THE Vatican has begun moves to rehabilitate the Crusaders by sponsoring a conference at the weekend that portrays the Crusades as wars fought with the noble aim of regaining the Holy Land for Christianity. The Crusades are seen by many Muslims as acts of violence that have underpinned Western aggression towards the Arab world ever since. Followers of Osama bin Laden claim to be taking part in a latter-day jihad against the Jews and Crusaders. The late Pope John Paul II sought to achieve Muslim-Christian reconciliation by asking pardon for the Crusades during the 2000 Millennium celebrations. But John Pauls apologies for the past errors of the Church including the Inquisition and anti-Semitism irritated some Vatican conservatives. According to Vatican insiders, the dissenters included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict reached out to Muslims and Jews after his election and called for dialogue. However, the Pope, who is due to visit Turkey in November, has in the past suggested that Turkeys Muslim culture is at variance with Europes Christian roots. At the conference, held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, Roberto De Mattei, an Italian historian, recalled that the Crusades were a response to the Muslim invasion of Christian lands and the Muslim devastation of the Holy Places. The debate has been reopened, La Stampa said. Professor De Mattei noted that the desecration of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by Muslim forces in 1009 had helped to provoke the First Crusade at the end of the 11th century, called by Pope Urban II.