I think I understand what Rick Santorum is trying to say when he defends the Crusades, as he did once again today as he did last year [Note: the person who sent it to me also thought it was a current statement by Santorum; I was wrong, and apologize to your readers — RD] in a political appearance. He seems to be arguing that it’s nonsense to speak of Islam as a quietistic religion of peace that was set upon by bigoted Christians in the Crusades. And in that, he is correct. Islam spread by the sword. The indigenous Christian population of the Holy Land were conquered by Muhammad’s armies. The armies of Islam swept through Christian north Africa, and conquered Christian spain. They would have gone further had Charles Martel not stopped them in the eighth century at Tours. The relationship between the Muslim powers and Christian powers has always been fraught with hostility, even war. The Crusades were only one episode in this historical drama. Santorum is right to insist on seeing them in context.

But it is really dumb to defend them today, or to be seen as defending them. To say the Crusades were perhaps understandable in historical context is not the same thing as defending them. The slaughter of Jerusalem’s Jewish and Muslim civilians by Christians in the First Crusade was abominable. The sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusaders was also abominable, and, in a point that ought to be thoughtfully considered by Santorum, greatly weakened the Byzantine (Christian) Empire, and made the fall of Christian Constantinople to Muslim armies all but inevitable. The Fourth Crusade, at least, was not about advancing Christendom, or Christianity; it was about rape, plunder, and European politics.

The dumbest thing about all this is you have an American presidential candidate actually talking about the Crusades as part of his campaign. What is the point? Why is it the case that to defend Western civilization in this day and age, you have to agree that the Crusades were splendid, or at least morally unproblematic? Worse, Santorum is using this idea of the innocence of historical Christian jihad to support the idea of contemporary American imperialism in the Middle East:

Santorum also suggested that American involvement in the Middle East is part of our “core American values.”

“What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers,” Santorum continued. “What we’re talking about are core American values. ‘All men are created equal’ — that’s a Christian value, but it’s an American value.”

Disaster! Santorum is blatantly endorsing here exactly the same things Islamic radicals accuse us of: anti-Islamic imperialism — and he’s connecting it to the Crusades. Does he not recognize that this is a very big problem? This is unhinged.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Matt for pointing out that Santorum made this statement a year ago. I didn’t notice that when I first posted. Nevertheless, insofar as it offers us insight into Santorum’s thinking about American foreign policy, Santorum’s pronouncment about the Crusades on the stump a year ago is useful to consider even today.