How Muslim Piracy Changed The World
From Gates of Vienna:
Last month we published an excerpt from “Islam and the Dark Age of Byzantium” by John J. O’Neill. Mr. O’Neill returns with an essay about the ways in which Muslim piracy and brigandage influenced the Christian world far beyond the bounds of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
During the course of the last five years, in my capacity as a collator of information about the Muslim world, I have come to regard Islam as an incarnation of the Destroyer. For every Arab astrolabe or treatise on geometry, there have been a thousand — or a hundred thousand — incidents of murder, pillage, torture, slavery, and wanton destruction of anything sublime and beautiful that originated outside of Islam.
Mr. O’Neill’s essay makes me realize how far afield Islam’s baleful influence has in fact extended. The legacy of the Prophet reaches from the causeway at Tenochtitlan to the temples of Kerala and the beaches of Bali, from the coast of Iceland to the shores of Zanzibar.
How Muslim Piracy Changed the World
by John J. O’Neill
In my recently-published book, Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization, I argued that it was the coming of Islam, in the mid-seventh century, which effectively brought the Classical Civilization of Greece and Rome to an end and initiated the Middle Ages. There I showed that the Muslim conquest of the Middle East and North Africa, from the 630s onwards, closed those areas to trade from Europe; and the consequent impoverishment of the latter led to the decline of the urban centers which had been the powerhouses of Classical culture.
But it was not war alone that brought this about. After all, from the beginning of history, empires had come and gone around the shores of the Middle Sea, yet trade and economic life had continued. With the rise of Islam, it is clear, this did not happen. All trade between the Christian West (and Christian East) and the newly-Islamic East was terminated, definitively. We know this for certain by the data brought forth by Henri Pirenne and others. Why did it happen? Did the Caliphs forbid merchants to trade with infidels?
The truth is far worse.
One of the fundamentals of the Islamic faith was the acceptability, even the duty, of Muslims to wage war against the infidel. Islam divided the world into two starkly opposing camps: that of Islam, the Dar al-Islam, and that of the unbelievers, which was known as the Dar al-Harb. But Dar al-Harb literally means “House of War”. Jihad or Holy War, as we have seen, was a fundamental duty of all Muslim rulers. Truces were allowed, but never a lasting peace. (See eg. Koran, 8: 40 and 9: 124). In the words of medieval historian Robert Irwin, “Since the jihad [was] … a state of permanent war, it [excluded] … the possibility of true peace, but it [did] … allow for provisional truces in accordance with the requirements of the political situation.” (Robert Irwin, “Islam and the Crusades: 1096-1699,” in Jonathan Riley-Smith (ed.) The Oxford History of the Crusades (Oxford, 1995) pp. 237). Also, “Muslim religious law could not countenance the formal conclusion of any sort of permanent peace with the infidel.” (Ibid.) In such circumstances, it is evident that, when the Islamic forces were in a position of strength, almost all contact between them and the outside world was warlike. And this was not war as is waged between two kingdoms, empires, or dynasties: This was total war, war that did not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and war that did not end. In this spirit, Islamic generals launched attack after attack against the southern shores of Europe during the seventh and eighth centuries; and these “official” actions were supplemented by hundreds, even thousands, of lesser raids, carried out by minor Muslim commanders and even by private individuals: For it was considered legitimate that the Muslim faithful should live off the infidel world. Whatever spoils could be taken, were divinely sanctioned.
Thus the coming of Islam signaled a wave of banditry and piracy in the Mediterranean such as had not been seen since before the second century BC, when such activities were severely curtailed by Roman naval power. Indeed, it seems that this new Islamic piracy surpassed in scope and destructiveness anything that had come before. We could mention here, from the seventh and eighth centuries and later, quite literally hundreds of accounts of attacks in Greece, Italy, southern France, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, carried out by Muslim freebooters and slave-traders. Neither Eastern nor Western Christendom was safe, and Crete, for a long time, was the centre of the Mediterranean slave-trade; a dubious honor she retained till the island was retaken by the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas around 956. (See John Julius Norwich, The Middle Sea, p. 94) These cut-throats, it seems, did not confine themselves to capturing towns and their inhabitants, but plundered churches and monasteries too, putting their occupants to the sword or selling them into slavery. The entire Mediterranean, east and west, was now off-limits for trade and, “In the Occident … the coast of the Gulf of Lyons and the Riviera to the mouth of the Tiber, ravaged by war and the [Muslim] pirates, whom the Christians, having no fleet, were powerless to resist, was now merely a solitude and a prey to piracy. The ports and the cities were deserted. The link with the Orient was severed, and there was no communication with the Saracen coasts. There was nothing but death.” (Henri Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne, p. 184)
Read the rest.
And consider what reversion to the violent and chaotic historical norm will mean for North America.