The heroic actions of a few great crusaders saved the West from Muslim conquest.

The heroic actions of a few great crusaders saved the West from Muslim conquest.Raymond Ibrahim. By Auguste Meyrat.

Fewer moments in history are as misunderstood and revised as the Crusades.

This series of violent clashes between Christian and Muslim cultures spanning three continents and nearly a millennium has been characterized as a futile war of aggression. In the telling of most modern historians, belligerent, greedy, and racist Christians in Western Europe were periodically guided by a bloodthirsty theocrat in Rome to channel their savage energies toward embattling a rival faith in the delusional belief that this would guarantee their admittance into Heaven, if not an earthly kingdom to rule over. What resulted was hardly more than pointless slaughter on both sides.

Nearly all of this is false. The Crusades were wars of defense, with Christians attempting to drive out foreign Muslim invaders in lands that were formerly Christian. Far from being unenlightened savages, the Crusaders were a highly organized force that pushed the boundaries of what was possible in warfare, government, and religious practice. The great personal sacrifice of the Crusaders, along with moral arguments against the use of violence, disprove the idea that they did this for personal gain.

By contrast, the Muslim invaders greatly profited from their conquests. They essentially took ownership of the preexisting wealth from their opponents. They subjected people of these areas to mass enslavement, regular persecution, and crippling taxes — all of which were sanctioned by their holy books and scriptures. And nearly all their victories against opposing forces were attributable to superior numbers and the domestic dysfunction of their opponents rather than superior strategy, logistics, or technology.

Unfortunately, few historians will risk professional ruin by challenging the prevailing narrative of the academy and telling the true history of the Crusades. However, to his great credit, Raymond Ibrahim dismisses such concerns and offers riveting profiles of eight great heroes of the Crusades in his newest book, Defenders of the West: The Christian Heroes Who Stood Against Islam.

As an Arabic linguist and expert in Islamic history and theology, he is able to tap into primary sources from both sides of the conflict to give a more objective, unbiased account of the Crusades. …

The war for the Holy Land and Byzantium, where the Muslims took cancelling to an extreme:

While the first Crusaders recaptured many of the kingdoms along the Eastern Mediterranean, Crusaders in the following centuries devoted most of their resources to securing those kingdoms and establishing outposts to facilitate supply lines. Finally, these kingdoms and outposts were eventually lost, as Western leaders lost interest in crusading. …

Godfrey of Bullion [was] a noble who was “strong beyond compare, with solidly built limbs and stalwart chest,” according to William of Tyre. Moreover, he was extremely religious, often praying and fasting before battles. Both qualities proved necessary as Godfrey encountered a completely different kind of enemy, one that had few qualms about murdering and torturing innocents and using terror tactics to intimidate their opponents. Despite this, Godfrey and the other Crusaders managed to retake Antioch and other fortresses as they marched toward Jerusalem.

At that point, they were exhausted, starving, and dying of thirst. Added to this was news of Muslim atrocities where Christian men were massacred and women and children were brutally ravished and sold into slavery. These tactics effectively prevented sympathizers from helping the Crusaders who were forced to depend on their feckless Byzantine allies and fragile supply lines stretching back many miles. Eventually, Godfrey ordered the construction of a siege tower and scaled the walls of Jerusalem. What resulted from the prolonged frustration and ongoing atrocities was the famously bloody massacre of everyone in the city: “the carnage was so horrific that, once the battle frenzy had subsided, ‘even the victors experienced sensations of horror and loathing.” Sadly, showing mercy just wasn’t a luxury for Crusaders if they hoped to be successful. …

The Reconquista of the Spanish peninsula:

The Spaniards came to understand the futility of allowing an enemy religion to live among its people. While El Cid and many others would allow Muslim residents to practice their faith, Ferdinand forced them to leave because “no matter how lenient a Christian ruler was with his Moorish subjects, and no matter how docile the latter appeared, whenever the opportunity arose, the Muslims immediately revolted.” …

The Balkan defense against the Ottoman Turks:

The rulers in Western Europe were preoccupied with other, more self-interested affairs. Only the Italian city-state of Venice was involved — and they helped the Ottoman Turks nearly as much as they fought them. The other exceptions to this general indifference were the two men Ibrahim writes about in the following two chapters: George Kastrioti (whom the Turks called “Skanderbeg,” or “Lord Alexander — after Alexander the Great of Macedon”) and Vlad Dracula III (whom rival nobles smeared as a vampire).

Because both men were captives of the Turks for a number of years, both had personal reasons for liberating their kingdoms and a deep understanding of how the Turks operated. Like Hunyadi, Skanderbeg and Dracula turned their small numbers into a strength by picking apart large, poorly organized Turkish armies. While Skanderbeg’s previous training as a janissary (elite troops of the Turks) helped him to lead his forces efficiently and effectively, Dracula made infamous use of impalement (hence the name, Vlad the Impaler) and night raids. Both men were able to turn the tables on their foes and successfully stymie the Turkish advance into Europe. …

You gotta do, what you gotta do, in the face of a violent, rampant enemy intent on extermination:

The violence and the harsh descriptions give important context that helps to explain the extreme measures taken by the Crusaders, particularly Dracula. This may be off-putting for readers preferring a more sanitized and equivocating approach to history, but this would be misleading and false.

In terms of what it meant for Western civilization, Ibrahim proves that the Crusades were not only necessary but ultimately moral and justified. As ugly as they often were, the alternative of surrender and submission would have been far uglier.

And wouldn’t you just know, the woke champion Islam against Christian Europe.

hat-tip Stephen Neil