Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Crusade - In the Name of the Cross


Noun. Also (earlier) croisade, crusado, (earliest, in sense 1 & 2) cruciat, & other variations.
Also (especially in sense 1) capitalised as Crusade. Late Middle English.
[in early use from mediveal Latin cruciata, from Latin cruc-, crux cross;
late (16) party from French croisade alteration of croisée (from crois CROSS noun)
by assimilation to Spanish, partly from Spanish cruzada (from cruz CROSS noun).]

1 A war or expedition instigated by the Church for alleged religious ends;
(Historicalspecifically any of several Christian military expeditions made in the 11th, 12th,
and 13th centuries to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims (frequently in plural). LME

2 obsolete. A papal bull authorising a crusade. LME-L18

3 Historical. In the Spanish kingdoms, a levy of money, originally intended to finance expeditions against the Moors,
afterwards diverted to other purposes. L16

4 obsolete. The symbol of the cross, the badge word by crusaders. E17-E18

5 A vigorous movement or enterprise against poverty or a similar social evil;
a personal campaign undertaken for a particular cause. L18

Two crusaders, dressed for battle, their garb emblazoned with crosses
(image from Wikipedia)
In 2001, George W. Bush famously called the War on Terror a 'crusade', language that caused European leaders to collectively cringe considering the Muslim theatres in which this war was set to be conducted. Fair enough; perhaps nothing more than an unfortunate choice of words in an unscripted moment (though the man does have a B.A in History from Yale, so it's hard to be too forgiving on this).

The reason Bush's choice of words caused such alarm is that it recalls The Crusades, the Church-sponsored campaigns to wrest control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslims. More pragmatically, these were bloody, brutal campaigns that dragged on for hundreds of years and ultimately failed in their stated mission. Doubtless, the very notion of the Crusades is exactly the type of war that most nations prosecuting this War on Terror would want to avoid - a clash of two civilisations, with religion at its root.

The etymology of crusade belies the religious calling, ultimately originating with the Latin cruciare, 'to mark with a cross', though this is a relatively modern term, first used in the 18th century. Participants in the Crusades never referred to themselves as such, although their appellations were still overtly religious, calling themselves things like The Knights of Christ, The Faithful of St Peter, etc.

Today, crusade has generally lost its Christian, religious and crucifix-centred overtones. It does, however, still carry an overzealous and fanatical tone: "Many considered the government's crusade against welfare fraud to be misplaced." Due to this shade of unreasonable fanaticism, and the word's bloody, historical associations, crusade is probably a term one should use with care. But then, if Bush really did believe he was on a mission from God, maybe his choice of words was wholly appropriate.

A defeated Guy de Lusignan presents his sword to Saladin
Saladin accepting the surrender of Guy de Lusignan after the Battle of Hattin in 1187
Said Tahsine (1904-1985)
Do please leave any comments in the box below.


  1. For a wonderful account of the Battle of Hattin I'd recommend Knight Crusader by Ronald Welch. Yes, it's a book for young people, but it's still a superb read.

    1. Picked up a copy today, Sally : o )

    2. Really? That's great. I bet you won't fancy Philip d'Aubigny as much as I did, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

    3. Well I guess we're going to find out, aren't we!

  2. I believe it's the mammoth suggested in the term that makes people think they're starting one... if it's something like finding the misplace is in a fraud I don't believe it takes a crusade word to announce it, but boy sounds like serious - huge! - work ahead ahahahah

    1. There are probably different opinions on this, but I always hear a negative connotation when someone describes someone else's endeavour as a 'crusade' - as if it's too much, too single-minded, out of proportion to the objective in hand. Therefore, I can't imagine a government readily announcing a crusade on welfare fraud, but I can certainly see opposition commentators pejoratively labelling it as one.

  3. Bush has a degree in history? That shouldn't have made me laugh but it did.

    1. Maybe he was bunking off during the modules on the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.

  4. German fighter planes of WW1 carried a symbol on wings and fuselage very much like the Crusade ones.

    1. I've always known that particular type of cross as a Maltese Cross. I don't know the history of it, or why it's specifically associated with Malta, but a number of countries use it in their emblems, crests, etc.