Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript of remarks given by Robert Spencer at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2018 Restoration Weekend. The event was held Nov. 15th-18th at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.
Thank you very much, and yes indeed, The History of Jihad is the first book that chronicles the entirety of the phenomenon of jihad for 1,400 years. Not just the jihad against Europe, although that’s very much a part of the book, but also the jihad against India and the jihad elsewhere, also tying in the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is itself a jihad, and of course, the people who struck us on 9⁄11 were motivated by the exact same ideology that has motivated the jihad conquests of the distant past and is still with us very much today. Of course, one of the reasons why anybody is interested in reading history or studying history is because of the old adage “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” More to the point, really, is that if you do not learn from your mistakes, you keep making the same mistakes again and again and again. That’s U.S. foreign policy today, because of, in large part, a lack of awareness and understanding of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat and of a complete lack of knowledge of the history of jihad. So I thought this morning very briefly I’d give you three lessons from history that could have a very great impact on foreign policy today in the United States, were there to be sanity in the State Department, which, of course, I know is at a premium.
Now, the first one is that nowhere in history, and this is something to bear in mind when you’re thinking about the case of Jamal Khashoggi, who is, of course, the sainted and martyred journalist who was killed by the Saudis. He was actually a pro-Al Qaeda Muslim Brotherhood operative who was killed by the Saudis, so there are no good guys in that story. But in light of it, it is important to remember that when you look through and examine and study the history of Islam for 1,400 years, there has never been a lasting alliance between a Muslim state and a non‑Muslim state. It would be nice if there had been. There were some sort-term alliances of convenience, but that’s another problem as well.
For example, John VI Kantakouzenos was a Byzantine emperor in the middle of the 14th century. There was a claimant to the Byzantine imperial throne who disputed his claim, so he asked his pal, the Ottoman sultan, to help him by sending some armies into Europe to fight against the rival claimant. Very fruitful alliance for John VI Kantakouzenos, except that the Ottomans entered Europe. They have not left yet. The Turks still control the area around what was known as the City of Adrianople. That is their claim to be part of the European Union, which they are still pushing. More to the point, the Ottomans never gave up trying to destroy the Byzantine Empire, even though they had made various alliances with not just John VI, but other Byzantine emperors.
The Byzantine emperors were not thinking about the reality of the jihad imperative, that an Islamic state that is avowedly an Islamic state and is dedicated to Islamic principles is going to be aware of the Islamic imperative to wage war against unbelievers, and to conquer and subjugate them. It may well make use of those unbelievers at various points for its own advantage, but it will never be friends with those unbelievers. As a matter of, there’s a famous passage in the Koran that says, “Do not take Jews and Christians as your friends.” This has often been dismissed by Islamic apologists, who say that doesn’t mean that any individual Muslim won’t be your pal. That it means that an Islamic state must not ally with a non-Muslim state. Well, okay, that’s a lesson in itself as well.
So when we consider Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia finds the United States useful. The United States finds Saudi Arabia useful. President Trump may have some very good reasons right now to maintain the alliance with Saudi Arabia because of his predecessor’s disastrous policies that empowered and enabled and strengthened the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Another lesson from history is that Sunnis and Shia hate each other. They hate infidels more, but they do hate each other, and have been waging jihad against each other for 1,400 years, as well as against infidels. So the Saudis and the Iranians will never be friends. They will always be rivals. They will always be at odds. So when Iran was so strengthened and it used the billions that Obama showered upon it to finance Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic jihad and even Al Qaeda and the Taliban, then the President is right to try to keep the Saudis on our side and make sure that they stand as a bulwark against Iran. Otherwise, Iranian power could directly threaten the survival of the free world. The Saudis, however, are not a benign thing. I think that anybody who might have been carried away and thought that Mohammad bin Salman was a genuine reformer ought to have been awakened by the fact that not only was Khashoggi killed, but he’s not the only journalist who the Saudis have recently killed. Mohammad bin Salman has also imprisoned the activists who called for women to be able to drive. So you see, he allowed women to drive, then he arrested everybody who wanted it.
Now, why would he do that? You see, it’s crazy, but he’s not nuts. What he’s doing is trying to present Saudi Arabia as a more benign nation to encourage foreign investment, especially when the long-term trends for oil prices are going down. Then he can attract business into Saudi Arabia, but that doesn’t mean that he wants any dissenters of any kind or any challenges of any kind to the rule of the House of Saud.
That brings me to the second lesson from Islamic history. There has never been a Western-style secular republic that was based on Islamic principles. Now, that is very carefully worded, because Turkey, of course, was a Western-style secular republic up until quite recently. You might have thought it still was, but actually Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has been very systematically and persistently dismantling Kemalist secularism and restoring Turkey as an Islamic state. One of the ways he did that was to decapitate the military, which had always been the guardians of Turkish secularism. Now, talking about learning the lessons of history, consider this. Secularism was imposed upon Turkey; it was never a ground up, ground roots movement. Talk about astroturfing, it’s an excellent example of it.
What happened was this. Kemal Ataturk, after World War I, though he was unique in the Islamic world, unique in Islamic history, in saying the reason why our country is in the dumpster right now is because of Islam. So if we’re going to proper, we need to imitate the nations that have prospered, and that’s the West. So we’re going to limit the power of political Islam and imitate the West. This is the only time this has happened in Islamic history, and he established secular Turkey on that basis. What he did was very popular at the time in Constantinople and Ankara, the two largest cities in Turkey, and not popular at all in the countryside. There were several times before Erdogan was elected that other people who wanted to restore Islamic law were elected to positions of power in Turkey. Every time that happened, the military would topple them from power. So the military preserved Turkey as a Western-style secular republic for the large part of the 20th century. Then what happened?
Early in the 21st century, there were very large indications that there was going to be another military coup in Turkey. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned the Turkish military that the United States was the guardian of democracy and would not accept any military coup in Turkey. Because of that now, Turkey has become not an ally of the United States, but a rapidly re‑Islamizing nation that directly aided ISIS. John Kerry went to Turkey a few years ago when he was Secretary of State and he said, “Could you please stop buying ISIS oil?,” and they refused. Erdogan is famous for having allowed thousands of foreign jihadis to cross through Turkey into the ISIS domains in Iraq and Syria. They would say, “You have to fight ISIS. You’re in NATO. You have to do something about this.” He would say okay, and bomb the Kurds. He never fought ISIS, because he wanted to co-opt their caliphate into his own restored caliphate. But since in the State Department they don’t know what a caliphate is, they don’t know anything about history, and they don’t what the pillars of Turkish secularism were, they set this up. They made this happen. That’s what is a classic example of not knowing the past and thus repeating the same mistakes, and being condemned to repeat the same misery all over again.
The third lesson from Islamic history is that there’s never been a shortage of non‑Muslims who are willing to help the jihad. There have always been plenty of them, and it never works out for them. Take, for example, the conquest of Spain. All of us in the room here know probably that Spain was conquered by Islamic armies staring in the year 711. They had the whole country conquered by 718 and they ruled it for 700 years until they themselves were – this is one of the few times this has happened in history – pushed out of Spain, and by 1492 Spain was an entirely Christian nation, as it had been before the conquest. But fewer people know how the conquest came about.
What happened was there was a Christian leader, Count Julian of Ceuta. Ceuta is in what is now Morocco, and it’s still a Spanish possession. Many of you are no doubt aware that Ceuta and Melilla are two enclaves that are in Morocco, in North Africa, but they’re part of Spain. Right now, they’re being overrun by migrants from Africa, who go and climb the fence in Ceuta, and then they’re in Europe even though they’re not. They’re in North Africa. They’re in Spain, and so they are entitled to all the guarantees of protection that the European Union is giving to the migrants. But Count Julian of Ceuta, long ago, he sent his daughter to the court of King Roderick, the Visigothic king of Spain, in order to have her educated. But King Roderick, the Visigothic king of Spain, treated interns rather like Bill Clinton did. So Count Julian was enraged and appalled when he heard what had happened. So he went to his friend Tarek ibn Ziyad, who was the leader of the local Muslim region of Morocco right next to Ceuta. He said, “I’ll help you get across the strait,” because this is what had stymied the Muslims. They had boats, but every time they set sail across the Strait of Gibraltar, then they would find that the Spanish would put their defenses up, because they would see them coming. They weren’t moving all that fast in those days.
So Count Julian gave them his boats, so that when the Spanish who were manning the defenses saw them coming they thought, “Oh that’s our friend Count Julian,” and they did not put up their defenses or have the army ready. So Tarek ibn Ziyad got to Spain and he decamped his army, and then he had ordered the boats burned, which I think was rather ungracious of him, since they were a loaner. But what he was saying was, “We’re here to stay. We’re going to stay here. We’re going to conquer this place or we’re going to die here, but we’re not going back,” and he conquered Spain courtesy of County Julian. Interestingly enough, a few years back there was a big controversy some of you may recall in Minneapolis, about a charter school, a public school that got public funds but was essentially a madrassa, an Islamic school. It got public funds and was a public school, but they had Qur’an study. They had prayers during school time, and so on. People got wind of this. There was a controversy. Ultimately, the school was shut down although it started right back up again, but that’s another story. The controversy was raging all this time, I was puzzled because nobody ever in any of the coverage that I ever saw about the controversy, nobody ever stopped to ask, “Wait, a minute, who is this Tarek ibn Ziyad that the school is named for? Why is it called Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy?” Tarek ibn Ziyad, remember, was the Muslim conqueror of Spain who burned the boats. Probably anybody in Minneapolis who ever gave it a moment’s thought, thought that he was some Muslim John Dewey or something, some sort of great educator. But in reality, he was the great conqueror of Spain, the guy who burned the boats and said, “We’re here to conquer or die.”
Now, why do you think a Muslim school in Minneapolis would call itself Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy? What could be the lesson there? What do you think they were trying to say? But of course, nobody knows who Tarek ibn Ziyad was, and so nobody thought to ponder the significance of the name. Now in any case, Count Julian was by no means alone in his sponsorship of the Islamic jihad and his aid for its advance. There have been numerous non‑Muslims who have been similarly helpful to the jihad cause throughout history.
Another primary example came in Arabia at the end of the 18th century and along into the middle of the 19th. At that time, Arabia was nominally under the control of the Ottoman Empire. But there came to be a revivalist movement in Arabia at that time, and there was a gentleman who claimed to be the great Muslim reformer. A lot of people say, “We have to put our hopes on Islamic reform and we can hope that Islamic reform will happen, and then all our troubles will be over.” Well, I got news for you. Islamic reform has already happened. It happened it started in the middle part of the 18th century in Arabia. This guy said the Ottomans had added all these things into Islam. He was going to strip them out and get back to the basics. He personally stoned an adulteress to death and showed how eager he was in doing so to enforce Islamic law. He got a wide following because he did that. He gained the aid of a local chieftain in Arabia, and they began to make war against the Ottomans and the other Arab chieftains in the area.
In the middle of the 19th century, this man’s movement – it became known as the Wahhabi movement because his name was Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the chieftain who helped him was Ibn Saud who, of course, later became recognized as founder of the Saudi clan which today rules Saudi Arabia. But they were just one of a number rival Arab chieftains at the time, and Muslim preachers who were vying for control of Arabia and all fighting the Ottomans, but they got noticed by the British. The British thought, “Hey, we want to fight the Ottomans. We can use these guys,” and it seemed like a good idea, right? Because the Ottoman Empire is the global caliphate, which is the foremost exponent of offensive and aggressive jihad. So the British started paying money to the Wahhabis in the middle of the 19th century. They sponsored the Saudis to create Saudi Arabia after World War I. They actually decided who was going to be in power in Arabia and gave Jordan to the loser. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – the Hashemites are not from that area. They’re Arabs, Arabians, but they lost the struggle with the Saudis, and so they got Jordan as a consolation prize. The Saudis, meanwhile, struck oil in 1938, and they used their billions to finance this virulent and violent understanding of Islam that Wahhab had originated. They spread it all around the world in areas where a cultural form of Islam had become a little bit more benign. So it’s really courtesy of the British that we have the revival of global jihad and the creation of jihad terrorist groups in the middle of the 20th century, because had it not been for the British, the Saudis would never have been much of anything and then they would never have been the beneficiaries of the oil strike, and never would have been able to finance the global jihad today. So I think we owe the British government a great debt of gratitude for that.
In any case, I hope that this has briefly made it clear why it’s so important to understand history and particularly this very, very untraveled bit of history, the history of jihad, which I think is one of the most crucial stories of all human history and one of the least known. So this is one of the reasons why I wrote the book. I’m hoping that there will be a genuine change in the public discussion as a result of some of the things that are made clear in the book, that will in turn themselves make clear that a great deal of our foreign and also domestic policy is based on false assumptions, wrong assumptions, wishful thinking and outright fantasy. Thank you very much.
Do you have time for one question?
Okay. We have time for one question, ladies and gentleman. We can auction it to the highest bidder and fundraise.
Hi, thank you for being here. I’m currently at university, and professors all love to talk about the Islamic golden age and how it was rational and they saved the Renaissance and all these types of things. Were those people adhering to Islamic belief? Were they ignoring it, or am I being lied to as a student?
Yes, yes and yes. The fact is that the Islamic golden age was part real and part fiction. There were great Islamic empires and there were Islamic philosophers, and there was a time when there was peace between Jews, Christians, and Muslims particularly in Spain. However, the time that there was peace between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Spain was only when the Jews and Christians knew their place, accepted their second-class status, and submitted to the hegemony of the Muslims. When, as a matter of fact, in the year 1066, the local Muslim leader in Granada appointed a Jew as the vizier of the city. Now, this was because he knew this guy and they were friends. Human nature is everywhere the same. Sometimes people ignore laws, but the law is that a non-Muslim must not have authority over a Muslim. So the people were incited, and I described this in the book. The people were incited by a poet who wrote a poem about how terrible it was that the Jews were ruling over them. They were incited to riot. It was a terrible pogrom, and 4,000 people were murdered. This was because the people knew that a Jew must not hold authority over a Muslim. That was wonderful, tolerant Muslim Spain. That’s just one example of many that I could give you.
The inventions, the great innovations, a lot of that is just sheer nonsense. It also begs the further question, when people talk about all the wonderful things – like I hear that 100 years before Copernicus, some Muslim astronomer discovered the same thing that Copernicus did, that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, wasn’t that it? Then you’ve just got to wonder, well, okay. Well, that led to a great deal of innovation and further discovery in Europe, what happened in the Islamic world? The great Islamic philosophers, they did influence Aquinas, and they had a great deal to do with the Enlightenment and the Renaissance in Europe, but in Islam, you only know Averroes and Avicenna and a few other others, because after that they were declared heretical. There was Al-Ghazali, who was himself a great philosopher, and wrote The Incoherence of the Philosophers, saying that the philosophers contradict the Qur’an and must be killed. That had a bit of a chilling effect on Islamic philosophy.
What you have also nowadays, because there’s such an apologetic effort to sell Islam to the West, you have a lot of people saying, “The first hospital was in Baghdad under the Umayyad Caliphate.” Well, in the first place, the first hospital was many years before that, but in reality the hospital in Baghdad was run by Christians and Jews who were under Islamic rule, so that’s not really something that’s to the credit of Islam and on and on and on.
Nowadays there’s a tremendous public relations effort to rewrite history, to manipulate people into thinking. For example, Akbar Ahmed is a professor at American University, and he’s written a book called Journey into Europe, that he actually recommends a new al-Andalus for Europe, which is essentially saying he wants Europe to be conquered by Islam. He presents that as this wonderful golden age that your professors tell you about, but in reality al-Andalus was nowhere any of us would want to live, and if we did, we would suffer to a great degree. So knowing history is good. It’s being used as a weapon today to manipulate you to accept public policies of nowadays. So it’s very important to be informed. Thanks very much.