beyond previous reference points. The idea of the crusade did, however, appear on occasion, sometimes in a positive sense, on other occasions, most certainly not. Probably the best example of the former was General Dwight Eisenhower’s speech on D-Day, June 1944, when the Order of the Day read: “Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, you are about to embark upon a Great Crusade, towards which you have striven these many months. . . . Let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking;” his account of the war was entitled Crusade in Europe (1948). War memorials did not look to the medieval period as they had done decades before, although one lasting edifice from the aftermath of the war, the ultramodernist Coventry Cathedral, was envisaged to represent a form of crusading ideology, albeit one meant to gather people together and to heal the wounds of war. Basil Spence wrote: “The Chapel’s shape represents Christian Unity; in elevation it is shaped like a Crusader’s tent, as Christian unity is a modern Crusade.”79 For the American writer Kurt Vonnegut, however, the connection to be drawn with the crusades was negative; the subtitle of his bestselling Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death, an ironic recognition of the youth of so many of the U.S. troops sent to Europe. As one character remarked when his new recruits arrived: “My God, it’s the Children’s Crusade.”80

The Allies’ wartime approach was in contrast to that of the Germans. While the latter had used elements of imagery derived from the crusades in World War I, the Nazis extended this substantially, albeit in a strictly secular and ritualistic form and usually in connection with the Teutonic Knights, who, as we saw earlier, had conquered large areas of northern Europe. In Mein Kampf Hitler urged Germans once again to set out “on the march of the Teutonic Knights of old” to Russia.81 SS leader Heinrich Himmler was fixated on the ceremonies and hierarchy of this venerable organization and he drew links between the SS and the history of the Teutonic Knights in various chambers of his castle of Wewelsberg, along with other spurious ties to, for example, the legend of the Holy Grail. Fortunately, his plans for the castle were never completed and the surviving parts of the fortress now house a museum to the bishops of Paderborn.

CRUSADING AS A METAPHOR

With the revival of the idea of crusading as a force for good during the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the word “crusade,” with its complex legacy of moral justification, was taken out of a military and cultural context and also became used in a looser, more metaphorical sense, albeit one that could have a high profile. To give but two examples: the Women’s Temperance Crusade in the United States during the 1870s and the Jarrow Crusade in England of 1936. Both movements closely engaged with the language and imagery of the medieval period. In the case of the former, the religious zeal of its advocates was easily comparable to the medieval preachers. A founder of the Temperance Crusade, Mrs. Mildred Carpenter, wrote of “a fight against organized evil” and argued passionately that “it is a glorious heritage to leave our children, to be able to say ‘I was a crusader in Washington Court House.’” She described one of the preachers as an “Apostle of Temperance,” his followers as being “aflame with the Master’s zeal,” and the whole episode as “a whirlwind of the Lord.”82

The Jarrow Crusade has some interesting parallels with medieval crusading, not least because it had a sense of a pilgrimage—although in this case the destination was a very secular one: the Houses of Parliament, rather than the Holy Sepulchre. The march was a protest against the government’s closure of the local shipyard and the refusal to construct a new steelworks; it was designed to create a wave of popular support across the country and to save the jobs of the people of Jarrow. It began with a nonreligious character but the marshal of the march decided the metaphor was appropriate and photographs of the campaign show people carrying banners proclaiming “Jarrow Crusade.” Once underway a religious dimension started to emerge because the “crusaders” received the blessing of the bishop of Jarrow and many Church of England clergy offered their backing too.83 By a neat irony, five years earlier Pope Pius XI had linked crusading and unemployment with a call to Catholics to ameliorate the effects of this rising problem.84 Given Spanish General Franco’s almost exactly contemporaneous use of crusading—with a far more deadly purpose—the preferred term of one Tyneside newspaper of “pilgrimage” may have been more apt. In the event, in spite of considerable publicity and a rousing reception on their return home, the marchers entirely failed in their purpose.85

ISLAM, JIHAD, AND THE CRUSADES

While an idea of crusading—in real or metaphorical form—has survived and, in some respects, flourished in the West over the last two hundred years, its status and perception in the Muslim world has been less clear-cut: sometimes almost invisible, at others, a stridently proclaimed byword for hatred and oppression. As we have seen, some in the West, regardless of accuracy, have looked to the crusading era for parallels to their own situation; Muslims too have sought exemplars or to legitimize their actions. Comparisons to Saladin often provide our most illuminating insight into many contemporary understandings of the past and also the agendas of the present day. As the victor at Hattin, the man who recovered Jerusalem for Islam and then resisted the might of Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade, he is an alluring figure across the Muslim world. Saladin’s achievements have been matched to the aspirations of a remarkable variety of individuals, countries, and causes. His legacy has been interpreted and appropriated by figures as diverse as the pan-Arabist President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, the totalitarian dictatorship of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and the Islamist Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization.

Muslim relations with the West, from an Arab nationalist or an Islamist perspective, have had a disturbing tone over the last two hundred years or so. Prior to this, in the form of the Maghrebi Muslims, the Mamluks, and most especially the Ottomans, Muslim rulers had been of comparable, or greater, power than many of their western contemporaries. In contrast, beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and, the following year, the defeat of Mysore, the last important Muslim barrier to British power in India, the next 120 years saw the majority of the Islamic community (umma) brought under the direct control, or close authority, of the West.86 Only Yemen, Afghanistan, the Hejaz region (western edge of the Arabian Peninsula), and central Arabia remained free; Iran had a form of independence and Ataturk founded the state of Turkey. After World War I the Middle East was divided between the British and the French, and western initiatives created conditions for the emergence of the state of Israel. From the 1920s to the 1960s, the majority of Muslim societies escaped from direct western rule (except Mongolia and central Asia, which had to wait for the fall of the USSR in the 1990s), although western intervention has been prominent in the political affairs of Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Furthermore, the United States continues to influence the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, home to the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. Russian involvement in Afghanistan and Chechnya, the British and the French in Egypt, and the British and U.S. invasion of Iraq have represented acts of aggression by the West and in the course of these struggles many thousands of Muslims have died.

Alongside these geopolitical events there is a recognition that the rise of capitalism and science have helped to propel the West forward at a considerably faster rate than the Muslim world. Colonialism, imperialism, economics, and technology have all been of immense significance in relations between Islam and the West, and in the cases of trade, capitalism, and the media, western values continue to flow into the Islamic world. Within this complex mesh the idea of crusading emerges as a factor of some note, although in no way the dominant one. More importantly, the crusade–jihad prism should not distort a situation whereby the majority of the Islamic world has been at peace with the West. Koranic verses attest to this desire, for example: “And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in God.” (Koran 8:61). Since the terror attacks of 9/11, representations of bellicose western crusaders have once more been propelled toward center stage. It is, therefore, interesting to offer a few broad brushstrokes to trace the history of the crusades in the Muslim world and to follow Saladin’s reincarnation as an Islamic role model.

For many centuries the Ottoman Empire stood as the major power in the Islamic world; jihad imagery was prominent in the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and the Ottomans assumed the role of ghazis as they extended the lands of Islam. Victory over the Mamluks in 1517 brought the caliphate—the spiritual head of Islam—under their control, a point emphasized when the sultan ordered relics of the Prophet to be transported to Istanbul where some remain in the Topkapi Museum. The Ottoman Empire was not, however, a strictly Islamic state and it operated on a combination of secular laws for government and finance and sharia law in other matters. Jihads continued to be proclaimed but their targets were usually the heterodox Safavids of Iran and Iraq, rather than the Christian powers. Suleyman the Magnificent’s wars against the Habsburgs in the sixteenth century had more of an imperial rather than a religious edge and there was a decline in the ghazi ethic.87

Examples of jihad against western powers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are comparatively rare. From around 1800 onward there was an intensification of European intervention and involvement in North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and India. The Egyptians briefly regarded Napoleon’s invasion of 1798 as a crusade but the French soon made plain their secular, imperialist agenda and managed to convince the locals of their good intentions toward Islam. Bonaparte’s proclamation (translated into Arabic when originally published) also delighted in his victory over the Knights Hospitaller on Malta: “I honour . . . God, his Prophet and the Koran. . . . Is it not we who destroyed the pope, the Christian enemy of the Muslims? It was this army who destroyed the Chevaliers of Malta, the ancient enemies of your faith.”88

There was no Arabic word for “crusades” until the mid-nineteenth century; in the medieval period the western invasions were simply referred to as “The Wars of the Franks,” or as jihads by contemporaries—reasonable enough analogues in the circumstances. In the course of the nineteenth century, perhaps in response to the westerners’ self-perception as crusaders, some Muslims began to call for a holy war, the Algerians fighting the French and the Indians against the British being but two examples.89

In the eastern Mediterranean, however, another approach began to emerge, prompted by the Ottoman Empire’s efforts to survive and encouraged by the expansionist agenda of Germany. In 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm II courted the Muslim world with his visit to Jerusalem and Damascus (a trip organized by Thomas Cook’s travel company, an arrangement that earned him the nickname “Cook’s Crusader”). Dressed in a white uniform with his helmet surmounted by a golden imperial eagle and riding a splendid black stallion, Wilhelm processed into Jerusalem on October 29 through a specially made gap in the city walls. Frederick II of Germany, almost seven centuries earlier, had been the previous Christian monarch to enter the city, a connection Wilhelm deliberately emphasized; indeed his presence in the holy city was announced from the pulpits of Berlin and became the subject of many publications, including illustrated books and children’s stories.90 In November the kaiser reached Damascus where he visited Saladin’s tomb and laid a wreath with the message “from one great emperor to another;” clearly Wilhelm saw no irony in the fact that he had recently portrayed himself as a crusader. He also paid for the construction of a grotesque marble shrine next to the medieval wooden coffin; surprisingly, perhaps, the former remains in situ, an incongruous reminder of western imperialism in the burial chamber of one of Islam’s greatest heroes. Until this visit Saladin had been a figure of limited interest to the people of the Muslim Near East and it was the deeds of Baibars that continued to attract far greater attention; in fact, in Cairo in the 1830s no fewer than thirty street performers earned a living reciting a verse account of the Mamluk sultan’s life. It is ironic that the kaiser, presumably indoctrinated by Saladin’s prominent place in western art and literature—and we know that he had read or heard works by Walter Scott as a child—appeared as familiar with the sultan as his hosts, and that it was a western monarch who brought the medieval hero back to prominence and reminded the rulers of the Middle East of his great achievements.91

While acknowledging the importance of this external stimulus in a revival of the memory of the crusades, especially in the elite levels of Muslim society, the enduring position of the crusades through popular culture should not be underestimated. The genre of the epic narrative has been largely ignored in any analysis of this subject, in part because the language used in them was far less polished than the fine literary texts produced in courts, and also by reason of the immense difficulties in finding definitive texts.92 Coupled with this, as one writer notes, these epics “tread gingerly along the shoreline of historical fact.” This distortion of the historical record can be shown by Saladin’s alleged recovery of Baghdad from the Mongols, or Baibars’ relief of Damascus from the Franks, neither of which ever happened. Yet public storytelling was, certainly down to the later twentieth century, an extremely important aspect of Middle Eastern culture, and western visitors to Aleppo in the 1790s and Cairo in the 1830s provide significant evidence of this. As noted, the Sirat al-Zahir Baibars was very popular, as was the Sirat Bani Hilal and the Sirat Antar. Yet these texts are surely worth consideration as long-term transmitters of opinion, prejudices, and preoccupations, rather than descriptions of actual events. While the crusaders do not take a dominant role in these stories, they are presented as a menace to the Muslims. They are huge, clean-shaven men, who carry broad-headed lances and whose archers never miss, led by an unnamed but wicked and guileful man. Such tales helped provide a seedbed of memory that political and religious leaders could tap into whether they were Islamists or Arab nationalists. In conjunction with this, as Muslim empires began to decline during the nineteenth century, the concept of looking to the past to learn lessons for the present also emerged.93 Through this variety of channels, therefore, the history of the crusading age began to appeal to a variety of religious and political movements across the Muslim community.

Bolstered by German support, Abdulhamid II chose to enter World War I against Britain, France, and Russia. Over previous decades the sultan had developed the concept of pan-Islamism, a response to his declining power as Ottoman sultan and a sincere reflection of his conception of his religious responsibilities as leader of the umma. He issued a call for Muslims across the world to defend Islam from western Christian powers (whom he often termed crusaders) and to rally around their spiritual leader.94 On November 11, 1914, he issued a fatwa to all Muslims, including those who lived outside Ottoman lands, which proclaimed a jihad against these enemies of Islam. This call was the ultimate expression of Ottoman pan-Islamic aspirations and the document’s impact was enhanced by translation into Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkic. The fatwa stated that it was “incumbent on all Muslims in all parts of the world, be they old or young, on foot or mounted, to hasten to take part in the jihad.” It enjoined a responsibility on Muslims in lands ruled by Britain, France, Russia, and their allies to resist their overlords, all of whom were trying “to extinguish and annihilate the exalted light of Islam.” It argued that it was a terrible sin to fight against Germany and Austria (the allies of the Supreme Islamic Government).95 Although no large-scale uprising took place, a substantial new corpus of jihad literature began to emerge and one strand of the Muslim community’s challenge to the West was formed.

While religion provided a cornerstone for confrontation with the West, for several decades during the twentieth century Arab nationalism emerged center stage. This was a credo concerned to promote a shared cultural and ethnic identity across Arab lands in the Levant (principally Egypt, Syria, and Palestine), as opposed to the broader Muslim consciousness; groups such as the Ottoman Turks, for example, would not have fallen into this category. The concept did not exclude Islam—far from it, the leadership were Muslims and could wage jihad—but it was defined as an Arab community and as a people, rather than by faith alone.

An early instance of the fusion of nationalism with both jihad rhetoric and the memory of Saladin took place in Damascus between the end of Ottoman control in 1918 and the start of the French protectorate in July 1920. In the interim, Syria was ruled by an Arab government under Emir (later King) Faisal. As a part of their Independence Day celebrations the authorities looked to gather support through cultural events and they encouraged theater productions; unsurprisingly, perhaps, the victories of Saladin over the kingdom of Jerusalem proved a popular reminder of nationalist virtues.96 As the French threatened to impose their military authority Faisal directly invoked crusading imagery when he claimed that the pope wanted the conquest to succeed, and he called upon his people to anticipate death in a jihad.97 In the event the French army did prevail, a victory that prompted General Henri Gouraud’s triumphant comment on entering Damascus: “Behold, Saladin, we have returned,” a statement that only acted to confirm the belief that a new crusade was underway. The contrast with Allenby’s attempts to stage a diplomatically sensitive takeover of Jerusalem just three years earlier is striking.

Several other Arab nationalists chose to identify themselves with Saladin and their reasons for doing so illuminate fascinating parallels—and contrasts—between their own agendas and the life of the medieval hero. The individual who drew the closest ties between his own career and that of Saladin was Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt between 1954 and 1970, and a man whose vision of pan-Arabism embraced modernization and technology, while simultaneously making links with Egypt’s history. His decision to nationalize the Suez Canal in 1956 pitted Egypt against Israel, France, and Britain, and was, in his terms, a blow for Arab standing against western colonial powers and their Zionist allies. While his troops were soon driven away from the strategically vital waterway, by the following year international pressure (including support from the United States) brought a United Nations force into play and triggered a terminal decline of British and French influence in the region. In 1958, Nasser built upon this advance to become the head of the United Arab Republic, a confederation of Syria and Egypt—the same lands that Saladin himself had ruled. His speeches made frequent references to his illustrious predecessor and in February 1958 he planned a formal visit to the sultan’s tomb in Damascus.98

Around the same time, Nasser emphasized that the Arab nation had always striven for unity; intriguingly, he extended his sense of an eastern Mediterranean community to include its indigenous Christian population (presumably the Copts, a significant minority of the Egyptian population, were at the forefront of his thoughts). He drew an explicit connection to the age of the crusades when he stated that “the whole region was united for reasons of mutual security to face an imperialism coming from Europe and bearing the cross in order to disguise its ambitions behind the facade of Christianity. The meaning of unity was never clearer than when the Christianity of the Arab Orient joined the ranks of Islam to battle the crusaders until victory.”99 A year later, in speeches at Katana in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt, he reiterated the importance of a strong Syria and the need for Egypt and Syria to work together: “the Syrian army, when it was united with the Egyptian, was able to liberate the Arab nation from the crusaders’ occupation and colonization. . . . Today our forces are united to protect the Arab fatherland. We shall not be impeded by the conspiracies of imperialist lackeys or agents.” Nasser also emphasized the Arab victory over the Mongols at Ayn Jalut (1260) as another momentous episode in history, although his claim that “the united armies pursued the retreating Tartar forces across the Euphrates until they liberated Iraq” stretched the truth somewhat.100

Another theme that he developed was the historical roots of Arab nationalism. For him these lay back in the medieval period when “the Arab armies achieved their victory only when they felt that their unity brought them strength and that Arab nationalism was their shield of protection.”101 In strict terms this point was highly anachronistic because most commentators believe Arab nationalism came into being in the early twentieth century—on the other hand, it is undeniable that the basic parallels were there for Nasser to exploit. The president also fixed upon particularly favorable historical precedents. He argued that the western crusaders had used the cross as a slogan for imperialism, and in a speech of August 1959 he dwelt in some detail on the capture of Louis IX in 1250, a previous occasion when the French had been crushed.102 On May 7, 1960, Nasser led celebrations to mark the 710th anniversary of the defeat of Saint Louis at the Battle of Mansourah in 1250 and unveiled a new painting of Turanshah’s victory. Nasser saw this as an “epoch-making” event that showed “nothing can stand in the way of a unified Arab nation.” Louis’s humiliation represented a triumph for Arab nationalism and the president made reference to the crucial arrival of Turanshah’s troops from Syria, because during the Suez Crisis western forces (including, he claimed, French descendants of the crusaders) had again been turned back when Syria and Egypt acted together.103

Nasser also spoke of the Third Crusade of 1189–92: “Fanatic crusaders attacked us in Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Arab Muslims and Christians fought side by side to defend their Motherland against this aggressive, foreign domination. They all rose as one man, unity being the only means of safety, liberty and the expulsion of the aggressors. Saladin was able to take Richard . . . as prisoner of war and was able to defeat his forces.”104 Once again this last point is pure fabrication, but the reason for this manipulation was to compare it to the Egyptian victory in the Suez Crisis: “We had the honour of beating Britain and France together [at Suez] after we had beaten each of them before separately.”105 To hammer home the connections between the medieval and modern periods Nasser pointedly crushed the sentiments of Allenby’s celebrated, if fictional, phrase of 1917. He boasted that the westerners “had never forgotten their defeat [by Saladin]” and wanted revenge in another “fanatical, imperialist crusade.” Nasser then “quoted” the general: “when he entered Jerusalem during World War I he [Allenby] said: ‘Today, we end the fight of the Crusaders who were defeated 700 years ago.’” The president’s use of this statement shows exactly why Allenby tried so hard to disavow this phrase—and it demonstrates just how unsuccessful he had been in doing so.106

Closely in tune with the president’s aspirations was an epic product of the Egyptian film industry, Youssef Chahine’s Saladin (1963).107 The narrative follows the crusaders’ murder of innocent Muslim pilgrims, through to the Battle of Hattin, the fall of Jerusalem, and the Third Crusade. As a product of its times it takes certain liberties with strict historical accuracy; it also offered a manifesto for pan-Arabism; for example, early on in the film Saladin says: “my dream is to see an Arab nation united under one flag.”108 The Arabs only fought the Christians because the latter had attacked them; Saladin asked: “Since when do aggressors impose conditions on the legitimate owners? You started this war; if you want peace truly, leave my country.” A crusader responded by asking if this was a declaration of war, to which the emir replied: “I hate war. Islam and Christianity condemn bloodshed. Yet we shall fight if necessary to save our land.” By the end of the film there was a clear message: Saladin and his trustworthy allies presided over a cosmopolitan and humane society; they were worthy guardians of Jerusalem and would freely welcome outsiders to visit. Saladin explained: “Christianity is respected here; you know that. Jerusalem belongs to the Arabs. Stop this bloodshed. That would satisfy God and Christ.”109 The film closed with a wholly imagined scene in which Richard and Saladin hold a nighttime pageant with the former invited into Jerusalem (even though in reality he never entered the holy city). As snow falls, a choir sings “Come All Ye Faithful,” interspersed with a muezzin’s call: peace reigns supreme. What takes only a limited role in the film, interestingly, is religion. As we saw earlier, there was a strong spiritual dimension to Saladin’s jihad against the Christians, but for Chahine and pan-Arabism in the early 1960s this was of secondary importance behind the issue of Arab identity. Nonetheless, the history of the crusading age and the importance of Saladin, Egypt, and Syria in resisting the westerners was now clearly established in the public consciousness.

Nasser’s successor, President Anwar Sadat, forged close links with the West, particularly with the United States. Ultimately, this was to cost him his life, but in 1977 when he became the first Muslim leader to address the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), he too invoked the legacy of Saladin. Presumably based on the sultan’s decision to release Christian prisoners after the capture of Jerusalem, Sadat suggested a positive approach: “Instead of awakening the hatreds of the crusades, we should revive the spirit of . . . Saladin, the spirit of tolerance and respect for rights.”110

Nasser and Saladin were the heroes of another Arab nationalist leader—the self-proclaimed “Lion of Syria,” Hafiz al-Asad, president of the country from 1971 until his death in 2000.111 He was also keen to develop Arab unity and to defeat the “neo-crusaders” in Israel. While he chose to portray himself as a devout Sunni Muslim, some high in the regime shared his roots in the minority heterodox clan of the Alawites, regarded by many Sunnis as heretics. Indeed, in 1983, Asad brutally crushed the potential challenge of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood by killing around thirty thousand of their supporters in the city of Hama. He also encouraged a tremendous cult of personality. On the main coast road north a monumental statue of him welcomes visitors to his home district and countless banners and pictures of him adorned the shops and offices (now often found alongside the image of his son and successor, Bashar). Given this level of self-promotion the creation of other statuary was rare, although a notable exception stands proudly in front of the citadel of Damascus. First set up in 1992 this monument shows a triumphant Saladin on horseback, preceded by a Sufi holy man and a jihad warrior, while trailing behind him slump disconsolate, defeated crusaders.112 The message is clear: just as Saladin defeated the West, so will Asad. He could invoke jihad rhetoric too—in the run-up to the 1973 struggle with Israel he called the conflict a holy war. Saladin’s achievements were of prime interest, however; the anniversary of his death was usually marked with public ceremonies and the castle named Saone (Zion) in the north of the country was renamed Qal’at Saladin in honor of the medieval hero. Visitors to the president were reminded of history because his office was adorned with a massive picture of Saladin’s victory at Hattin. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went to Damascus in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab–Israeli war and he reflected: “The symbolism was plain enough: Asad frequently pointed out that Israel would sooner or later suffer the same fate.”113 Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Asad in 1984 and wrote: “As Asad stood in front of the brilliant scene [the picture] and discussed the history of the crusaders and the other ancient struggles for the Holy Land, he took particular pride in retelling tales of Arab successes, past and present. He seemed to speak like a modern Saladin, feeling that it was his dual obligation to rid the region of all foreign presence, while preserving Damascus as the only focal point for Arab unity today.”114

One further example of a nationalist leader who embraced the legacy of Saladin and also invoked jihad is Saddam Hussein.115 The Iraqi president made much of the fact that he shared Saladin’s birthplace, the village of Takrit. Given Saddam’s persecution of the Kurds, presumably no one felt inclined to point out that Saladin himself had been of Kurdish stock but, that historical inconvenience aside, the president emphasized the emir’s recovery of Jerusalem and his resistance to the West. Saddam’s methods of making these connections ranged from a colloquium—“The Battle for Liberation—from Saladin to Saddam Hussein”—to a children’s book on the two men (although Saladin’s career was dealt with in a perfunctory fashion) in which the modern-day leader was called Saladin II Saddam Hussein. A mural on his palace wall depicted the medieval sultan watching his horsemen, while next to him Saddam admired his tanks rolling forward—in both cases, the onlooker imagines, to victory against the West. In the course of the First Gulf War and the coalition invasion of Iraq, Saddam was able to argue that—like Saladin—he was engaged in a defensive jihad. In the context of Muslim history and culture, this was understandable, although to the West it may have seemed cynical for such a secular ruler as Saddam to invoke religion. Even after his defeat in Kuwait, Saddam was able to claim that, in ghazi tradition, he had attacked Israel and had managed to hold on to power, showing he possessed some aspects of baraka (divine blessing).116 The liberation of Palestine was a prominent motif in Saddam’s political discourse and in 2001 he announced the creation of a “Jerusalem army” to take back the city and claimed that huge numbers of recruits had been trained for this purpose. In the buildup to the Second Gulf War he again brought up the defeat of the crusaders, although a mention of the Mongols—who devastated Baghdad in 1258—proved prescient if, from his perspective, ultimately inappropriate.

If the predominantly secular principles of Arab nationalism dominated relations with the West during the latter decades of the twentieth century, in the new millennium, religion and jihad have stepped up the agenda considerably. Jihad is a concept with a wide spectrum of interpretations and meanings. As we saw earlier, its origins lie in the Koran and it stands, therefore, as a fundamental tenet of Islam. There is the greater jihad for purity of the soul and the lesser jihad to fight in the world, although some fundamentalists dispute this hierarchy. Just as crusading can be used in a more secular sense, jihad can also be linked to good causes; thus a jihad al-tarbiya for education. An emphasis on the defensive aspect of the jihad formed an integral part of Islamic holy war. Saladin used such ideas in the medieval age and this defensive duty, as stated in the Koran, has been frequently invoked by nationalists and Islamists alike. If Muslim lands and/or Islamic belief were attacked, then it is a religious duty to resist—if too few of the faithful are present to do so, then neighbors should assist: “Yet if they ask you for help, for religion’s sake, it is your duty to help them” (Koran 8:72).

More radical Muslims, however, hold that jihad should be expansionist and, at its most extreme, must bring the entire world under sharia law; jihad is a permanent revolutionary struggle for the sake of mankind. This would not require forced conversion, but would topple regimes that were un-Islamic and followed man-made laws. If there was a situation in which Muslims were endangered it would be justifiable to remove such an authority and to bring about a moral regeneration from within. Some Islamists fear that one day their lands will become secularized and their faith as marginalized as Christianity has become in Europe. They argue that proper religious practice will bring God’s blessing, military success, and a change for good.

One country where such a drastic program surfaced was Egypt, where radical thinkers, such as Sayyid Qutb, exerted a huge influence—hence his execution by the government in 1966. Egyptian defeat in the 1967 Arab–Israeli war advanced the fundamentalist cause and, to some extent, discredited the ruling nationalist and socialist regimes because it was possible to argue that poor religious observance had brought about divine disfavor. After the 1973 war a paradox emerged: more religious imagery was used to encourage a sense of Muslim fraternity in Egypt, yet for wider political reasons President Sadat engaged ever more closely with the United States. One consequence of this was President Carter’s Camp David agreement, a peace accord between Israel and Egypt, which marked the most serious attempt to date to bring lasting solution to the troubles in the Middle East.117 Sadat persuaded religious scholars to issue fatwas that declared the agreement legitimate in Islamic law to try to assuage concern over a deal with Israel and the West. Yet wealth within Egypt was increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small elite and western culture had become ever more invasive; fertile ground for radicals. Islamic groups had, to some extent, been tolerated because they offered ties with other Arab countries (the oil states in particular) but in the circumstances outlined here, several of the Islamist parties became radicalized.118 Some groups were outlawed but the Jihad Organization set out to assassinate President Sadat. Their aims were laid out in a document, The Neglected Duty, in which they argued that while the Jews were the more distant enemy, the rulers of Egypt were closer and, in accordance with the Koran, should be dealt with first.119 Egypt needed an Islamic ruler rather than an impious one, and the existence of Israel was the fault of bad Muslim rulers. The text used the writings of Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328), a Syrian theologian and jurist whose fundamentalist views brought him into trouble during his own lifetime. Ibn Taymiyya stressed the moral duty of the jihad and the need for a ruler to govern according to sharia law. He had issued fatwas against the Mongol rulers of Persia, who, although they professed to be Muslims, continued, he believed, to venerate Chinggis Khan, their world-conquering ancestor; they also made alliances with unbelievers and preferred the Mongol legal code, the yasa, to sharia law. The Neglected Duty drew attention to the similarity between Mongol rule and modern Egypt: “Therefore the rulers of these days are apostates. They have been brought up at the tables of colonialism, no matter whether of the crusading, the communist or the Zionist variety. They are Muslims only in name, even if they pray, fast and pretend to be Muslims.”120 Sadat was an apostate and according to sharia law had to be killed; thus the deed was justified and in October 1981 the assassins struck, although they proved mistaken in their belief that his murder would be followed by a popular revolt.

In recent times Osama bin Laden’s pronouncements have emerged as the most powerful, notorious, and strident condemnations of what he regards as anti-Islamic policies by the West. He has reached out to the umma, the Islamic community across the world, particularly in Palestine and Kashmir (and briefly in Chechnya too), and urged Muslims to stand up to the humiliations he claims have been imposed by Israel, the United States, and Britain. Other targets of his anger are the Saudi authorities, whom he regards as having “desecrated their own legitimacy” through the “suspension of Islamic law and replacement thereof with man-made laws . . . and allowing the enemies of God to occupy it in the form of the American crusaders who have become the principal reason for all aspects of our land’s disastrous predicament.”121

Bin Laden is a polemicist of the first order whose canny use of Internet and satellite television technology has enabled him to reach an audience no previous antagonist of the West could have dreamed of.122 His language is laced with texts from the Koran, with Hadith, and statements by authoritative scholars, including Ibn Taymiyya.123 Bin Laden’s allure is also based upon his personal piety, generosity, and the sharing of hardships with his men—qualities that, as the former head of the CIA unit hunting him wrote, make him “an Islamic hero, as the faith’s ideal type, and almost as a modern-day Saladin.”124 For many years bin Laden has consistently referred to a Judeo-Crusader alliance against Islam, or a fight between the people of Islam and the global crusaders.125 The religious edge this language provides is important to him and, crucially, signposts the ultimate failure of his enemies—and a parallel to the defeat of the medieval crusaders. Bin Laden has viewed the struggle as a war of religion, rather than one of imperialism, which is a concept rarely mentioned in his speeches. When President Bush so disastrously used the word “crusade” in his unscripted response to the 9/11 atrocities he simply fulfilled the claims bin Laden had been making for years: “So Bush has declared in his own words: ‘crusader attack.’ The odd thing about this is that he has taken the words right out of our mouth.”126 He neatly turned Bush’s words against him: “So the world today is split into two parts, as Bush said: either you are with us, or you are with terrorism. Either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam. Bush’s image today is of him being in the front of the line, yelling and carrying his big cross.”127

Quite what President Bush really understood by his remarks will never be clear—given the intimate relationship between religion and politics during his presidency, a holy war could have formed part of his meaning. On the other hand, while such a statement may have gained currency among far-right constituencies at home, to make such a comment to the world’s media in his position as commander-in-chief of the U.S. forces would have been imprudent to say the least. Perhaps Bush was thinking of a crusade in the more secular sense that is so frequently invoked in modern society (the good cause of cutting a hospital waiting list, or of cleaning streets); or maybe he was drawing upon the notion of a morally worthwhile struggle such as rights for workers, or against corruption. A blurred combination of all the above is, of course, possible. Whatever the answer, it is plain that he had absolutely no inkling of the toxic quality of the word “crusade” in the Muslim world. White House spokesmen issued statements to clarify the president’s words but it was too late. Bin Laden gleefully noted: “people make apologies for him and they say that he didn’t mean to say that the war is a crusade, even though he himself said it was!”128

Bin Laden’s appeal has taken root in terror cells across the world and in the wider consciousness of millions of Muslims. The invasion of Iraq only served to refresh his arguments and the destruction and devastation of that land have given his ideas even greater currency. Countries that supported the war became leading targets, and in March 2004, Spain, with its long history of Christian–Muslim conflict, was hit by a series of train bombs that claimed 201 lives; subsequent al-Qaeda statements duly made reference to the crusader legacy in the peninsula. Likewise, although the British presence in Iraq was the key factor precipitating the July 7, 2005, bombs in London, links were made with the crusading period in subsequent propaganda. To those who take part in such appalling acts, bin Laden holds out the prospect of martyrdom, although as commentators have noted, unlike Islamic polemicists of the past such as Sayyid Qutb, he offers no social program for the future; similarly, the compassion and tolerance so central to Islam are conspicuously absent from his words.129

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