Sword and Scimitar

Raymond Ibrahim's new book covers fourteen centuries of war between Islam and the West.

Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

On the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 jihadist attacks on United States soil, as on every anniversary, the cry “Never forget!” went out across social media as Americans somberly vowed to keep the memory of 3,000 murdered innocents alive. But the danger today is not that we will forget the victims, but that we will forget the perpetrators. The New York Times epitomized this willful blindness with a commemorative tweet on the day declaring that “airplanes took aim at the World Trade Center” on 9/11 – a cowardly evasion by the Times, denying any human agency whatsoever behind the attacks instead of placing the blame squarely where it belongs: on Islamic terrorists waging war on unbelievers in the West.

In our politically correct self-loathing induced by decades of leftist indoctrination, the West – or what properly used to be called Christendom – has spent the past eighteen years not extinguishing the Islamic supremacism that brought down the Twin Towers, but often aiding and abetting it, welcoming the barbarians inside the gates and pretending we can coexist. As Raymond Ibrahim writes in his new book Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West, “The West has learned to despise its heritage and religion, causing it to become an unwitting ally of the jihad.” As a culture we now lack the historical perspective to view the 9/11 attacks in the context of this ongoing, 1400-year clash of civilizations. “Very few understand,” Ibrahim notes, “that this modus operandi stretches back to and has been on continuous display since Islam’s first contact with Christian civilization.”

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and a scholar at the Middle East Forum. His previous books include the eye-opening The Al Qaeda Reader and Crucified Again, a must-read about the genocidal persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Sword and Scimitar, an elegantly packaged book (with 16 pages of black-and-white plates) from Da Capo Press, is a deeply researched, thoughtfully analyzed military history of the ancient, existential struggle between the mortal enemies Islam and Judeo-Christian civilization. “[W]hile this book is not a general history of Western-Muslim relations,” Ibrahim clarifies, “it is most certainly a history of the most general aspect of said relations – war.” It “demonstrates once and for all that Muslim hostility for the West is not an aberration but a continuation of Islamic history.”

Featuring a foreword by noted historian Victor Davis Hanson, under whom Ibrahim studied at Cal State Fresno, Sword and Scimitar focuses on the eight most decisive battles (split evenly between Islamic victories and Western victories) of this conflict over the course of a thousand years:

  • the Roman defeat at Yarmuk in 636, after which “the unity of the ancient Mediterranean was shattered and the course of world history forever altered”;
  • the failed Muslim siege of Constantinople, 717, wherein Leo III led a resistance that “saved not only the Byzantine empire and the eastern Christian world,” as one historian put it, “but also all of Western civilization”;
  • the battle of Tours, 732, in which Frankish hero Charles Martel and his army, Europe’s last (and perhaps only) line of defense, turned back an overwhelmingly larger Islamic force and limited the Islamic Empire to the Iberian peninsula;
  • the Turkish victory at Manzikert, 1071, the beginning of “the longest death-rattle in history”;
  • Saladin’s slaughter of Crusaders at the battle of Hattin, 1187;
  • King Alfonso’s “miraculous” victory at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212, the beginning of the end of Islam’s hold on Spain;
  • the second siege of Constantinople, 1453, the “greatest of conquests” and the fulfillment of Muhammad’s centuries-old prophecies;
  • Jan Sobieski’s successful defense of Vienna in 1683, essentially ending a thousand years of military threat to Europe from Islam.

Ibrahim sets the scene with a “bare-bones, hagiographic-free summary” of the rise to power of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, of the birth of jihad, and of the tide of Islamic imperialism that, in less than a hundred years, carved out an empire larger than Rome’s had been. Then Ibrahim digs deeper into the specific battles and their significance in the context of the times. He concludes with a brief look at the clash of America and Islam in the Barbary Wars and the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which seemingly ended the age-old struggle between Islam and the West – seemingly, for as Ibrahim puts it, “Islamic jihad is back in full vigor” today. Because of the imbalance of military power between the West and the Islamic world, however, the conflict is no longer about epic battles of the sort Ibrahim details, but about insurgencies and terrorism, lawfare and civilizational jihad, mass migration and demography.

Sword and Scimitar manages to be both a treasure of detailed scholarship and page-turning storytelling. And it is more than the limiting label “military history” might suggest. This is not a dry recitation of troop movements and siege strategies. In addition to fleshing out the historical and cultural backdrops behind each battle, the book teems with a cast of vivid characters whom Ibrahim brings to life, depicting their pieties and perversions in almost cinematic fashion: kings and sultans, crusaders and warlords, popes and caliphs. It is essential reading for grasping the full sweep of the forever war between Islam and the West.

We once crushed both the global threats of Nazism and Japanese imperialism in a mere four years. But nearly two decades after the 9/11 terror attacks, our leaders and elites cannot even bring themselves to name Islamic supremacism as the enemy, much less commit to eradicating it. Indeed, even the U.S. Army War College disinvited Raymond Ibrahim from speaking about his book a few months ago to appease the bullies at CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. We have Chamberlains when we need Churchills. “If Islam is terrorizing the West today,” Ibrahim concludes in Sword and Scimitar, “that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to. A still swinging Scimitar will always overcome a strong but sheathed Sword.”

If we truly want to honor the 9/11 victims and all those who have been slain in the name of jihad over the span of fourteen centuries, we will do more than cry “Never forget!” once a year. We will unsheathe the Sword.

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