BOOK REVIEW by Anne Frandi-Coory
A Brief History of The Crusades; Islam And Christianity In The Struggle For World Supremacy
by Geoffrey Hindley
“A history of the Christian war for faith and its bitter legacy”.
Were historical religious wars in reality an extension and prolongation of tribal hatreds? Eventually the rise of the two major religions of Islam and Christianity would convert millions into faithful followers. Each side would massacre hundreds of thousands of ‘infidels’ in the name of their respective one true god.
Anyone who has any doubts whatsoever that either Islam or Christianity was founded on peace and respect for human life, should read this book. Arabs initiated the Jihad wars of the 7th and 8th Centuries which conquered the Christian lands from Syria to Egypt, and the North African coast from the Christian Roman Empire and the Christian Kingdoms of Spain, also the aggressive conquest of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire. In the Middle Ages, the Christians initiated four barbaric crusades to fight not only Islam’s followers but also other Christian groups committing heresy. Let’s not forget that both Christians and Muslims massacred their own followers for what seems to me, the most trivial of doctrinal differences.
Once Christianity became the state religion of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, the Roman Catholic religion and politics were inextricably intertwined. Pagans were massacred mercilessly if they didn’t convert to Christianity. It was no different for those who followed Allah. It wasn’t until the Arabs united under their own prophet in the 7th Century, did they have the power to take on the Christian infidels. Before the Arabs rampaged out of the deserts of Arabia, they had languished as disregarded and disunited pagan Arab tribes. In the words of an Arab envoy to the Shah of Persia: “Once the Arabs were a wretched race, whom you could tread underfoot at will….Now for our glory, Allah has raised up a prophet among us.”
Hindley’s book is well written, full of historical fact, and takes readers to wherever Christianity spread its tentacles: Russia, Europe, Middle East, Turkey, Arabia, and North Africa. Kings, (particularly French) Bishops and Popes were on the forefront of the fight against infidels, and the terrible crime of heresy. During the four crusades and the Inquisition, torture was widespread and horrific. For instance, alarm bells were ringing in Rome that large numbers of heretic communities existed in the south of France, Provence and Aquitaine. In the town of Béziers alone in 1209 the entire population of 15,000 people were massacred in what was actually a frenzy of ethnic cleansing; probably no more than 700 were active Cathars.
The Maronites of Lebanon are another yet contradictory case in point. They are Christian followers of 3rd Century St Maron (St Maroun in Aramaic) who eventually came under the protection of the Roman Catholic Church around the 16th Century. However, the Roman Catholic Church had known about the small pockets of these early Christians hiding from the Muslim onslaught in the mountains of Lebanon, and in Antioch in modern Turkey, but didn’t consider them a threat. The Church expected that they would eventually be killed or die out from hunger and disease. When the Crusaders discovered them centuries later stubbornly hiding in the mountains, in caves and very poor, they were offered protection. The odd thing is that Rome allowed the Maronites to uphold certain doctrinal differences; priests could marry and Maronites held that Christ had a dual and divine human nature governed by a single divine will. Still, they had the full support and financial backing of Rome. This was even though Rome considered other Eastern Orthodox Christians’ doctrinal differences as ‘schismatic’ and a blatant insult to the supreme power of Rome and the Universal Church. But not evidently, heretical?
Excerpt concerning the end of the long and brutal campaign of the first crusade culminating in crusaders running amok in Jerusalem:
The assault was scheduled to start after dark on 13 July  with two simultaneous attacks each led by one of the siege towers…It was the tower commanded by Godfrey of Bouillon on the northern sector that, on the morning of 15 July, established the first foothold. Seeing the enemy secure a bridgehead on the ramparts, the defenders in this sector streamed back to the temple area to rally for a last stand around the al-Aqsa Mosque, but they surrendered to Tancred and flew his banner over the mosque promising to pay a large ransom in the negotiations that should follow the capture. Meantime blood crazed crusaders were streaming over the walls and through the streets of the northern part of the city slaughtering every living thing that crossed their path. No banner was going to save lives in this shambles, while the Jewish population of the city were cut down – man, woman, and child – where they stood hoping for sanctuary in their chief synagogue. They can have had little hope. Months before, news of the pogroms in the Rhineland had reached the city and most of its Jewish community had sided with its Muslim defenders, fearful of their fate should the place fall to the Christians. Now that fate was upon them. …It is doubtful whether any other of the inhabitants of Jerusalem on that dreadful day survived. …The slaughter lasted the best part of two days. When it was over, the crusade leaders went in solemn procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to give thanks to God… [my emphasis]
There was surely much to give thanks for. More than once over the years it had seemed that the army had survived only thanks to divine intervention. Even so some blenched at the butchery that had sealed their victory. …When reports did reach the West many churchmen expressed horrified dismay. Accounts of the shocking events reverberated through Muslim Syria.
-Copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory and All rights Reserved 16 January 2015
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