"You vowed to liberate the Holy Land... [but] you rashly turned away from the purity of your vow when you took up arms not against Saracens but Christians... The Greek Church has seen in the Latins nothing other than an example of affliction and the works of Hell so that now it rightly detests them more than dogs." -Pope Innocent III (qtd in The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, xv).
The centuries in which the crusades unfolded are far too complex, topsy-turvy and amorphous to draw fingers out for pointing. Who to blame? Why? For which? And for what? Were not the Middle Ages as sprawling in their cultural and religious interpenetrations as any other day?
I disavow the modern and very folksy belief that the Crusades were a product of unadulterated evil. Land disputes are an epiphenomenon of being human in relation to other humans, and the desire to conquer is hardly more than venial. Why shouldn't I in the society of fellows much like me desire to take via blood spilling and warfare that which I see others of a different blood occupying? Does anyone bear an analytical a priori connection to the land they stand on? Nonsense!!! At best we can attempt some sort of historical relation between this piece of land and that group of inhabitants. But the contingencies abound in all historical premises. For instance, no group of sots "has always been there," thus there is no eternal synthesis which would confer on them the right to stay. Even Israel, avowed a very precise terrestrial allotment by the hands of the Creator himself, cannot venture such boasts. When it has, the Creator has rightly demonstrated to them their own contingency of ownership by rightly placing it in the hands of others. Beyond the Word of the Lord we may speak of far less connections. There is no Divine guarantee that anyone belongs anywhere. And since this is so; since the scriptures also venture not so much as a tittle of contemning towards militaristic conquest.....I strongly suggest that it is a matter of secular adiaphora whether a country or group of men should take up arms and forcefully acquire another country. It is all meaningless.
I cannot condemn the Crusaders for their political motives. Much less can I condemn "Christendom" for giving us the Crusades. Which Christendom damnit? The Greeks (solemnly recognized as a polis of Christians by the Latins)? But they were the victims of the Fourth! Shall we make them qua Christians apologize for that which raped, pillaged and destroyed them? What utter nonsense! One might as well ask Jews to offer apologies for the Holocaust! Shall we then condemn the Latins? But the Pope, representing all of the Latin Church, was fiercely angry with the Fourth Crusade!! Do we condemn the church that condemned the Crusade? Again, that makes no sense. Nor can we erect Muslims as the victims in this aeon-esque game. The land they contended to keep was no more their land than the Christians, and their hands were just as full of blood in gaining it. One must also point out how many awful things they did in penetrating the Iberian peninsula via Africa and pushing as far as Vienna via Asia Minor. If these muhammedan brutes were the victims, why does their activity parallel on all counts that of the imperial West?
The Crusades: I can blame no one and as of yet can extol no one. It was all a chasing after the wind.