Holy War: Notes

Holy War: How Vasco da Gama’s Epic Voyages Turned the Tide in a Centuries-Old Clash of Civilizations
by Nigel Cliff
2012 / 559 pgs

Pages 99
Rhapsody in Books 

Some background from Wiki:  (Protestantism and Islam)

map of expansion of Islam –


Above – Vasco de Gama in 19th century portrait and a map of the Round City of Bagdad. (click on the map for a larger version)

From the Prologue:
“In the words of modern-day Islamists who see their struggle not as one to come to terms with the West but to defeat the West, the rot set in half a millennium ago. That was when the last Muslim emirate was expunged from western Europe, when Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas— and when Vasco da Gama arrived in the East. Those three events unfolded in one dramatic decade, and their intimately entwined roots reach deep into our common past.”  (p5 – Kindle)

“Vasco da Gama’s voyages were the breakthrough in a centuries-old Christian campaign to upend Islam’s dominance of the world. They dramatically changed relations between East and West, and they drew a dividing line between the eras of Muslim and Christian ascendancy— what we in the West call the medieval and the modern ages.”  (p. 6)

Chapter 1 –  “East and West”

Mohammed hears the word of God and starts a religion.  Persia had regrouped and attacked Rome, Constantinople and the Arabs.   Constantinople had been built and was now destroyed.  Finally,  Persia crumbled and the Muslims stepped in.  Mohammed had no heir so Islam divided.  The Umayyads attacked in North Africa where the Berbers (blue-eyed, Africans) resisted via Kahina, their queen.

Muslim empire under Umayyads at greatest extent.

In 711 AD the Muslims attacked Spain via Gibraltar and proceeded to France only to be stopped by Charles Martel – aka “The Hammer”  in 732 AD who started the Carolingian (Charlemagne) Dynasty.    The Muslims remained a ruling power in Western Europe  (Spain) for 781 years.   Meanwhile:

“When the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth traveled in every direction out of Roman Judea, no one predicted that his followers’ faith would be claimed as a European religion; Ethiopia was among the first nations to adopt Christianity, while St. Augustine, the church father who profoundly influenced the evolution of Christian thought, was a Berber from Algeria. It was Islam’s armies and the empire they spread across three continents that reduced Christianity, with a few scattered exceptions, to a European faith.” (p.21)

So via Clovis, King of the Francs,  the  French legitimized the Roman Pope who crowned Charlemagne, grandson of Charles Martel, the Emperor of the Romans. Constantinople fumed impotently and the Great Schism eventually resulted.

Meanwhile the Vikings and Goths and others were fighting for “Europe.”

“The modern concept of Europe was born not from geography alone, nor simply from a shared religion. It slowly emerged among a patchwork of fractious peoples that found common purpose in their struggle with Islam.” (p. 22)

The exception, of course,  was Spain which later became the most zealously “Christian” country of them all.   But in the later 7th century and until the 13th century,  Cordoba ruled in terms of glamor and sophistication.   But Rome fought hard – with El Cid in 1085 and Alfonso the Brave.   In the East the Turks advanced on Constantinople until the Pope in Rome

Chapter 2 – “The Holy Land”

Peter the Hermit – author of the 1st Crusade? Or no?

People’s Crusade

The Templars and Hospitallers lived like monks and fought like devils, but they were often bitter rivals. The land Westerners called Outremer—“ Beyond the Sea”— was a curious anomaly from the start.  (p.38)

Some fascinating stuff here:

“THE CRUSADER STATES had always relied for their survival on the even greater disunity of the Muslims who surrounded them on three sides. To the north, the Seljuk Turks had fallen into ferocious internecine fighting. To the east were the feuding city-states of Syria, and to the southwest was Egypt, whose long-ruling Shia dynasty, the Fatimids, had pitched into terminal pandemonium. Stalking silently among them all was a renegade sect of Shia fanatics who knifed their fellow Muslims in the back with even more ardor than they murdered the Christian interlopers. Their headquarters were hidden deep in the tortuous hinterland of the Syrian coast, in a fortress built on a rocky prominence from which their leader, a spectral figure known to the Westerners as the Old Man of the Mountains, reputedly ordered his disciples to jump to their death to impress a passing Crusader. To the rest of the Muslim world the sect was known as the hashshashin, or “hash eaters,” a popular term of abuse from which the Crusaders adapted the name “Assassins.” From there it was a short step to the fantasies of Western fabulists, in which cultists were given a glimpse of Paradise in the form of a hashish-hazed orgy before being sent off on a suicide mission that they were told would admit them to the promised land for good. Stoned or not, the Assassins did away with large numbers of prominent Muslims as well as plenty of Crusaders. ” (pp.38-39)

Then came the farce of the Second Crusade and Saladin:

Illustration of the Battle of the Horns of Hattin, 1187, the turning point in the Crusades –  from a medieval manuscript.

There is so much packed into this first chapter – and it’s only the background – Here’s some more!

“OF ALL THE nomadic invaders who surged west across Asia, the tribes united by Genghis Khan were the least heralded and the most devastating. In the early thirteenth century, the Mongol fighting machine swept across China, turned west, and burned a path through Iran and the Caucasus. The horsemen rode across Russia and into Poland and Hungary, where they wiped out a massed European army that numbered among its ranks large contingents of Templars and Hospitallers. In 1241 they marched on Vienna— and suddenly they vanished as quickly as they had come, called home by the death of their Great Khan.” (p.43)

Genghis Khan proclaimed Khagan of all Mongols. Illustration from a 15th century Jami’ al-tawarikh manuscript

Mongol Invasion of Europe  to 1241 – so now Europe looks kind of like this map of Eurasia circa 1200:

The Mongels trashed Baghdad in 1258 and Cliff says the Islamic culture never really recovered.

“Islam’s civilization would never fully recover from the loss. Many Muslims responded to the shock by withdrawing within themselves; this was the time of the whirling dervishes, mystics who redirected their sense of exile and estrangement into an interior battle, a means of stripping away the egotistical self to reveal the boundless divine. While some looked inward, others looked backward. With the loss of centuries of learning that followed the destruction of uncounted libraries, the ulama, Islam’s body of religious scholars, retreated into a conservatism that sought stability in fundamental beliefs. Islam’s early accommodation with Judaism and Christianity was finally forgotten as the ulama taught that all foreigners were suspect, and non-Muslims were banned from visiting Mecca and Medina.” (pp. 43-44)

Meanwhile the European Christians were convinced that the apocalypse was near although England did get the Magna Carta (but the book doesn’t get into this – it is rather extraneous).

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