Over the last five decades, Jonathan Riley-Smith has revolutionized–or, more appropriately, counter-revolutionized–the historical study of The Crusades by demonstrating that they were not driven by avarice, greed, and imperialism but instead by piety, religious enthusiasm, a sense of duty, and a genuinely fervent desire to liberate the Holy Lands and return them to Christian hands. Moreover, he showed that, far from enriching themselves, the Crusaders suffered real personal expense and hardship in order to pursue what they saw as the will of God in what he refers to as “penitential warfare.” From what I’ve been able to find on-line, it appears that even most who are most reluctant to let the Crusaders and Christianity off the hook have come to accept the validity of his view.
In these lectures, Mr. Riley-Smith provides a nice short rehearsal of his basic arguments in this regard. He then moves on to a discussion of how Enlightenment opponents of Christianity, Romantic authors klike Sir Walter Scott, and anti-Imperialists of the late 19th century produced the historically warped version of the Crusades that came to be all too widely accepted in the West and that, tragically, was then adopted by Islamic jihadis to fuel hatred of Chistendom. In effect, many of the resentments of al Qaeda owe nothing to the actual history of the interaction of Christianity and Islam in the Holy Lands and everything to the misrepresentations of, if not outright lies about, that history that have been propounded in the West.
This slender book is a splendid corrective to the malignant view of the Crusades that remains a part of popular culture–like Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven–and a compelling rebuttal to those who claim that “they hate us” because of our own past actions. It’s a must read.