Wednesday, March 11, 2009


It could have been very different. There is nothing special in the genes of any race that required a given outcome, a given culture. A civilization is the result of historical accidents and powerful personalities, of institutions and traditions, of geography and geopolitics. Switzerland could have been Rwanda. On a grand scale, the human world is shaped by the borders on its map, and it is more cultures than politicians that make the borders. Where civilizations abut, well, these are the fault lines on which geopolitical earthquakes occur.

With this in mind, we may find a few key points in history where everything, everything might have changed. Thermopylae. Carthage. Constantinople. But let’s look at two. After Islam took Mecca, and Arabia, and Persia and Egypt and Syria, and Central Asia and much of India, and North Africa and Spain -- after these conquests, achieved in a mere century, its ambition turned further north, to France and all of Europe.

The hinge of fate: a single fierce battle, the Battle of Tours, October 10, 732, where Charles Martel -- the “Hammer” -- met with Emir Abdul Rahman between the Clain and Vienne rivers near Poitiers. Charles’ foot soldiers, one-fourth the number of the enemy, withstood wave upon wave of charging cavalry, and would not be broken. Rather, they beat back the invader -- out of France, over the Pyrenees, down into Spain -- who remained there for another three-quarters of a millennium -- and where they have returned, as they have returned to France.

Had the Moor prevailed, Europe would have been roused from its Dark Age, surely -- into the Classical Age of Islam. And every purely Western institution, the ground from which we spring, would have perished.

Again, that great Turk, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, set his eyes on the north and made himself the master of Central Europe, into most of Hungary -- where the Turks remained for more than a century. Then, twenty-three generations after the Battle of Tours, another turning point, where the Moslems -- twice the number of the Christians -- camped outside the besieged Gates of Vienna.

September 11 and 12, 1683. After a full day’s fighting, Sobieski, King of Poland, led the cavalry charge which broke through into the Ottoman camps, routed the enemy and took the day. And the war. And Europe. Had the Turks won, Europe would have been overrun and conquered, relieved of its incessant internecine squabbling, inducted into a vast Pax Islamica that would soon have subdued all the world.

For if Islam had taken Europe, what would remain to restrain it? Britain conquered India, and an Islamic Britain would have made an Islamic India. Europe in its days of empire dominated China -- in pieces, because Europe was divided. A united Moslem Europe would have overrun and converted China. South America is Catholic, because Spain was Catholic. It would be Moslem. North America is Protestant, and would be Moslem. What’s left -- Australia? Not hard to figure. A Moslem world. A few animist tribes in Africa. Fierce Japan might yet be Shinto. Israel? Don’t make me laugh.

And if Europe had been made to be Moslem? If Christianity remained only as a remnant of minor sects, as with the Nestorians, Chaldeans and Copts? If the Classical heritage of Greece and Rome had been supplanted by the Classical heritage of Mecca and Medina? Well, the Umayyads made way for the Abbasid caliphs, who fell before the Mongols, who yielded to the Ottomans. Today we would expect the Turks, or some other ascendant Caliphate, to govern all the world as Islam has always governed. If we look at Moslem civilization absent the influence of the West -- because there would be no “West,” but only a western branch of Islam -- what might we expect?

Moslem culture is not given to technical innovation. It is backward-looking -- Koran-ward-looking. It is not materially inventive. This is no slight to Islam. The Greeks were not inventive. The Romans weren’t either -- practical as far as architecture and battle tactics, but just another ancient civilization. What ingenuity existed in this regard, throughout the non-Western non-Modern world, was exhibited only in, say, clockwork automata hidden away in Imperial Courts. Arab minds possess as much intelligence as those of any group, but Islamic culture does not favor the tall poppies. The Potentate mows them to the level that poppies ought to reach. Magnificent Suleimans will always rise, but the glory of Suleiman did not extend to technical innovations. And absolute monarchies -- especially the universal monarchy which Islam would have itself to be -- are always subject to the whim of reactionaries. Consider the Emperors of China: Shi Huang burned all the books; Jin Xizong killed countless officials for criticizing him; Yingzong closed the ports.

We cannot know for a certainty what a Moslem world would be, but we know what it would not be. We do know slavery would still exist throughout the world, as it still does in the hinterlands of Islam -- and here we find a use for the infidels who might still remain. No Wilberforce, to preach a Moslem gospel of liberty. There is no such doctrine. We know women would be chattel, half the value of a man, as the Koran, frankly, requires. No suffragettes are tolerated, in Mecca. Wealth would be the right of Sheiks, and favor would be the means to advancement; for so does the non-Westernized Moslem world function today. Sharia would be enforced, or not enforced, but it would be the law, the constitution of the world.

That’s what the world would be. What would it not be? Free.

History, like the life of every individual, balances on a pin point, and could fall in any direction. Anyone who values the culture, the civilization of the West -- cradled in Europe and nurtured in the Americas, in Australia, in those lands and islands whose soil favors freedom -- all owe a profoundest debt to those defenders who fought with swords and axes in the central west of France, who fought with arrows and muskets on the walls and fields of Vienna. They did not know how mighty was their cause. They thought only to save their own land in their own time. But they saved us, too. Might we draw some lesson from these men who died so long ago fighting this familiar enemy? Might we consider what it is that this foe would win, and what their victory would mean to us, and what it would mean to our distant descendants, should they survive?

The battle is no small thing. These are perilous and pivotal times. It is a time for heroes.


No comments: