Over the past few years during which I have immersed myself more and more in the study of Islam the better to know our enemy, I have become increasingly struck by intimations that not a few of the major incidents and processes of Western history were importantly related to, or impacted by, various activities of Muslims inspired by Islam.
Today’s post will not steep itself in the historiographical minutiae of these nor will it provide any substantive citations of verification: it is meant only as food for thought, and as a springboard for anyone wishing to delve deeper. Indeed, I will only provide a kind of skeletal adumbration, with relatively brief comments to spare.
The following, then, is a list (each item followed by an explanation) of a few key events or processes in Western history about whose Islamic factor, heretofore, most of us in our education (even extending into college) have not had the foggiest notion:
The disappearance of Buddhism from India and its virtually wholesale migration northward into Tibet and China.
In my education (history major at college, supplemented by my own reading of history and comparative religions), the exclusive way this was framed was as a “puzzle”. I never once came across the Islamic invasions of the Subcontinent of India (beginning in the 11th century) as even one possible explanation for the disappearance of Buddhism from India (approximately in the 13th century) and its reappearance in the north. It makes eminent sense, however, to posit this as the major explanation, seeing as how massive and brutal was that invasion, sweeping across India in successive waves, resulting in the slaughters of millions and the destruction of thousands of temples, both Hindu and Buddhist—not to mention the subsequent onerous subjugation of same under Islamic domination. One essay puts the typical attitude thusly: “Many scholars of Buddhism, Hinduism, Indian history, and of religion more generally have been devoted to unraveling this puzzle. There is no absolute consensus on this matter...”
The rise of the Mafia in Sicily.
Seeing as the island of Sicily was conquered by Muslims in the 9th century (during the long acme of Islamic control of nearly the entire Mediterranean) and remained under the domination of Islamic rule until the 11th century, only finally retaken by Western forces in the mid-13th century, it makes sense to posit the rise of the Mafia subculture either as a sort of underground quasi-guerilla movement against the Muslim overlords (sort of an Italian Christian version of the Indian Sikh resistance to Islam), or as a peculiar tribal mentality informed dhimmitudinously by Islamic values—or perhaps more or less a combination of both. Although ostensibly, the Mafia as a visibly coherent institution did not appear until the 18th century, nevertheless, theories have been afloat that it had roots extending back to medieval times. Even one essay that dismisses such theories nevertheless posits a historical underpinning that indicates a source in Freemasonry and the Knights of Malta—both of which were deeply involved in resisting Islamic onslaughts: “The Mafia’s arcane rituals, and much of the organization’s structure, were based largely on those of the Catholic confraternaties and even Freemasonry, colored by Sicilian familial traditions and even certain customs associated with military-religious orders of chivalry like the Order of Malta.”
The grisly pathology of Vlad the Impaler (the major source of the later Dracula legend).
I will simply quote from this website:
The sultan [Sultan Murad Khan II, ruled 1421-1451], upon hearing that Hunyadi [Jonas Hunyadi, the White Knight, Viceroy of Transylvania who repeatedly marshalled armies to repulse the invading Muslim Turks] was on the attack, had the Dracul's boys [Vlad, who lived approximately from 1431-1476, being one of the Dracul's boys] locked in the dungeon.
There, they received daily floggings and endured long periods of hunger. Dracula’s insolence harshened his treatment; he suffered various tortures to mind and body. Still, he was kept alive, probably due to the fact that the sultan figured he could still be employed as a bartering tool.
From a narrow window above his cell, Dracula witnessed the executions of less-fortunate prisoners taking place in the yard outside. Depending upon their crime, they were hanged, shot with arrows or spears, beheaded, crushed under wheels, or given over to a wild beast of prey. Many were impaled.
At first, the teenage boy may have been repulsed at the site of impalement. But, after a while, he certainly grew fascinated by it. Impalement, the most inhuman of punishments, involved piercing a body length-wise with a sharpened pole, the victim then left to die atop the raised pole. Death was excruciating and sometimes slow. Men were usually struck through the rectum, women through the vagina. Dracula watched the victims squirm, scream, hemorrhage, then die. He saw the crows pick at their carcasses that often remained under the hot Turkish sun until they were only blistered meat.
Dracula learned to detest his captives for their cruelty, yet wished that he would be given the chance to serve his captives likewise [i.e., he wanted to torture them like they had tortured him]. Not knowing if and when he might be next, he imagined, if he survived, a day that he could inflict such torment on the Turks. Battered, starving, cut, singed and now having to view what the Turks did several times a week just beyond his windowsill, he probably went mad.
The rift between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity—and the impact this had upon the intra-Western schism of the Reformation.
The rift between Orthodoxy—the major type of Christianity in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire (including southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of North Africa)—and Roman Catholicism—the major type of Christianity dominant in central and Western Europe and more western parts of North Africa—did not happen overnight. Nor was Islam responsible for this rift. However, the outburst of Islam out of the Arabian peninsula beginning in the mid-7th century and its imperialistic onslaughts radiating outward over the subsequent centuries (within 100 years having conquered all of North Africa and most of what later was called Spain, and only prevented from conquering the heart of Europe by a coalition of European forces at Tours in 732) increasingly made travel to and from West and East more dangerous and onerous, both overland through the Balkans as well as by sea in the Mediterranean, which by the 8th century had become largely controlled by hostile Islamic piracy as an extension of its holdings in the Middle East and North Africa. This impediment to travel of course had deleterious effects on the communications networks between West and East, and tended to magnify whatever tendencies there were toward a mutual estrangement.
Indirectly, Islam furthermore played a role in incidents which further exacerbated this estrangement, when Western Crusaders at one point in the pursuit of their main goal of fighting Muslims, during the Fourth Crusade at the beginning of the 13th century, attacked and sacked the center of Orthodox Christianity, Constantinople. This of course greatly strained the already weak relations between the two hemispheres of Christians.
About a century earlier, there occurred a rather formal split between them in 1054 when Pope Leo IX formally excommunicated Michael Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, ostensibly over the filioque controversy (a controversy over Trinitarian theology that might seem obscure to some ears today but was of vital importance at the time). As the centuries unfolded after that, and after the scandal of the aforementioned sacking of Constantinople, more and more attempts were made to try to heal this ecumenical rupture; among them the significant emissary mission of the Catholic theologian, Cardinal Nicolas Cusanus, to Constantinople, in 1437—only 16 years before the Muslims definitively conquered that great city and virtually the entire region of Byzantium of which it was the crown jewel, thereby effectively putting up an iron curtain between East and West.
It is possible—and would make an interesting thesis for some budding graduate student of European history—that this traumatic intensification of the rift between the two Churches caused by the Islamic conquest of Eastern Europe served in turn, indirectly, to deepen the internal problems of Western theology that led, nearly a hundred years after that, to Luther’s first gauntlet and the precipitously centrifugal crisis of the Reformation; for the two halves of Christendom, Orthodox and Catholic, had they been allowed to heal their distance and enrich each other through mutual intercourse and communion, might have helped to massage some of Catholicism’s tendencies to dogmatically encrust the existential symbolisms of the Gospel, thereby staving off the eventual necessity (however obtusely at times it proved to be prosecuted) to recover the experience that had become hypostatically occluded.
The voyage of Columbus to the Americas to find an alternate trade route to the East Indies.
1492 is a date every schoolchild in America knows. What is less known—even among more educated folks—is that in that same year, Spanish Catholic forces, through the protracted military victory known as La Reconquista, finally retook virtually the entire Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims who had dominated more or less most of Spain for over 700 years since their first jihad across the Gibraltar Straits in the early 8th century. Not only that Islamic conquest, but the attendant conquest of most of the Middle East and increasing encroachment upon Eastern Europe (including the spectacular overthrow of Constantinople only some forty years prior)—in addition to a significant degree of control of the Mediterranean Sea by Muslim navies (only finally broken almost a century later at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571)—was one major impetus for galvanizing the West to develop the seafaring technology and the imaginative vision to engage the enterprise of circumnavigating the globe. Initially, this was mainly an enterprise with the aim of finding an alternate route to the East Indies and the Far East—trading partners of immense importance at the time. Soon, this rather circumscribed aim expanded into a global expansion of Western influence and colonization, which in turn stimulated Western progress in science and technology (not to mention anthropology, archeology and philosophy).
And these factors, in turn, led, ironically, to another direct result of that impetus occasioned by the hostile wall Islam erected to the South and East of Europe: the colonization of vast swathes of formerly Islamic lands—including most of Africa, most of the Middle East (except for Arabia proper), India, central Asia, and the archipelagos of the Insulinde: Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This horning in on the Dar-al-Islam by the West attended the slow and sure, yet spectacular ascendancy of the West to a position of global superiority measured in terms of technology, science, politics, laws, and sociocultural progress.
The impetus toward the creation of the American Navy and Marines in the late 18th century.
Even though, as we mentioned above, the dominant control of the Mediterranean by the Muslims was definitively broken by the naval battle at Lepanto in 1571, nevertheless, Muslims continued to try to control as much of it as they could, mostly through piracy officially sanctioned by the Muslim leaders of the times—extending also into the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic coasts from Africa as far north as England and even Iceland. This went on until the late 18th century, often seriously interfering with Western trade as well as involving the capture, kidnapping, killing and enslavement of ship crews along with raids of coastal populations, until the nascent United States of America—in the wake of its successful Revolution against the British monarchy—decided to take action. After attempts at negotiation with Muslims failed to stop the problem, the Americans fought battles against them in the early 19th century—having created the U.S. Navy along with the Marines mainly for this purpose in 1794—and effectively solved the problem that way.
The peculiarly cruel culture of Spain reflected in the Spanish Inquisition and the Conquistadores.
With this particular theory, I have little to substantiate it, and only offer it as food for thought. It would take into account the likelihood that over seven centuries of sociocultural deformation under Islamic rule would have had psychological and cultural repercussions on subsequent Spanish culture—not to mention the fact that the Spanish Inquisition was, in some respects, a justified response to the very real dangers of Islamic subversives who were still present in the newly liberated Spain.