Take, for example, this recent interview with Dr. Marco Meschini, who is a professor at the Universittà Cattolica del Sacro Cuore ("Catholic University of the Sacred Heart) in Milan and has published a few books on the Crusades. Meschini has a new book out (in Italian) comparing jihad and crusade, in which he argues that they're fundamentally incomparable. Indeed, that's true but not for the reasons that Meschini says. Instead of saying that, to compare crusade and jihad, you're really comparing apples to oranges, Meschini gleefully seems to be arguing that these red apples are nothing like their orange counterparts and aren't they really pretty strange tasting to boot? Best example:
There are... other more significant asymmetries [between crusade and jihad].Most of this is true but it's also really misleading. First of all, "unjustly occupied by the Muslims?" In what sense? Arab Muslims took Jerusalem in 638 CE. The First Crusade was launched over 400 years later, in 1095 CE. Does anyone really talk about the "unjust" seizure of California from Mexico? That was less than 200 years ago. The crusades were an act of aggression to retake a land that was perceived -- perceived -- in the 11th century to be Christianity's patrimony. We should acknowledge that 11th-century perception but it doesn't make it reality.
First of all, jihad, whether defensive or offensive -- that is, as the instrument of the spreading of the Islamic religion -- means "submission" to Allah.
The crusades, instead, were born only after a millennium of Christianity and with a limited purpose: to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which were unjustly occupied by the Muslims.
This quotation also brings up a larger issue though. Crusading was born "after a millennium of Christianity" but Christian holy war wasn't. This is the apple to which Meschini (and we all) should be comparing jihad -- Christian holy war. Meschini doesn't make this distinction though and continues:
As was said, holy war is a prescription of the Quran -- and the Quran is the word of Allah, eternal and immutable -- practiced by Muhammad and furnished with a whole series of accompanying rules that define forms and conditions.There is no Christian text that speaks of holy war? What about the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, Maccabees, etc.? What about Revelations? What about Augustine, Eusebius, the Pseudo-Methodius, the Tiburtine Sibyl, Adso of Montier-en-Der? Even the Gospels are more ambivalent on the subject than you might think (Look specifically at the events in Gethsemane and Peter's use of the sword there. What does Jesus mean when he talks to Peter after he strikes the High Priest's servant's ear? It's not clear-cut.). And these are all before the First Crusade.
Still today, for all Muslims, jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam, that is, one of the precepts that constitute the identity of their religion.
On the contrary, there is no sacred Christian text that speaks of war in a similar way, and to say the least, the model of Christianity, Christ, does not foresee it!
For this reason, crusading, which certainly arose in a Christian context, need not be present in other Christian contexts; nor, above all, does it have anything to do with the kerygma, the core of Christian revelation.
Moreover, Meschini's statements are particularly striking for a Catholic to make (I'm assuming he is. My apologies if that assumption is wrong.) because it casts off the weight of tradition -- the saints and fathers of the Church -- and argues that the "core of Christian revelation" exists solely in the Bible (and perhaps even more specifically in the Gospels). Huh? Isn't that what Luther, Calvin, et al. argued?
I don't mean to suggest that jihad and Christian holy war are the same. They're not. Historical context, among other things, matters. They arose in different circumstances, from different cultural traditions, and took different developmental paths. But just be sure you're comparing apples to apples. Or, if you're intent on comparing apples to oranges, at least be honest about it.
PS -- Dr. Meschini, jihad is often called the "6th pillar of Islam" but there are still really only 5 pillars. One need not practice jihad in order to be a good Muslim. Similarly, there are many things that many religious people ordinarily do, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a central tenet of the faith.
UPDATE: Slight edits made for clarity.