First, the mandatory distinction: individual Muslims are often wonderful people, kind, loving, civilized. There are geniuses among the followers of Mohammed, just as there are in every population around the world. And much of the moral code of Islam is perfectly good and wise. What we’re talking about below is the effect, historically and up to the present day, that Islam has on those who fall under its sway or interact with it. Not theory, but what is observable today and over time.
Any objective acquaintance with history, a history which reinforces what we see in the current political state of the world, can lead to only one conclusion: Islam has been a cultural and human rights disaster everywhere it has taken hold for its entire 1400 year history. Claims to the contrary are dazzlingly inconsistent with what we see in the modern world – in other words, TODAY it is clear that Islamic countries are miserable backwaters, filled to overflowing with poverty, political and social repression, and violence. To imagine that this state of affairs is the result of some nefarious Western program of empire requires a certain willful blindness – that explanation is only remotely plausible, even in theory, for maybe the last 200 years. But the facts do not support it, nor provide any explanation for the state that obtained over the previous 1200 years.
Now, let’s deal with one of the yawning holes in the common PC understanding of history. Let’s talk about the histories of Christianity and Islam, with emphasis on their first few centuries.
When Mohammed died in 632 AD, he was the commander of a large army that had, over the last few decades of his life, conquered and forcibly converted the Arab peninsula. In 100 years, this army had grown to conquer all the Middle East, all of North Africa, parts of Asia Minor, Spain and parts of France. In the east, the Roman Empire based in Constantinople was the first significant military opponent Islam encountered. The Eastern Romans were able to stop the advance of Islam in eastern Europe at great cost, and spent the next 800 years at war, thereby keeping Europe from being overrun from the east. Finally, in 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, who exterminated the population. This opened Europe to further Islamic conquest, and the Balkans fell, Vienna – right there in the heart of Europe – was besieged by Islamic armies a couple times, and on other occasions Europe almost fell to Islam attacking from the east. European military superiority to the Turks and other Muslim powers was not clearly established until the 19th century – prior to that, Europeans rightly feared conquest by Islam. All they had to do was look east or south, or at Spain, to see that it could happen.
Meanwhile, in the West, an large Islamic army had landed in Spain, conquered the remnants of the latinized Visigoths who had ruled it since 410, and proceeded, according to plan, over the Pyrenees Mountains and into France. Unlike the East, there was no remnant of the Roman Empire to fight them off, but, in one of the more amazing bits of history, Charles the Hammer, the Mayor of the Palace of the Merovingian king of the Franks (kind of like a Prime Minister) was a great admirer of Roman warfare. He organized an army of heavy infantry, and drilled them on the discipline of foot soldier versus light cavalry fighting in the Roman manner – and they were able to defeat the invading Islamic army near Tours in central France in 732, bringing to a halt the Islamic conquest of Europe from the West.
So, to recap: Islam has spread by conquest. There has been no significant spreading of Islam by any other means. Only by a series of desperate battles has Islam been prevented from conquering Europe.
Them’s the facts.
Christianity arose around 33 AD, in a despised backwater of the Roman Empire, among the Jews, a rebellious and despised people who, in 70 AD, had their nation crushed and dispersed by the Romans. For the first 280 years of its existence, there were no Christian armies, and little if any sympathy for Christians among the rulers. At least many hundreds and perhaps thousands of Christians were publicly tortured and executed. Only in 313 was Christianity officially tolerated within the Roman Empire.
Yet, well before 313, millions of people had converted to Christianity over an area of thousands of square miles, from India in the East to Spain in the West, from the Danube in the North to the east coast of Africa in the South. Early Christianity was not spread by armies and conquest, but by individuals and small teams of preachers who traveled at great personal risk to everywhere you could get on foot or by boat in the ancient West, and then some.
So, to recap: Christianity spread to all the world known to the Roman and beyond over the course of less than 300 years without the benefit of any political or military support, and often in the teeth of violent persecution. Only after 313, after Christianity was well established, was there any link between political and military power on the one hand and Christians on the other.
Compare and contrast: the founding story of Islam is one of military conquest, of soldiers willing to kill for their faith. The founding story of Christianity is one of defenseless preachers willing to die for theirs. When a Muslim thinks back to the glory days of Islam, he must needs think of great armies and glorious victories. When Christians think of early Christians, they think of martyrdom and the long travels of Paul, Peter, James and Thomas and many others, and of the holy men and women and children who turned the other cheek, often at the cost of their lives.
But what about the great cultural triumphs of Islam, the victim of modern PC education is required to ask . The great cultures of Spain? The golden age of Baghdad? Two points: first, 50,000 Athenians over the course of the 5th century BC, or 50,000 Florentines during the 15th century, to take two examples out of many, made more positive contributions to civilization, art, science and philosophy than all the hundreds of millions of Muslims have made in total over the entire 1400 years that Islam has existed. Admiring Muslim contributions to art and science, when compared to Western Christian contributions, is like hanging a high school kid’s sophomore art project in the Uffizi.
Second, let’s look at the Golden Age of Baghdad. From around 750 AD, when Islamic military conquest was finally slowed down, until the Mongol hordes slaughtered about a million inhabitants of Baghdad and the surrounding areas in 1258, burned all the libraries and handed victory to the more anti-intellectual strains of Islam, Baghdad was a center of art and learning. Key aspect of this flowering: openness to the West. The Califs of Baghdad welcomed Christian and Jewish (and Indian) scholars, and Muslim scholars and scribes copied and, in some cases, extended their works. Once Baghdad was annihilated by the Mongols, very little Western influence was admitted – and, consequently, very little progress was made.
Further, the tendency to overstate the contributions of this intellectual flowering can be tempered by making a few comparisons: they invented trigonometry – Appolonius and Ptolemy might be surprised to hear that; they preserved ancient texts – all those monks copying all those texts in the west probably appreciated the help; science, whatever that means, flowered – resulting in what, exactly? The 1,000 year near-total stagnation of technology in the Islamic world?
The regime in Baghdad welcomed non-Islamic scholars – a fact that infuriated many other Muslims, and spawned an anti-intellectual school of thought that taught that any attempts to use reason and observation to understand God were sacrilege. We are required to accept the Koran, etc., not to try to understand the world. To imagine that God acts through secondary causes, as Aristotle would say, is to deny that everything in existence is the direct result of God’s will – in other words, there’s no place for natural laws. According to this school, other than study of the Koran and Haddith, to be a good scholar meant to be a bad Muslim. Once the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, defenders of the more open attitude toward learning were few – divine judgement seemed to have been passed. The Taliban, rather than being some freakish outlier, in fact represents the historically dominant strain of Islamic ‘intellectualism’ since at least the sack of Baghdad.
If, having drunk deeply of PC nonsense, you doubt this, then please explain: how is it that the admitted brilliance of the Muslim, shown intermittently in the likes of Averroes, failed to produce anything like the flowering of science and art seen in the Christian West? There were certainly not constrained by western Military might – the West feared them well into the 19th century. The Ottoman Empire, which twice besieged Vienna, persisted until 1918!
And you can’t reasonably blame the West for holding them down. The Muslim world for much of its history has in fact been more civilized – had more and larger cities run more stably – than the West, outside of Constantinople. Until around the 11th Century, the West was in shambles, largely ruled by barbarians with no concept of civilization outside tribal loyalties. If Islam could not produce any meaningful progress in culture, science, art or civil life over that 1,000 year period, and fell woefully behind the West in these areas, it’s not the fault of the West.
Similar story in Spain – far from the heart of Islam, the Moors were free to tolerate Jews and even Christians. Does this represent the main thrust of Islam? Is it in keeping with what we see elsewhere? A further note on Spain – it is often pointed out that the Moors were far more civilized than the Spanish who eventually drove them out in 1492. There is some truth to this: one of the chief issues of the period from 410 – when Rome was first sacked – to, say, 1100 is that, with the collapse of Rome, everyone who could fled to the East, to the Empire that persisted for another thousand years under Constantinople. Who was left? Peasants, barbarians and the Catholic Church. And when we say ‘barbarians’ we mean the real deal – pre-logical, violent and nasty peoples who would just as soon kill you as say hello. Lacking an effective army, the Roman culture attempted to conquer the barbarian cultures by example – many brave missionaries traveled among the Franks, spreading not just the Gospel, but also such basic moral concepts as women and children being people, too and that simply killing and robbing people whenever the opportunity presented itself is wrong. This took some doing and many centuries. When Charlemagne showed mercy to defeated enemies in the 800’s, this was show-stopping news, and represented a triumph not only of Christianity but of civilization. A mere 500 years or so later, the French were very nearly civilized – possibly the greatest secular achievement of the Church.
But what about the Crusades? The Spanish Inquisition? The Conquistadors? The Pope’s role in spreading slavery in the New World? The short answer: what about them? We could compare tragedies and outrages perpetrated by Christians and Muslims all day – a comparison that does, in fact, favor the West – but the fact remains: there’s no remotely sane, civilized westerner – and, especially, a western woman – who would choose to live as a common subject in a Muslim country, versus a common citizen of a Western country. Even the Christian parts of Africa and the poorer areas of Latin America compare very favorably to any Islamic country. Sure, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – probably the most ‘Western’ Islamic countries – look good in the pictures, and if you’re just visiting and have lots of money, they can be OK. But talk to the Pakistanis and Egyptians who do all the work while the tiny minority of natives live high on oil money – not so good for the commoners. Even the poor Mexicans who live in shacks and work at the maquiladoras have more hope and freedom – and the Mexican women can show their faces outside the home and do not live in fear that their husbands can legally kill them or mutilate the genitalia of their daughters.
What does this mean for our actions today, especially in response to the recent atrocities committed in the name of Islam? First off, moral equivalency must stop now. When Muslims riot and murder in (it is asserted) response to some stupid YouTube video, we can’t excuse it based on the naive and stupid idea that we, after all, do the same kind of things. No, ‘we’ don’t. Remember when – to pick one example out of hundreds – the movie ‘V for Vendetta’ came out, which fantasized that some caricature of Christianity was going to destroy all that is good about civilization, where every character who claimed to be Christian was a vile, murderous lizard? Remember all the riots and theater burning and how the director was dragged from his limo and hung from a light pole? You don’t remember it, because it didn’t happen. Anyone who did such a thing would be roundly denounced by 99.9% of Christians – and prosecuted under the laws of the land, to near universal approval. That’s not what’s going on in the Islamic world – at the very least, a sizable minority supports such actions precisely because they believe their beliefs require them to.
So, John C Wright calls for a Crusade in the classic sense and with classic goals: to thwart the advance of Islam, to protect the rights and freedoms of non-Muslims , and to put to the lie its claims to military victory proving its truth. What this means in practice – what a Crusade in fact requires – is a re-ignition of Christian fervor, especially and specifically that aspect of fervor which unites Reason and Faith, and turns a critical eye on the world and its allures and glamor. At this point, in this world, the Crusade must first take place in the hearts and minds of the West – of Christendom – before any truly charitable and benevolent battle can be waged.
Does the concept of charitable and benevolent battle bounce off your mind? Turns out – of course, I can’t turn a web link up at the moment – that there’s a goodly number of letters written by the Crusaders of history to their families, in which it is clear that their intentions are in fact charitable and benevolent. And it’s clear that the typical Crusader never expected to return home alive. Most, in fact, didn’t.
Unlike wars in general, the people fighting these battles on the Christian side were not expecting to return home with lots of loot. They expected to die.
They did it anyway. To free the Holy Land. To provide succor to persecuted Christians. To stop Islam.