September 11, 2006


The Victory of September 11, 1565 (Paul J. Cella III, 11 Sep 2006, Tech Central Station)

In March of 1565, a fleet of nearly 200 vessels, bearing some 40,000 soldiers (including 6,500 elite shock troops known as the Janissaries), assembled in the Golden Horn for the Sultan's inspection. Dragut made two astute recommendations: move against the isle early in the season, and detach a significant flotilla to menace the Spanish mainland, thereby preventing aid from the Emperor. Once the invasion began, the more confident among the Sultan's advisers anticipated the victory to come -- in a matter of days.

The victory never came. Across Europe news of the bravery of Knights -- outnumbered five to one or more -- rang like a great tocsin. All throughout that brutal summer on the sun-baked isle, the Turks had been repulsed, time after time, in their attempts to take the Christian fortresses of Malta. One such fortress had been reduced to rubble by Turkish artillery, and its garrison (almost every one of them already dead) desecrated by enraged Turks; but the other had held. Casualties among the Sultan's army had been terrible, and disease ran rampant. The stiffness of the resistance, added to the depredations of pestilence and heatstroke, had won for Western Christians their first great victory over the Turk. La Valette's final address to his men has come down to us:

A formidable army composed of audacious barbarians is descending on this island. These persons, my brothers, are the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today it is a question of the defense of our faith -- as to whether the Gospels are to be superseded by the Koran. God on this occasion demands of us our lives, already vowed to his service. Happy will be those who first consummate this sacrifice.

The date of this victory has for us a certain resonance: it was September 11, 1565.

From that day we may date the decline of Turkish power on the Mediterranean. Six years later at Lepanto, a vast Ottoman fleet was decisively beaten by a comparable fleet of the Christian Holy League in one of the largest and bloodiest naval battles ever fought. The Knights were there on that day too. On another September 11, 1689, the Polish King John Sobieski led an army to relieve Vienna from a Turkish siege, in a battle that marks the end of the Turkish advance into Europe. These dates may strike us today as very ancient indeed; the reader may wonder what significance they have to us. The answer is that they form the conclusion to a very long story, a great tale of human drama, mostly forgotten now by a forgetful people -- a drama that, on yet another September 11th, was renewed here in America. It is the story of the Jihad.

There can be little doubt that this story, now updated to include our own contributions to it, will bulk bigger for our children and grandchildren than it does for us. Jihad has come to America, as it once came to Byzantium, which was Rome; as it once came to Latin North Africa, and extinguished that ancient civilization; as it once came to Spain, to France, to Italy, to Greece and the Balkans; to India and to Russia; and, much more recently, to Great Britain, to Spain again, to Bali, to the Philippines, to Canada, to Denmark; and to a dozen other places. Jihad is a fact: a massive and glaring fact. It is the religious doctrine that has motivated men to make war against the Unbeliever for fourteen centuries.

The idea of religious war is not something modern man ever really contemplates; he only shudders at it. But this, for our enemies and thus inevitably also for us, is a religious war, whether or not we in the secular world of the West will take it seriously. If men choose to make war against you on religious grounds, you cannot change the fact of this religious war by wishing it weren't so. This one, moreover, has been a very long war, waged over souls and for the souls of whole nations; therefore it has been slow and erratically conducted. Rare is the war that occupies the leaders of more than one generation of men; rarer still is the war that occupies leaders of more than one age of men. This one has occupied medieval men, renaissance men, modern men, and it will surely implicate postmodern men. It began in what we call the Dark Age and has not yet ended; and we would do well not to sneer at a war that has gazed with patient, jaded eyes on the Battle of Tours, the fall of Constantinople and the Siege of Vienna; the victory of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and her defeat; the break up of Catholic Europe and the decay of Protestantism; and the rise and fall of Feudalism, Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, each in turn.

On this day, when we remember the act of treachery and malevolence that finally made manifest to us this war, it is foolish to abstract it from its historical context. It is foolish to remember New York, September 11, 2001, and never once think about Vienna, September 11, 1689, or Malta, September 11, 1565; or even Constantinople, May 29, 1453 or Tours, October 7, 732.

There's nothing more foolish than looking back at 1400 years of Crusade vs. jihad and complaining that your foe wages Holy War.

What Would the Founders Do About Terrorism?: excerpt from What Would the Founders Do? (Richard Brookhiser, History News Network)

Eighteenth century warfare was supposed to be a civilized affair, with elaborate rules for how prisoners should be treated, exchanged or paroled. When the British lost the battle of Saratoga in 1778, the American commander, Gen. Horatio Gates, signed a convention allowing Gen. John Burgoyne and his men to go home, so long as they promised not to return to fight again in America. The terms caused some grumbling, since -- the homecoming enemy would free up other troops to replace them. But before Burgoyne could sail away, he unwisely complained of the temporary accommodations the Americans gave him, which allowed them to claim that he had rejected the convention, and to hold his men prisoner.

Such were the rules, and often the practice. But war shaded into terror, especially when it was fought in remote or chaotic areas. Frontier warfare, involving Indian allies and enemies, was brutal on both sides. Joseph Brant, a/k/a Thayendanegea, was a Mohawk chief who led murderous raids on patriot farmers in New York and Pennsylvania, killing women and children as well as soldiers. Brant was no savage-he was a devout Episcopalian who helped translate the Gospel of Mark into Mohawk--he simply behaved savagely in wartime. George Washington responded by sending Gen. John Sullivan to destroy the Indians' towns, crops and "everything that was to be found." Sullivan, who had the help of friendly Oneidas, laid forty villages to waste; Brant's raids only redoubled.

Interview with Timothy R. Furnish: Doing Islamic History (Rick Shenkman, 9/10/06, History News Network)
Do you find that Americans have serious misperceptions about Islamic history?

One big one in particular: that the Islamic world has always been a victim at the hands of the West. I find this particularly prominent among the intelligentsia in the country, whose knowledge of Islamic/Middle Eastern history goes back, at best, to the early 20th c. Very few, in my experience, know of the imperial reach and power of, say, the Abbasids, Fatimids, Mughals or even Ottomans.

Conservatives like David Horowitz claim that Middle East Studies programs in the United States are dominated by anti-Israel liberals. Do you agree?

Liberals, yes; but anti-Israel ones, not necessarily. I do think that the field can be defined, largely, in terms of Saidians (devotees of Edward Said's "Orientalism" thesis, which sees the Arab world as victim of the West) and Lewisians (devotees of Bernard Lewis, who disagree). I fall into the latter camp. As mentioned earlier, I think the tendency (sometimes, insistence) to see the Arab, or even the entire Muslim, world as victimized by the West is rampant in the field, and insofar as Israel is seen as, if you will, the "tip of the spear," many academics dislike Israel.


It's hard to write about Islamic history without getting caught up in current controversies, I would think. Have you found it difficult to maintain proper historical perspective in your work?

Sometimes. Any discussion of Islam and the violence done in its name today is fraught with danger (so far, only rhetorical). If I had any hair left, I'd pull it out with frustration over the extremists of both the Left and Right who see only the aspects of Islam which they wish to: the former just parrot, over and over, "Islam is a religion of peace" without, it seems, ever having bothered to read the Qur'an or study Islamic history; the latter, on the other hand, fall off the horse on the other side and emphasize nothing but the undeniably real violent strain in Islam, but never seem to notice (or admit) that moderate Islam (Sufism) and moderate Islamic states (the Ottoman Empire) can exist. However, at this juncture in history, I do think that the Left's denial of the undeniably violent, albeit minority, strain of Islam is the greater threat.

If you had five minutes with President Bush what would you tell him he needs to remember about Islamic history?

That the Muslim proponents of moderate Islam as a "religion of peace" will not gain the upper hand until the Islamic world undergoes its own "enlightenment" and, like the predominantly-Christian West, officially abandons its dream of a one world religious state. Admittedly, this took Western civilization centuries to do, and it had one major advantage the Islamic world does not: the tradition, going back to Jesus himself, of separation of church and state ("give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's," Matthew 22:21).

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2006 12:00 AM

There's nothing more foolish than looking back at 1400 years of Crusade vs. jihad and complaining that your foe wages Holy War.

It's not foolish at all, because the Crusades were defensive wars, just like the current war. Having a religious motivation for fighting a defensive war is different from fighting an aggressive Holy War of conquest.

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 11, 2006 1:39 PM

Surprisingly little has been written about the Great Siege of 1565, considering its importance. At that time, it was almost taken for granted that the Ottoman Empire's conquest of Europe was just a matter of time. It was common for people to conclude their nightly prayers with "And let me die before the Turk comes." (Today, the assistant coach who tells NFL players that they've been cut from the team is known as "the Turk.") Suleiyman was known as "Suleyman the Lawgiver" to his own people. It was his enemies in Europe who gave him the name "Suleiyman the Magnificent."

"The Galleys at Lepanto" by Jack Beeching covers Malta 1565 in the buildup to Lepanto in 1571, and I can recommend the book without reservation. It's a great read.

Also, "The Siege of Malta, 1565" by Francisco Balbi di Corregio, written just a few years after the siege, by a Spanish soldier who fought in it, is very readable, and full of anecdotes.
I particularly remember the fellow Spanish soldier who was crossing the street, when the street opened up and swallowed him. Showing great presence of mind, the soldier realized that a tunnel dug into the city by the Ottoman army had collapsed. He remained in the hole to prevent the Ottoman sappers from escaping and warning their fellows. The Spanish immediately used the tunnel to launch a surprise attack on the Ottoman engineers at the entrance.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at September 11, 2006 1:46 PM

Was Constantine a native of Constantinople?

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2006 2:55 PM

Wow, great articles!

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at September 11, 2006 5:18 PM
There's nothing more foolish than looking back at 1400 years of Crusade vs. jihad and complaining that your foe wages Holy War.
Who is complaining? I saw not even a hint of that in the article. If there was a complaint, is that others in the West don't realize that it is a Holy War. Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 11, 2006 5:42 PM

A correction to Mr. Cella's column: Jan Sobieski made his great stand against the Turks in 1683, not 1689. The dates of the Battle of Vienna are frequently given as September 11-12.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 12, 2006 12:20 AM

There's nothing more foolish than looking back at 1400 years of Crusade vs. jihad and complaining that your foe wages Holy War.

The Crusading Age comprised a narrow sliver of that 1,400 years -- one huge, heroic counterattack that could not be sustained. By the time modernity arrived, it was gone. The Knights, by 1565, were relics of a dying era.

At one point the Byzantine Emperor tried to get the Greek Patriarch to bless a Christian analogy of jihad; the Patriarch refused, despite the fact that the Greek Empire had been under siege from the Jihad for centuries.

The Crusades were defensive wars (ones that occasionally, to our shame, descended into brigandy); Jihad is aggressive war. Perhaps that distinction is elusive to some. It should not be.

Posted by: Paul J Cella at September 13, 2006 3:03 PM

This is the middle of the Crusades, which is why your armed forces are in the Holy Lands.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 6:16 PM