The Crusades that we read about in the books had, as their declared aim, liberation of the Holy Land, and especially the holy places in and near Jerusalem. The Jews had a part as victims. Christian hordes massacred them, most notably the communities along the Rhine, on their way to dealing with their primary mission further east.
The targets of the present Crusade are not holy places, but Muslim extremists who are on their own Crusade to liberate Palestine along with Europe and perhaps North America from Jews and Christians they consider infidels.
Current motivations are not religious, and it is not a church leading the onslaught. The concerns are political, strategic, and defensive. This is the age of political correctness and realism. With millions of Muslims already in Europe and North America, and Muslim rulers sitting on much of the oil and gas, it is not an occasion for declaring a war against Islam, even though that is at least part of the reality.
The Jews are more central this time, due to their occupation of what the Muslim Crusaders view as their land. Modern Jews are more often fighters than victims. The IDF is doing its share, most recently attacking arsenals in Syria that might fall into the hands of Hezbollah, as well as several earlier rounds in Gaza and Lebanon, frequent incursions into the West Bank, plus allegations of assassinations, computer viruses, and other dirty stuff from Iran westward.
Toulouse, as well as attacks against individuals, graveyards, and synagogues in Europe and the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic rants on European and American campuses remind Jews of their victimhood. Now, however, Diaspora Jews can feel good about Israel's part in defending Western civilization. That is, if they are not among the Jews participating in anti-Israel demonstrations.
The French were prominent in the earlier Crusades and again this time. Currently they are dealing with aggressive Muslims in Mali. They were also among the leaders attacking Qaddafi's forces in Libya. That might have made things worse by wrecking a nasty but predictable regime. The Americans did the same in Iraq. You can't win them all, especially when fighting a foreign culture at least partly opaque to outsiders.
America was not even discovered in the time of the classic Crusades. Most likely the natives were restless and killing one another in a most primitive fashion, but all that was pre-history in a view of things that is, admittedly, politically uncorrect.
It's also politically uncorrect to use the term "Crusade" for what is happening from Mali through to Pakistan. My Muslim friends have no trouble referring to recent events as a Crusade, and on this we agree.
With the possible exception of the Israelis, no nation is more important in this Crusade than the Americans. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been almost entirely their turf, and 9-11 their defining moment. Israelis look to America as a supplier of hardware and as the most important source of legitimacy for their actions. There is considerable sharing of intelligence between Israel and the United States. Israeli political and military personnel spend time persuading their American counterparts about the need for one or the other to do this or that. Israel shares in the mistakes (Iraq's weapons of mass destruction) as well as the pressures toward what is currently viewed as the central concern with Iran's nuclear intentions.
Unlike last time, the British and Germans have so far been minor partners. The British have not been noticeable in dealing with aggressive Muslims in the northern area of their former colony Nigeria like the French in their former colony Mali. However, both the British and Germans have contributed to efforts in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and against the Somali pirates, as well as being involved in intelligence sharing. Both, like the French and Americans, have acted against Muslims in their own populations, as well as trying to keep things quiet at home by joining the chorus that this is not a Crusade against Islam.
The other Crusades proceeded in stages for 200 years, and did not end well for the West. The main street in Arab East Jerusalem is named for Salah ad Din (Saladin), noted for a strategic victory over the Christians in what is now northern Israel.
The Jews of the Middle East benefited from the Muslim victory. Life was marginally better for them under the Muslims throughout the Middle Ages than under the Christians of Europe. Neither realm was anything close to Paradise. Simpletons who idealize the life of Jews under the Muslims will have to deal with my Mashhadi friend, whose family spent years outwardly as Muslims but inwardly as Jews, with a history of slaughter and forced conversion.
The Jews of Israel, and by extension those living near Muslims elsewhere are at the core of this Crusade. Like the earlier Crusade(s), these have seen periods of intensity and quiet, or separate chapters in one long story. We may date the onset with the development of Palestinian nationalism and terror during the Mandate period, escalating with Israeli victories in 1948, 1967, and onward through Intifadas #1 and #2, plus three major incursions into Lebanon. Major escalations involving western armies came with the first Gulf War of 1991, or perhaps the earlier Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 9-11 produced a another escalation, and Arab spring yet another.
Depending on how one counts, we are near 100 years or only a decade into this Crusade. Israelis, Americans, Europeans and Muslims are wondering how long it will last, and how, if ever, it will end.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at January 31, 2013 02:05 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem