Well they were bad of course – you can’t invade someone’s land and call it good. At best it might be justified – such as when the Allies invaded occupied Europe and Germany to kick out the Nazis, but that is the best case scenario and the crusades were a long way from that.
But they did not happen in a vacuum – the islamic world had previous contact with the christian world, and that contact wasn’t always harmonious and it wasn’t always the intolerance of christians to blame.
First of all, which crusades are we talking about? Because despite the popular notion that the crusades were all christians trying to kick muslims out of the “holy land”, it wasn’t actually the case. There is some disagreement about whether the other crusades actually count or not – such as the Reconquista or the crusades against the pagans of eastern europe.
But as we’re not looking at those, we can ignore that little argument except to make one point about the Reconquista – this was (overly simplistic) the christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsular after the islamic conquest of starting in 711. And whilst it’s childish to say “but they did it first” (and doesn’t justify the Crusades), it is actually true.
The other aspect contributing towards the first crusade was the actions of the so-called “Mad Caliph” – Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah who reversed a previously agreed policy of toleration to christians (including pilgrims to Jerusalem) and jews. Plus the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Now this may have been exaggerated, but whatever truth lies behind the “Mad Caliph”, the effect on christian europe has more to do with the information (or propaganda) going around europe at the time. Although the first crusade was nearly 100 years later, the destruction of churches was mentioned by Pope Urban in his speech at the Council of Clermont.
We can still condemn the crusades without implying that it was an entirely unprovoked attack on the islamic world.