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Unholy Wars

It is wrongly assumed that the crusades were targeted at the Muslims in order to control Jerusalem. In fact, the crusades were not restricted only to Muslims but also aimed at those Christians who either politically opposed the Pope or deviated from the teachings of the church.
However, the campaign of crusades against the Muslims to recover the Holy Land from their domination created a religious zeal, fervour and extremism in Europe. It made the Catholic Church a powerful institution which threatened the independence of the European rulers. The succeeding popes used the holy war to assert their authority and to crush any opposition whether political or religious.
The Holy Roman Emperor, who belonged to the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Germany, was a political threat to the Pope therefore a campaign was launched against him whichlasted from 1194 to 1250. As a result, it reduced the power of the Holy Roman Emperor. TheNorthern Crusades were declared against the Prussians, Poles and Slavs in the 12th cen-tury. The object of this holy war was to convert them to Christianity.This crusade inspired some warriors to organise themselves as Teutonic Knights who contributed to the campaign of conversion. The third crusade was against a sect known as Cathars, who were inhabitants of Albigens, in the south of France in the year 1209. They were condemned as heretics and stern military action was taken against them. Their villages were burnt and they were massacred. All this happened in the name of religion.
Two crusades that were not sanctioned by the Pope but initiated independently out of religious sentiment were the Children`s Crusade and the Shepherd`s Crusade.
In the former, the children belonged to poor families and it was believed that the crusade would provide them religious solace and blessings. They marched to liberate the Holy Land from Muslims in 1212 but as it was organised haphazardly therefore failed disastrously.
The Shepherd`s crusade broke out in 1320 and was directed against the Jewish money lenders, the clergy and landlords.
They burnt the churches and hounded the clerics. It shocked the Pope as well as the rulers and resulted in violent action against the crusaders. They were ruthlessly dispersed and killed, which ended their crusade.
In Spain, when Castile andAragon were united in 1469 under Ferdinand and Isabella, they undertook a crusade against the Muslim States of Andulus, defeating and incorporated them into their kingdom. The last one was Grenada which was vanquished in 1492, after which the Jews and the Muslims were expelled and Spain was completely Christianised.
History shows how the religious sentiments of the people were exploited and used by the Church for its advantage.
However, the results of the crusading spirit were devastating politically, socially and economically. It destabilised the position of the European rulers and divided the society into many dissident groups. Since the European rulers suffered financially, their interest was to acquire wealth and property to compensate their losses. The Order of the Knights Templars became rich during the crusades.
They acquired religious relics, wealth and properties throughout Europe. Eager to get their wealth, Philip II of France condemned them as heretics. In 1307, 67 knights along with their grand masters were burnt at the stake and their property was confiscated. The knights, who were organised in the name of religion and fought crusades against the Muslims, themselves became victims and suffered atthe hands of Christian rulers due to their wealth and property.
However, the crusade against the Muslims also had positive results as the Europeans acquired the knowledge of philosophy, science and medicine from Muslim society. The prejudices they had against Islam were also minimised. The first Latin translation of the holy Quran was completed in 12th century by the Christian scholars of Spain under the guidance of Peter, the Venerable. The wars also opened trade routes from the West to the East and Venice and Geneva especially profited largely by these contracts.
The crusades may have failed to achieve the objective of liberating the Holy Land from the Muslims and to protect the Byzantine Empire from the Turks, but in 1453 the Ottomans occupied Constantinople and ended the Byzantine rule.
These crusades amalgamated religion and politics which popularised the concept of Just War, fought in the name of religion. It weakened the policy of religious tolerance and enhanced extremism that paved the way for succeeding conflicts and clashes between the Muslims and the Christians.
Even today, we are facing hostility either in terms of clash of civilisations or in the fight against religious terrorism. 
"Unholy wars"  by Mubarak Ali:
Also read: Religion cause wars?
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