Maryland radio station WCBM 680 posted a brief video this week of Congressman-elect Allen West that is 50 percent history lesson, 50 percent political polemic, and 100 percent terrifying.
West, as it turns out, believes that the United States has been at war with Islam for a very, very long time -- longer even than the United States has been in existence. To Allen West, all of Christian Europe -- with its Dark Ages, its religious extremism, its witch-burnings, its inquisitions, its crusades -- is us. And all of Islamic history -- with all its art, poetry, science, and philosophy -- is them.
Here, then, is a dissection of West's rewriting of history.
"You got to study and understand what you're up against. And you must realize that this is not a religion that you're fighting against... You're fighting against something that has been doing this thing since 622 AD."
If by "this thing," West means "praying to Allah," he is correct. If he means "waging war," he is also correct, though he's being disingenuous. By his own logic, West, as a Western Christian, has been doing that thing for two millennia.
Like the culture of Christendom, the culture of Islam has changed dramatically in its many centuries of existence. West suggests otherwise by tracing the roots of America's present conflict to 622 A.D., or the "Golden Age of Islam" -- when Islamic culture, science, and philosophy far outstripped that of European Christendom, which, far from experiencing a "Golden Age," was mired in the Dark Ages. The Renaissance, from which flowed the Enlightenment, from which flowed the philosophies that informed the creation of the United States of America, was due almost entirely to the Muslim world's safekeeping and incubation of the artistic, philosophical, and intellectual advances of the Greeks and Romans of classical antiquity. These had been all but erased from Europe by economic ruin and Christian extremism. No Islamic Golden Age, no Renaissance, no America. Some enemy.
"You wanna dig up Charles Martel and ask him why he was fighting the Muslim army at the Battle of Tours in 732?"
let's. Charles Martel fought because he was asked to by the elderly Duke Odo of Aquitane. Charles Martel was not fighting "the Muslim army," as there was no such thing. He was fighting a very specific enemy -- the Ummayad -- which was no outfit of missionaries, but an imperial force. (The reigning religious zealot of the era, in fact, was Martel's own grandson, Charlemagne.) Charles Martel fought all his life, usually against other Christians, and on one occasion against Duke Odo himself. In the Battle of Tours, he was, very simply, a defender of certain regions of Europe from a conquering imperial power. He was hardly a saint: A military leader with shifting political allegiances, he was in the habit of installing puppet kings in regions his armies had conquered, paying fealty to them in public, and privately wielding almost dictatorial control over their lands. He was, by any modern classification, a tyrant. (And consider: If there had been a Charles Martel 800 years earlier, fending off foreigners with strange beliefs, the Roman Empire might never have rescued Europe from barbarism. Western Civilization wouldn't exist, and Allen West wouldn't have anything to defend.) Martel is hardly a useful conscript for West's War on Terror -- or, as he prefers, War On Islam.
"You want to ask the Venetian fleet, at Lapanto, why they were fighting a Muslim fleet in 1571?"
Sure! The Venetians fought the Muslims over the Isle of Cyprus. The Ottomans wanted Cyprus, even though it had been sold to Venice by the dynasty of Guy of Lusignan, who had bought it from the Templars, who had bought it from the English, who had taken it by force. Just like the Ottomans meant to do. Which is why all English are just as bad as all Muslims. Right?
"You wanna ask the Christian -- er, the Germanic and Austrian knights why they were fighting at the gates of Vienna in 1683?"
In the Battle of Vienna, Europeans permanently drove back the Ottoman Empire. This was good for the preservation of Christendom, whatever that means, but it was hardly a victory against Islamic fundamentalism. It wasn't even a victory against Muslims per se -- at least, not Muslims as we presently think of them. The Muslims banging on Vienna's gates were mostly from Transylvania, Moldovea, and Crimea -- hardly modern battlefields in the War on Terror. Citing Vienna as an excuse for increased aggression in the prosecution of America's wars is a bit like Palestine using Christian aggression during the Crusades to justify war on the Catholics of Argentina. Pure silliness. Anyway, the Battle of Vienna was prosecuted by the Ottoman Empire on political, not religious, grounds. It was a grab for valuable real estate and for control of the Danube. At the same time as the Austrians were busy defending themselves from the Ottomans, France's King Louis XIV -- the Sun King -- was using the Ottoman distraction to scoop up Austrian land while nobody was looking, just as the Ottomans would have if they could. Should we suppose Allen West hates the French too? (Don't answer that.)
"You wanna ask people what happened at Constantinople, why today it's called Istanbul? Because they lost that fight in 1453."
Constantinople became Istanbul in 1453 and subsequently became the most important capital of the Ottoman Empire. While this was certainly an example of the Muslim invasion of Christian lands, what West declines to mention is that Constantinople had been in decline for centuries -- because of constant invasion from Western European Christians. By the time the Ottomans showed up, the city was ripe for the taking. What followed was an era of peace, progress, and cultural advancement greater than any the city had known since its expansion by Constantine I, more than 1,000 years earlier. And so, despite Allen West's use of the fall of Constantinople in an applause line, what he's actually talking about is the salvation of a war-torn city full of religious violence by culturally advanced cosmopolitans who just so happened to be Muslim. Swap the religions, and it's kind of like what Allen West helped us do in Baghdad. For which we thank him.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"You need to get into the Koran, you need to understand their precepts, you need to read their Sura, you need to read the Hadiths, and then you need to understand that this is not a perversion. They are doing exactly what this book says."
If by "they," Allen West refers to militant Wahabbist Muslims who threaten America, he is quite correct. If by "they," he means the peaceful Sikhs and Sufis, he is also correct. Religious books are barbaric, rife with contradictions, and terrible guides to living your life. That's why religious people fight all the time. This isn't news.
"And I wanna close by saying this. Until you get principled leadership in the United States who is willing to say this, we will continue to chase our tail. Because we will never clearly define who this enemy is."
Right. Only when we acquire leadership willing to pull America into an imperial struggle that racked Europe for a millennium will we cease chasing our tails and devote ourselves to more worthy pursuits. Such as the expansion of Christendom, the containment of the Caliphate, the resisting of the Turks, the recapture of the Hagia Sophia, the protection of the Holy Roman Empire. Which may sound like a lot to bite off. But West can handle it. Even if 1,000 years' worth of European armies couldn't.