During an interview regarding the recent suicide attack on Kabul airport, a former Navy SEAL quipped that no one making military decisions for the United States seems to have read a history book. Lack of knowledge, he implied, is partly why America is suffering a humiliating and unconscionable defeat in Afghanistan.
Here, then, is a short skeletal history of Muslim-Christian relations beginning with Islam’s founding in 622 AD by Muhammad, an Arab military leader intent on unifying the Arab world and conquering the rest. The lessons learned might put us on the right path forward.
Muhammad died in 632 and, soon thereafter, his followers began Muslim military advances into the Christian Levant. In your mind’s eye, if you can picture the Mediterranean Sea on your left, the landmass to its right – Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and part of Turkey—is known as the Levant, which means the place where the sun rises. A great trading center in ancient and medieval times, conquering the Levant was the Muslims’ first great conquest over the Christian Greeks at the Battle of Yarmuk, in 636, only four years after Muhammad’s death. Jerusalem surrendered in 638.
Islam pushed on vigorously after this battle, sweeping over North Africa, uniting Arab countries, and setting its sights on conquering Constantinople, the Greek capital. Today, Constantinople is known as Istanbul and is part of Turkey. In 717, however, at what is known as the Siege of Constantinople, 80,000 Muslim troops and 1,880 galleys laid siege to the city. Possessing the equivalent of napalm, a fire that is very difficult to put out, the Greeks set fire to the galleys and after a year of siege and attack without success, Muslim forces retreated.
This Christian victory is thought to have slowed Muslim conquest of Europe but Islam penetrated Europe by crossing the Gibraltar Strait into Spain. Not content, in 732, Muslim forces moved north into what is now France. At this time France, western Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands were part of the Frankish Empire, led by Charles Martel, or Charles the Hammer, and his victory over the Muslim attack at the Battle of Tours, in France, is credited with reversing Islam’s spread in Europe. Christianity, not fully established in Western Europe at this time, began to unify Western Civilization around the Roman Catholic Church.
here is one of the great moments of history. Were it not for Charles Martel, Europe would have been swept up in the advance of Islam instead of the advance of Christianity. One of the differences is Christianity’s mental openness to science and intellectual inquiry – hence the rise of the great universities of Europe and Europe’s eventual influence on America.
The story does not end here. The struggle continued back and forth for another 1,289 years. Muslim Turks defeated the Christian Greeks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Greeks had re-conquered the Levant in the 1100s but lost again at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. Back and forth it went. Muslim victories – then Christian victories – finally ending at the Siege of Acre in 1291 when the last of the Crusader influence was dispelled from the Holy Lands and the Hospitallers moved to Cyprus and Rhodes, where they held out until 1523.
Islam had conquered Spain. Islam had conquered the Holy Lands. Islam had conquered the Levant.
Islam laid siege to the Greek capital, Constantinople, which surrendered in 1453. That surrender marks the end of the Roman Empire and a victory for the Muslim Ottomans.
Painstakingly, Western Civilization began to fight back. Spain was re-conquered at the Battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212. A fleet of the Holy League, mostly from Spain and Venice, fought the last rowing naval battle at Lepanto, in 1571, routing the Muslims. Finally, in 1683, the Muslim Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire fought it out literally at the gates of Vienna. The Ottoman defeat there meant that Islam ceased to be a menace to the West, especially with the Ottoman Empire’s and caliphate’s final dissolution on March 23, 1924, after World War I.
America was colonized by Christian Europe, specifically Protestant Christian Europe, beginning in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Americans take for granted the intense battle for humanity’s mind that this history represents. The notion of natural individual rights through a Creator; the notion of the development of the person (male or female); the notion of personal Liberty; the notion of people as a reflection of the divine—the undergirding of our way of life is the result of being on the Western side of this war.
We are now at the Battle of Afghanistan, 2021. Because our military and political leaders have not read a history book, they deem it a 20-year war, but they are wrong. It is a thirteen-hundred-and-eighty-nine-year war that we will lose because we do not know we are in it.
The Navy SEAL was right. Our political and military leaders make decisions without a clue. We had a stable and neutralized position in Afghanistan, with very few troops, that served as a check on Islamic Jihad and the rise of an Islamic caliphate and harsh Sharia Law.
We do not need to be there to nation-build—something that anyone who knows history knows cannot be successful. We are there because Islam decided to attack the West once again in 2001. We are there to save Western Civilization. We cannot allow a humiliating defeat.