The Knights of Malta seen in Baghdad – apparently!

flag of iraq in close up shot

The Knights Templar have provided a feeding frenzy for conspiracy theorists for centuries. So, it’s kind of refreshing to see another religious military order – the Knights of Malta – getting the same treatment. I joke, of course.

Allegations about Iraq

The veteran journalist and scourge of the Vietnam War, Seymour Hersh, has angrily claimed that US military leaders in the Iraq War were linked to the Knights of Malta – that they saw their mission as one to replace mosques with cathedrals.

That’s the attitude – we’re gonna change mosques in to cathedrals.  That’s an attitude that pervades.  I’m here to say.  A large percentage of the  Joint Special Operations Command.

This speech was being delivered in Qatar this week and Hersh said the war against Saddam Hussein was seen as a crusade pure and simple.

Alleging that commanders in the US army were also connected to Opus Dei, he went on:

They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the thirteenth century.  And this is their function.

He added the curious allegation that these generals pass crusader coins or that have crusader insignia between them.

They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.

Needless to say Catholic bloggers have not been delighted by the reference to the Order of Malta.  Catholic League president Bill Donohue blasted Hersh on the Catholic Online website:

So this is the group that Seymour Hersh seeks to demonize. His long-running feud with every American administration-he now condemns President Obama for failing to be “an angry black man”-has disoriented his perspective so badly that what he said about the Knights of Malta is not shocking to those familiar with his penchant for demagoguery.

I bring this spat to your attention as it conjures up images of Christian knights versus Saracens being replayed a thousand years later.  But is it actually true?  There’s no doubt that some of the rhetoric post-9/11 had an unfortunate crusader tinge to it – and the word ‘crusade’ was even used injudiciously to refer to the Iraq War.

But we then have to take a leap further and ask is the US military really engaged on a project to roll back Islam and establish crusader states in the Middle East (excepting Israel which muslim fundamentalists would call a de facto crusader state)?

If they are – they’ve failed spectacularly.  The only state with a smile all over its face in the Middle East today is Iran – is that what our erstwhile crusaders thought would be the outcome in 2003?

2 thoughts on “The Knights of Malta seen in Baghdad – apparently!

  1. Hersh may have a point about Christians in senior ranks of the military. You might recall General Boykin who made remarks during the 2003 campaign in Iraq saying it was a crusade. Though the Pentagon did publicly rebuke him for not making it clear these were his personal views. However, this is what Boykin said in 2008 to an audience in Israel:

    “Here’s the way I want to enter the gates of Heaven. I want to come skidding in there on all fours. I want to be slipping and sliding and I want to hit the gates of heaven with a bang. And when I stand up and I stand before Christ, I want there to be blood on my knees and my elbows. I want to be covered with mud. And I want to be standing there with a ragged breast plate of righteousness. And a spear in my hand. And I want to say, “Look at me, Jesus. I’ve been in the battle. I’ve been fighting for you.”

    Not what you expect a general to say!

    I just re-read Hersh’s comments and must admit I came away thinking that he’s making a clear statement that senior military figures have an association with the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei. The suggestion, and feel free to correct me, is that these organisations exert an influence through these members on US military policy.

    The coins are a mystery to me – but I’ll investigate further.

    Good to hear you’re a sceptic – I used to subscribe to Skeptical Enquirer, great magazine.

  2. I have only just heard about this group. Finding it fascinating reading about their history. I’m a History graduate and founder member of skeptics in the Pub, Norwich, UK, so don’t worry, I’m not a conspiracy nut.

    I think however that you don’t do Hersh justice in your analysis. The impression I got was that he was talking about individuals perceptions of themselves as crusaders, rather than an explicit group policy.

    I could certainly see a high ranking military man, Christian, a history buff as many military men are… it’s by no means impossible for a group to have formed that played up to these notions.

    Certainly Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist and host on Democracy Now! confirmed having seen and held one of these so called ‘coins’, thoguh it is possible Iperhaps that he saw one of the non-denominational ‘sovereign’ coins of the Order of Malta? Tell me, did/do those coins bare such designs as Hersh suggests?

    I think it is all too easy to dismiss as nonsense arguments labelled as ‘conspiracy theries’. It is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater with such important allegations (given the prominant public role such pretensions might pervade.

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