This week I had a very interesting conversation with eight young soldiers in their twenties - two Hispanics, (one male / one female, married w/2 kids) and six white (one female, single). Each one of them had joined the Army after September 2001.
The situation was a non-traditional military training environment; because of my professional experience and qualifications I serve as a consultant in a very intense action-oriented training program with an academic / informational aspect. I introduced myself with a brief introduction, my experience and credentials. As we spoke of our backgrounds and beliefs, in time each of these young soldiers revealed that they had voted for Obama, because he represented change.
I pointed out the support Obama enjoys in the Arab world, how in some circles he was referred to as the “Hamas Candidate”. Of course the situation in the Middle East is of great interest amongst soldiers these days. Somehow the phrase “jihad” came out into the conversation; I took the opportunity to ask these young soldiers, “Does anybody here know what the word ‘jihad’ actually means?”
Shrugs all around. Despite a surprising handle on basic Arabic amongst the group, nobody seemed to know what the word ‘jihad’ actually meant.
“It means ‘the struggle’,” I explained, “This word is usually understood to mean a Muslim ‘Holy War’, against the infidels, or non-believers of Mohammed, although a more legitimate meaning of the word is the Muslim’s requirement to struggle in the way of Allah, or God – not necessarily military combat.”
“The term ‘mujahideen’ comes from the word ‘jihad’ – one who is involved in jihad,” I continued. They had all heard of mujahideen; the Muslim terrorist enemy. The opportunity had just presented itself for an interesting point. “Can anybody tell me what they call us?”
“Crusaders . . .”
“That’s right,” I replied, “Does anyone here know what the Crusades are, or were?”
Incredibly enough, nobody spoke up.
A certain memory came flooding back, from my time in the Mahgreb.
It was in the house of one of my Moorish hosts, a mud hut, we were sitting on carpets drinking tea and enduring the heat. The strife between the Western countries and the Arab world was the subject of the afternoon’s conversation.
The Moors spoke in Hassaniya Arabic dialect amongst themselves, with some French thrown in, then they’d turn to me and we’d speak French. I understood the Crusades had made their way into the conversation when the Moor Moktar mentioned le grand Roi français Louis. I asked, did he know who the Crusaders were? Moktar nodded and indicated on his chest a cross, like the Crusader knights used to wear on their cassocks.
There was agreement when I said that the Arabs seem to feel they are still fighting the Crusader wars; a general sentiment exists amongst the Arabs that Israel - “the Jewish State” - is actually a modern Crusader foothold in the land of Palestine. It surprised my Moor hosts when I said that most Americans don’t even know what the Crusades are.
This was before September 2001. At that time, most Americans paid very little attention to the sentiments of the Arab world. Return to 2008, and my conversation with the post-9/11 “Army Strong” generation; it was obviously time for Everything You Wanted to Know About the Crusades in 5 Minutes or Less:
“The Crusades were a series of wars, starting way back in the collective insanity known as Dark Ages. The West, mostly France because that was the only country around back in those days, sent Christian armies - Crusaders - over to the sand countries, to re-take the Holy Land from the Muslims . . .
“. . . The Crusaders took Jerusalem, and held on to a cluster of Crusader Kingdoms in what is now Israel, Lebanon and Syria, for over a hundred years. But the Crusaders weren’t really very nice people; they weren’t the heroes they’re often portrayed in books and in the movies. They were quite indiscriminate about killing, and they killed in the hundreds and in the hundreds of thousands. They killed Arabs, Jews and anybody else who got in their way – to include other Christians.
“Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Kill Them All, Let God Sort Them Out?”
“A French bishop said this, around the year 1200, during a Crusade that spun out of control in southern France. He was concerned some heretics would masquerade as Catholics to escape death. Around 10,000 were massacred that day. No Muslims were involved, on either side.”
“My point is it might behoove you to bone up on some cultural information, to increase your situational awareness before you go downrange. Think about it; we’re involved in a war the enemy calls a jihad. The same enemy refers to us Crusaders – now you know the significance of that – and our new President’s middle name is Hussein.”
Surely I am not the only one who senses some kind of terrific irony going on here?