My friend Jay Rubenstein has been promoting his new book about the first Crusade with a series of pieces at HuffPo. His latest asks whether the Crusades or early Jihad was more violent. Not surprisingly, the answer is the Crusades by a long shot:
What became of all the Christians in the conquered territories? For the most part, they stayed put. The Muslims established themselves as governmental leaders, but did not try to forcibly convert their subjects, particularly the Christians and Jews who, in Muslim eyes, had received elements of the same monotheistic revelation that had inspired their faith.
Christians and Jews also paid a public head tax from which Muslims were exempt. Thus from a purely mercenary perspective, Muslim rulers had an actual disincentive to try to convert them–let alone kill them. Christians and Jews, the dhimmi as they were known, provided valuable revenue. Conversion to Islam eventually did occur, but it was a gradual process, not as rapid as the growth of Islamic government.
In other words, the spread of Islam was a very different affair from the crusades. The crusaders aimed to recapture a sacred place from a religion that they barely understood and that they viewed as fundamentally evil. Muslims built an empire.
That is what made the crusaders and their scorched-earth piety so shocking. Here were Christian armies who heedlessly slaughtered entire populations, not in spite of their religion but because of it. After the First Crusade ended, and once the Christians began trying to build settlements in the Middle East, their attitudes necessarily changed. But the crusade itself had introduced into the region a sort of total religious warfare that had not been seen since Old Testament days.
But hey, we’re Christians and we have God/Tebow our side so we are inherently less violent than the Muslim infidel…