By Professor David Schaefer, Faculty Contributor
To the Editors of The Crusader,
In Hanna Seariac’s April 7 column “My Crusade for The Crusader,” despite her illuminating etymological research, there is a major omission in her assertion that during the Crusades “both sides” (that is, Christians and Muslims) “committed atrocities, and that the atrocities were fewer than we perceive.” Since the conflict in the Holy Land was part of a continuing “clash of civilizations” between Christians and Muslims, Christians today have no more reason today to apologize to Muslims for the Crusades than Muslims owe Christians apologies for their conquest of Spain, centuries earlier. However, what is missing from Ms. Seariac’s column, and from most recent discussions of the issue on campus, is mention of an entirely innocent third party which suffered the most terrible harm at the hands of the Crusaders: the Jews of Europe.
As Prof. Kevin Madigan of Harvard (whose expertise on the subject has wrongly been impugned both by Ms. Seariac and by a previous, unfortunate column in the Fenwick Review) observes in his book Medieval Christianity, even though Church-sponsored anti-Judaism preceded the Crusades, “it received new, hateful, and violent forms of expression” beginning with the First Crusade and continuing in subsequent iterations of that event. In German and Bohemian regions where peaceful relations had usually prevailed between Christians and Jews, this situation “suffered reversal in the spring of 1096,” as “many pogroms occurred. Jewish homes and cities were plundered, and fanatical Crusaders killed many Jews.” Hence “some historians see the Crusades as a turning point in European history,” identifying 1096 “as the year when relations between Jews and Christians turned irreversibly hostile and often violent,” initiating centuries of “interreligious hostility” that culminated in the Holocaust. Motivated by greed for plunder as well as envy of the Jews’ commercial success, along with religious doctrines teaching that the Jews deserved punishment for their supposed responsibility for the death of Christ (and for refusing to convert to Christianity), Crusaders and other Christians “inspired” by them slaughtered thousands of Jews in France, Germany, England, and Spain in subsequent centuries. These are facts well-described by Jewish historians (see vol. III of Solomon Graetz’s classic History of the Jews) along with Christian and secular ones. So why is there practically no mention of them during the current debate?
As a longtime member of the Holy Cross faculty and a Jew, I have appreciated the warm relations that have long existed between the College and Worcester’s Jewish community. Indeed, a local Jewish philanthropist, Jacob Hiatt, endowed both the wings that were added to Dinand Library in the 1980’s and the chair in Jewish studies in our religion department (along with a chair in Catholic studies at Brandeis). While fully aware that the “effectual truth” of the Crusades (to use Machiavelli’s expression) was often shamefully different from their romantic representation in the tapestry that decorates the Hogan ballroom, I have never seen fit to launch a “crusade” against the College’s team name (and that of its newspaper). The word has long passed into English vernacular to signify any movement dedicated to promoting justice and combating evil, without any necessary theological connotation. Indeed, in my battles against the ravages of political correctness, at Holy Cross and elsewhere, I could be called a crusader myself. I am alarmed, however, when I see the history of the original Crusades being whitewashed in a way that blinds Christians to the evils that were once long perpetrated under that banner.
The fact that only now has a controversy arisen over changing Holy Cross’s team name, and that those who advocate the change refer almost exclusively to its supposed offensiveness to Muslims (not Jews), encourages the suspicion that this movement is animated less by a genuine desire to right the historical record than by a self-abasing fear in the face of Islamist terror that has already paralyzed much of Europe (where the Christian religion itself is unfortunately in widespread decline). There is nothing noble or admirable in such abasement.
I couldn’t care less whether, centuries after the Crusades, the College changes its team name. The idea that such a change is necessitated by an obscure KKK newspaper’s sharing the title is as ludicrous as Hillary Clinton’s blaming the Benghazi attack on a YouTube video. Those who sincerely wish to atone for the real atrocities committed by the Crusaders and their followers, as they should, ought instead to demonstrate support today for the tiny, embattled state of Israel, and oppose the viciously anti-Semitic “boycott, divestment, sanctions” campaign spreading on other campuses, which aims to render the Jewish state defenseless in the face of enemies (Iran, Hamas, Fatah, ISIS) sworn to its destruction. Israel also happens to be the only stable democratic nation in the Middle East, America’s only reliable ally there, and a regime that offers its Arab citizens far more rights than they enjoy under any Muslim government outside Indonesia.
David Lewis Schaefer
Professor of Political Science