The word “crusade” has a double-edged connotation these days.
In Muslim countries it evokes memories of the centuries of warfare with Christian armies, usually sanctioned by the Pope, that sought to retake lands (especially Jerusalem and the Holy Land) that Muslims had seized, or to resist Muslim expansionism. The original Crusades were both religious and political/territorial wars, and there is much truth in the stories about the cruelty and greed (on both sides) that accompanied these supposedly high-minded missions. So it’s not surprising that the late Muammar Qadaffi denounced the U.N. sanctioned attacks against his regime in Libya as another heinous “crusade.”
To many in the West, however, the term “crusade” has a more positive meaning. It implies any morally-grounded undertaking at great personal risk to eliminate an evil and achieve a high-minded objective. Thus, when the then General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied invasion of Normandy and the campaign to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II, published his memoirs after the war, nobody in the West objected to the title of his book, Crusade in Europe.
In more recent decades, the term “movement” has been the preferred moniker for various organized efforts to achieve some important, morally-grounded political objective. We have had a “civil rights movement,” a “farm workers movement,” a “women’s movement” and now a “gay rights movement,” among others.
My personal dream is that the next great political undertaking will be a “fairness movement” along the lines that I outline in my book, The Fair Society. I believe that we need to reverse the many negative trends in our society and must develop a new, more fair-minded “social contract”.
However, I have no illusions. This will be a formidable undertaking against an array of entrenched and powerful opponents. It will require an aroused electorate with the determination to stay the course. As the PBS TV interviewer, Bill Moyers, put it in one of his last broadcasts, “The only answer to organized money is organized people.” It will require something akin to a “fairness crusade.”
This, I fervently believe, is the great calling for this generation of Americans, for our future as a successful and harmonious society depends on it. Will it require a catastrophic “discontinuity” like the Great Depression or World War Two (our recent Great Recession was not enough)? Let’s hope not.