Bill Warner on the Crusades

As reported by the NeoConservative Christian Right website, Bill Warner is on the road, speaking in Nashville on the new Crusade against Islam that ‘the West’ apparently needs to get on with.  Because of the danger of Islam (that, and because it’s already June, and most good television shows have ended for another season)[1].

I’ve talked before about why I doubt Bill Warner’s credentials as an Islamicist, and again, I think his speech demonstrates that while he may have spent a lot of his life studying Islam and religious history, there are a lot of salient features that he has overlooked.  Most of his talk recycles elements of his blog that I addressed before, but I find it interesting that the NeoCon piece about his lecture focuses primarily (and I think, fairly) on a call to Crusade.

The Crusades as a topic has been on my mind a lot recently, not least because I’m teaching them again this term.  It’s always a bit strange for me to teach the Crusades, because as an Islamicist, they’re a fairly minor event.  Muslim sources and Muslim writers do not generally treat the Crusades at length, nor do they treat them as a continuous event from the 109os to the mid-thirteenth century, the way they are presented in most European histories (both contemporary chronicles and modern scholarship).  That’s because, in many ways, “the Crusades” is not a concept from the Islamic perspective – or, at least, “the Crusades” wasn’t a concept until the Muslim world was reintroduced to the idea in the colonial period.

Because I’m an Islamicist, and because I love historiography way, way too much, one of the questions I ask my students when teaching the Crusades is: is the concept of ‘the Crusades’ methodologically useful?  By which I mean, is it useful to talk about ‘the Crusades’ as a unified series of events, in the same way we talk about ‘the Reformation’ or ‘the Renaissance’ or ‘the Islamic expansion’.  The problem with these terms is that they imply some amount of similarity or continuity between all of the events they include.

In the case of the Crusades, modern scholarship has generally argued that there are seven or eight Crusades – that is, numbered attempts on the Holy Land, based on papal decree, with the intention of conquering, securing or retaking the city of Jerusalem.  Even among these (at most) eight events, there is a great deal of variation – the second Crusade was a raid on Damascus, the fourth Crusade was actually an attack on the Byzantine empire, and no one can quite agree on what the fifth and sixth were.

But even beyond these discrepencies between these eight events, there were also a plethora of events during the hundred and fifty year period of ‘the Crusades’ which were called ‘Crusades’.  They include (but are in no way limited to):

– The Lay Crusade: a commoner holy man called Peter the Hermit attempted to lead a group of Christians against a Turkish force in Byzantium

– The Cathar Crusade: against Christian heretics in France

– The Children’s Crusade: a group of French children followed a boy who had a vision telling him to go on Crusade – they made it all they way to Italy, at which point, depending on which chronicle you believe, they either turned back or were sold into slavery by Italian traders

All of these things are Crusades – the people on these Crusades understood themselves as undertaking the same religious obligation as the knights who traveled to the Holy Land – and yet none of them are what we, in the modern world, mean when we talk about ‘the Crusades’.  If we are at war with Islam, I don’t think Bill Warner is suggesting that we send a bunch of children against them to purify them through their near-sinless state, although this was a common twelfth-century idea.

There is also the larger problem that the Crusades aren’t entirely Christian.  Or religious.  Or secular.  Or political.  Or military.  Or anything, really.  They’re massively complex historical events, and, as I am made aware every time I have to lecture about them, it is nearly impossibly to strike a fair balance between the religious fervor that was undoubtedly felt by those who participated, the political intrigue that surrounded them, and the military victories (and more often failures) that characterized them.

Which brings me to my final point, of which I was just reminded in my last class, and the one I think is the most important for those among the American Right who think the Crusades are a good model for the modern relationship with Islam – aside from all of the theological, ethical and historical complexity that goes along with the concept of Crusades, if we, as Americans, are meant to identify with the Crusaders – we lost.  We lost over and over again.  The first Crusade was a raging success, mostly because the Muslims didn’t notice, and didn’t have the resources or any good reason to care.  A few cities managed to stage decent resistance to the Crusaders, but for the most part, there were no battles in the first Crusade.  After that, the Holy Land Crusades become an endless story of the Europeans spectacular failures.  For every gain they managed, they lost something new, and the European states in the Holy Land and Egypt were eaten away, bit by bit, by a strongly-resistive local population that had no interest in seeing them survive.

If that is the model we are seeking, then we should just accept failure now, and go see if any of the mid-summer filler is any good.

[1] This is actually the same event as I discussed last time, but now someone has nicely uploaded a video of his talk to youtube.  O youtube, how I love you.  And not just because you have songs about Star Wars.

About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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6 Responses to Bill Warner on the Crusades

  1. Effendi says:

    There were also the Baltic Crusades, aslo known as the Northern Crusades, against the pagans of Northeastern Europe.

  2. Rockmelon says:

    During the last years of Muhammad’s life, he waged many battles against non-believers and these acts of war continued to persist throughout the past fourteen centuries. Islam is and always has been a ‘religion’ built on violence. Unspeakable acts are carried on somewhere in the world, in the name of Islam, every single day, every hour.

    Islam was no more of a threat to the Christians than any of the other religions that have co-existed. It was Islamists who were bound by Muhammad to conquer non-believers by first giving them the choices to convert, to accept dhimmitude or to die. On the other hand, Catholicism asks its congregants to ‘spread the word’; not to kill if rebuked.

    The classes being ‘taught’ by the author of this article are not based on historical facts that are either reliable or responsible and are simply a means to further Islam by convincing non-believers that Islam is a ‘peaceful’ religion.

  3. Ahmad Syazli says:

    Hello, I’m a male, Malay, Muslim Malaysian pensioner (I was a clerk before). So, you can always determine that I’m not a very highly educated person. But being a Muslim, I think I have the right to defend my prophet Muhammad (pbuh). I think you learned people of the world must have encountered or stumbled upon news about a Malaysian politician who is being accused of sexual misconducts. He and his supporters keep insisting that he is the victim of the government’s conspiracy. But his sex video clip on websites are there for everybody to judge. Being a Muslim and a former Muslim Youth Movement leader, he could easily perform the ‘mubahala’, but he chooses not to. Why? Because he knows the consequence of invoking the name of Allah, the Creator of Jesus Christ, Moses and Muhammad (pbut). My point is: if Islam is so wicked, fake and violent why not perform ‘mubahala’. I’ve gone into details about this when I responded to a certain Eeyore in Bill Warner’s other website. It’s gone (deleted). Anyway, with the aid of the internet anybody could find out what ‘mubahala’ is. If only I could translate the words in the ‘mubahala’, I would, but that would destroy its authenticity. And yes I’ve done it before and doing it now: Wallahi, Watallahi, Wabillahi, I swear that Islam (and Muhammad) IS THE TRUTH. If ever Islam (and Muhammad) IS NOT THE TRUTH, then Allah (God of Jesus Christ, Moses and Muhammad) would turn my heart to His TRUE RELIGION.

  4. amoralaroma says:

    That hurt… Note to self: Post the comment you spent about 45 minutes on BEFORE you subscribe. It went **POOF** It was brilliant too. **sniff** Gone… sucked into the void. I think all the inadvertently deleted e-mails go to limbo. It’s perfect, the Catholics aren’t using it any more and the place must be huge. All those poor babies and those righteous folks that died before Jesus showed got a big promotion. I wonder if they were told before the move? I mean it could be traumatizing, the babies wouldn’t have noticed but how about the first family? They didn’t get a free pass they did the limbo thing too. How about that poor bastard Abel, he really got the short end of the stick. His brother kills him (wiped out a quarter of the worlds population) then with no explanation, (God didn’t talk to people in limbo, he could have at least left a pamphlet) Abel finds himself… where? (the nuns never gave us a satisfactory description, let alone a reason and let me tell ya when we learned about limbo in catechism at about 8 or so, it was some scarey shit. If that could happen to a little innocent baby, who knows what these people were capable of. First thing I did when I got home was demand proof of my baptism, not just the piece of paper, get the photo album. I want to see that water rolling off my forehead. “I don’t care if there’s a wasp’s nest in the attic woman! GET THOSE PICTURES!” And then I wanted some answers. Oh yeah… me and 30 some other kids were armed for bear. What sister?, you think a smack across the knuckles with a ruler is gonna be any kind of a deterrent after what we just dodged? Bring it.) Anyway, I hope they did something special for Abel, cake and ice cream and a meet and greet. Maybe a powepoint presentation nothing too fancy but the guy had a lot of catching up to do. I came here looking for dirt on Bill Warren, (sheesh, like 2 hours ago). The guy is all over YouTube and everyone is getting on the bandwagon (hyphen? whatever, I’m tired) I really haven’t found anything. Come on…dish. The man wears a bow tie, bow ties aren’t just smarmy, they’re an indicator of deep unresolved emotinal issues (see: “The Kinsey Report” 1948, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” page 348 para., 2 “Bow ties are smarmy.”) I got half way through that and realized I’ve forgotten the correct format lol Hey, I graduated in 1981, Liberal Arts. UC Santa Cruz.. GO SLUGS! I enjoyed this article and will be coming back to get up to speed. You have a very readable and informative style. I promise not to write another manifesto so please don’t ban me. Take care.

    • amoralaroma says:

      Sorry, almost forgot, I have the coolest arabesque. Thanks

    • Aw, sorry to hear your comment got lost – hopefully this isn’t the start of a trend (I know blogger went nuts for a while and started eating comments, I hope wordpress isn’t next!). And I love the idea that limbo is for lost internet correspondence now! Somehow it just works! (It also reminds me of one of the new favorite rants by historians now, as to how these living generations will be remembered in the future, as we’ve lost so many standard forms of textual transmissions – unless everything on the internet gets archived, future historians won’t have personal correspondence, purchase records, or even some kinds of legal documents and contracts to look back to. Poor future historians.)

      I think probably the reason you’re having problems finding anything out about him is that there really isn’t that much to know. He also goes by Bill French (I’m not sure if one is a nome de plume or if he changed his name at some point), and has a background in Engineering. He’s self-published several books on Islam and the history of religion, but, at least as far as I’m aware, has no formal training in anything related to comparative religion. He does seem to be sort of a non-entity on the internet, in terms of other information about him, but I would guess that there’s just not much else to say.

      Also, the Doctor Who fan in me feels the need to point out that bowties are not smarmy. Bow ties are cool. Although possibly only when worn by the British.

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