Wed 2 December 2020

When Far Right and populist figures such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban talk about a ‘crusade’ to defend ‘Christendom’ – this should ring some very shrill alarm bells.

The Crusades – that series of ‘holy wars’ taking place between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries – led to horror and atrocity not only in the Near East, but across significant parts of Europe

Some of the armies of the First Crusade hadn’t even left their own homeland for Jerusalem before they resorted to acts of terror and bloodshed.

Massacre of the Jews of Metz during the First Crusade, by Auguste Migette

In May 1096, an army led by the German noble Emicho von Leiningen moved through the Rhineland, slaughtering the Jewish populations of Mainz, Worms and Speyer, even going so far as to defy the Bishop of Mainz, who sheltered Jews in his palace.

The Crusades were responsible for the indiscriminate slaughter of those who identified as anything other than faithful to the Church in Rome.

Such was the devastation caused by Emicho’s army, that they were met at the Danube by Hungarian forces, who repelled them.

Similar attacks took place in 1146 during the Second Crusade, inspired by a French monk known as Radulphe, who preached that the Jews weren’t contributing to the efforts to reclaim the Holy Land. While the death toll was lower, there was more of a geographical spread, enabled by the monk’s wandering preachings.

The Capture of the Wends

Some of the Crusades weren’t tasked with reclaiming the Holy Land, and instead focused on conversion and rooting out supposed heresy.

The Wendish Crusade, taking place in 1147, led to the devastation of much of north-eastern Germany and Poland as Christian nobles tasked themselves with either converting or destroying the pagan Wends – significant areas were depopulated and would not completely recover for decades, if not centuries.

Kill the Heretic

The tale of the Albigensian Crusade is more well known. Over the space of 20 years between 1209 and 1229, entire communities of Cathars – a growing, ‘heretical’ sect – were slaughtered of burned alive under the orders of the Pope in south-western France.

Indeed, it was this Crusade that gave rise to a grim phrase that has entered the popular lexicon. Prior to an attack on the Cathar-held town of Beziers on 22 July 1209, a commanding cleric, Arnaud Almalric, was asked how his troops were supposed to discern heretics from ‘true’ believers.

His alleged response – ‘Kill them all, God will know his own’ – entered the popular myth as justification for indiscriminate slaughter.

Cathars expelled from Carcassonne in 1209.

The Crusades, over almost half a millennium, were responsible for the indiscriminate slaughter of those who identified as anything other than faithful to the Church in Rome.

These groups were considered by Crusaders as worthy of extermination: people put to the sword, homes burned and possessions taken.

Dark Intentions

For anyone to be seriously comparing their work as a ‘crusade’, especially in a 21st century, really gives an indication of their intent: to inspire action through their rhetoric, to significantly marginalise groups, perhaps even commit violence against them.

Every time Orban talks of a ‘crusade’, every time Nigel Farage speaks of ‘Judaeo-Christian’ values bear in mind the ruin that those supposedly ‘Christian’ soldiers visited upon their own lands, on their own neighbours, centuries ago.

Is that something we wish to see again?

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