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Battles long ago

19 August 2016

Anthony McRoy looks at the acts and motives of the Crusading era

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. caoursin MS lat. 6067

Naval scene: the Ottoman Prince Zizim is feasted by the Knights Hospitallers of Rhodes, in an illustration from the book under review

Naval scene: the Ottoman Prince Zizim is feasted by the Knights Hospitallers of Rhodes, in an illustration from the book under review

Crusade and Jihad: Origins, history, aftermath
Malcolm Lambert
Profile Books £20
Church Times Bookshop £18



THE title of this book is self-explanatory: this is a historical study of the interaction of Crusade and jihad, and the continuing consequences of that confrontation.

Lambert’s book is well-researched on the central themes (although academically non-critical on Islamic origins), and chapter three, “The Dog That Did Not Bark”, about the failure of the first call to a Crusade by Pope Sergius IV after the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre by Caliph Al-Hakim in 1009, is especially informative.

Lambert also refutes the Marxist claim that economic factors — longing for land, pillage, etc., —were the real motivations for the Crusades: religious idealism was indeed the spur. Tragically, this “idealism” took the form of pogroms against European Jews and the massacre of Muslims and Jews when the First Crusade — called in 1095 — took Jerusalem. The Jihadi reaction was at times as brutal. Lambert shows that Saladin, transformed into an ultra-chivalric knight by Sir Walter Scott, could also commit grisly acts, such as beheading captured Crusaders who refused to convert to Islam. When Islamic State (IS) behead those they denounce as “Crusaders”, their acts are not innovations.

Lambert is particularly good in showing that, contrary to popular suggestion, the Crusader states were viable (chapter six), and that their societies were comparatively tolerant, with co-operation between Christians and Muslims. It was the lack of royal male heirs of fighting age which doomed them.

Second, Lambert demonstrates the legacy of the Crusades. France justified its conquest of Algiers in 1830 as a Crusade, and the Russians, in their campaigns against the Ottomans, called themselves “Crusaders”. Equally, modern Muslims — not just Al-Qaeda and IS — see Western “aggression” as a Crusade. History still haunts us.


Dr Anthony McRoy is Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Union School of Theology, Wales.

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