My Crusade for the Crusader

by Hanna Seariac, Chief Web Editor

How many times do you heard someone present a statement and then remark “this begs the question that…”? Many people use that phrase as a way of saying “this raises the question that…,” but do not realize the proper usage of the phrase. To beg the question is to present a statement as true without any logical evidence, or in other words, to assume that a statement is true without explaining why it is true. Four years ago, upon hearing how I used the term incorrectly, I swiftly began amending my phrasing to reflect the true meaning of the phrase, not the incorrect transformation of it. While one could argue that since many incorrectly use the phrase “this begs the question” in modern vernacular, the phrase has taken on its incorrect meaning. This school of thought is valid, but I respectfully disagree with it. My view of language is that the ultimate meaning (the ultimate derivation, if you will) explains more about what the word really means than society ever can—denotation versus connotation. Now, why am I discussing what it means to beg the question in an article about The Crusader newspaper name change? I wish to argue that the use of “crusader” in a negative way is philologically and historically incorrect, and that this is an opportunity for us to spread a message of Christian love and inclusivity.

I remember that after I decided to attend the College of the Holy Cross, I questioned the symbol of the Crusader. I thought that the Crusaders were connected with violence, racism, and Islamophobia, and I was disgusted by the symbol. The Crusades were a murky part of my education. In school we glossed over them, leaving me with the incomplete picture that the Crusades were useless. It wasn’t until I got to this school and heard someone remark that they wanted to change the newspaper and mascot name that I really looked into the subject. Now, I would be more than happy to write a separate piece on the history of the Crusades, as I cannot effectively do that in this particular piece. However, I will sum up the general ideas that stuck with me from my extensive research on the Crusades. I have read works from historians that would tell us to change the name, as well as historians that would say we are crazy for changing the name, but the one commonality that these historians have is the belief that the general understanding of the Crusades is completely incorrect. I realize that Professor Madigan was supposed to set the historical backdrop for this argument, but with all due respect, I think it is bad practice to only have one historian do this. Professor Madigan did have some valid points, but his focus is not the Crusades. In fact, he only has one publication on this matter. Therefore, as we are urged to “ask more” at this school, I urge you to ask more about why we only have one historical talk lined up, why the majority of the faculty on the very panel discussing the name signed the letter asking us to have this dialogue, why we are not getting our history from different sources, but essentially, why we are not having a wider diversity of opinions. Therefore, I ask that before you judge the Crusader as a symbol, research it. You may not come to the same conclusion that I came to, but I guarantee at the very least your position will shift, or you will grow more emphatic towards the other side of the story.

A crusade, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, refers to the historical Crusades, any holy war, an aggressive movement against public evil, a papal bull authorizing a crusader, a marking with the cross, and an allusion to the cross. I define the term “crusade” because the Oxford English Dictionary defines a crusader as one who engages in a crusade, thus in order to understand the term, we need to understand the language behind the term.

The language behind the term also includes its etymological history; the Online Etymology Dictionary lends itself as a resource for this venture. Crusader is derived from crusade, which is derived from croisade (Middle English; respelling), which is derived from cruzada (Spanish; crusader), which is ultimately derived from cruciare (Latin; to mark with a cross). The very root of crusader means to mark with a cross, showing that the word has a direct connection to Christianity.

Even if you place value on the use of the word “crusader” in modern vernacular, it is difficult to deny that, above all, crusader refers to someone of the Christian faith. I am well aware that not everyone at the College of the Holy Cross is Christian, and not everyone selected our college because it is a Catholic one, but as the mission statement says, “The College of the Holy Cross is, by tradition and choice, a Jesuit liberal arts college serving the Catholic community, American society, and the wider world.”

If you think that the connection between the crusader and Christianity promotes exclusivity, I would argue that no one is forcing you to attend a Catholic institution, where “by tradition and choice,” Christianity is a focal point. Similar to how you chose to attend the College of the Holy Cross, those who founded our institution chose to make it Christian. I encourage everyone to feel welcome here, but my point is that if you object to the term on the grounds that it is a Christian symbol, I question why you did not object to coming to this college.

I think at this point, it is clear that from a purely philological standpoint, the word “crusader” does not aim to offend, but rather represent the religion of Christianity. Now to address the rather unsavory reception of the Crusades by modern culture, and how that contrasts with the actual events of the Crusades.

To clarify, I am not saying that the Crusades did not have any atrocities occur during them; what I am saying is that both sides committed atrocities, and that the atrocities were fewer than we perceive.

Dr. Madden, one of the leaders in the field of Crusades histories, explains in his brief recount of the Crusades that the atrocities are far and few between, and that the Crusades were not started for any racist reason, but rather to prevent the Islamic empire from conquering more Christian territory. Michael Haag, a historian published by a variety of university presses, echoes this point in his writing when he explains that the Crusades were the by-product of centuries worth of struggling over land—a struggle that the Islamic empire was winning. Dr. Madden also establishes that the stereotype of the pillaging knight is vastly inflated in pop culture, and reminds us that the Church went broke during various parts of the Crusades. Dr. Asbridge also exhorts us not to look at this series of wars as strictly Christianity versus Islam, because that would undermine all of the political factors that really shaped the war.

While violence is never acceptable, Dr. Madden and Haag both argue that if the Crusades did not occur, Christianity would not have its prominence and could have suffered greatly. The next question I would be asked is, why is it important to have Christianity? While I personally value Christianity as the true religion, I acknowledge not everyone is a Christian. The argument that Dr. Madden and Haag both make is that Islam had little chance of losing prominence because of its size, while the presence of Islam jeopardized the existence of Christianity. My argument then is that the Crusades led to the preservation of both Christianity and Islam, rather than just the preservation of Islam, as Dr. Madden and Haag said could have happened.

I did not explain the history exhaustively because that would be the size of a book, but rather gave a gist of three prominent historians who I have studied. Now, the reason that the Crusades is a controversial symbol is not just because of the history (which can be interpreted as violent), but because of its reception during the Reformation period and in modern days. Unfortunately, this reception does not portray all aspects of the term Crusader, and focuses on the minute implications of the term. Yes, there were some Crusaders who did bad things, but everyone does bad things. Ultimately, the Crusader is someone who takes the cross upon them. At a Catholic college where we commit to upholding the Jesuit tradition and Catholic values, including loving everyone, we can use the crusader to show that our crusade is one of love.

The fact the Ku Klux Klan named their newspaper The Crusader does not deter my conviction to the term Crusader, in fact, it amplifies it, because they are using the term incorrectly. They are using the term to represent racism, which the Crusaders would have despised. They are using the term to represent hatred. We need to use the word to show what it means to love. If we give them the term Crusader, we validate that term as appropriate for their publication and representation of ideas. If we succumb, we have lost a sense of what it means to love, what it means to uphold our tradition, and what it means to critically assess. The Crusaders are by no means perfect, but neither are we, and we shouldn’t sacrifice our history, tradition, and definition of the Crusades because of one group’s misinterpretation of the word. Do you know what one group who misinterprets another group of people sounds like? To me, it sounds like racism, stereotyping, and the like. I do not wish to give into racism and stereotypes, therefore I do not wish to change the name.

photo credit: Google Images

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