France Learns about Islam’s 1,400 Year Assault

Raymond Ibrahim’s 2018 book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, was recently translated into French and published in France.  In connection, Arnaud Imatz of the French website La Nef, interviewed him. An abbreviated, English version of that interview follows:

The American Raymond Ibrahim has just published a fascinating and erudite history of the centuries-old conflicts between Islam and Christianity: L'épée et le cimeterre (Jean-Cyrille Godefroy Editions). This book is the almost exhaustive account of the fourteen centuries of antagonisms and fights, major or minor, which took place…. A historian, linguist and philologist, and a specialist in oriental languages, Ibrahim has methodically exploited first-hand sources, both Muslim and "Western", and has consulted numerous manuscripts from the Library of Congress in Washington. His book is not only a detailed chronicle of the battles, it is also and above all a rigorous analysis of the intentions and strategies of the various warring leaders. Ibrahim shows that the Muslim forces were essentially obeying a religious, messianic, expansionist, conquering logic, whereas the Christian armies wanted above all to recover territories that for centuries had been Roman, Greek and Christian. He also shows that the religious fervor of today's Islamists overlaps exactly with ancestral Islamic dogmas, that Western reactions are 1400-year-old self-defense mechanisms, and that current rivalries are the reflection of a very old existential struggle. We interviewed him for La Nef. 

La Nef: Is the hostility between Islam and Christianity an accident of history or is it part of the continuity of Islamic history? 

Ibrahim: It is most certainly part of a continuum.  The problem is that modern historians tend to sideline this religious aspect, and focus instead on national identities.  For example, we know that for centuries, a great array of “Eastern” people invaded and sometimes conquered portions of Europe.  Modern historians give them a variety of names -- including Arabs, Moors, Berbers, Turks, and Tatars; other times they call them Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, and Ottomans.  What modern historians fail to do, however, is point out that all these groups relied on the same exact jihadist logic and rhetoric that contemporary terrorist groups such as the Islamic State do today.  Whether it was the Arabs (or “Saracens”) who first invaded Christendom in the seventh century, or the Turks and Tatars who terrorized Eastern Europe into the eighteenth century -- all of them justified their invasions by citing Islamic teaching, namely, that it is Islam’s “destiny” to rule the whole world through the means of jihad.  They also followed the classical juridical injunctions of, for example, offering the “infidels” three choices before battle -- conversion to Islam, acceptance of dhimmi status and payment of tribute (jizya), or death.  And, once they conquered a Christian area, they immediately destroyed or transformed churches into mosques, and sold whichever Christians were not slaughtered into abject, and often sexual, slavery. 

The degree to which the modern “West” fails to realize this is evident in its claim that groups like the Islamic State are not behaving according to Islamic teaching and doctrine.  In fact, not only are they acting in strict accordance with Islam’s traditional worldview -- hating, combating, killing and enslaving infidels -- but they often intentionally emulate the great jihadists of history (such as Khalid bin al-Walid, the “Sword of Allah”) whom the West tends to know nothing about.

La Nef: Is it your opinion that the term "West" masks the real history because it suggests that the "Eastern" and North African lands conquered by Islam (Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, North Africa), that is to say two thirds of the original Christian territories, were not really part of the Greco-Roman Christian heritage, contrary to what is usually said of the Christian regions of the Balkans or Hispania?

Ibrahim: Yes, just as post-Christian Europe and its offshoots (America, Australia, etc.) fail to understand Islam’s true history, so too do they fail to understand their own true history -- especially as impacted by Islam. What is now referred to as “the West” was for centuries known and demarcated by the territorial extent of its religion (hence the older and historically more accurate term, “Christendom”). It included all the lands you mention and more; they had become Christian, many centuries before Islam arrived and were part of the same overarching civilization. Then Islam came and violently conquered the majority of those territories, some permanently (the Middle East, North Africa, Anatolia), some temporarily (Spain, the Balkans, the Mediterranean islands).  During this time, most of Europe became the last and most redoubtable bastion of Christendom not to be conquered though constantly attacked by Islam. In this (forgotten) sense, the term “the West” becomes ironically accurate.  For the West was actually and literally the westernmost remnant of what was a much more extensive civilizational block that Islam permanently severed.  Overall, however, the term “the West” shortchanges its own history with and truncation by Islam. It further implies that all those “Eastern” lands conquered by Islam were never part of “Western civilization,” when in fact they were the original inheritors of its Greco-Roman and Christian heritage. 

La Nef: The battle of Manzikert, which was for the Turks what Yarmuz was for the Arabs, is celebrated as a great victory of Islam by Erdogan and Turkish dignitaries. On the other hand, the leaders of countries like France and Spain prefer to ignore or underestimate the historical importance of Tours-Poitiers or Las Navas de Tolosa. Many French scholars no longer consider the battle of Poitiers-Tour (732) as a "turning point" but rather as a "minor raid episode." Should we see in this attitude signs of the revival of fighting Islam and, conversely, of European pacifism and renunciation? 

Ibrahim: Yes, you should most certainly see this, because that is precisely what these attitudes signify.  But I would argue that, for the European elite, the matter is worse than merely “downplaying” their ancestors’ defensive victories against Islam. Some are actively condemning them.  For a growing number of Spaniards, for example, the Reconquista -- centuries of warfare to liberate Spain from Islam -- is a source of shame, a reminder of how “intolerant” and “backwards” their forbears were, particularly vis-à-vis the supposedly “tolerant” and “advanced” Muslims of al-Andalus.  In reality, the shame such elites have for their ancestors, and the praise they have for their ancestors’ enemies, is indicative of the degree to which they have been indoctrinated in a “history” that is antithetical to reality.

La Nef: The feeling of Christian solidarity has disappeared nowadays not only among European politicians and chancelleries but more generally in public opinion. What about Muslims who know the history of Islam? Do they consider the concept of jihad against the infidels to be an integral part of Islam?  

Ibrahim: Yes they do, certainly the ones learned in history -- and the average Muslim is by far much more learned in Islamic history than the average European is in their own history. Worse and as mentioned, Europeans tend to be “learned” -- that is, indoctrinated -- in false histories, ones designed to demonize their past and heritage, while whitewashing the past and heritage of others, in this case, Muslims.  Jihad against infidels is indeed an integral part of Islam, documented and validated everywhere -- in the Koran, hadith (and subsequently Sunna), and the consensus of the umma.  No authoritative Muslim cleric (or ‘alim, singular for ‘ulema -- “they who know”) past or present, has ever denied this -- except, of course, when speaking before “infidel” audiences and practicing taqiyya.

La Nef: Are the "militant", "extremist" or "Islamist" Muslims faithful to Islam or are they holding it hostage to their own political interests? 

Ibrahim: The bottom line is this: there is hardly anything that these types of Muslims do that is not already part of their religion and heritage.  For example, all the depravities the Islamic State engaged in -- enslaving, selling, and buying infidel “sex slaves”; beheading, crucifying, and even burning infidels alive; destroying or turning churches into mosques -- were committed countless times over the centuries by Muslims, always in the name of jihad.  Such depravities are, moreover, defined as at least “permissible” in Islamic law. How then can we call such Muslims “militant” and “extreme”? Seems more logical to call Islam itself “militant” and “extreme,” no? 

Image: Charles de Steuben

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