Foreign Policy Blogs

Crusaders in a Cosmic War

The execution of Christian knight "Reynald Kalk" by Saladin

The execution of crusader “Reynald Krak” by Saladin

On October 29th two packages containing explosive devices were sent from Yemen to the United States. They were addressed to synagogues in Chicago, Illinois and are now believed to be the work of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). One detail of the plot which we would never have known if the packages had been detonated as intended, is that the terrorists in Yemen addressed the parcels to two historical figures known in the Middle East for the persecution of Muslims.

One of the addressees, Diego Deza, was Grand Inquisitor during the Spanish Inquisition. The second addressee, Reynald Krak, is another name for Reynald of Châtillon. Reynald was a French knight during the Second Crusade, best known for killing Muslim pilgrims. He was later beheaded by Saladin, the Kurdish warrior famous for defeating Western invaders in the 12th century. This creepy inside joke of sorts especially piqued my interest because I had recently read about the connection between the Crusades and modern day Islamic fundamentalism. When the news broke I was reading a book titled “Beyond Fundamentalism” by Reza Aslan. Originally titled “How to Win a Cosmic War,” the book covers a brief history of how religious extremism came to fruition, and makes the argument that a cosmic war (Aslan’s term for a religious war) can only be won by refusing to fight in it.

Aslan states, “the Muslim world truly does have reason to feel under attack by a ‘crusading’ West.” (Aslan, p. 11-12) The term “holy war” originated with the Crusades. Fast forward to September 16, 2001 and President Bush declares, “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” A few days after this infamous statement, a French political analyst named Dominique Moisi stated, “This confusion between politics and religion…risks encouraging a clash of civilizations in a religious sense, which is very dangerous.” And in reference to the American President’s gigantic gaffe Osama bin Laden stated, “The odd thing about this is that he has taken the words right out of our mouths.” (Aslan, p. 63)

This Huntington-esque belief that the West has declared holy war on Muslims is thriving, as evidenced by the recent Yemeni packages. Perhaps if the President of the United States had not labelled this War on Terror as a “crusade,” we would not have seen the reappearance of the name Reynald Krak. And on the same thread, perhaps Aslan is right, if we had not already begun fighting this war as a religious war, this global jihadist movement would not be spreading like wildfire.