George W. Bush and the Crusades

On the eve of the war in Iraq, George W. Bush talked about a "crusade". He was obviously quite pleased with himself for having thought of such a catchy phrase. But he was quickly silenced by his advisers, who pointed out to him that the word "crusade" has very unfortunate associations for the Moslem world. On the eve of the war in Iraq, George W. Bush talked about a "crusade". He was obviously quite pleased with himself for having thought of such a catchy phrase. But he was quickly silenced by his advisers, who pointed out to him that the word "crusade" has very unfortunate associations for the Moslem world. After that, the word was quietly dropped from his vocabulary.

The reason why the word crusade has such negative associations in the East is not generally appreciated in the West, because very few people have taken the trouble to study the crusades. For most people - including the present occupant of the White House - they were something one vaguely remembers from the movies, where they are presented in a glamorous and romantic light, as the highest expression of Christian chivalry. The reality was rather different.

What were the Crusades?

The Middle Ages, as Marx pointed out, were accompanied by a "brutal display of vigour". The art of war was transformed by the development of heavily armed cavalry that was able to stage a devastating charge on the field of battle. This was the real origin of the word "chivalry", which means simply cavalry. All this was the product of a military society in which fighting was the main activity of the aristocracy. Violence was the essential ingredient in this world. The feudal nobility had two aims in life - to be a good fighter and to breed a lot of children. Essentially these aims coincided with those of a stud bull and their level of intelligence was frequently not much greater.

However, no ruling class likes to be remembered for its criminal activities, but rather wishes posterity to judge it by what it thinks about itself. Hence it spun an elaborate mythology about its innate sense of honour and justice - the essence of chivalry. In reality, of course, these were just for decorative purposes. The true brutal face of Christian Europe was seen in the bloodthirsty escapades known as the Crusades - the terrible wars between Europe and Islam that continued for 100 years.

In 1076 the Seljuk Turks conquered Jerusalem. This was a severe shock to the Church, which in the 11th century completely dominated European society at every level. In every village the church was the largest building, with its terrifying pictures of hell and damnation. The true believers who accepted the Church's message would go to heaven but the unbelievers would be cast into the pit of hell there to suffer eternal torments at the hands of demons. It was a picture of the world that men and women fervently believed.

In 1095 Pope Urban II incited a crowd of thousands to abandon everything and go to free Jerusalem from the "infidels". In return they were promised salvation in the next life. A mass of common people responded to the call and flocked to the banners of the First Crusade, inspired by the vision of the New Jerusalem. Their battle cry rang out in every village and town square: "Deus lo volt!" - "God wills it!" The Church whipped up religious fanaticism by alleging that the Holy Places were in danger. This was completely untrue.

The places that were holy to the Christians were also holy to the Moslems, who had occupied them since 638. Unlike the Christians, who were utterly intolerant towards other religious beliefs, the Moslems generally tolerated the Christians and other faiths, as long as they paid their taxes and did not cause trouble. Mohammed, it is true, said: "When ye encounter infidels strike off their heads" - but the same Mohammed also said: "Deal calmly with the infidels, leave them awhile in peace." He was referring to the Christians, whom he regarded as "people of the Book" and therefore "nearest in affection to believers". It was the unprovoked and violent aggression of Christian Europe that provoked a backlash from the Moslems.

Religious fanaticism played a central role in the bloody conflict between Europe and the Moslem world. There were, however, more mundane considerations, such as the prospect of loot and pillage. Nor were the aims of those who had organised the adventure of an exclusively sacred character. The Christian knights, as always, wanted an excuse to kill people, and if it would guarantee salvation for their multiple sins, then so much the better. The Church was generally glad to see the back of these unruly elements. In addition, the crusades considerably boosted its prestige and authority.

The merchants were even more interested in the success of this venture. The Turks now controlled the lucrative trade routes to the East, like the famous Silk Road. The most Christian merchants of Venice, Genoa and other European ports were completely shut out, and they wanted to get a share of the action. The crusades were their best chance to do this, moreover under the banner of the Almighty. This was an opportunity not to be missed.

As for the rabble that flocked to the banner of the crusades from every village and hamlet, it gave them a chance to escape from the drudgery of feudal service and see the world. Every kind of criminal element was attracted by the promise of loot, murder and rape. They were told by the Church that by pursuing their usual activities they could actually save their soul (a considerable bonus, when all is said and done) - just as long as the victims were infidels.

In the words of Saint Bernard - a key figure in the establishment of the religious-military Orders - killing for Christ was malecide not homicide, the extermination of injustice, rather than of the unjust and therefore desirable. In fact, "to kill a pagan is to win glory, for it gives glory to Christ." The crusaders took him at his word. In fact, some of the crusaders were not even much worried about the religion of those they attacked, as Desmond Seward points out:

"Many Franks had been sent on the crusade as penance for atrocious offences such as rape and murder and reverted to their unpleasant habits. Pilgrims were a natural prey, though one of the principal objects of the crusade had been to make the Holy Places safe for them." (D. Seward. The Monks of War, p. 33.)

The Crusades and the Jews

The First Crusade - like the ones that followed - presents an unholy picture of indiscriminate slaughter, rape and pillage. The crusaders everywhere left a trail of destruction and chaos in their path, like an army of ravenous locusts devouring the land everywhere they alight. Their particular speciality was pogroms against the Jews, but they generally spared very few of those who got in their way. Some of the comments of the crusaders about the Jews have been preserved, and serve to reveal their mentality:

"We have set out to march a long way to fight the enemies of God in the East, and behold, before our very eyes are his worst foes, the Jews. They must be dealt with first." And again: "You are the descendants of those who killed and hanged our God. Moreover [God] himself said: 'The day will yet dawn when my children will come and avenge my blood.' We are his children and it is our task to carry out his vengeance upon you, for you showed yourselves obstinate and blasphemous towards him ... [God] has abandoned you and has turned his radiance towards us and has made us his own." (N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, p. 70.)

The Jewish population of the trading cities of the Rhine and Moselle were under the protection of the Emperor and the Bishops, but that did not save many of them, as the following account shows:

"At the beginning of May, 1096, crusaders outside Speyer planned to attack the Jews in their synagogue on the Sabbath. In this they were foiled and they were able to kill only a dozen Jews in the streets. The Bishop lodged the rest in his castle and had some of the murderers punished. At Worms the Jews were less fortunate. Here too they turned for help to the Bishop and the well-to-do burghers, but these were unable to protect them when men from the People's Crusade arrived and led the townsfolk in an attack on the Jewish quarter. The synagogue was sacked, houses were looted and all their adult occupants who refused baptism were killed. As for the children, some were killed, others taken away to be baptised and brought up as Christians. Some Jews had taken shelter in the Bishop's castle and when that too was attacked the Bishop offered to baptise them and so save their lives; but the entire community preferred to commit suicide. In all, some eight thousand Jews are said to have perished at Worms." (N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, p. 69.)

Similar scenes were repeated in Verdun, Treves, Mainz, Trier, Cologne, Metz and other cities. Desperate Jews threw their wealth, their families and themselves into the flames or the rivers to escape the wrath of the mob. The Jews of Cologne went into hiding in the neighbouring villages but they were discovered by the crusaders and massacred in hundreds. All the Jews of Metz were killed. In all, several thousands perished.

This established a pattern that was repeated at the start of every other crusade. In every case the crusades were the signal for a massacre of the Jews.

The crusaders in Jerusalem

But all these atrocities against the Jews paled into insignificance when compared to what happened when the crusaders finally entered Jerusalem in July 1099. This terrible chapter is a blot on human history. It appalled the whole Moslem world and is forever engraved on its memory. Fired by a murderous bloodlust the Crusaders went on an orgy of slaughter that spared neither women nor children. The majority of the population of the city - some 70,000 souls - were butchered in a holocaust that raged for three days. The devout crusaders wept as they prayed, barefoot, at the Holy Sepulchre, before returning to the slaughter: "Our men", wrote one Christian chronicler, "followed [the fleeing people] and pursued them to the Temple of Solomon and they were up to their ankles in Moslem blood."

The celebrated English historian Edward Gibbon writes: "In the pillage of public and private wealth the adventurers had agreed to respect the exclusive property of the first occupant; and the spoils of the great mosque, seventy lamps and massy vases of gold and silver, rewarded the diligence, and displayed the generosity of Tancred. A bloody sacrifice was offered by his mistaken votaries of the God of the Christians: resistance might provoke, but neither age nor sex could mollify, their implacable rage: they indulged themselves three days in a promiscuous massacre, and the infection of the dead bodies produced an epidemical disease. After seventy thousand Moslems had been put to the sword and the harmless Jews burnt in their synagogue, they could still reserve a multitude of captives whom interest or lassitude persuaded them to spare." (E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 6, p. 84.)

The savagery of the crusaders against the "infidels" exceeded all natural bounds. In one siege they roasted Moslem prisoners, including children, on spits and devoured them. Stories like this have often been told in wartime to blacken the name of enemies. But this one happens to be true. And the Pope of Rome blessed this slaughter of the innocents and granted a full pardon to those who perpetrated it.

The religious-military Orders

This movement, driven by religious fanaticism, nevertheless had a definite economic basis. The rapid growth of population in Europe meant that there were a large number of landless younger sons of the nobility in every country. These led armies of murderers and thieves under the banner of the Cross. The real intentions of the new crusaders were exposed by the fact that they immediately directed their attentions not to the places where the holy sites were situated but to the north where the Silk Route was.

The real aims of the invaders were shown by the fact that the Frankish knights built a network of ports for trade in the conquered cities - Antioch, Tripoli and so on. Jerusalem itself was an important trading centre. In the Bible, Jesus Christ expelled the moneychangers from the Temple of Jerusalem, but the Christian crusaders immediately reinstalled them. The conquered lands instantly became an irresistible magnet for all manner of adventurers from the slums and prisons of Europe. They came, not to spread the Word of the Lord but to grab the lands that belonged to the Moslems:

"The 'Franks' put their trust in sea power and fortresses. Genoese, Pisan and Venetian fleets soon controlled the sea, eager for commerce as the lure of spices, rice and sugar cane, of ostrich plumes from Africa and furs from Russia, of carpets from Persia, of inlaid metal work from Damascus, of silks and of muslin from Mosul and of countless other luxuries, attracted the merchants who settled in the coastal towns." (D. Seward. The Monks of War, p. 30.)

Here they built a line of fortresses, manned by the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitalers. These were organizations of religious zealots, sworn to defend the Christian faith to the death. They were a mixture of monasticism and militarism, combining the strict discipline and austerity of monks with the warlike mentality of robber barons.

Religious-military Orders, like the Templars and Hospitalers, were founded in the 12th century. With their terrifying mixture of religious fanaticism and brutality they constituted the storm troopers of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. The Pope granted them considerable privileges, including exemption from the payment of the tithe. They ended up a church within the church and a state within the state. Eventually they had to be repressed, and the last Templar Grand Master was burnt alive on a slow fire for heresy.

The activities of these military religious orders were characterised by violent aggression and extreme savagery, to the point of exterminating whole peoples. Thus, the ancient Prussians (originally Bo-Russians), a Slav people living on the shores of the Baltic, were exterminated by the Teutonic Order in order to clear the area for German settlement - an early example of the policy of what Hitler described as the search for "Lebensraum" (living space). These were also considered to be crusades. The terrible forest campaigns of the Teutonic Order against the Lithuanians have been described as the most ferocious wars of the Middle Ages. Eisenstein, the great Soviet film director, took the subject of his masterpiece Alexander Nevsky from the bloody defeat of the Teutonic knights at the battle on ice at Lake Peipus in 1242.

Desmond Seward comments: "In theory they [the Orders] were a protection against the infidel, in practice merciless aggressors. The Teutonic Order's deliberate liquidation of the Prussian race is sufficient testimony; as a chaplain chronicler proudly recorded 'they drove them forth so that not one remained who would not bow his neck to the Yoke of Faith - this with the help of the Lord Jesus Christ who is blessed for ever and ever'." (D. Seward, The Monks of War, p. 21.)

Economic interests

How history repeats itself! Similar sentiments could be expressed by George W. Bush and his band of Neo Conservative religious Right Republican fanatics. But just as in the 21st century the religious verbiage conceals very real material interests, so it was in the Middle Ages. The motives of the crusaders - including the Orders - were not so pure as one might think. The heady wine of religious fanaticism was mixed with a reasonable quantity of economic self-interest. For example, the Templars became successful bankers, anticipating the great Italian banking houses of the later Middle Ages:

"The Templars became professional bankers; all monies collected for the Holy Land were conveyed by them from their European preceptories to the temple at Jerusalem, while pilgrims and even Moslem merchants deposited their cash at the local temple. Brethren needed money for arms and equipment, to build fortresses, to hire mercenaries, and to buy off enemies, so the funds in their strong-rooms could not be allowed to lie idle; the Church's embargo on usury was circumvented by adding the interest to the sum due for repayment and Arab specialists were employed for dealings in the money markets of Baghdad and Cairo while an excellent service of bills of exchange was provided." (D. Seward, Op. cit., 50.)

They also engaged in trade and tourism: "Both Templars and Hospitalers found it cheaper to transport troops in their own ships, and passages were available to pilgrims; at one time the Templars conveyed 6,000 pilgrims each year. Their boats were popular, for they maintained a flotilla of escort ships and could be trusted not to sell their passengers into slavery at Moslem ports, as did certain Italian merchants. It was natural to use empty space for merchandise so they exported spices, silk, dyes, porcelain and glass, taking full advantage of their exemption from customs dues, and soon rivalled the Levantine traders who banked with them." (ibid.)

These Orders, originally motivated by religious fanaticism, later acquired very real material interests. They had access to colossal wealth from the plunder of what was really the first European colony. And the colonial masters lived like kings.

"Many lords preferred to retire to some luxurious villa on the coast, while the brethren had the money and men to run the vast Syrian fortresses and also to solve such irksome problems as finding husbands for heiresses or furnishing wards with guardians. Donations and recruits poured in from Europe in a steady flow." (ibid., p. 49.)

The "Monks of War" defended their interests with a formidable fighting machine, led by able commanders. Their religious beliefs did not prevent them from slaughtering infidels wherever they went. Rather they regarded it as a religious duty. But through their cruelty they managed to unite all Arabs against them. This great task was achieved by one of the most remarkable military commanders in the history of the Middle East, Salah ad-Din Yusif ibn Ayub, better known to us as Saladin.

Saladin

In striking contrast to the Christian bandits, real chivalry was to be found among the Saracen "infidels" like the Moslem leader Saladin. He was a natural warrior, unequalled in his knowledge of the arts of war at that time. He was also brave, loyal and generous. Born a Kurd, when the Kurds were looked down upon by Arabs, he had risen from the ranks and became one of the Sultan's most trusted guards. Saladin knew both how to capture a city and also how to hold onto it.

When Nur-al-Din died, he was succeeded by his Kurdish general, Shirkuh. But the latter soon died, apparently from over-eating, and his place was taken by his nephew, Saladin, who became Vizir. This remarkable man was a mystic and an ascetic who fasted, slept on a rough mat and gave alms to the poor ceaselessly. His inquiring mind decided that there was much good in Christianity, and he won respect even from his crusader enemies.

Saladin united all the Arab states - a great achievement - and created the most formidable fighting force in the world. He became king of Egypt and Syria in 1176 with the blessing of the Caliph of Baghdad. He organised a jihad against the invaders and showed himself to be a brilliant military tactician, forcing the Franks to fight on his terms, at a time and place of his choosing.

In complete contrast, the moral character of the Frankish leaders may be seen by the conduct of a man called Reynault. This truly Christian knight had tortured a priest to death by the procedure of cutting numerous wounds in his head, then smearing these with honey and leaving the rest to the insects. This gangster was defeated by Saladin in a famous battle in July 1187 by guerrilla tactics. The Franks were lured into the desert, where they were tormented by the heat and worn down by the weight of their armour. Then they were harassed by the archers of Saladin, who showered them with arrows and then disappeared, avoiding direct battle.

The Franks had no water and were exhausted. Saladin's men set fire to the dry grass, which gave rise to thick clouds of choking smoke. With the terrifying sound of drums and pipes adding to the psychological pressure, the Saracens first shot arrows through the smoke screen to kill the enemy's horses, then charged. The Crusaders were routed. After the battle there were so many slaves that one could be bought for the price of a pair of shoes.  Saladin distinguished between the ordinary soldiers and the Knights Templar - all of the latter were put to the sword without mercy.

The battle of Hattin effectively marked the end of crusader rule. Saladin's forces surrounded Jerusalem and captured it. But unlike the Crusaders, who butchered all the Moslems and Jews they could find when they took the city, he showed himself graceful in victory. He forbade his men to take revenge or to kill people. Not a single church was destroyed. Saladin personally participated in the cleansing of the mosque that the Christians had desecrated and was in a filthy condition. The defeated were offered the chance to pay a ransom to go free. Those who could not pay were sold as slaves, but at least they were not killed.

Richard and Saladin

Europe was stunned. When the Pope heard the news he is said to have died of shock. But Saladin made one mistake. He allowed the city of Tyre to hold out and thus allowed the Christians to reinforce it by sea and preserve a foothold. Acre was besieged and all Europe was mobilised for war against the Arabs in the Third Crusade. Frederick Barbarossa, the Emperor of the Romans as he styled himself, raised the first army, but he drowned off the coast of Sicily. He was soon followed by others, including Richard the First of England, known to history by the name "Coeur de Leon" (Lionheart). This reminds us of what Trotsky wrote about the tsarist general Kornilov - "the heart of a lion and the brain of a sheep". Probably Richard was of a similar type.

Like many of his contemporaries, Richard "took the cross" and departed for the Holy Land - about 2,500 miles from home - to spread the message of Christianity with fire and sword. He was undoubtedly a good soldier, disciplined and brave. His armies were paid for by the sale of dukedoms and other possessions. It was reputed to be the best disciplined force in Europe. Its heavily armoured knights were capable of launching a murderous charge. The crossbow was a deadly new addition to its weaponry. In fact, it was considered to be such a wicked and inhuman weapon that the Pope had banned it - except, of course, for the purpose of killing "infidels".

This was said to be the most professional army to go to Jerusalem. One difference was that they travelled by ship - which the rabble could not afford and therefore there were considerably less undesirable camp followers. But like all medieval armies, this force was motivated by the greed for loot and money. Yet again, the Crusaders went on the rampage in Lisbon, burning, killing and raping. The same performance was repeated in Marseilles, Sicily and Cyprus. Probably they were just practicing and getting in the right mood for massacring Moslems upon arrival in the Holy Land.

This was indeed a clash between two civilizations (if we can consider medieval Europe to qualify for this title). Saladin, who was a fair and magnanimous person, admired the Franks (as all Crusaders were known among the Arabs) for their bravery, but he actually regarded them as barbarians and animals. He was not far wrong. In fact, Christian Europe at that time was the most backward and barbarous fringe of the civilized world, and barely qualified for inclusion in it. On the other hand, Islamic civilization was at its peak.

The Arabs were on a far higher plane to Europe, culturally, scientifically, intellectually and, in many ways, militarily. For example, the Europeans marvelled at the metalworking that produced the wonderful Saracen swords. They were made of steel that was better, harder and sharper than anything Europe could produce. There was nothing in Europe to compare with the centres of learning of Toledo, Granada and Cordoba. They were destroyed, along with the Arabs' irrigation system, by the Spanish Reconquista that threw back the South of Spain for centuries.

In 1191 the barbarian horde from Europe arrived under the walls of Acre. They depended on weight and sheer brute force to win battles. At first Richard's forces drove all before them. Acre fell after a siege of eleven months. 3,000 Moslem prisoners were taken. When Saladin did not pay up with sufficient alacrity, they were slaughtered - men, women and children. The butchery lasted all day until the last one was dead. Saladin attempted to launch a rescue operation but failed. The Moslems were appalled by this wanton cruelty, which was foreign to their culture and military practice.

Saladin used intelligence and guerrilla tactics that suited his light cavalry. His method was to avoid a pitched battle and harass the enemy by skirmishes, ambushes and arrows. At the battle of Arsuf Christians and Moslems were locked in a deadly struggle. The Christian knights now had a new weapon - the heavy cavalry that swept all before it in a terrifying charge. Saladin's light cavalry was no match for these heavily armed monsters. His light cavalry attacked the Crusaders again and again, but Richard's line of infantry held firm. Then just as the line began to break, he launched a full charge. The effect was devastating. The Arabs nevertheless managed to regroup and counterattack, but the Crusaders still held firm and attacked in turn. Saladin was beaten, but enabled his forces to retreat in good order.

Despite the setback, Saladin attacked Jaffa and almost took it. The following detail reveals Saladin's chivalrous and generous character. When Richard lost his horse during the battle, Saladin sent him a fresh horse to enable him to fight on. In the end, however, Saladin was forced to withdraw and sign a peace treaty. Richard was left in possession of a hundred mile strip of coast from Acre to Jaffa. But in fact Saladin had won his main objective: Jerusalem was safe.

Richard was treated much better by Saladin than he would be by his fellow Christians. On the way home from the Holy Land he was imprisoned by Leopold of Austria and held for ransom for 15 months. This proves the old saying that there is no honour among thieves. He eventually returned to England on payment of 150,000 marks - a vast sum that was equal to one quarter of the revenues of his subjects. This nearly bankrupted England, but his loyal subjects did not get value for their money, since he was killed in 1199 by a crossbow bolt. As a good Frenchman, he ordered that his body be divided up, his entrails going to Poitou, his heart to Rouen, his body to Rome, and nothing to England! As for Saladin, he desired to go to Mecca but before he could do so he caught a fever and died. His body was buried in a tomb in Damascus.

The Sack of Constantinople

To trace the whole history of the crusades would be a long and tedious business. Essentially, the same sorry picture was repeated every time. Not much can be learned from the telling of it. But there is one episode that must not be overlooked. The whole purpose of the crusades was supposed to be to defend Christendom from the Moslem threat. Specifically, the Western Church was supposed to come to the aid of the Byzantine Empire, which was being hard pressed by the Seljuk Turks. But when the crusaders eventually came to Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade it was as conquerors not saviours.

This was the formative period of capitalism in Italy, in which Venice, the great trading power of the eastern Mediterranean, played a leading role. The Venetian merchant princes were in the process of displacing Byzantium as the major power in the East, taking advantage of the advance of the Turks and the constant internal strife that rent Constantinople and sapped its strength. When Pope Innocent III launched the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Venetians saw their chance.

The blind but cunning Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, persuaded the crusaders to participate in an intrigue to install the pretender Alexius Angelus on the throne of Constantinople. Alexius was foolish enough to make extravagant promises to the crusaders, which he was unable to keep. The avarice of the crusaders was excited by the sight of the colossal wealth of Constantinople - a Christian city, though of the Orthodox, not Catholic, faith.

On April 12th the crusaders stormed Constantinople. For three days they plundered it, causing terrible devastation. Even priests joined in the orgy of looting, murder and destruction that culminated in the desecration of Hagia Sophia - the greatest church in Christendom - where a drunken prostitute was seated on the throne of the patriarch. Then the conquerors elected a French Emperor and a Venetian patriarch, carving out baronies and duchies for themselves. This was far easier than fighting the Saracens! In this way the most Christian armies of Europe destroyed the Third Rome. Byzantium, never really recovered from this terrible blow, though it eventually succeeded in driving out the crusader barbarians. It finally fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The Pope of Rome played a disgraceful and hypocritical role in all this. On the one hand he protested his horror and exclaimed that he could not blame the Greeks (of Constantinople) for hating the Latins whom they knew to be treacherous dogs. But on the other hand, he did not lift a finger to reinstate the rightful patriarch but instead confirmed the Latin usurper and the pseudo-Emperor. The Orthodox Church was persecuted and its monks evicted from their monasteries to make room for the Cistercians and their military Orders.

The rape of Constantinople tells us all we need to know about the religious content of the glorious crusades. An even crueller and bloodier crusade was waged against the Christians of Southern France in the Albigensian crusade against the Cathars. That destroyed the flourishing Provençal culture that was a shining light in the darkness of medieval Europe. The same methods that had been perfected in the Middle East were used here and later against the great Moslem civilization of southern Spain, destroyed by the Christian Reconquista.

The crusades of George W. Bush

The crusades of the Middle Ages were among the darkest pages of human history. There is not a single positive word one can say about them. Not, that is, unless your name is George W. Bush. Of course, the US President actually knows very little about the real history of the crusades, just as he knows very little about history in general, or anything else, for that matter.

We live in the first decade of the 21st century. It is a very exciting period in human history in many ways. Science and technology have advanced to unheard-of heights. Many of the most important advances have been made in the USA. And yet in other respects human consciousness is lagging far behind the advances of the productive forces, science and technique.

In the USA today most people believe in God and the devil. Millions are convinced that the first Book of Genesis - and the rest of the Bible - is literally true. They demand that children in American schools should be taught that God created the world in six days, and that the first woman was made out of Adam's rib. The first American to circle the world in a space ship, when asked to deliver a message to the people of the world, out of the whole of world literature, chose - the Book of Genesis.

This contradiction between the colossal advances of science and the extreme backwardness of human consciousness is a dialectical contradiction. Nowhere is this contradiction so obvious as in the mentality of the right wing Republican Neo-Conservative clique that is now firmly installed in the White House. If we were able to open the head of George Bush and look into the workings of his brain, we would see there all the accumulated rubbish, prejudices and superstitions of the last thousand years.

The mentality of those ladies and gentlemen who stand at the head of the world's most powerful and advanced country is not fundamentally different to the primitive psychology of the Middle Ages. They are steeped in religion, in its crudest and most primitive forms. They talk about the world in terms that could easily have been used by the crusaders: the "axis of Evil" and so on. They betray all the psychological traits of religious fanatics like Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. The only difference, as they will immediately protest, is that they are right, whereas those who hold contrary views are wrong (Bin Laden also thinks the same).

Religious fanatics are always potentially dangerous people, especially when they have weapons in their hands. And George Bush has more weapons than most. He has just killed a lot of people in Iraq - men, women and children- in an unjust and unnecessary war. In these activities he has been enthusiastically supported by another religious fanatic, Tony Blair, who has recently announced that he is prepared to "meet his Maker" with a clear conscience after the war in Iraq.

In the same way the medieval crusaders who waded up to their ankles in blood did so with a clear conscience, absolutely convinced that they were doing the Lord's work. Morally, there is not a lot to choose between the two, except that the crusaders of old used to do their own dirty work, while Bush and Blair merely order others to do it for them.

Religion here serves as a useful fig-leaf to hide the real purpose of war. Just as the crusaders' religious zeal was the cover for other, baser motives, the real aims are disguised by all manner of hypocritical "moral" and even "humanitarian" considerations.

It is not true, as some people have argued, that the war in Iraq is a "conflict of cultures". Millions of people in the West actively opposed the war, and still do. These are the natural allies of the people of Iraq, not their enemies. On the other hand, it would be foolish to believe that Bush and Blair invaded Iraq because of a difference about religion. They had other things in mind!

The crusaders went to the Holy Land with the cross on their banner. But they soon got down to the serious business of filling their pockets, plundering cities, seizing lands and profitable trade routes. And our modern crusaders went to Iraq shouting loudly about freedom, peace and democracy, but made sure that they immediately got their hands on the oil. It is necessary to distinguish between shadow and substance!

From a moral point of view there is little to choose between the barbarism of the Middle Ages and that of our own epoch. The main difference is that the destructive power of modern armies is infinitely greater than that of the Middle Ages.

It is necessary to fight against barbarism, for a new world in which the madness and superstition we have inherited from the Middle Ages - and an even remoter past - will forever be consigned to the rubbish heap of history. The lag in consciousness will be overcome by the march of events - stormy events that will shake the psychology of the masses and bring about sudden and drastic changes. The old ideas and prejudices will not survive. The way will be prepared for a new world and a new way of thinking and acting that is worthy of real human beings.