Last week, at Washington’s annual National Prayer Breakfast, US President Barak Obama admonished us all lest “we get on our high horse and think that this [religious fanaticism] is unique to some other place – remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ … So, it is not unique to one group or one religion.”
This presidential platitude looks innocuous enough except that it’s deceptively simplistic. For one thing it casually glosses over the fact that the crimes it alludes to aren’t contemporaneous.
I am the last who’d seek to whitewash the Christian record. I hazard a guess that my family line was affected way more by Christian brutality than were any of Barack Obama’s ancestors. (Even if we accept his thesis that slavery in the American South and its Jim Crow laws were imposed in the name of Christ, none of Obama’s forebears suffered therefrom).
But one quick glance at my uniquely long genealogical chart will show many names accompanied by the notation “killed for Kiddush Hashem” – the sanctification of the Holy Name – Jewish euphemism for martyrdom.
Some of my ancestors were executed by Christian persecutors because they resisted attempts to convert them forcibly. Others were massacred by their frenzied Christian neighbors and rampaging Crusaders who hacked them to death in their own homes. The most seminal early mega-trauma registered on our family tree occurred during the First Crusade of 1096, when the Rhineland Jewish communities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz were destroyed in a homicidal tempest.
Peter the Hermit of Amiens and Count Emich of Leiningen exhorted the masses to slaughter the Jews as an extension of their Christian mission. They vilified the Jews as the crucifers of Christ and these helpless heretics were available for immediate retribution – in contrast to the hardly vulnerable, hardly peace-loving, hardly non-aggressive, hardly blameless and more distant Muslims. Besides, robbing the Jews also served to fill Christian coffers and finance the onward march to Jerusalem.
Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the leaders of the First Crusade and first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, left no doubt when he vowed that he would embark for the Holy Land “only after avenging the blood of the Crucified One by shedding Jewish blood and completely eradicating any trace of those bearing the name ‘Jew,’ thus assuaging His own burning wrath.”
All this, conveniently ignored by today’s educators, was but a prelude to many centuries more of massacres of Jews, expulsions and noxious religious preaching that eventually and inexorably culminated in the Holocaust. Christian clerics implanted in the European mind a deep-seated aversion to Jews that endured even when the hate no longer necessarily relied on religious pretexts.
“Completely eradicating any trace of those bearing the name Jew,” became a slogan shouted loudly and clearly on European soil in the 20th century and millions of ecstatic Germans and their numerous avid collaborators hoarsely shrieked “heil” in approval.
So, if anyone should bear a grudge against the Crusaders, it’s us Jews. We, here today largely descend from survivors of murderous Christian predations. We are also the children of those who escaped the death warrant issued against every single Jew anywhere by Godfrey’s ideological torchbearer, Adolf Hitler.
Our most compelling historical lesson is inscribed in one phrase of our Passover Hagada: “in each generation they rise against us to destroy us.” In each generation, the guise of the would-be destroyer may change and his idiom mutates, but he is no less dedicated to our annihilation.
Our would-be destroyer at this point in time isn’t burning us at the stake under the sign of the cross and he doesn’t speak Old German or proto-French, or even later Russian and Ukrainian. He speaks Arabic and Farsi. He quotes the Koran, esoteric instructions from the Hadith and fiery sermons by imams and ayatollahs – Sunni, Shiite and all other rival variations.
For that reason, without belittling or exonerating the dark history of Christendom, the Crusaders aren’t our problem today. Neither are the Crusaders the problem of the rest of the West. Obama knows that full well.
Today, the great danger that threatens us Jews foremost – and which will inevitably engulf the entire civilized world – comes from the Islam that had remained what it was in the days of the Crusaders. It had failed to evolve. Its xenophobic and expansionist mindset didn’t reform even if its weapons are thoroughly modern – including long-range missiles and nuclear bombs-in-the-making.
Today’s Islam still fumes and fulminates against infidels as it did a thousand years ago and it maligns any westerners as Crusaders.
The Jewish state is to Muslims (even to the self-styled moderates among them) the most conspicuous reincarnation of the Crusader state. This calumny is disseminated not only by Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL) and by al-Qaida but also by Iran, by the Palestinian Authority (both the Ramallah and Gaza branches), by Qatar, the Gulf Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and numerous others of their ilk – their internecine quarrels notwithstanding.
In Muslim eyes Americans too are Crusaders. Europeans to them are Crusaders. We are all Crusaders. Islam’s radical warriors vow to quash us all – Jew or Christian – in the vehemence of their ongoing anti-Crusader struggle. They persist in waging an ancient war which they regard as alive and relevant today.
Obama, consequently, plays with fire by so much as resorting to Crusader allusions. His very terminology is dangerous. He isn’t just misguidedly calling for repentant humility as prescribed by the politically correct dogma of the High Church of Multiculturalism.
By resonating prevalent Muslim apologetics, Obama effectively tells Muslims that they have a valid gripe. Wittingly or unwittingly, he signals all Muslims – even within the mainstream of purportedly pacifist Muslims – that they are justified to pursue their jihad against all the many national categories currently demonized as Crusaders.
As Jihadists see it, even the American president has now called attention to Crusader sins. Even he has publicly admitted Crusader culpability. Therefore, by their logic, Obama has conceded the righteousness of their reprisal against those who comprise the present-day Crusader enemy ranks.
Sanctimonious and foolhardy, Obama has tossed a flaming match into Islam’s powder keg in the name of the hallowed postmodern creed of moral relativism. The problem is that the Muslim warlords aren’t postmodern but medieval. Moreover, their fervent battle cry beckons many Muslims domiciled in so-called Crusader territory – Boston’s Tsarnaev brothers and Paris’s Kouachi brothers among them.
This is our civilization’s Achilles heel. Today’s theatres of war aren’t in far-flung lands and there are no clearly drawn distinctions between conflict zones and the hinterland. There are no demarcations and no frontlines.
Europe and America have let Islam into their midst and hostilities will rage in New York and in Boston, in London and in Manchester, in Paris and in Toulouse, in Brussels and in Amsterdam, in Madrid and in Burgas, in Moscow and in Beslan. No continent, no country and no city anywhere on this planet is exempt – not Asia or Africa, not Nigeria or Cameroon, not Sydney, Mumbai or Buenos Aires.
The terrorists reside among us and demand our postmodern indulgence for their medieval ghastliness. Obama has just given voice to their grievances and perhaps convinced a few more impressionable members of the much-vaunted silent Muslim majority to join the jihad and to wreak vengeance against latter-day Crusaders.
It’s easy to fall for Obama’s seductive superficiality when he lumps us all in his apparent castigation of religious extremism (by inference we Jews too are included in his censure, although our religion is anything but proselytizing and conquest-oriented).
Yet the thrust of Obama’s argument is that Christians and Jews today shouldn’t condemn those who burn captives alive, decapitate others, stone women, sell small girls into slavery, toss gays off high-rises, bury children alive and actually crucify “infidel” boys – to say nothing of holding hostages to ransom, skyjacking, flying planes into skyscrapers, setting off explosive devices in busy marketplaces, firebombing busses or rocketing civilians in their homes.
The refrain that “everybody is capable of evil” (even when not committing it) is the perfect cop-out for those who do daily plot and perpetrate atrocities. Imagine Churchill telling the Allied nations that they – in fact all liberal-minded folks – are as culpable as the Nazis and as potentially capable of Third Reich barbarity. That would hardly have been the way to boost morale among those who confronted that barbarity.
But Obama has no intention of boosting our morale in the face of barbarity. He diminishes barbarity and taints its opponents.
No surprise here. Anyone who heard him at the outset of his presidency suck up to Islam in Cairo should have understood that he has no intention of addressing Islam’s excesses.
The object of Obama’s rebuke from the get-go was what he portrayed as Western arrogance and American dominance. In these he identified what ails the world. The democracies, as per his universalist post-colonial precepts (tinged with Marxism), were those who needed dressing down.
Hence the term “Islamic terror” is forbidden in official US parlance and hence American leadership in the world is not what this Oval Office occupier advocates.
The fact that Obama had to reach back a thousand years to come up with excuses for the enemy he dare not name says it all. Don’t be knocked for a loop, fellow Israelis, if he next tells us that since America has the bomb it’s unfair to deny it to the Iranians.
And if Iran threatens to wipe us off the map – in its own adaptation of Godfrey’s oath to “completely eradicate” us – we must charitably consider historical parallels and not whine against Tehran. In Obama’s worldview there are no differences between east and west, past and present, democracies and theocracies, today’s rampant Islamic terror and Crusader onslaughts of the Eleventh Century.
Indeed, why single out Islamists when Crusaders also butchered Jews? Why should contemporary Muslims be prohibited from doing what Crusaders so excelled at a millennium ago?
Throughout the ages Jews were accused of being too inherently intransigent for their own good. We still apparently are. Even today we stubbornly will not acquiesce in our own mass-murder by Muslims just because the Crusaders attempted it first.
Egotistically we refuse to appreciate the wisdom of getting nuked out of existence by Islamic zealots just because their Christian counterparts strove to eradicate us beforehand. Obama’s edifying equivalency fails to overcome our parochial tunnel vision.