War and Religion
Whilst writing Siege, I was fortunate enough to speak to a number of historians who were experts in the First Crusade. One of their unifying comments on the subject was that the participants were genuinely motivated by faith. They were true believers. Christians. Even before hearing their arguments, however, I was already mindful of not being overly satirical or cynical in matters relating to faith and Christianity. I did not want to sound like a sneering, evangelical atheist, lecturing or hectoring readers.
The First Crusade is full complexities and contradictions. There are more questions than answers. How could these devout Christians also be brutal warriors, capable of murder, rape and theft? As much as the First Crusade was an endeavour intended to liberate Jerusalem and provide peace and security, the Army of God ultimately became a force which served the interests of conquest and colonisation. Jerusalem was awash with blood, rather than freedom, after its capture. Although Siege is a novel, one which entertains over any brief to educate, it does hopefully address some of these issues and questions. They are, in some ways, issues and questions which remain relevant. Soldiers and terrorists today, after all, might seek to justify their actions as being committed in the name of God. Sins can be forgiven – and devotees can be rewarded with a place in Heaven. Both at the original call for the armed pilgrimage, by Pope Urban II at Clermont, and during the assault of Antioch, the Christians let out the same chant: “God wills it.” The Muslim forces employed similar cries.
Miracles, visions and the belief in holy relics were commonplace during the era of the First Crusade. Indeed, without the “discovery” of the Holy Lance at the Church of St Peter in Antioch, the story of the crusades – and the history of the world – could have been quite different. Faith was more prevalent than scepticism in the period. It can be argued that the likes of Pope Urban II, Peter the Hermit and Raymond of Toulouse took advantage of the zealotry of Christians. However, though we may be sceptical in relation to the intentions of crusaders such as Bohemond of Taranto and Godfrey of Bouillon, there is no doubting their courage and military prowess. The story of the First Crusade has partly endured because it was a remarkable feat of arms, as dramatic as Rorke’s Drift or Agincourt, as well as a Holy War.
War and religion may seem unlikely bedfellows, but history suggests otherwise.