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Raymond Ibrahim on Christians Who Defended the West from Islamic Conquest

MIDDLE EAST FORUM - Marilyn Stern - JAN 27, 2023

Raymond Ibrahim, a Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a fellow at both the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Gatestone Institute, spoke to a January 27th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about his latest book, Defenders of the West: The Christian Heroes Who Stood Against Islam. The following is a summary of his comments:

Ibrahim's recent book is a complement to his previous book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, which focused on eight decisive battles between the Islamic world and the West. In Ibrahim's earlier book, he described how the map changed from 632 to 732 A.D. after the Christian majority and Jewish minority that existed throughout North Africa and the Middle East were "swallowed up" by Islamic jihadi wars following Mohammed's death. Islamic jihad "went on in perpetuity," with Asia Minor falling to the Turks and Spain undergoing Islamic conquest over the centuries. Jihad even spread as far as Iceland in the sixteenth century. America's Barbary Wars were fought against Muslims who attacked American ships in the Mediterranean Sea and enslaved their sailors. Thomas Jefferson met with the Barbary ambassador, who told him the reason for the Muslim attacks against Americans was the Islamic faith's commandment that Muslims commit jihad against the infidel.

In Defenders of the West, Ibrahim focused on "eight decisive men," Christians who fought against jihad waged by the Ottomans in the Holy Land, by the Moors in Spain, and by varied sultans and caliphs in the Balkans. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that the willingness of the European people to fight against Muslim invasions, from the seventh through the seventeenth century, saved Christian Europe. Ibrahim's "main takeaway" from the book is summed up in Roosevelt's quote: "Whenever the Muhammadans have had complete sway, wherever the Christians have been unable to resist them by the sword, Christianity has ultimately disappeared."

One of these Christians who fought jihad was George Kastrioti, known as Skanderbeg. It was Ottoman practice to take young European Christians hostage in the conquered Balkans, forcibly convert them to Islam, and train them to become "Janissaries," Islamic slave soldiers. These Janissaries were then "let loose on their former kin." Such was Kastrioti's fate, and as he grew, he rose through the ranks to command thousands.

During the Ottoman assault on Albania in the 1400s, Kastrioti broke free and returned to Albania, where he took charge of a force of guerilla fighters against the Ottomans, who then considered him a traitor. Even though the Ottomans waged war in Albania in repeated battles and outnumbered his forces, Skanderbeg's fighters persevered for the next quarter century. He lived to an old age and died in battle, after which Albania "came under the Ottoman orbit." Generally, jihadis gave conquered peoples three choices: submit and live under Islam as a second-class citizen and pay the "jizya" tax (tribute); convert to Islam; or fight. Albania was placed under a coercive climate in which it would have been far worse to do anything other than convert, which is why Albania is a Muslim majority nation in Europe today.

Ibrahim documented that Ottoman caliphs and sultans meted out the same barbarism that the jihadis of the Islamic State currently commit when met with any resistance to the Islamic imperative to wage jihad against the infidel. Lessons about the Crusades taught by progressive professors occur in a vacuum and ignore the historical events during the four centuries that preceded the Crusades when Islam repeatedly invaded and attacked Europe. After a particularly bloodthirsty jihad waged by the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor against Christians, mainly Armenians, the Byzantine emperor called on the pope to launch the Crusades. To assert the current narrative that Islam's aggressive militancy "is not part of Islam proper" is "absurd" when historically, Islam was "like ISIS" in that it exhibited a similar pattern of conduct in the perceived imperative to conquer "infidels."

Ibrahim describes seventeenth century Europe as the turning point when the Christian resistance to Islamic aggression was weakened by the Reformation under Martin Luther and Protestantism's split from the Catholic Church. At first, to distinguish his brand of Christianity from Catholicism, Martin Luther preached non-resistance when the Muslims encircled Vienna in 1529. As the Muslims advanced closer to his locale in Germany, however, his message changed to that of resistance.

Ibrahim finds that today's attitude among Christians and other non-Muslims is to avoid confrontation, making a "virtue out of cowardice." Particularly given the blood and treasure squandered after two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, the West's capitulation to the Taliban, who are no different than al Qaeda, lies in stark contrast to the profiles of courage of Christians who fought jihad in the past. Consider the negative impact today of the massive immigration into European nations by millions of Muslims. Sweden is essentially known as "the rape capital" of Europe, and the "grooming scandals" in England and Germany are in contrast to Eastern Europe, where those problems have not occurred because Muslim migration is severely restricted.

Pope Francis has taken an ecumenical approach in his outreach to the Egyptian Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb. Although they meet in conferences such as the one in Dubai and publicize their pronouncements of "brotherly love," the imam's statements made to Muslims in Egypt are quite to the contrary. The imam's suggestion that death should be a punishment for apostates, his insistence that blasphemers should be punished, and his refusal to denounce Islamic State/ISIS signify that Christians are being "duped" when they engage in a "naïve" approach of self-delusion that advances false narratives.

Ibrahim is not advocating the approach taken by the men profiled in Defenders of the West. Despite the fact that Christian minorities are currently under attack in many countries in the Islamic world, taking up arms as a defense is impractical. Instead, Ibrahim thinks the lesson is there for the Western world to see. In order to help persecuted Christians and other minorities in the Islamic world, "economic intervention" is more effective. Many of these countries are dependent on financial aid from America. He urges the U.S. to take a "firmer, bolder stance against unjust, unwarranted Islamic aggression" by insisting that "you need to improve your human rights, or you get nothing."

Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.

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