There is a very interesting article by Roger Sandall regarding the secular intellectual discussions of "religion and violence" and the utter lengths that will be traveled not to say anything honest about the history of the religion of peace.
If you have never studied the history of the Crusades this article is a must read for you. Then pick up The New Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas Madden.
This article is worth the time to read. Here is an excerpt:
In the sort of books produced by Hitchens and Dawkins the Crusades are the usual point of departure for one-sided historical accounts coupling Christianity and “violence”. Indeed, Dawkins takes this so much for granted that he can’t even be bothered discussing the matter (“In this book, I have deliberately refrained from detailing the horrors of the Crusades”). Hitchens however regards the opportunity as too good to pass up, and on page 35 drags the Iraq War into the argument. The gist being that there’s nothing to choose between Christians and jihadis, and that the modern atrocities of the latter could be seen as a delayed but appropriate response to “the bloodstained spectre of the Crusaders”.
This attitude is widespread. Moreover, as Paul Stenhouse points out in a valuable recent study, “The Crusades in Context”, Hitchens’ “bloodstained spectre” is absurdly seen as the result of unprovoked Christian aggression. It is claimed that “five centuries of peaceful co-existence” between Muslims and Christians were brought to an end by deranged sword-waving Soldiers of the Cross, terrorising, killing, burning and sacking decent, respectable, peace-loving Muslim communities.
More than this, the Crusaders are being presented in schools as the original terrorists. As a Year 8 textbook in the Australian state of Victoria has it: “Those who destroyed the World Trade Centre are regarded as terrorists … Might it be fair to say that the Crusaders who attacked the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem were also terrorists?”
Why the Crusades took place
No it wouldn’t be fair. Nor would it be true. In the story Paul Stenhouse tells, the 463 years between the death of Muhammed in 632 AD, and the First Crusade in 1095, were extremely dangerous for Christian Europe. Instead of peace there were unrelenting Islamic wars and incursions; Muslim invasions of Spain, Italy, Sicily and Sardinia; raids, seizures, looting of treasure, military occupations that lasted until Saracen forces were forcibly dislodged, sackings of Christian cities including Rome, and desecrations of Christian shrines. And be it noted: all this went on for 463 years before any Christian Crusade in response to these murderous provocations took place.
Sixteen years after the death of Muhammed, in 648 AD, Cyprus was overrun. Rhodes fell in 653, and by 698 AD the whole of North Africa was lost. In 711 Muslims from Tangier crossed into Spain, set their sights on France, and by 720 AD Narbonne had fallen. Bordeaux was stormed and its churches burnt in 732. As Gibbon emphasised, only the resistance at Poitiers of Charles Martel in 732 saved Europe from occupation, and arrested the Muslim tide.
(HT - Ben Schellack)