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The Crusader
Tim Francis-Wright

Bear Left! Extra
17 September 2001

In spite of everything that President Bush had said and done until Sunday, I still had hope that the American response to the World Trade Center and Pentagon would be proportionate, or at least restrained. The breadth of the coalition of countries supporting the United States let me think that the American response might just be less than disastrous. One word out of George Bush's mouth changed my thinking.

At Camp David, on Sunday, President Bush declared that "this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while." The magic word was crusade. One word dredges up centuries of holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East. An ecumenical coalition of countries did not fight in the real Crusades. A few Christian countries did. If President Bush has a new Crusade in mind, the world is in for a lot of pain.

The concept of a crusade comes from the Latin crux, meaning cross, in this case the cross of Western Christianity. Christian armies from Europe sought to wrest control of the Holy Land away from Muslims by establishing Christian states. European Christians regarded Muslims, Jews, and even Orthodox Christians in the Middle East as infidels and devils, and treated them maliciously and savagely.

It is puzzling and shocking that Bush, a history major at Yale, would choose as maladroit a metaphor as the Crusades for the upcoming actions against Osama bin Laden. Of the seven traditional crusades, only the First Crusade, from 1095 to 1099, succeeded in its mission to gain Christian control of Jerusalem. Not only was the success of the First Crusade short-lived, but it encompassed a slaughter of the Jewish and Moslem inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Later Crusades had similarly gruesome ends. In 1204, the Fourth Crusade featured an attack on the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople. The Crusaders sacked the city, killing thousands of inhabitants and destroying countless artifacts. In 1212, most of the children on the Children's Crusade died en route or wound up enslaved.

American Christians should realize why Muslims reacted with dismay to the promise of a crusade against a Muslim country. President Bush might think of a crusade as a throwaway analogy. Muslims, particularly those in the Middle East, know better. We have promised a holy war, and I fear that we might get what we promised.

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