Just to be fair, let’s take a look at all the smiting and crusading that has gone on in the name of the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, and of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, whom I firmly believe to be His Son.
In the Old Testament there were quite a few wars of extermination, none of which were very large or very successful. The Lord drove “out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-…. you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy (Deut 7:1-3). The Amelekites were also on the divine hit list. Why did God have such a thing about Amelikites, Girgashites and Jebusites etc.? Simple. They did things that were detestable to the Lord such as child sacrifice and witchcraft.
“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, …or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so.” (Deuteronomy 18:9ff)
God doesn’t seem to have cleared the land out to make a place for Israel, but rather seems to have raised up Israel in order to end the abominations of these child murdering, spell casting nations. He makes the point that if the Israelites take up the practices of these nations they will receive the same treatment.
“It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:19-20)
So, how many people perished in this proto-jihad? Probably not a lot. These were small hill country city states. It is generous to estimate their numbers at 20,000 each. So the Canaanites amounted at most to a population of about 100,000 to 150,000 people most probably. Add to that Israelites’ failure to do a very good job at exterminating. It was an Amalekite who helped King Saul commit suicide and later King David bought the site of the temple that his son would eventually build from Araunah the Jebusite (2Sam.24:18-21).
Remember that David conquered the Jebusite city of Jerusalem around 1,000BC two or three centuries after the Lord had commanded the Israelites to exterminate them. Even then, David didn’t do much exterminating or smiting. He bought real estate from them! I bet that not much more than a handful actually perished. More likely having similar languages and culture, Israelite probably married into the Canaanites and therein was the problem. They gave in to polytheism and some kings of Israel actually practiced child sacrifice in the worship of Canaanite gods. The Lord, faithful to His promise, exiled them from the land. A lot less smiting probably went on than one would be led to believe from the text. On to Christianity!
First came the attempt by Emperors of Constantinople to enforce orthodoxy in the Empire in the fourth century to the sixth century. Probably fewer than 1,000 perished. Second, the Emperor Charlemagne’s attempt to convert the Saxons by force, also called the Massacre of Verden. Maybe 5,000 killed. Third, the Crusades! Much of the Middle East was thoroughly Christian in the year 600. That’s 500 years of Christianity.
When the Muslim Arabs charged out of the Arabian Peninsula around 650 AD, they occupied Christian lands and limited freedom of religion. At first Islam was not too restrictive, but by 900 AD the pressure to convert to Islam intensified. In 1009, Caliph al-Hakim began an intense persecution of Christians and Jews in the Holy Land, forbidding pilgrimage and destroying all Christian churches including the church of the Holy Sepulcher. The crusades were a response to the renewed persecution of Holy Land Christians and the encroachment of Islam on the Christian Romano-byzantine Empire, Pope Urban called for a war to liberate the Christian majority population of the Middle East, having been asked to do so by the Byzantine government. There followed a succession of very limited, poorly run and mostly unsuccessful wars
The People’s Crusade started in 1096, in response to the pope’s call, 20,000 people started marching east despite the pope’s telling them this is not what he had in mind. All but 3,000 were slaughtered by the Muslim Turks in western Turkey.
2) The First crusade, also in 1096, actually succeeded in capturing Antioch and Jerusalem and establishing a Crusader state. Unfortunately it was also the occasion of first outbreak of major anti-Semitic violence in Europe. The crusaders along with mobs killed thousands of Jews, especially in the Rhine valley, on their way to the embarkation points in southern Europe.
3) The Second crusade in 1187 was meant to shore up the crusader domains as they started to fall to Muslim encroachment.
4) The Third crusade in 1189 was a response to Saladin’s retaking of Jerusalem in that year. Richard the second of England, the “Lion Hearted” failed in his attempt to conquer Saladin and retake Jerusalem for the Christians.
5) The 4th crusade called for in 1198 never even reached the Holy Land. It was sidetracked to Constantinople, the capital of the dwindling Romano Byzantine Empire at the insistence of the doge of Venice against the wishes of the pope.
The Byzantines had recently slaughtered all the Latin Christians in the city and Venice was out for revenge. It’s a complicated story. In early 1171 the Venetians destroyed most of the Genoese trading colony in Constantinople. The Byzantine Emperor retaliated by arresting all of Venetians throughout the Empire and seizing their assets. One thing led to another and eventually all the Italians in Constantinople, perhaps 60,000 Venetians, Pisans and Genoese were slaughtered and around 4,000 were sold as slaves. So the venetians sidetracked the 4th Crusade to Constantinople which was captured and was sacked. The city never really recovered from the attack. In lamenting the 4th crusade, the slaughter of the Italians is never mentioned for some reason.
6) Likewise, the Fifth crusade 1213-1221) was a complete flop and never even made it to the Holy Land
7) The Sixth crusade (1228) managed to get to the Holy Land. No actual battles were fought and a peace treaty allowed the crusaders to rule the Christian parts of Jerusalem. This happy compromise ended in 1244, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Islamic Khwarezmian Tartars, who decimated the city's Christian population drove out the Jews.
And finally, the 7th, 8th and 9th crusades (1248-1272) accomplished nothing to speak of and after the death of St. Louis, crusading king of France, in North Africa in 1270 the crusades to regain the Holy Land ended.
There were a lot of incidental crusades during the era including the recon quest of Spain, from 718 to 1492. Spain had been conquered by the Muslim in 712 and had reached central France when they were finally turned back. There was also the Wendish crusade against the pagan Slavic Wends in Germany (1147). There were northern crusades to subdue the fierce pagan Lithuanians who make really good potato kugelis and bacon buns.
There was the crusade against the Albigensians who on the other hand didn’t approve of eating at all in 1208. All these wars killed about 3 million people over the course of around 200 years, not counting the length of the crusade in Spain which lasted on and off for 700 years. Compare this to the 3 million estimated killed in only 8 and a half months in Bengal as the Pakistani government tried to put down an independence movement in what is now Bangladesh and to cleanse the country of all Hindus and other non-Muslims. It’s as if the crusaders weren’t really trying.
It is curious that people can wrap their minds around the defense of home, family and country, but not the defense of religious and intellectual liberty. The crusades are always said to be a disaster and a failure. I’m not so sure.
The Crusades stopped the seemingly unstoppable advance of the armies of Islam and rolled back the Islamicization of large parts of the world. The territory of 12 or 13 modern countries, Russia, India, Greece and all the Balkan countries as well as Spain, southern France, Sicily, southern Italy and the Philippines were all under Muslim domination at one point but are not at the current time. Even in the Holy Land we Christians currently have the right of pilgrimage and Christian control of the Christian shrines, which was all we were really after in the first place. We have managed thus far to keep Europe a continent where Christians are more or less free to publicly practice their faith.
The last serious attempt to break into Europe by a Muslim Army was the second siege of Vienna on September 11, 1683. Europe was saved by a hairsbreadth when Jan Sobieski, King of Poland rode to the rescue just in the nick of time. This last nearly successful attempt by Muslim armies to conquer Europe was a little more than 3 centuries before September 11, 2001 (also known as 9-11). Both September 11ths are just two salvos in a war that has never really stopped since the Al-Is Caravan raid ordered by Muhammad in 623, or Year One of the Muslim era.
Just a week before this writing, the revived Caliphate (ISIS) posted “We are coming, O Rome, we are coming with slaughter!” The crusades were a success after all, though tragic mistakes were made. They succeeded in stopping and even turning back the Islamic military juggernaut.
Who will stop them this time?