Same old reason.
Indeed there is nothing new under the sun in the motivation for Islamic warfare in its various guises. Just as there is nothing new in the response of non-Muslims to that threat.
During Tony Blair's time as Prime Minister of Great Britain I bought a 1937 English translation of Bonaparte: Governor of Egypt by F. Charles-Roux. Chapter 5 is entitled "Bonaparte and Islam". In that chapter I saw Bonaparte conduct himself towards Islam in a way very like Mr Blair did. The self-flattery of these two; the inability of the man with a secularist mindset - though Mr Blair claimed to be a Catholic - to understand the power of religion, let alone the great cult-like following the prophet had and has; the belief that such people could be appeased with worldly rewards such as peace and prosperity when in reality nothing can ever substitute for the approval of a god in whose hand is one's eternal destiny.
Here is a very real fear of eternal damnation holding a very definite sway on foreign policy, law making and the entire idea of what constitutes success itself. Obedience - or submission, as the word Islam means - to the prophet and a white hot veneration to the teachings and glory of the eternal Qur'an is ultimately all that matters.
Yet both Bonaparte and Blair remained apparently uncomprehending of all this. As Robert Spencer notes, Bonaparte flattered the Muslims:
In Egypt, he aggressively courted the Muslim population, saying to one imam: “Glory to Allah! There is no other God but Allah; Muhammad is his prophet, and I am one of his friends…. The Qur’an delights my mind…. I love the prophet.” [Graeme: we have heard very similar words spoken by Tony Blair as he sought a peace with Muslims] He told Egyptian imams that it was “the will of Muhammad” that the Egyptians ally with the French. He denounced the Russians to the Ottoman sultan, saying that they “abhor those who believe in the unity of God, because, according to their lies, they believe that there are three,” an echo of the Qur’an’s warning to Christians to “say not ‘Three’” (4:171), that is, do not profess the faith in the Holy Trinity.
In Bonaparte: Governor of Egypt, Charles-Roux notes,
No European colonizer ever met Islam in a more tolerant, even deferential, and sympathetic spirit. No ulterior motive of Christian proselytization, no denominational prejudice influenced Bonaparte against the Mussulmans. They did not occur through their religion either his aversion or his contempt. He was still too thoroughly imbued with the ideas propogated by the French Revolution, too detached from the Catholic church, too prejudiced against the Papacy to think ill of the followers of Islam ...
Their profound faith, their piety, and the essential dogma of their theology, that of the oneness of God, ran counter to no philosophic opinion of his. He respected their faith; his conception of divinity was closer to the unitarian dogma [Graeme: interestingly Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was also a Unitarian who believed in "reason". It may be only a slight oversimplification to note that, being aware of this, Herr Hitler had but to convince Chamberlain that he too was "reasonable" to achieve many of his territorial goals before war became inevitable. A similar widespread degeneration of Christian doctrine in the post-Christian West is evident today. We are ignorant and too unwilling to discuss the thornier issues] of Islam than to the trinitarian dogma of the various Christian confessions. As the founder of a religion, as a lawmaker, Mahomet aroused his admiration.
[In his writing & recorded conversations] there are some of the most impartial and some of the most sympathetic pages ever written on Islam in a Western language. To convince the Mussulmans of Egypt of the benevolence of his intention, genuine as it was; to declare and prove it to them - this was the essence of Bonaparte's religious policy. ...
[He spoke many reassuring words and took concrete steps to ensure compliance with Islamic sensibilities, but] These precautions did not overcome the suspicion and hostility inspired by the French, as infidels, in the majority of the Mussulmans of Egypt.
A war from which few European conquerors in Islamic countries have escaped was preached by the imams and was brewing in Egypt - the Holy War. ... However sincere the declarations, the protestations of friendship of an infidel would always be suspect. The only declarations that had any chance of being listened to by the masses were those of the Mussulman religious leaders, authorizing and ordering obedience to the French. 'We had to convince and win over the muftis, the ulema, the sherifs, and the imams, so that they would interpret the Koran in [our favour].'
Bonaparte sought recognition by [Egypt and all the surrounding Muslim countries] as a friend and protector of Islam. ... 'In Egypt I have reassured the people, and protected the muftis and imams and the mosques. The pilgrims from Mecca have never been welcomed with more friendly attentions than I have shown them; the festival of the prophet has just been celebrated with more splendour than ever'.
All this does sound a lot like the words and actions of the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan after the recent wars doesn't it? Indeed all over the West our leaders are bending over backwards to accommodate & befriend the "religion of peace" (mustn't offend by saying it's ever been anything but that eh?) and proclaim its eminent compatibility - even superiority - to our own way of life.
But there is nothing new under the sun. Such transparent flattery & appeasement as we see in these days has a long history. It didn't work before. It will not work again. What is worse contemporary Islamist leadership can spot a quisling, a flatterer, a useful fool and the ignorant very easily. Such people may be led by the nose quite well to either a banquet or to a slaughter. Whatever is deemed to advance the temporal goals of Islam while also advancing its eternal goals. And the eternal goals are always paramount.
Not all opposition comes in the form of violent jihad. The most effective, to which we now readily prostrate ourselves, is the "good cop/bad cop" routine being played out before us. "Respect our beliefs (of course - as we respect yours!) or we really cannot be held responsible for what some of our younger men will do about you being so unreasonable." The Islamist leadership need not bother with this charade while our leaders seem very willing to accept any excuse to capitulate.
And if we stubbornly remain uninterested in the details of this religion - its doctrines and history - how will we ascertain what such goals might be? What is worse is that today it is not only us in Muslim lands but Muslims in our lands and the issues simply must be reckoned with at some stage. Surely we should have the upper hand in this struggle to retain our own way of life. Yet to observe our leaders is to believe the opposite.
We should take the warning. But we won't.
Is that too pessimistic of me?
I really don't think so.
You see, there really is nothing new under the Sun.
Islam’s Thousand Year War on Christendom
At a time when Catholic youth are taught that Islam means peace, pilgrimage and prayer, and Catholic adults are under the impression that Muslims are a misunderstood minority who only want to share their values and their baba ghanoush, it’s refreshing to occasionally make contact with reality.
I mean “refreshing” here in the sense that a dive into chilly waters is refreshing. I just finished reading Raymond Ibrahim’s Sword and Scimitar, a history of fourteen centuries of war between Islam and the West, and the effect is similar to the shocked-awake effect of a plunge into cold water.
Not that I didn’t have a general acquaintance with the history, but one tends to forget the details, and the devil, as they say, is in the details. Ibrahim supplies plenty of those. Moreover, the details are so shocking that one is inclined to think that the devil was intimately involved in the centuries-long jihad against Christendom.
Indeed, that’s exactly what many Christians of those times did think. Muhammad and Islam were frequently referred to by popes and peasants alike as “demonic,” “diabolic,” and “satanic.” For their part, Muslims had a particular hatred of Christians. They considered the Christian belief in Christ’s divinity to be a great sin against Allah. Wherever Muslim armies went they desecrated and destroyed churches, broke crosses and statues, and made a particular point of violating nuns and torturing priests and monks.
In short, the violent conflicts between Muslims and Christians were primarily religious wars, not, as many modern historians suggest, wars for resources or national interests. Some historians, it seems, are less interested in past events than in finding ways to fit those events into contemporary narratives. Their primary source is their own subjective “modern” outlook. By contrast, Ibrahim, who reads both Arabic and Greek, lets the Muslim and Christian witnesses to past events speak for themselves. Thus, when speaking of the Janissaries—Christian boys who were snatched from their parents and forced to become soldiers of Islam—Ibrahim, relying on centuries-old manuscripts, recounts the horror of the abductions, the abuse of the boys, and their transformation into Islamic true believers who were then turned loose against their former kin. By contrast, according to modern academics, the indoctrination of the Janissaries was “the equivalent of sending a child away for a prestigious education and training for a lucrative career.”
Despite the passage of more than a thousand years, the Muslim-Christian conflict was marked by certain constants. There is a remarkable continuity of belief and behavior—especially on the part of the Muslims.
One of the recurring themes is that of world conquest commanded by Allah. Muslims justified all of their wars and depredations during this immense stretch of history by referring to the Koran and to the words and deeds of Muhammad. Muslim leaders did not look upon their conquests as simply local affairs, but as stepping stones to subjugating the earth. Thus, two common refrains across the centuries were “we will stable our horses in Constantinople” and “we will stable our horses in Rome”—and this from warlords who may have been more than a thousand miles distant from either Rome or Constantinople. When, in 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams inquired of Tripoli’s ambassador to Britain why the Barbary States preyed on American shipping, they were informed that according to the laws of their prophet, Muslims had a “right and duty” to make war on all nations that did not acknowledge their authority.
Another constant over the centuries is what Ibrahim calls the “win-win” bargain. Whether a Muslim lived or died in battle, he was guaranteed a reward either way. If he survived a raid or battle he would be rewarded with plunder, slaves, and concubines. If he died, all his sins would be forgiven by Allah, and he would be saved from the tortures of hell. In addition, he would be rewarded in paradise with food, drink, and seventy-two “eternally young” virgins (houris). Indeed, Muslim officers and preachers would circulate among the troops before battle, reassuring them of their immortal rewards should they die in battle. Many early chronicles attributed Muslim zeal and fanaticism in battle to the “win-win” incentive.
Still another constant was slavery. One modern historian observes that “the Islamic jihad looks uncomfortably like a giant slave trade.” The number of the enslaved was astronomical. It was not unusual for a campaign to result in the enslavement of 100,000 people. Between 1530 and 1780, the Barbary Coast Muslims enslaved at least a million Europeans. Some three million Slavs—Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, and Ukrainians—were enslaved between 1450 and 1783. Millions more were taken captive by the Muslim conquerors of Spain [Graeme: Ah! The Golden Age of Andalusian tolerance!]. One caliph, Abd al-Rahman III, had 3,750 slaves and 6,300 concubines.
Slaving raids were also carried out in Ireland, England, Denmark, and as far away as Iceland and Scandinavia. Slaves were used for labor, as soldiers, and as concubines. White slaves were highly prized, especially blonde and red-headed girls and women. Black slaves were routinely castrated. Although few Americans are aware of the fact, the Arab and Ottoman slave trade lasted far longer than the Atlantic slave trade and resulted in the loss of many more lives.
Even America did not escape the reach of Islamic jihad. In its formative years, as Ibrahim points out, America was forced to make jizya payments—amounting to 16 percent of the federal budget—to Algeria for the release of captured American sailors. Indeed, America’s first war as a nation was a war against Islam. Over a period of thirty-two years, the American navy fought an intermittent war to put an end to the Barbary States’ attacks on American shipping. That is what is referred to by the “shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps hymn.
Sword and Scimitar puts to rest several important myths. One of these myths is that Christians were the aggressors in this long and bloody conflict. This is decidedly not the case. For example, the modern idea that “the crusades were unprovoked wars of conquest” is demonstrably false. As Ibrahim points out, the crusades were a very belated response to 400 years of Muslim conquest. Two-thirds of the Christian world had already been devoured by Muslim armies before Pope Urban II made his appeal to the knights of Christendom. Many regions which are now solidly Muslim were once Christian. All of the twenty-two nations which now comprise the “Arab world” in the Middle East and North Africa were Christian. The same is true of Turkey, whose capital, Constantinople, was once the center of Christendom.
Perhaps the major lesson of Ibrahim’s timely book is that little has changed over the centuries. One of the misleading myths of our time is that al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and other major terrorist groups have perverted the meaning of Islam. They are variously described as having “hijacked,” “distorted,” or “misunderstood” the true message of Islam. History says otherwise. According to Ibrahim, “this book…records a variety of Muslims across time and space behaving exactly like the Islamic State and for the same reasons.” “Muslim hostility to the West,” he observes, “is not an aberration but a continuation of Islamic history.” Against today’s wishful thinking about Islam’s peaceful intentions, Sword and Scimitar documents “what Muslims have actually done to and in the West for centuries.”
The historical record also reveals two perennial weaknesses of the Western response to Islam. One is disunity. There were several cases of Christians failing to come to the aid of other Christians. And there were even cases of Christians taking the side of Islam. Protestant Queen Elizabeth I formed an alliance with the Barbary pirates against Catholic Spain, and Protestant Count Tholky of Hungary actually marched with the Turks against Catholic Vienna. Likewise, some Catholic rulers had more interest in fighting other Christians than in fighting the Turks. According to one historian, King Charles V “would spend more time, money, and energy fighting the French and the Protestants than he ever devoted to the war with Suleiman.” More shamefully, Louis XIV supported the Ottoman siege of Vienna with men, money, and engineers. When Jan Sobieski’s victorious army inspected the field of battle, “a great many French” bodies were found alongside the Turks.
A second Western weakness was indifference. Many Western leaders took little notice of approaching threats until Muslim armies were on their doorstep. As Pope Sixtus IV warned European rulers:
Let them not think that they are protected against invasion, those who are at a distance from the theatre of war! They, too, will bow the neck beneath the yoke…unless they come forward to meet the invader.
Even though the distance between peoples as measured by days and weeks has shrunk drastically, many in the West today still maintain an attitude of indifference toward the threat from Islam. They think that the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa can’t happen to them. And many in America are unaware of the accelerating Islamization of Europe. They would do well to heed Pope Sixtus IV’s words: “Let them not think that they are protected against invasion.”
Can’t happen in the here and now? As Sword and Scimitar ably demonstrates, what has happened over and over in the past is very likely to happen again.
William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com