This article is about Islam and imperialism. Islam's war on the West and their history of wars is also discussed.

Source: Reformed Perspective, 1991. 3 pages.

East Versus West

"East is East and West is West," Rud­yard Kipling wrote in the previous centu­ry, "and never the twain shall meet." That is of course not literally true. East and West have often met in history. They usu­ally confronted each other as rivals, how­ever, and there indeed has rarely been a meeting of souls. The old incompatibility remains to this very day, as the Gulf cri­sis has amply demonstrated. Will the peace settlement do the same?

Saddam Hussein was aware of this long history of hostility, and the people who ran his propaganda machine made good use of it. They have been drawing attention especially to the crusades, which began some 900 years ago, around the year 1100. The crusades were called into remembrance in order to show that the West has always been a morally de­praved aggressor, the sworn enemy of the peaceful Arab nation. In these campaigns Europe attacked the Arab world without any provocation, Saddam said, just as it was doing now. History was merely re­peating itself.

The Islam in Spain🔗

While it is true that in the case of the crusades the West was the aggressor, Saddam's use of history was not without bias. The impression was created that the crusades were the first military en­counter between Europe and the Muslim world, and that is not true. Neither is it correct to imply that aggression has al­ways come from the West. Especially in its early years Islam itself was quite im­perialistic, and, as the following brief his­tory will show, it was the Muslims, not the Europeans, who initiated the history of warfare between the two regions.

It began in 711, almost four cen­turies before the first crusade. Mo­hammed had died in 632. By that time he had subdued all of Saudi Arabia. His followers continued the holy war and within a century of the prophet's death they had conquered practically all of the Middle East, Asia Minor, and North Africa. They also tried to invade eastern Europe, but were stopped by the strong Christian city of Constantinople.

It was less difficult to get a foothold in what was still a semi-barbarian west­ern Europe. In 711 Tariq, a Muslim mili­tary leader from North Africa, invaded Spain. Apparently he had been asked to lend support to one of two rival Spanish factions, but once his army was across the Straits of Gibraltar he decided to stay and conquer. Three years later, by 714, the larger part of Spain was under Muslim control.

Charles Martel🔗

France was next on the list. Ever since 714 the Arabs had been pressing into southern France, and the major con­frontation came in 733. The Arabs might have swallowed up the Christian Frank­ish kingdom, and thereby endangered all of western Christendom, except for the valour of Charles Martel ('The Ham­mer'). This Frankish chieftain stopped the invaders in the famous battle of Tours and Poitiers, and pushed them back over the Pyrenees. They were to stay in Spain for several centuries, but the rest of west­ern Europe remained free, even though Muslim raiding parties into southern France continued for several years.

The defeat of the Muslim invaders was not Charles's only claim to fame. He was also the man who brought about a military and social reorganization in France and so helped strengthen the defences of that country — and indeed of all of western Christendom. In his days the realm of the Franks was under the nominal rule of the weak and decadent Merovingian dynasty. Actual power, however, was in the hands of their lieutenants, the so-called Mayors of the Palace. In 714 the death of the incum­bent, Pippin of Heristal, had led to insta­bility and civil war. Charles Martel, Pippin's illegitimate son, was one of the claimants to the office of Mayor. By 719 he had gained control and begun to con­solidate his position.

The New Cavalry🔗

It was time. Christian France was threatened not only by the Spanish Mus­lims (or Moors as they were called, since they came from Mauretania and Moroc­co), but also by pagan Germanic tribes like the Saxons in the East and by the pagan Frisians under Radbod in the North. The latter had taken advantage of the instability among the Franks follow­ing Pippin's death and recaptured Frankish Frisia. Churches and monasteries were destroyed, and Willibrord, the An­glo-Saxon missionary who had been Pip­pin's protégé, was forced to flee Utrecht and take refuge in Luxembourg.

Faced with rebels and enemies on ev­ery side, Charles made the reorganiza­tion of the army his first concern. The stir­rup had recently been introduced into Europe (probably from the Far East via the Spanish Muslims), and it had the po­tential of making the cavalry far more im­portant than the infantry. With his feet secure in the stirrups, a knight could retain his balance in the midst of battle and use the lance to great advantage: he was able to deliver his stroke with the full momentum of his charging mount. In this way the cavalry became a formidable fighting force, capable of mounted shock combat, and Charles hastened to intro­duce it. To make it possible for his no­bles to pay for horse, armour, weapons, servants, and whatever other expenses they might have, Charles confiscated church lands which he divided among his nobles in return for their military ser­vice. The military innovation therefore gave at the same time a major boost to the introduction of the feudal system of government and landholding in medieval Europe.

Thus modernized, the Frankish army became a very effective war machine ca­pable of dealing with the various enemies threatening the realm. The Saxons and other tribes in the East were subdued, the Frisians defeated, and the Moors kept at bay — in Charles's own days and in those of his successors, Pippin the Short and Charlemagne.

Islam in Western and Eastern Europe🔗

Unable to make headway in France, the Arabs remained well-entrenched in Spain, although their power was never totally unchallenged there. Shortly after Tariq had subdued the kingdom, the first Christian counterattacks began. In fact, much of the history of medieval Spain is that of the struggle between Christian and Muslim. Well before the end of the Middle Ages the Christians had recon­quered the larger part of Spain, but the Muslims retained a foothold in the south­ern kingdom of Granada. It was not until 1492, under the government of Ferdi­nand and Isabella, that Granada was reconquered and the Muslims were ex­pelled from western Europe for good and all. We may expect to see the 500th anniversary of this event celebrated next year. (And also, I may add, the 500th anniversary of Columbus' trip to America — a trip that was sponsored by the Span­ish monarchs to celebrate the reconquest of Granada.)

Eastern Europe was less fortunate in its struggle with the forces of the Cres­cent. For several centuries Constantino­ple had borne the brunt of the Muslim attacks — and thereby saved western Eu­rope from worse misfortunes than it in fact suffered. In the later Middle Ages, however, the Ottoman Turks, a people originally from Mongolia who had adopted Mohammedanism, overran the Middle East and renewed the attack upon Constantinople. In 1453 the city fell. The Turks renamed it Istanbul and con­verted its famous cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, into a mosque. The Turks also conquered Greece and the other Balkan countries. Freedom did not return to these Balkan areas until the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We can't, of course blame the Arabs for the fate of Constantinople and the Balkans. The Arabs were themselves conquered by the Turks and would re­main under their rule until the Turkish defeat in the first World War. The fact nev­ertheless remains — and that was the thesis of my story — that neither Islam in general nor the Arab world in particu­lar has ever been as lily-white and peace­ful as Saddam tried to make the world believe. Quite to the contrary: on the subject of aggression and imperialist ex­pansion Islam could teach the West a thing or two.

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