Civilization is in essence the fight against poverty, disease and contingency. The grand history of civilization is the fight against nomadism, already defined by Zarathoustra as the enemy of civilization.
The Visigoths thrived in Spain and the South of France during 300 years but lost to the Muslim cavalry that invaded Spain in 711 and disappeared. The Francs stopped the Muslim cavalcade at Poitiers in 732. The reason for the Franks’ success at Poitiers was that they were Roman Catholics and that the lines of communication and supply of the Muslim armies had been stretched too far: the Muslim army they faced was a shadow of the forces that had invaded Spain. The failure of the Visigoths at Jerez de la Frontera was not their poor fighting ability but their incapacity to mobilize a population indifferent to its lot despite the conversion of the Visigoths to Orthodoxy, while the Jews collaborated with the Muslims in the conquest.
The first jihad had trusted immense territories into the hands of the Arab Muslims but North Europe and Byzantium escaped occupation. The Sunnite caliphs learned to live with that and abandoned the spirit of conquest advocated by the Koran, to embrace without retinue a spirit of hedonism. For a Muslim, religious opulence is normal because he does not distinguish between the spiritual and the temporal. Mahomet retained for his own use 10% of the benefits of war and razzias. Evangelic poverty makes for a Muslim no sense. Corruption, concussion and prevarication of the clergy are, in Islam, within normality.
The sack of Rome and its harbor Ostia by Muslim armies in 846 was ill-accepted by Pope Leo IV, who elaborated a strategy of defense of Christendom modeled on the precepts of the Koran: pardon of offences to those engaged in Jihad, and eternal life in heaven for the martyrs of the cause. Yet, peace between the Empires lasted 300 years, the first crusade being opposed by the Arabs without a desire of conquest of new territories. In 1182, the Frank Reynald of Chatillon, who commanded the “Crac des Chevaliers” (fig. 11.9), violated the treaty established between the Christian king of Jerusalem and Saladin, which provoked the second Jihad. It was of small amplitude, Saladin being content to behead by his own hand the greedy Reynald, and take Jerusalem in 1187. He justified to the Caliphate the allowance of the continuous presence of Roman Christians in Palestine by a fructuous commerce in weapons and slaves. In 1229, the brilliant Germanic emperor Frederic II negotiated a general settlement. Frederick II was cynical probably because he was intelligent and civilized. He founded the University of Naples without the authorization of the Church but strictly controlled its teaching: no heresy was tolerated. He had a corps of elite Muslim soldiers who successfully fought the papal armies in southern Italy. He conducted a Crusade while excommunicated. He spoke 11 languages, including Arabic, and his ability to speak Arabic gave him significant political successes. All was thus well.
The Arabs failed to control the Seljucid Turks who had prospered along the transcontinental Silk Road. Islamized but rustic, the Seljucid Turks challenged the Caliphate and invaded Palestine in 1244. The necessities of commerce and the accommodations of the Arabs with the most murderous recommendations of the Koran were alien to them and they expelled the Christians while applying with the utmost rigor the conquering and intolerant obligations of the Koran toward unbelievers. Muslim Spain turned integrist and intolerant in the 11th century, when the North African Almoravids, Berbers as fanatic as Turks, took power and initiated the persecution of the Christians.
Nomads conquered China in 1215 and ruled the country until 1912. The Mongols occupied Russia in 1223 and remained there until 1552. In 1235, the great Khan Ogadaï sent three armies, against Korea, against China and against Europe. Never in History had the world endured a more terrible devastation, from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic and Adriatic seas. Frederick II saw the danger and warned against it, to no avail. What saved Europe and Christendom was the timely death of Ogadaï and the return of the army to Karakoroum, for the election of a new khan. Had Ogadaï lived longer, the whole of Christianity would have been wiped out. Spain was conquered by Islam in 711 and completely evacuated only in 1492. Muslims occupied India until June 23, 1757. The Balkans were occupied by the Ottomans in 1389 and remained Muslim until 1683. At one time, nearly the whole of the known world was under the Nomad yoke.
China organized maritime expeditions but the fleet was dismantled, and it became in 1551 a crime for a Chinese to travel abroad. After 1757, the whole foreign trade of China was carried on at Canton where alone foreign merchants were allowed to reside. North-western Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia escaped the rule of the Nomad but Japan closed its doors to foreigners in 1637 and Southeast Asia was handicapped with a debilitating climate. Europe alone remained, which could develop its singular abrasive sedentary civilization. It proved a threat to Muslim dominance when Portuguese galleons destroyed a Muslim fleet off Diu, in 1509. The guns of the Portuguese sank the Muslim ships before boarding could take place. The combat between sedentariness and nomadism crystallized in a combat between Christendom and Islam.
Islam is reluctant to adopt innovations. The Muslim revelation is a perfection, and a breach of custom and tradition is disproved of. Mohamed said : “The worst things are those that are novelties. Every novelty is an innovation, every innovation is an error, and every error leads to Hellfire”. Observation of tradition is good, and it is by this that Sunni Islam is defined. Departure from tradition is bid’a, and is bad. This is perhaps the nearest Muslim approach to the Christian concept of heresy. However, the Janissaries of the Ottoman empire risked hellfire and adopted the firearms devised by the West (fig 16.5).
Figure 16.5. Janissary musketeers. The long-barreled muskets are characteristic of the corps.
The adoption of fire arms by the Ottomans, wherewith they conquered Constantinople and Budapest, and besieged Vienna, made the threat overwhelming. A military reaction of Christendom seemed the sole possible. Islam lost the fight for world supremacy in 1683, before Vienna. This was followed by the reconquest of Orthodox lands by Russia and of Catholic lands by the Germanic empire (Austrian as well as Spanish), which ended up with the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire in 1919. The occupation of Muslim lands continued until the end of WWII, with Palestine appropriated by Jews. It resumed after September 11, 2001, subsequent to the airborne attack of civil targets in the USA (fig. 16.6). One may wonder if the military reaction of the USA following the aggression it underwent on 11 September 2001 was appropriate.
Figure 16.6. The destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in New York, on 11th September 2001. One hundred minutes after being struck on the 90th floor by a plane, the 110-story, 415 meter-high North Tower collapsed into a six-story high pile of rubble, with a 2.3-magnitude seismic shock. The collapse is probably due to the intense heat –up to 1000°C- from the nearly 30,000 kilogram of burning jet fuel. It was a civil target that made 3000 victims, and 300 New York firemen lost their life in the rescue operation. As is so common in human affairs, the organizers of this attack did not foresee the magnitude of the destruction they inflicted. The White House and the Pentagon were also targeted.
Muslims are brought up in the idea of the necessity of perpetual war against the unbelievers, war that will undoubtedly lead to their total subjugation. This final victory will allow the Muslims to exploit the unbelievers in a regime called dhimmitude. No other issue is foreseen. A Muslim draws no distinction between the temporal and the spiritual. Hence, all regions with an Islamic dominance in non-Muslim countries will sooner or later demand secession or domination of the whole country, in order to fully participate to the Umma, i.e. the community of the believers.
The superiority of Christian values of civilization is manifest by the contemporary development of countries as India, China, Japan and South-East Asia, either freed from Islamic rulers by Western colonization or else included within the concert of Nations by Christian powers, versus the poverty of the Islamic lands. The contemporary discrepancy in development of Bangladesh and Pakistan, which choose to remain Muslim, and India, that accepted diversity and religious freedom after the departure of the British, is striking. Landes stressed that the European expansionism was an epiphenomenon in History, which inflicted apocalyps to some and amendable humiliations to others. Landes did not recognize the deleterious impact of the nomad occupations some countries suffered, and the acquired nomad nature of others. Nations pregnant with a sedentary culture adopted the occidental style of life of the colonizers, as England and Holland had developed it or as France proposed it but these carried not the same cultural values and this will reflect on the final outcome.
Islam, from Pakistan and Bangladesh to Morocco, seems unable to progress in development. But in Europe itself, progress was not uniform: only in a few of the European medieval nations did innovation work and prosper. The economic expansion of Europe was favored by a series of innovations and structural adaptations initiated from the bottom, originating in some rare privileged regions and propagating thereafter by the example. The elite followed, but did not lead.