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Tarpeian Rock

An Annual Literary Magazine

"Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit
aurea nunc, olim siluestribus horrida dumis."

                    --Virgil's Aeneid, VIII, l. 347-8
Articles from
the 2003 issue...

Postmodern Post-Mortem

The First Attack That United the World

The First Attack That United the World

by Claudio R. Salvucci

For centuries, the Middle East had been under the control of moderate Muslim leaders, and these leaders had respectfully allowed Christian pilgrims to come and go as they pleased to visit the holy places of their religion. A sizable and flourishing Jewish community had finally returned to its homeland after having been banished for centuries.

Then, just after the turn of a new millenium, something happened that would change the course of history forever.

A man came to power in the Middle East who could best be described as a murderous and fanatical madman. Hundreds of years of moderate Islamic rule gave way to strict sectarian laws and intense persecution of Jews and Christians. Peaceful travelers were attacked, robbed, and killed.

Then one autumn Tuesday, this fanatical madman destroyed some of the most powerfully symbolic buildings in all the world. They were the ideological heart and soul of Western civilization, standing in a great city that enshrined everything that civilization believed in.

The news spread like wildfire around the known world.

Outraged, the Western powers galvanized with a unity that had seldom been seen in their long and bloody history. Warring, squabbling countries suddenly sensed a larger, common purpose that extended far beyond their own borders.

After praying and holding religious services in the rubble of these once-proud buildings, the leaders of the West began to put together a military coalition that would prevent such outrages from ever happening again. A renewed sense of long-dormant unity was awakening and a new generation of brave warriors made preparations for a long struggle to preserve freedom. They would, not out of desire but of necessity, take up arms against the people who were threatening their way of life.

It would be a defensive war against terror and oppression.

It would be known as the Crusades.

In 1009 the “mad caliph” al-Hakim of Egypt ordered the destruction of the magnificent Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the holiest spot in all of Christendom—the tomb of Jesus. Hakim’s desecration of dozens of churches, together with the persistent and brutal persecution of Christians, touched off a wave of furor in Europe, and helped precipitate the calling of the First Crusade in 1095.

Sadly, a good deal of the history of this era has passed out of American consciousness. Intellectuals antagonistic to Western civilization and Christianity have woven teary apologies for this supposedly indefensible series of wars. The Crusades are called unjust, they are called imperialist, and they are called wars of conversion—none of which they actually were. And to this day, Bin Laden and his sympathizers echo those very same falsehoods, and continue to use the spectre of long-dead knights to justify their ruthless targeting of innocent civilians.

Christians are more than willing to condemn Crusader excesses, and assign blame where blame is due. They always have been. The devout 12th century pilgrim Ekkehard of Aurach observed how evil men were infiltrating the Crusaders’ ranks and sorely lamented how the “armies of Christ were defiled.” Pope Innocent III, who himself called the Fourth Crusade, upon hearing of the senseless and deplorable sack of Constantinople in 1204, angrily upbraided his own papal legate for scandalizing the Church with, in his words, “an example of perdition and the works of darkness.”

There were certainly evils committed in the Crusades, but the Crusades were not evil, any more than our own War on Terror is evil.

But that’s exactly the kind of moral confounding that is going on today in much of the Arab world. Accidental stray bombs supposedly “prove” our evil intentions, and yet the deliberate targeting of civilians by death squads is cheered as a heroic act by the same people.

Perhaps secular historians find it perplexing that sinful men can sometimes be entrusted with holy missions. Perhaps the difference between a war of justice and a war of terror is not so sharp as we’d like—especially when both appeal to divine authority.

But whatever else we believe, we all recognize that justice is an attribute worthy of our lofty notions of Divinity. And if justice is what we tirelessly pursue, there is certainly no contradiction in sending our 21st century knights off to battle with the stirring words of Pope Urban II:

Deus vult—“God wills it.” 

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