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Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

Book Review: Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West by Raymond Ibrahim. Da Capo Press, 2018. Pp. 297

Please read this book review from my colleague

Terry Scambray // New Oxford Review

Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West by Raymond Ibrahim.  Da Capo Press, 2018.   Pp. 297

             We judge individuals by what they say and what they do.  We judge cults, religions and ideologies the same way; that is, by their doctrines and history.  

             Which is common sense, of course. 

Apparently though, common sense is abandoned when it comes to ideologies like Marxism which has largely escaped such scrutiny by our schools and popular culture; and now the same cover up is happening with Islam.

But Raymond Ibrahim, fluent in Arabic  is an equal opportunity Middle East scholar committed to truth rather than conforming to dangerous fads.  

Ibrahim gained attention with his revealing translations in his 2007 book, The Al Qaeda Reader, which showed the difference between what Osama bin Laden said in Arabic to Muslims and what he said for receptive, if not gullible, Western audiences.

Ibrahim’s second book, Crucified Again, showed the murder and destruction that Christians are enduring at the hands of Muslims throughout the world.

In Sword and Scimitar, Ibrahim begins by explaining Mohammed’s doctrine of jihad or “holy war”: “Whereas the rewards of the pre-Islamic tribal raid were limited to temporal spoils and came with the risk of death, the deified raid (jihad) offered rewards in the here and the hereafter – meaning it was essentially risk free – and thus led to a newborn fanaticism and determination.”   In other words, robbery, murder and enslavement were sacralized and then transformed into a prodigious engine of Islamic conquest.   

Conquest being the major feature of Islam’s 1,400 year history, Sword and Scimitar takes the reader on a tour – “a tour of force” – as represented by eight significant battles and an array of lesser clashes. 

             Skillfully relying on first person descriptions, Ibrahim’s narration of these battles is gripping and suspenseful while also evoking the pain and terror of warfare.   Especially after the current revival of jihad, his recounting of these barbaric episodes and their consequences is not comforting.   

              The battles are taken chronologically beginning in 636 with the lesser known Battle of Yarmuk, a place now in Syria.  This battle displayed the fierce power of jihad by imbedding in the Western mind a fear of Islam for the ensuing 1,000 years.

And with good reason, for as Ibrahim, channeling other historians, reports, Yarmuk “had more important consequences than almost any other battle in all world history,” for within 73 years after this Muslim victory, the area from Syria west to Morocco, 37,000 sq. miles, was permanently conquered by Islam!  “Put differently, two-thirds of Christendom’s original territory – including three of the five most important centers of Christianity – Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria – were swallowed up by Islam and thoroughly Arabized,” as Ibrahim puts it.

             However, despite Islam’s vast conquests, Constantinople, “Eastern Rome”, with its wealth, strategic location and light skinned women, prized as potential concubines and slaves, tantalized the Muslims.

            So in 717, Constantinople was sieged by the Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate. Unfortunately for them, their invading fleet was commandeered by their own conscripted Coptic Christians, who jumped ship once the opportunity presented itself.  Worse for the jihadists was the annihilating weapon called “Greek fire,” akin to modern flamethrowers, which along with a huge storm and debris from a volcano, wrecked all but five of the attacking 2,560 Muslim vessels.

That the Byzantines withstood this siege was a stunning setback over an insurgent Islam which had it prevailed would have opened a crucial portal into a then divided and vulnerable Europe.

Islam’s defeat at Constantinople was followed in 732 by another debacle at the opposite end of the Mediterranean at Tours, 150 miles south of Paris.   The Charles-Martel-led Franks, organized into phalanxes, literally undercut the charging Berber Muslim cavalry.  It was a rout.

              After Tours, no serious attempt was made to breach the wall of the Pyrenees though Islam occupied Spain until 1492 when Columbus discovered America while seeking an alternate route to India so as to avoid Muslim raids on caravans through the Middle East.

             But if the Pyrenees became a dam against the rising tide of Islam, that tide subsequently overflowed into the Mediterranean, as Ibrahim notes.  Thus the coastline of southern Europe was awash with raids by Saracens, as they were then called, making the Mediterranean “a Muslim Lake” just as it once was, “a Roman Lake.”

            In 1071, the Seljuk Turks won a significant victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert, also now in Syria.

             This triumph marks the “Turkification and Islamification of Anatolia,” as Ibrahim writes.  So what Yarmuk was for the Arabs, Manzikurt is for the Turks, with the victory commemorated annually by Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish government.  Even the battlefield is considered sacred wherein “15,000 Turks defeated 210,000 Christians”, as the official account puts it.  

In 1095, Christendom finally mounted an offense against Islam, the Crusades.   The immediate reason for this counter-attack was that the Seljuk Turks had gained control of the Islamic Empire and began raping, murdering and enslaving pilgrims to the Holy Land.  Thus, the Crusaders took the fight across the Mediterranean, a thousand miles away, and mostly prevailed over the Muslim occupiers of territory that Christianity had originally gained by conversion.  

             Another pivotal victory, this time led by Saladin, occurred in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, near Tiberius.   It was an ignominious defeat of the Crusaders by Saladin who gleefully watched while Sufis and other devout Muslims beheaded captured Christians.

             These defeats hastened the Crusader’s departure from The Holy Land, as Ibrahim writes, though the superior Crusader forces could had remained in Palestine.  But they left in 1291, tired of this distant conflict just as Americans are tiring of their own overseas wars with jihadists.

             “For more than three centuries prior to the Crusades and for more than three centuries after Hattin, Spain for eight hundred years was a microcosm of the war between Islam and Christianity,” Ibrahim adroitly summarizes.  Thus the Spanish victory in 1212 at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was transformational, for it ended Muslim hegemony in Spain and was celebrated for hundreds of years until Vatican II abolished the celebration.

             Constantinople, however, remained “a bone in the throat of Allah.”   So in 1453 the Turk’s 100,000 fighters and 100 warships surrounded the great metropolis’ 7,000 Christians guarding its 15 mile wall.

The previously repelled Muslims now possessed a cannon provided by a bribed German or Hungarian.  It had a mile range and belched out 1,300 pound bombs which devastated the walls of the city though it took hours to reload.  When holes were blown in the city’s walls, the defenders hurriedly repaired them; when the Turks tunneled under the wall, they were intercepted or buried alive.  When a fire spewing siege tower was rolled up to the wall, the defenders blew it up.

After seven frustrating weeks, the Turk’s leader Muhammed II exhorted his troops with promises of women, handsome boys and virgins in the next world and booty and concubines in this world; slackers were promised “a lingering death” by impalement which meant hammering a lengthy pole up the anus and then standing the pole and person upright like a scarecrow to frighten other potential deserters.

As one observer of the ensuing carnage wrote: the invaders climbed through breeches in the walls and clawed over human pyramids of their own fallen; the defenders fought bravely with axes, pikes and javelins.

            Finally on May 29, with overwhelming numbers, the jihadists triumphed.  So the city that began with Constantine the Great ended with Constantine XI, and the Roman Empire, dating from 753 BC concluded its 2,206 year run!  The victors then forced the vanquished to endure “strange and horrible unions and foul debaucheries,” according to other contemporary commentators.  Survivors were enslaved; the Hagia Sophia, the most beautiful church of the early Middle Ages, was transformed into a brothel.

             Gaining impetus by this momentous victory, the scourge of Islam continued to lash its victims into submission though there were notable defeats at Malta and Lepanto. 

Nonetheless, Muslim forces began bombarding Vienna in mid July 1683.  The Viennese retaliated with their own artillery barrages.  But the Ottoman’s blockade caused the spread of dysentery inside the city and bodies began piling up. 

             As happened in 1453 with Constantinople, Western Europe refused to help because of its own troubles and also at this juncture because of the disunity caused by the Reformation.

             By September the situation was dire.   Fortunately, the Polish military hero, Jon Sobieski, offered deliverance.  As Ibrahim writes,” the Poles were common and crude, at least to the ultra-refined, wig-and-powder-wearing Viennese court”; nonetheless, King Leopold flatteringly wrote Sobieski, “Your name alone, so terrible to the enemy, will insure victory.”

             By then, joining in to rescue Vienna were 40,000 Austro German troops which merged with the 25,000 man Polish army.  Though outnumbered by jihadists, the Christians turned back this last direct attack on Europe by Islam.

             One could argue that Ibrahim has equated lesser battles to historical hinge points like those at Tours, Constantinople, Lepanto and Vienna.  Nonetheless, as one can see, he establishes the significance of each of his choices just as his book demonstrates that his knowledge of Muslim conquests and depredations offers depth and perspective to each of his choices.

             This is so because Ibrahim fleshes out the history of these eight battles by recounting the numerous attacks and savagery that occurred in their wake.  One such occurred in 1019 when the Seljuk Turks descended on Armenia, the nearest Christian country.  The Armenians fought bravely but succumbed to the plunder, rape and massacres by the invaders; as Ibrahim dryly writes, “This was the beginning of the misfortunes of Armenia.”

Cameos of fearless individuals like the Genovese nobleman, Giovanni Guistiniani, animate this tale of the killing fields of jihad.  In 1453 Guistiniani, a siege expert, rushed in to defend Constantinople at his own expense accompanied by 700 highly trained soldiers at a time when others were fleeing in panic.  

Ibrahim was an Arabic language specialist for the Library of Congress and has testified before Congress, is a consultant to America’s intelligence community and lectures at universities and the National Defense Intelligence College.   

Ibrahim quotes Bernard Lewis to the effect that, “.  .  . the limits and even the identity of Europe were established first through the advance, and then the retreat, of Islam.”  As Ibrahim trenchantly concludes, “Simply put, the West is actually the westernmost remnant of what was a much more extensive civilizational block that Islam permanently severed.”

And that separation remains though it is sometimes blurred by the velocity and volume of contemporary events.   But Sword & Scimitar is a compelling reminder of the terrifying dynamic which continues to drive the Islamic world.   History hasn’t ended and Ibrahim has written an engaging and sobering narrative that makes that extremely clear.

This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of the New Oxford Review, and is reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2019 New Oxford Review, www.newoxfordreview.org

Terry Scambray lives and writes in Fresno, California

Our Privileged Scolds

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

One theme of the Democratic debates is collective furor — at whom or what is not always clear, other than at Americans who voted for Trump. Or perhaps at America itself for failing the expectations of our moral betters? Yet such rage is so deeply embedded in hypocrisy that it is not merely hard to take; it’s even harder to believe it’s serious.

So upset are our woke progressive candidates that they insist that the rich, the privileged, the white, and the native-born must now pay ever more penance. Amid such acrimony is an inconvenient truth, though one that remains utterly unspoken: Most of those on stage who are so livid at the exploitative “system” have become wealthy and quite privileged through it — especially since they have spent so much of their adult lives gaming supposedly poorly compensated political service.

Multimillionaire, mansion-living, ethnic-identity-stealing, and formerly house-flipping Senator Elizabeth Warren talks nonstop about corporate greed, endemic racism, and the need for executive fiats to deal with right-wing American pathologies. In Warren’s reductionist world, every sin originates with some Snidely Whiplash corporate CEO with a black top hat and handlebar moustache who trumped the success of her own past cynical efforts several hundred times over.

Read the full article here

09-25-2019 Angry Reader

From An Angry Reader:

Subject: Inciting ignorant violence

“Ignorance is bliss” until your/his followers are inspired to act violently due to to your/ his misinformation/lies

Hiding your vitriol hate behind well written words does not excuse from inciting/ propagating hate and discord

John Lowery

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Dear Angry Reader John Lowery,

For such a short angry reader letter, you have managed to include many of the AR characteristics: no detail or specific evidence to support your wild charges, ad hominem arguments, and the usual invective and smears (“lies,” “vitriol,” “hate,” etc.) and untruths.

Mr. Lowery, true, we are seeing a great deal of street violence, but it is largely committed by Antifa and leftist activists who demonstrate at the homes of their political opponents and seek to scare them, or chase people out of restaurants and stores. Most of the vitriol derives likewise from the elite Left in Hollywood and the media who compete to see whether their elected president should be decapitated, blown up, shot, stabbed, dismembered, or torched.

If you can cite a single instance when I have advocated any sort of violence, please send an example. I have never, in the fashion of Joe Biden, threatened to beat anyone up, or as has Cory Booker, warned of impending physical assault once my testosterone levels rose, or joked about seeing the president die in an elevator as did Kamala Harris. Nor have I urged followers, as did Maxine Waters, to stalk and harass opponents, or, as Barack Obama one urged, to “get in their faces” or to “take a gun to a knife fight.”

As a general rule, the Left both condemns in the abstract violence and vitriol and in the concrete advocates or ignores it. I am not sure whether these paradoxes are due to some psychological effort to assuage their guilt, or simply political masking of their approval of violence, or illustrative of their own delusional belief that their supposedly morally superior ends justify any means necessary to achieve them.

I appreciate the compliment of “well written words.”

Victor Hanson

The Madcap Adventures of ‘Buckaroo Banzai’ Biden

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

Sometime-Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden was at it again, voicing his brand of tough-guy boasts that he can “beat Trump like a drum.”

A 1980s sci-fi cult film about a weirdo, Buckaroo Banzai, who travels through time dimensions in many manifestations battling evil and saving good guys reminds us of the latest incarnation of Joe Biden.

Biden sees himself as something similar, as Americans are reacquainting themselves with the three-time presidential candidate, who for years has been regaling audiences as the swashbuckling hero of an amazing repertoire of his own larger than life stories.

Sometimes the bard Buckaroo Biden entertains crowds as the self-sacrificing tribal white knight who physically stood down punks who threatened his family.

Read the full article here

Victor Davis Hanson: Trump wages war on progressive culture – Dems respond with Trump Derangement Syndrome

Victor Davis Hanson // Fox News

President Trump is waging a nonstop, all-encompassing war against progressive culture, in magnitude analogous to what 19th-century Germans once called a “Kulturkampf.”

As a result, not even former President George W. Bush has incurred the degree of hatred from the left that is now directed at Trump. For most of his time in office, Trump, his family, his friends and his businesses have been investigated, probed, dissected and constantly attacked.

In 2016 and early 2017, President Barack Obama’s appointees in the FBI, CIA and Department of Justice tried to subvert the Trump campaign, interfere with his transition and, ultimately, abort his presidency. Now, congressional Democrats promise impeachment before the 2020 election.

The usual reason for such hatred is said to be Trump’s unorthodox and combative take-no-prisoners style. Critics detest his crude and unfettered assertions, his lack of prior military or political experience, his attacks on the so-called bipartisan administrative state, and his intent to roll back the entire Obama-era effort of “fundamentally transforming” the country leftward.

Read the full article here.

CNN: Everything but the News

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

For a while, we thought MSNBC had temporarily usurped CNN as the font of fake news — although both networks had tied for the most negative coverage (93 percent of all their news reports) of President Trump’s first 100 days in office.

A cynic would argue that CNN had deliberately given Trump undue coverage during the Republican primary on the theory that he would be the weakest Republican in the general election and would therefore be the weakest challenger to Hillary Clinton. CNN president Jeffrey Zucker at one point had bragged that in the primaries, Trump made CNN money. Only later, after Trump’s nomination, did Zucker regret giving so much airtime to Trump and his boisterous rallies.

“If we made any mistake last year, it’s that we probably did put too many of his campaign rallies in those early months and let them run,” the contrite Zucker conceded in October 2016, at a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Yet Zucker admitted that Trump had been a “publicity magnet” as a primary candidate, and, more important, “Trump delivered on PR; he delivered on big ratings.”

So CNN’s Zucker gave copious coverage to Apprentice-star Trump both to win ratings and to ensure the nomination of a candidate who was polling anemically against Hillary Clinton — with the intention of then reversing course and destroying Trump in the general election.

Read the full article here.

Trumped Out?

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

The new post-Mueller media narrative is “weariness” and “exhaustion” with President Trump’s tweets, his cul de sac Sharpie controversy, his ideas about buying Greenland, his unorthodox art-of-the-deal foreign policy that resulted in a plan to talk to Taliban leaders in the United States, and his firing of arch-conservative John Bolton.

The Drudge Report, once a go-to site for Trumpism, now seems unapologetically anti-Trump, in its often trademark snarky style.

Are Trump supporters then weary?

The August jobs report “unexpectedly” reminds us that never have so many Americans been at work. The 3.7 percent unemployment rate continues to be the lowest peacetime unemployment figure in 50 years. Black and Hispanic unemployment remain at record lows. Workers’ wages continue to rise. Talk of recession is belied by low interest, low inflation, low unemployment, and a strong stock market. The result is that millions of Americans enjoy far better lives than they had in 2016.

Read the full article here

Is England Still Part of Europe?

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

British prime minister Boris Johnson is desperate to translate the British public’s June 2016 vote to leave the European Union into a concrete Brexit.

But the real issue is far older and more important than whether 52 percent of Britain finally became understandably aggrieved by the increasingly anti-democratic and German-controlled European Union.

England is an island. Historically, politically, and linguistically, it was never permanently or fully integrated into European culture and traditions.

The story of Britain has mostly been about conflict with France, Germany, or Spain. The preeminence of the Royal Navy, in the defiant spirit of its sea lords, ensured that European dictators from Napoleon to Hitler could never set foot on British soil. As British admiral John Jervis reassured his superiors in 1801 amid rumors of an impending Napoleonic invasion, “I do not say, my lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea.”

Britain’s sea power, imperialism, parliamentary government, and majority-Protestant religion set it apart from its European neighbors — and not just because of its geographical isolation.

Read the full article here

Biden or Bust?

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

Pundits and politicos play the current parlor game of counting Joe Biden’s daily bloopers, signs of debility, or embarrassments.

Unlike former “Apprentice” host Donald Trump’s exaggerations and narcissisms, Biden’s fantasies are not baked into an outsider candidacy that by intent offers as a radical change of policy, a tough presidential tone, and unconventional political tactics. Trump is a renegade. Biden remains what he always was—a deep state fixture. And his brand is mainstream Democrat left-liberal orthodoxy, which supposedly does not include weird and wild La La Land pronouncements.

Also, Trump is hated by a media that is 90 percent negative in its coverage of his every word, deed, and sneeze. In contrast, the media is in the Biden tank.

So the reaction to the respective boilerplate gaffes and untruths of each is quite different: when Trump is caught mythologizing, his supporters blame the “fake news” media for taking things out of context—confusing his jest with seriousness, or conflating normal exaggeration and bombast with mortal-sin lying.

Read the full article here

Victor Davis Hanson: World War II rages on in minds of world leaders – It profoundly influences them today

Victor Davis Hanson // Fox News

World War II ended 74 years ago. But even in the 21st century, the lasting effects endure, both psychological and material. After all, the war took more than 60 million lives, redrew the map of Europe and ended with the Soviet Union and the United States locked in a Cold War of nuclear superpowers.

Japan and South Korea should logically remain natural allies. Both are booming capitalist constitutional states. Decades ago both nations emerged from devastating wars. And in pacifist fashion they vowed never to suffer such mass carnage again.

Both nations are staunch allies of the United States. They are likewise similarly suspicious of their neighbor, aggressive communist China, which threatens their economies and security. Yet Tokyo and Seoul are now more adversaries than democratic allies, and they are locked in a bitter fight. In their acrimony over trade and past war reparations, neither can forget World War II.

Read the full article here.

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