US President Barack Obama ignited a firestorm of debate this month when he told a prayer breakfast in Washington, DC that Christians have committed atrocities throughout history. "Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," Obama told the audience in a not-so-subtle attempt to point out the hypocrisy of some Christians who too often link all Muslims to the violence of ISIL and al-Qaeda.

The reference to the Crusades - the 11th century battles between Roman Catholic knights and Muslim moors for territory and dominance in Europe - has particularly irked people leading to a wave of public criticism from conservative radio talk show hosts and politicians who disagree there is a moral equivalent.

The latest volley came from former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Catholic, who reportedly told a gathering of Republicans in New York on Wednesday: "The Crusades were kind of an equal battle between two groups of barbarians. The Muslims and the crusading barbarians."

DC Dispatches emailed Mr Giuliani's office requesting clarification but they were not returned. Still, it begs the question: is replacing the words "Roman Catholic" or "Christians" with "crusading barbarians" an accurate or rather, fair characterisation of historical events from a public figure who is a self-professed historian and theologian? No, says Jay Rubenstein, history professor at the University of Tennessee who specialises in the Crusades. The battles, according to him, were "between European Christian armies and Muslim armies". To characterise one side or the other as barbarians, he adds, is unfair.

"Both the Latin Christian world and the medieval Muslim world were civilizations of no small achievement," he adds. Bottom line for Rubenstein? "If you think that it is wrong to make war in the name of religion, then you should be comfortable condemning the Crusades," he says, adding the lesson from those wars, "is that any religion can be turned toward violence, and that when that happens, when warriors believe that act of shedding blood has received divine sanction, the acts of war that follow will be especially savage."

Source: Al Jazeera