In an earlier column in these pages, “Reforming Islam,” I documented the need for Islam to experience an internal reformation. This is not just a question of abstract theology but directly relates to how we defeat Islamic terrorism, and how we are viewed in the Muslim world.
For example, ISIS, the foremost terror threat in the world today, in its claim of responsibility for last year’s Paris attack condemned America and its allies as “crusader nations.” Osama bin Laden did likewise. Bin Laden railed against “Crusaders and U.N.” when President Bush used the “C-word” after 9/11. He was widely criticized for it and dropped it.
Use of “Crusades” and “Crusaders” as terms of abuse is clearly meant to stir up Muslim masses that they are under assault, not that we are defending ourselves against jihad. Perhaps more importantly, it is designed to evoke feelings of culpability and defeatism among guilty Western liberals, who are ashamed of Western civilization and indifferent at best to its survival. Not surprisingly, when President Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast last year on the issue of terrorism, he attempted to minimize the Islamic element of the Islamic State’s barbarity: “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
Let’s set the record straight. The Crusades were a series of wars launched by Western Europeans in the wake of devastating defeats inflicted on the Christian Byzantine Empire by the Seljuk Turks. The First Crusade was launched in 1096. It was the most successful one, capturing Jerusalem.
But the gains were only temporary, requiring the launch of repeated efforts to maintain the small feudal statelets carved out in the Holy Land. The last crusader stronghold, Acre in today’s Israel, fell in 1291.
All told, the Crusades occupied a brief period of just over two and one-half centuries. They were limited in scope and essentially were a counterattack, seeking to retake Christian lands earlier seized by the Muslims.
How do the Crusades compare to Islamic jihad? Following the death of Muhammad in 632, his successors, the caliphs — the same office ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claims to have revived — began their unprovoked war of conquest against the Byzantines. Within a decade, the jihad had claimed then-Christian Egypt, Palestine, and Syria.
Muslim armies swept across North Africa and crossed over into Spain in 711, only to be finally stopped in France by Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, in 732. (At the same time, Muslim forces swept east, subduing Persia and reaching the frontiers of China.) Repeated assaults continued across the Mediterranean, including Arab sieges of Constantinople and conquest of Cyprus, Sicily, and Crete.
Motivated by Islamic jihad and lust for plunder and slaves — identical to today’s ISIS — not one of these assaults was defensive. These were not Muslim lands being liberated from occupation but Christian lands whose inhabitants experienced the horrors we see today in Syria, Iraq and now Libya with Israel waiting in the wings: amputations, beheadings, slavery and sex slavery (all of which are explicitly authorized by Allah in the Koran). When we see horrific videos of ISIS beheadings and the choosing of sex slaves, let’s remember it’s a scene repeated thousands of times before: in Jerusalem in 637, Egypt in 639, Spain in 711, and Constantinople in 1453. The only difference is that today there are cameras and instant worldwide communications.
The Islamic jihad against Christendom started more than four and a half centuries before anyone had even heard of a Crusade. The crusaders forced jihad into remission for a brief period from around 1100 to 1350, after which it resumed its full assault.
Most of Asia Minor — today’s Turkey — was quickly subdued as the Crusades ended. Islamic warriors of the new Ottoman Empire crossed into Europe at Gallipoli in 1356. In rapid succession the jihad overwhelmed Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, and southern Romania.
Constantinople fell in 1453. (This fulfilled the first part of a prophecy attributed to Muhammad and fondly cited by today’s jihadists that first they would take Constantinople and then Rome.) Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, and Southern Austria and Poland all fell. Muslim slave-raiders ravaged the coasts of Italy, Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, and they ranged as far north as Ireland and Scandinavia. (The Barbary Wars fought by the infant United States were a response to that same activity, which lasted well into the 19th century. It was America’s first clash with jihad but certainly not our last.)
The Muslim advance only began to be seriously blunted in 1683, with the failure of the Turks’ second siege of Vienna. While the ideology of offensive jihad had not changed, its capabilities could not withstand the scientific and technological revolution that had begun to take hold in Christian Europe.
To sum up, aggressive Islamic jihad was launched against the Christians and lasted 450 years. For 250 years, Christian crusaders counterattacked. After that counterattack failed, renewed jihad lasted another 350 years.
It’s clear who the aggressors are, which only emphasizes that we cannot afford to engage in moral disarmament in the face of jihad and unreformed Islam. Unfortunately, under Mr. Obama, moral and actual disarmament is official U.S. policy. This must be reversed.
• James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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