I bet you can't guess the subject of this column, so let me help you out.
Hint #1: The word starts with a 'c.'
Hint #2: It rhymes with 'moose-made.'
Hint #3: It showed up in the rhetoric of the two most prominent men on the world stage right now'President Bush and al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Bush warned America, 'This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.' When bin Laden's organization joined forces with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the leaders issued a statement in February 1998 under the banner, 'The World Islamic Front for Jihad Against The Jews and Crusaders.'
And that's where the fun and games end. To examine the serious implications of 'crusade,' we start with a definition from David Morgan, UW-Madison professor of history and religious studies specializing in the Middle East.
According to Morgan, the traditional term, 'the Crusades,' refers to at least eight Pope-authorized military expeditions by Christian armies to wrest control of the Holy Land from Muslim forces between 1095 and 1291. The First Crusade resulted in the establishment of four Christian 'crusader states' along the Syrian coast'the Kingdom of Jerusalem being chief among them. Subsequent Crusades were often miserable attempts to rescue the crusader states from invaders.
But whereas the Christian Crusades were, on the whole, an ill-organized mess of motley mobs, the Islamic jihad was strictly defined and emerged as an idea much earlier.
'One interpretation of jihad is a kind of counter-crusade,' Morgan explains. 'Or, really, it's the other way around, in a sense: The Crusades turned into a kind of Christian jihad.'
Islam, Morgan says, is more law than theology, and so its rules, which cover virtually every aspect of life, also govern jihad. Slaughtering civilians is illegal and not everyone can call for holy war. Iran, for example, cannot declare jihad because'in the Iranian interpretation of Islam'only an imam has such a power. The last imam, a direct descendent of Muhammad, disappeared in 873 A.D.
Unfortunately, the 'rules,' buried in ancient legal texts read by only the most learned scholars of Islam, mean nothing to most Muslims. 'Jihad' is now widely understood as a war against infidels'like the 'Jews and Crusaders.' Morgan says that Arabic histories portray the establishment of Israel as a 'rerun' of the Middle Ages crusader state. In both cases, infidels'first Christians and then Jews''took over' Muslim territory.
Still, Morgan argues that bin Laden's core concern is not Israel but Saudi Arabia'the land of Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. Though Muslim rulers were generally tolerant of other faiths, Morgan says the Arabian Peninsula was deemed so important that all Jews and Christians were purged from the area during the earliest years of Islam.
And now that same holy land is 'occupied' by a garrison of infidel American troops. Just as Jerusalem was occupied by Crusaders. Clearly, al Qaeda is trying to rally support by portraying the current conflict as a war against its religion.
In World War I, the Ottoman Turks attempted to declare jihad against the Allied powers, but support never came because the Muslim community saw the incongruity of a Turkish/German/Austro-Hungarian 'jihad.'
The United States must make bin Laden's 'declaration' of holy war equally absurd. Though Morgan praised the Bush administration's restraint thus far, he remains leery of efforts to expand military strikes beyond Afghanistan.
'If you start on the rhetoric against other Muslim countries'which is the sort of thing that one gathers the Deputy Secretary of Defense Mr. [Paul] Wolfowitz is keen on doing'that is going to play right into the hands of Osama bin Laden,' Morgan argues. 'It's just what he wants. Then [he] can easily depict it as a war against Islam, not just a war against a terrorist movement.'
So what of Bush's seemingly innocent use of 'crusade'? Just as 'jihad' has lost its strict definition, 'crusade' has been disassociated from medieval military expeditions. We know it to merely mean a 'war against evil.'
'When President Bush used the word 'crusade,' he wasn't thinking of the fall of Jerusalem in 1099,' Morgan says. 'He could be represented as thinking that by people who are hostile to him.'
And if al Qaeda is bent on painting America's military campaign as a crusade against the whole of Islam, the United States should be wary of expanding its attacks and our leaders should choose their words carefully. I hope that hint's obvious enough, Mr. Bush.