There is a very professional and popular blog, Gates of Vienna, which routinely gets dismissed by the cultural elite, who portray it as a hideously anti-muslim site, full of misleading bile about Islam in the world. Well, maybe, but if you want to know about the latest example of institutionalised misogyny, sharia-related medievalism, media misreporting etc, it’s a great place to start.
The reason I mention it is the name, Gates of Vienna. It probably isn’t as well known as it should be that 483 years ago and then 329 years ago, Vienna, which is only 766 miles from London, as close as Madrid, nearer than Rome or Stockholm, was nearly overrun by a Muslim army.
The Knife has stayed in a hotel, the Meridien, which lies over the former city walls, no doubt a former bloody battleground, and no distance from the heart of the city. Both battles were close run things. If they had been lost then it’s likely that large swathes of western Europe would have been violently subjugated under Islam. About 560 years ago that’s exactly what happened to the eastern empire after the Fall of Constantinople.
About 1300 years ago, in virtually the infancy of Islam, Charles Martel beat the Muslim army at the Battle of Tours, about 400 miles from London. The next stop would have been Paris. The army was beaten back into what is now Spain, and the reconquista ended just over 500 years ago, when the Moors were finally pushed back into North Africa. 440 years ago the Mediterranean was saved from Islamic domination by the remarkable naval victory at Lepanto.
And that’s not even mentioning the Crusades.
My point in all this is that we cannot reliably interpret much of modern history, and its revision by interested parties, without reference to the bigger picture. 9/11 is just a tiny facet of a conflict which, whether we admit it or not in our relatively peaceful far western European world, has been raging on and off for nearly 1400 years. And it’s still happening, right now, in Syria, Egypt and Iraq.
The stimulation to write this piece came from two separate articles in the FT magazine. The first, by Alec Russell, is a nuanced and heartfelt study of a small part of Bosnia, Visegrad, which he had visited at the time of the war in 1992, Serbs slaughtering Muslims, and vice versa. The title says it all: Unforgiven. Unforgotten. Unresolved. The Serbian mayor, when asked about the recent past, said:
“There are no solutions, time has to pass. Where would we start if we got involved in dealing with the past? Would we not have to begin with the Ottoman empire? All truths have to come to the surface and everyone who committed crimes should be prosecuted, but we have to look at everyone equally.”
He has a point. It seems an obvious one to him and his Serb friends. Folk memory runs deep, and always will do. It’s futile to pretend otherwise. Ultimately the article is a microscopic study of the ageless ebb and flow of Muslims v Christians on the eastern edge of what we call Europe.
Note I used the religious descriptors, Muslims and Christians, which brings me to the second article, by Simon Kuper, who usually writes fairly interesting things about football . Here’s a flavour:
The words “Islam” and “Muslim” are overused and have lost almost all meaning in western discussion. They have become catch-all terms to explain everything. I’m not calling for a moratorium on the use of “Islam” in public debate, but nearly….
…“Muslims” were discovered in the west only on September 11 2001. …. Only after 9/11, and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe, did researchers start calling them “Muslims”. Instead of national origins, or social class, suddenly only religion mattered….
…Of course, if politicians, media and researchers keep telling nominal Muslims that they are “Muslims”, that that is their prime identity, and that they are unlike everyone else, then these people will tend to start thinking of themselves as “Muslims”…of the 12,996 murders in the US in 2010, Islamic fundamentalists committed zero.
In any case, the words “Islam” and “Muslim” have been contaminated. For the purposes of western public debate, they are still owned by Osama bin Laden. That being so, when a western politician starts talking about Islam, he’s generally up to something. And – probably deliberately – he’s missing what’s going on in his country.
Fascinating really. Same magazine, one article a careful examination of the facts with a conclusion by no means favourable to the Serb Christians, the other a glib and careless dissimulation, which if you took it seriously could be positively harmful.
The Knife often goes on about the lessons of history, in fact the preceding post to this is exactly that. However, when you read this stuff in the FT, you can only go back to Santayana’s cliched – but entirely correct – quote, which should be tattooed onto the back of the hand of every national leader:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”