By the late 10th century, Europe and the Middle East were divided into Christian and Muslim spheres of influence. Christian pilgrims from Europe regularly visited Muslim-controlled Jerusalem in reasonable safety. Such pilgrimages were very popular. The were believed to be one of the major acts by which a person could reduce their exposure to the tortures of purgatory after their death.
By the middle of the 11th century, Christianity had formally split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Empire: The Emperor/Bishop of Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome had mutually excommunicated each other. In 1071, the Turks defeated the latter at the Battle of Manzikert. This left Constantinople exposed to attack from Muslims. Meanwhile, Christians were being ambushed during their pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
Emperor Alexius asked Pope Urban II for assistance. On 1095-NOV-27, the Pope called on Europeans to go on a crusade to liberate Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers. "The first and second wave of Crusaders murdered, raped and plundered their way up the Rhine and down the Danube as they headed for Jerusalem." 1 The "army" was primarily composed of untrained peasants with their families, with a core of trained soldiers. On the way to the Middle East, they decided that only one of their goals was to wrest control of Jerusalem from the Muslims. A secondary task was to rid the world of as many non-Christians as possible - both Muslims and Jews. The Crusaders gave the Jews two choices in their slogan: "Christ-killers, embrace the Cross or die!" 12,000 Jews in the Rhine Valley alone were killed as the first Crusade passed through. Some Jewish writers refer to these events as the "first holocaust." Once the army reached Jerusalem and broke through the city walls, they slaughtered all the inhabitants that they could find (men, women, children, newborns). After locating about 6,000 Jews holed up in the synagogue, they set the building on fire; the Jews were burned alive. The Crusaders found that about 30,000 Muslims had fled to the al Aqsa Mosque. The Muslim were also slaughtered without mercy.
The Roman Catholic church taught that going to war against the "Infidels" was an act of Christian penance. If a believer was killed during a crusade, he would bypass purgatory, and be taken directly to heaven. By eliminating what might be many millennia of torture in Purgatory, many Christians were strongly motivated to volunteer for the crusades. "After pronouncing a solemn vow, each warrior received a cross from the hands of the pope or his legates, and was thenceforth considered a soldier of the Church."
These mass killings were repeated during each of the 8 additional crusades until the final, 9th, crusade in 1272 CE. Both Christians and Muslims believed that they were fighting on God's side against Satan; they believed that if they died on the battlefield they would be given preferential treatment in the Christian Heaven or the Muslim Paradise. Battles were fought with a terrible fierceness and a massive loss of life. Over a 200 year period, perhaps 200,000 people were killed. The Muslim warrior Salah a-Din subsequently recaptured Jerusalem from the Christians.
By the end of the crusades, most European Christians believed the unfounded blood-libel myths -- the rumor that Jews engaged in human sacrifice of Christian children. A long series of Christian persecutions of the Jews continued in Europe and Russia into the 20th century. They laid the foundation for the Nazi Holocaust.
The result of centuries of conflict among followers of the three main Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) was a "deep mutual hatred" and mistrust among the three faiths. Memories of these genocides still influence relationships among Jews, Christians and Muslims to the present time.
Among many Jews and Muslims, the term crusade evokes visions of genocide, mass murder, and mass extermination of innocent people. However, among many Christians it has become a positive term, frequently used to refer to mass rallies and campaigns to win converts - as in the Billy Graham Crusades. Out of respect for the victims of the "first holocaust," we recommend that the term be only used to refer to the wars of the Middle Ages.
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