A Special Issue: The Crusades
To most Christians—at least to most western Christians—word "crusades" evokes rather splendid images of heroic knights in chaih mail and crosses cantering off to the Holy Land to throw down the gauntlet to a bearded foe who calls his God Allah and is inevitably treacherous, cruel and cowardly.
This view, unfortunately, neglects certain evidence which, when dredged out of the obscurity to which so much Middle East history has been consigned, often comes as a shock to trusting students. It has been suggested, for example, that instead of the Galahads that song, poetry and romantic literature has made them out to be, many crusaders were ruthless mer cenaries to whom the cross they wore so brazenly was no more than a convenient shield for excesses unequalled in history. It is a view that also promotes the curious belief that the Christians of Europe somehow had a clearer title to the Holy Land than the Arabs who lived there and that suggests a holy war is good when called a "crusade" and evil when it is called a "jihad".
Such distortions are not unusual in history. Even historians cannot entirely escape the impact of their early beliefs. But in the case of the crusades they reached extraordinary proportions. To the Arabs, after all, this influx of Europeans was no more than another invasion of their territory, one that they had not only a right to repel but—the teachings of their religion—a duty to fight.
In hopes of adjusting this imbalance at least slightly, if tardily, Aramco World is devoting this entire issue to what, in any case, was one of the most colorful, exciting and significant chapters of world history. —The Editors