The Christian Crusades were a series of military campaigns aimed at protecting the Holy Land from the Islamic Empire. However, the ethical dimension of the Christian Crusades remains one of the central problems of history. In fact, some people believe that the Christian crusaders had the right to conquer the Holy Land, while others consider that the Christian Crusades were unjust because the Muslims had the right to possess that territory. The difficulty here concerns the need to evaluate the war as an instrument for achieving some goals. It seems that the Christian crusaders declared ambitious religious and defensive goals that differed much from their real motivations oriented to political aggression, economic expansion, and the use of the Muslims as the common target in order to overcome internal contradictions within Medieval Europe. Therefore, the Muslims’ claim to rule Palestine was the most legitimate one because they led the defensive war against the aggressive European crusaders.
There were many economic, political, ideological, and religious motivations for the Christian Crusades. In fact, the initiative to organize the first Christian Crusade belonged to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope. Consequently, the Christian Crusades possessed the characteristics of wars blessed by the highest religious authority (Phillips). According to Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, and Turner, “The pope and others may also have hoped to stabilize the West by sending large numbers of restless feuding young nobles off to foreign lands” (362). In addition to the need for some common enemy that would help to unify the Christians, the Pope also believed that the leading role in this initiative (in case of the victorious realization of crusaders’ plans) would increase the authority of the Roman Church and its leader in the whole world, especially in Europe (Phillips). Lastly, the third important motivation for the crusaders’ activity was the need to overcome the economic as well as cultural isolation of Europe and increase in its trading potential (Craig et al. 363). Thus, when “politically and religiously they were a failure” (Craig et al. 363), the Christian Crusades were quite successful in the economic sphere and yielded substantial profits. The main ethical problem here concerns masking the above-mentioned political, ideological, and economic motivations with the religious claims to ‘free the Holy Land’ from the Muslims and representation of this war as an activity pleasing to God. Consequently, the claims and real actions of crusaders, who just wanted to capture the lands that belonged to the Muslims, differed. Therefore, it is impossible to identify their activities as just and their claims to rule Palestine as legitimate.
As long as the crusaders characterized Christian activities as a religious war against the representatives of another religion, it is important to analyze the attitude of the Muslims to such claims. ‘Jihad’ is an equivalent for the term ‘Holy War’ in the Muslim terminology (Hutto 7). This detail demonstrates the presence of the same description of the phenomenon in the conceptual system of the Muslims. However, there is no mention of the crusaders as the warriors of jihad in any Muslim source (Hutto 7). The Muslims understood the real intentions of the crusaders because, according to the brilliant research of Noah Hutto, they called the invaders not ‘crusaders’ but ‘Franj’ (Franks) and “they were unaware that the Franj arrived as Muhjadeen, or soldiers of a (in this case, Christian) Holy War” (11). In addition, the political situation in the Muslim world was very unstable during the First Crusade, and the Christians used it for their own benefit. As Noah Hutto underlines, “the internal power struggles so engulfed the Muslim world of the Near East that Muslims viewed the European armies as just additional players on the field of battle” (12). The above-mentioned details mean that the Muslims perceived the Christian Crusades as political aggression realized through the war and they protected their lands from the enemy. The use of the term ‘Franj’ instead of ‘crusaders’ shows that the Muslims interpreted the Crusades as the struggle between the Europeans (Franks) and the Muslims, but not between the Christians and the Muslims. It is also important to note that the Muslims differentiated the Franj from the Byzantine Christians. They mainly identified the crusaders not with religious institutions or ideas but only with the European states. From this perspective, it is obvious that the Christian Crusades were not the opposition between those who believed in Christ and the Muslims because they both understood the secular background of the issue.
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Through the analysis provided, it becomes clear that the Muslims had more rights to possess Palestine and defend it against the Christian crusaders. The Christian Crusades with their religious context were just the ideological instruments oriented to the realization of the secular goals of the European rulers, including the Pope. During the Crusades, the Muslims had their own political and economic problems caused by the internal struggles within the Muslim world; therefore, they perceived crusaders as just a problem additional to already existing ones. Such historical context excludes any interpretation of the Christian Crusades as the opposition between the Christian and Muslim worlds, which demonstrates that the crusaders just seized the moment when the Muslims were weaker in order to conquer some of their territories. It means that the crusaders’ claims to rule Palestine were illegitimate.
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