In 1683 the armies of Islam besieged Vienna for the second time. The first occasion had been a century and a half earlier. The great Islamic Empire of the time, the Ottoman Empire under the long reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, was then at its zenith. It had extended its border on the Danube far to the west of Budapest and would reach the gates of Vienna, which stood between its armies and Western Europe. Suleiman regarded himself at that time as the ruler of the world and treated the great kings of Europe as his subjects. The actual subjugation of the rest of Europe, as far as he was concerned, was only a matter of time.
Fortunately for the world of Christianity, when the Muslim armies attempted to besiege Vienna for the second time, some 117 years after Suleimanâ€™s death, the Ottoman Empire was already on the decline, its expansion westwards had been checked, and the bastions of European Christianity could begin to threaten the Muslim Empire rather than being threatened by it.
Yet for the Ottomans, the Christian countries of Europe remained Dar al-Harbâ€”â€œthe Land of Warâ€â€”the term used by the Muslims for all territories not yet under Islamic rule. The term is both legal and political and is charged with religious belief and emotional fervor.
Legally speaking, it defines the relations between the lands of Islam and the lands of the infidels. Infidelsâ€”in Arabic Kuffar (singular: kafir)â€”are all those who are not Muslims, mainly Jews and Christians. They are regarded as, both theoretically and effectively, in a state of war with Muslims. This war does not have to be declared, since from the Muslim viewpoint, it is the only possible state of affairs between the two parties. Moreover, it is part of the divine plan. For after Allah sent Mohammed â€œwith the guidance and the religion of truthâ€ there was no other way but that â€œhe may uplift it above every religion.â€ (Koran, surah 9 verse 33) In other words, Allah made it incumbent on the Muslims, the Community of the Faithful, to subjugate the whole world and bring it under the rule of Allah.
The fire of Jihad, Holy War, must burn in the heart of every Muslim. It is a collective and personal duty; and every Muslim leader, particularly the head of the Muslim Empire, is obliged to pursue this duty ceaselessly Legally therefore, the appellation of â€œThe Land of Warâ€ to Europe is understandable. Every Christian coming from the Land of Warâ€”dar al harbâ€”has the status of harbi. This is different from being a dhimmi, the status imposed on Christians and Jews tolerated to live under Islamic rule as third-class subjects. The harbi is simply an alien, an enemy of Islam, even when no acts of war are in progress between the two sides.
This legal outlook reflects the religious obligation to keep the Jihad, the Holy War, always alive. Since no one can abolish this duty that is enshrined in the words of God in the Koran, it remains an open-ended condition. Similarly the Land of War cannot change its status until it is conquered by Muslims and becomes part of the Land of Islam.
The emotional aspect of this religious obligation is an integral part of the way by which the relations between Muslims and kafirs were defined. The Koran and Islamic tradition taught the Muslims that their Community of the Faithful is â€œthe best nation ever brought forth to menâ€ (Koran, surah 3, verse 110) and that the truth of their religion is the only perfect truth, that they, as believers, are always on the right side, and the infidels are always wrong.
Europe, more than any other part of the world, personified the land of war. It was the natural place against which Jihad was to be waged. It was, after all, the major enemy of Islam from its inception.
But Europe proved to be a difficult enemy. It was an enemy that fought back successfully. In the Middle Ages the Crusades brought the Europeans into the heart of Islamic lands, but Islam somehow recovered from this success of the infidels, which placed the Muslims for the first time in a defensive position, and tormented them with doubts about Allahâ€™s support.
Islam did not recover from the loss of Spain (â€œthe Jewel in the Islamic Crownâ€). Once Islam conquered Spain, it became an Islamic land. Its reconquest by the infidels seemed to be a reverse of history for it negated the rule which says that once an Islamic land, always an Islamic land. To this day Spain, which the Arabs insist on calling Andalus, is regarded as lost Islamic territory, the recovery of which is a religious and political objective and duty.
The offensive of the Ottomans against Europe in the 16th century, after they had destroyed the last symbol of Roman Christianity in the east with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, was the natural course of the Islamic Jihadi idea. However, the Ottoman Empire failed, retreated, deteriorated, and was finally destroyed in the Great War in 1918. Moreover, Christian civilization and the modern way of life of Europe were victorious in other ways. The national regime in 20th century Turkey dramatically changed the nature of the state and society by importing from Europe everything that Western civilization could offer, from script to technology and from a system of government to fashion, with the declared aim of building a modern secular Turkey and expelling Islam from the life of state and society.
Another political development that was viewed as a major setback to Islam was the establishment of the State of Israel. More than the loss in the 15th century of the Islamic land of Spain, the establishment of Israel on Islamic land is regarded as a double reverse of history because not only does it involve the loss of land but it also constitutes an unacceptable situation where Jews, who are dhimmis, rule over Muslims. This defies the divine law itself. It cannot be tolerated and must be changed.
Another setback was that Europe ceased to be the only land of the infidels. America joined this category and America has proved an even tougher opponent than Europe, both militarily and ideologically.
However, after World War II, Muslim activists detected that Europe had begun to show signs of old age, frailty and weakness and the mighty West in general was surprisingly vulnerable. Islam emerged as a strong power waiting to be engaged. This notion was summed up by the Malaysian premier Dr. Mahatir Muhammad at the opening of the Islamic summit on October 16, 2003. The 1.3 billion strong Muslims possess both natural sources of wealth and human resources and it was inconceivable that they should not be able to achieve their goals or be defeated by a few million Jews. Nonetheless the availability of resources that could be converted into weapons proved to be less effective than Mahatir and those who thought like him believed.
It should be noted again that Islam is a warring religion and a fighting civilization. The Muslims left their mark on world history first and foremost in a military capacity. They can do the same in this age, changing their strategy and tactics, but remaining on the same course. The revivalist Muslim movementsâ€”the Iranian revolutionaries, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, to mention only a few, have discovered the weak links in the Westâ€™s defense. On the one hand they have proved that terror, similar to that practiced by the Muslim assassins in the Middle Ages, can be much more devastating than the actual physical damage and bloodshed that it causes. In one act of terror they succeeded in changing the government in Spain. On the other hand, like the Soviets they soon discovered the ease with which they can exploit Europeâ€™s democratic system, liberal ideologies, leftist intellectuals, the media and even governments, to achieve their objectives.
The Muslim Jihad for the conquest of Europe began a few decades ago and the Europeans are taking part in it as full collaborators on the side of Islam. The European Union has done away with national borders, obliterated defined national entities, weakened national feelings, ancient values and the sense of national pride and national defense. On the other hand it has created a wonderful infrastructure for the infiltration of Islam into Western Europe by millions of Muslims who maintain their Muslim identity, hold on to their Muslim values and regard the whole of Europe as their own land. Bin Laden, Qaradawi, the Ayatollahs of Iran, and many other teachers of Islam tell them that they are coming to Europe as masters and not as immigrants. These Muslims, using European laws and exploiting leftist intellectuals, the â€œuseful foolsâ€ (to use Leninâ€™s immortal definition) actually behave like masters in the host countries, rather than as guests. Thousands of mosques have been established in every country, from Finland to France. The Muslim way of life is even imposed on economic institutions and the Islamic version of history and thought is creeping into all echelons of political and intellectual life, affecting the educational system at every level.
Official Europe convened the Hamburg Symposium in 1983 to acknowledge meekly the importance of the Islamic contribution to the creation of European civilization and to encourage the study of Arabic and Islamic civilization in Europe free from the (sound and scientific) â€œorientalist methodâ€ of research, namely in accordance with Muslim traditional methods, concurrently encouraging departure from the Judeo-Christian heritage and minimizing its contribution to Western civilization.
This attempt to drive modern Europe away from its true moral, cultural and historical sources, in which Judaism occupies a central place, also has a political aspect. This constitutes yet another success of Islam, a natural by-product of the infiltration of its version of modern history into European society and institutions. Muslim propaganda has succeeded in presenting the establishment of the State of Israel as a sin committed by the Europeans against the world of Islam. In other words, the State of Israel is nothing but an easy way by which post-war Europe has atoned for the crimes of the Nazis and their helpers at the expense of the poor Arabs.
This idea has taken root not only in the minds of the â€œuseful foolsâ€ of the European left but has also found its way into the business and political community. Nowadays, more than ever, one can hear in these circles and in the media (covered in euphemisms) that the establishment of Israel was a â€œmoral and political mistake.â€ In short, Europe would be happy to see a major Arab pogrom, to which it would quietly contribute its part, in order to rid her of the guilt of this â€œmoral and political sin.â€ Much of European policy in the Middle East, and particularly the official enmity to Israel and pro-Arab nature of its policy, is directed and formed by these sentiments. And we have not mentioned the ingrained anti-Semitism which was covered up for a while, but from which Europe has never recovered.
Instead of paying attention to its steady conquest by Islam and the loss of its Western character, Europe has once again found the usual, ancient solution to all its problemsâ€”the Jews, and now also, conveniently, their state. There is a strong possibility that Europe will become Islamic in less than half a century, and it will be of its own doing.
Moshe Sharon is professor emeritus of Islamic History at the Hebrew University.