Saturday, December 08, 2012

Give Muslims an Inch, They Take an Acre

When I was working on my essay about great Spanish poet Cervantes and his bouts with Mohammedans, based upon the book -- Michel de Cervantes, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre politique et littéraire ("Miguel de Cervantes: His life, his time, his political and literary works"), by the 19th century French historian, Émile Chasles -- I was reminded of an interesting historical phenomenon I became aware of a few years ago, but have never researched in any concerted fashion.  Even Chasles does not explore this phenomenon in detail, and only mentions it more or less tangentially to his larger points.

The phenomenon involves one of the key groups involved in the epochal struggle otherwise summarized by the moniker "The Crusades" -- that is, the monastic Knights of the Order of St. Jean  (or John), also know as the Hospitallers.  They began with the project of providing food, shelter and medical care for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land which, of course, quickly became an enterprise of physically protecting those pilgrims from the various depradations Muslims assailed them with in that general region.  

As a consequence, they were incrementally and over relatively long periods of time pushed progressively Westward across the Mediterranean, as Muslims slowly became during the Middle Ages more and more powerful especially in their domination of that sea, turning it from a conduit of multi-cultural and economic intercourse, which it had been for centuries before Mohammed was spawned, into a hostile lake of fire, which it would continue to be for centuries, really only subsiding (with the exception of the one spectacular but, alas, temporary victory for the West at Lepanto in 1571) when the West recovered mastery over it -- and over the entire globe -- with Colonialism in full swing, by the late 18th and early 19th century.

This remarkable Westward retreat by the Knights was simultaneously a manifestation of defensive weakness on the part of the West, and often also of courageous and effective resistance against the Mohammedan advance.

At any rate, it basically involved a kind of island-hopping jihad, one after another.  The following simple schematic represents a rough estimate, chronologically, going from East to West, and is not meant to over-simplify historical complexities involved:

Acre (1187)

Cyprus (1291)

Rhodes (1307)

Sicily (1522)

Malta (1530).

I realize that the first in the chain, Acre, is not an island; however the old city was a promontory and port which, of course , with such hostile Muslims around, became fortified: a fortress city, in effect.  And as a port promontory and a very important focus for both warfare and commerce connecting the Levant with the Mediterranean, it's natural for it to assume the role, as it did in history, in my schematic as, literally, the "jumping off point".  Other islands indeed were involved -- such as Corsica, Sardinia, and Majorca (along with a host of smaller islands recounted in DuFourcq's history of the Saracen invasions of medieval Europe), though it seems these were not held for long or were only fitfully reacquired.  Another complication is that the Muslims were not merely pushing in a drang nach Westen, but also, of course, could count on reserves to attack from the south (in the Maghreb) and to the northwest (from Andalus).


Among many other details that radiate out from this schematic, few people realize that Sicily was occupied by Muslims for centuries -- which I have pointed out elsewhere, in my essay Western History in the Light of Islam, may have an actual material relationship to the origin of the Mafia: yet another feature of Western history for which we may thank Islam.

[Thanks to reader "Egghead" for the idea of my new title.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Hesp: I can't resist....

Give Muslims an inch, and they take an Acre. Ha!


Hesperado said...

Great pun, I wish I'd thought of that! In fact, I'm tempted to retitle the essay...

Anonymous said...

As long as you hat tip to Egghead for the title, it's ok with me. :)


Hesperado said...

Sure thing -- thanks!