Friday, December 06, 2019

The Battle of Yarmuk: History’s Most Consequential Muslim/Western Clash

by Raymond Ibrahim

On this date, August 20, in 636, the first major military clash between Islam and the West was fought. The Battle of Yarmuk is now little remembered, but its outcome forever changed the face of the world, with ripples felt even today.

Four years earlier, in 632, the prophet of Islam had died. During his lifetime, he had managed to rally the Arabs under the banner of Islam. On his death, some tribes that sought to break away remained Muslim but refused to pay taxes, or zakat, to the caliph, Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s successor. Branding them all apostates, the caliph initiated the Ridda (“apostasy”) Wars, which saw tens of thousands of Arabs beheaded, crucified, or burned alive. In 633, these wars were over; in 634, so was the life of Abu Bakr. It would fall to the second caliph, Omar bin al-Khattab (r. 634–44), to direct the full might of the once feuding Arabs — now one tribe, one umma — against “the other.”

Almost instantly, thousands of Arabs flooded into Christian Syria, slaughtering and pillaging. According to Muslim historians, they did that in the name of jihad — to spread Allah’s rule on earth. Emperor Heraclius, who had just experienced a decade of war against the Persians, proceeded to muster his legions and direct them to Syria, to quash these latest upstarts. Roman forces engaged the invaders in at least two significant battles, Ajnadayn (in modern-day Israel, in 634) and Marj al-Saffar (south of Damascus, 635). But “by Allah’s help,” writes Muslim chronicler al-Baladhuri (d. 892), “the enemies of Allah were routed and shattered into pieces, a great many being slaughtered.”

On the eve of battle, writes historian A. I. Akram, “the Muslims spent the night in prayer and recitation of the Quran, and reminded each other of the two blessings that awaited them: either victory and life or martyrdom and paradise.”

No such titillation awaited the Christians. They were fighting for life, family, and faith. During his pre-battle speech, Vahan explained that “these Arabs who stand before you seek to . . . enslave your children and women.” Another general warned the men to fight hard or else the Arabs “shall conquer your lands and ravish your women.” Such fears were not unwarranted. Even as the Romans were kneeling in pre-battle prayer, Arab general Abu Sufyan was prancing on his war steed, waving his spear, and exhorting the Muslims to “jihad in the way of Allah,” so that they might seize the Christians’ “lands and cities, and enslave their children and women.”

The battle took place over the course of six days. (For a more detailed examination of Yarmuk, see my master’s thesis, 2002, The Battle of Yarmuk: An Assessment of the Immediate Factors behind the Islamic Conquests.) The Roman forces initially broke through the Muslim lines and, according to colorful Muslim sources, would have routed the Arabs if not for their women. Prior to battle, Abu Sufyan had told these female Arabs that, although “the prophet said women are lacking in brains and religion” (a reference to a hadith), they could still help by striking “in the face with stones and tent poles” any Arab men who retreated from the battle to camp. The women were urged to persist until the men returned to battle “in shame.”

Sure enough, whenever broken ranks of Muslims fell back, Arab women hurled stones at them, struck them, and their horses and camels, with poles, taunting them: “May Allah curse those who run from the enemy! Do you wish to give us to the Christians? . . . If you do not kill, then you are not our men.” Abu Sufyan’s wife, Hind, is said to have fought the advancing Romans while screaming “Cut the extremities [i.e., phalluses] of the uncircumcised ones!” On witnessing her boldness, the Arab men are said to have turned and driven back the advancing Romans to their original position.

On the fourth day, the Muslims managed to reverse the tables and advance against a broken line of retreating Christians. No women were present to chastise the retreating Romans, and a multitude of archers unleashed volley after volley on the rushing Arabs. “The arrows rained down on the Muslims. . . . All one could hear was ‘Ah! My eye!’ In heavy confusion, they grabbed hold of their reins and retreated.” Some 700 Muslims lost an eye on that day.

Concerning the sixth and final day of battle, Muslim sources make much of the heavy infantry of the Roman army’s right flank, referring to its soldiers as the “mightiest.” These warriors reportedly tied themselves together with chains, as a show of determination, and swore by “Christ and the Cross” to fight to the last man. (The Arabs may have mistaken the remarkably tight Roman phalanx for fetters.) Even Khalid expressed concern at their show of determination. He ordered the Muslims at the center and left of the Arab army to bog down the Christians, while he led thousands of horsemen and camel-fighters round to the Roman left faction, which had become separated from its cavalry (possibly during an attempt at one of the complicated “mixed formation” maneuvers recommended in the Strategikon, a Byzantine military manual).

To make matters worse, a dust storm — something Arabs were accustomed to, their opponents less so — erupted around this time and caused mass chaos. The Romans’ large numbers proved counterproductive under such crowded and chaotic conditions. Now the fiercest and most desperate fighting of the war ensued. Everywhere, steel clashed, men yelled, horses neighed, camels bellowed, and sand blew in the face of the confused mass. Unable to maneuver, most of the Roman cavalry, carrying along a protesting Vahan, broke off and withdrew to the north.

Realizing that they were alone, the Christian infantry, including the “chained men,” maintained formation and withdrew westward, to the only space open to them. They were soon trapped between an Islamic hammer and anvil: A crescent of Arabs spreading from north to south continued closing in on them from the east, while a semicircle of the Wadi Ruqqad’s precipitous ravines lay before the Christians to the west. (Khalid had already captured the only bridge across the wadi.)

As darkness descended on this volatile corner of the world, the final phase of war played out on the evening of August 20. The Arabs, whose night vision was honed by desert life, charged the trapped Romans, who, according to al-Waqidi and other Muslim historians, fought valiantly. The historian Antonio Santosuosso writes that

"soon the terrain echoed with the terrifying din of Muslim shouts and battle cries. Shadows suddenly changed into blades that penetrated flesh. The wind brought the cries of comrades as the enemy stealthily penetrated the ranks among the infernal noise of cymbals, drums, and battle cries. It must have been even more terrifying because they had not expected the Muslims to attack by dark."

Muslim cavalrymen continued pressing on the crowded and blinded Roman infantry, using the hooves and knees of their steeds to knock down the wearied fighters. Pushed finally to the edge of the ravine, rank after rank of the remaining forces of the imperial army, including all of the “chained men,” fell down the steep precipices to their death. Other soldiers knelt, uttered a prayer, made the sign of the cross, and waited for the onrushing Muslims to strike them down. No prisoners were taken on that day. “The Byzantine army, which Heraclius had spent a year of immense exertion to collect, had entirely ceased to exist,” writes British lieutenant-general and historian John Bagot Glubb. “There was no withdrawal, no rearguard action, no nucleus of survivors. There was nothing left.”

As the moon filled the night sky and the victors stripped the slain, cries of “Allahu akbar!” and “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger” rang throughout the Yarmuk valley.


Following this decisive Muslim victory, the way was left wide open for the domino-like Arab conquests of the seventh century. “Such a revolution had never been,” remarks historian Hilaire Belloc. “No earlier attack had been so sudden, so violent, or so permanently successful. Within a score of years from the first assault in 634 [at the Battle of Ajnadayn], the Christian Levant had gone: Syria, the cradle of the Faith, and Egypt with Alexandria, the mighty Christian See.”

It bears noting that if most Westerners today are ignorant of that encounter and its ramifications, they are even more oblivious as to how Yarmuk continues to serve as a model of inspiration for modern-day jihadis (who, we are regularly informed, are “psychotic criminals” who have “nothing to do with Islam”). As the alert reader may have noticed, the continuity between the words and deeds of the Islamic State (ISIS) and those of its predecessors from nearly 1,400 years ago are eerily similar. This of course is intentional. When ISIS proclaims that “American blood is best and we will taste it soon,” or “We love death as you love life,” or “We will break your crosses and enslave your women,” they are quoting verbatim — and thereby placing themselves in the footsteps of — Khalid bin al-Walid and his companions, the original Islamic conquerors of Syria.

Indeed, the cultivated parallels are many. ISIS’s black flag is intentionally patterned after Khalid’s black flag. Its invocation of the houris, Islam’s celestial sex-slaves promised to martyrs, is based on anecdotes of Muslims dying by the Yarmuk River and being welcomed into paradise by the houris. And the choreographed ritual slaughter of “infidels,” most infamously of 21 Coptic Christians on the shores of Libya, is patterned after the ritual slaughter of 1,000 captured Roman soldiers on the eve of the Battle of Yarmuk.

Here, then, is a reminder that, when it comes to the military history of Islam and the West, the lessons imparted are far from academic and have relevance to this day — at least for the jihadis.


Reversing the Roles of Crusade and Jihad

A critique of some fake history

From beginning to end, Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War between the Muslim World and the Global North by William R. Polk is paradigmatic of all the misrepresentations and errors of history that have caused the West to become clueless of the sources behind its conflict with the Muslim worldview. Worse, such blatant distortions of the past leave the West unable to provide solutions for the present.

Title vs. Content

For starters,  the book’s title and ambitious subtitle present it as a comprehensive history.  The jacket cover claims that “Crusade and Jihad is the first book to encompass, in one volume, the entire history of the catastrophic encounter between the Global North … and Muslim societies.” The book reportedly “explain[s] the deep hostilities between the Muslim world and the Global North and show[s] how they grew over the centuries” (emphasis added).

Rather bizarrely, however, the first thousand years of history are allotted only some 30 (out of 550) pages of coverage; that is, only 5% of the book deals with the many centuries of conflict between the eighth and eighteenth centuries.

What explains this lopsided approach?  After all, that initial millennium contains all the seeds of conflict.  As historian Franco Cardini explains,

If we … ask ourselves how and when the modern notion of Europe and the European identity was born, we realize the extent to which Islam was a factor (albeit a negative one) in its creation.  Repeated Muslim aggression against Europe between the seventh to eighth centuries, then between the fourteenth and the eighteenth centuries … was a ‘violent midwife’ to Europe.

While these “violent midwives” are known today as Arabs, Moors, Turks, and Tatars, their invasions and subsequent atrocities were all conducted under the same jihadi logic used by contemporary groups such as the Islamic State: as “infidels” (or kuffar), Christian Europeans were always free game for rape, enslavement, or slaughter.

Or to quote Bernard Lewis:

We tend nowadays to forget that for approximately a thousand years, from the advent of Islam in the seventh century until the second siege of Vienna in 1683, Christian Europe was under constant threat from Islam, the double threat of conquest and conversion. Most of the new Muslim domains were wrested from Christendom. Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa were all Christian countries, no less, indeed rather more, than Spain and Sicily. All this left a deep sense of loss and a deep fear.[i]

A Twisted Vacuum

Not only are these formative centuries largely ignored, but what Polk does present is often distorted to Islam’s favor.  As the book’s succinct description explains, “Polk shows how Islam arose and spread across [euphemism for violently conquered] North Africa into Europe, climaxed in the vibrant and sophisticated caliphate of al-Andalus in Medieval Spain, and was the bright light in a European Dark Age.”[ii]

Similarly, after effusively praising Islamic Spain, Polk writes (rather disdainfully) that “The contrast to the rest of Europe was stunning.  Few in Europe could read, and those few were holed up in monasteries….  It is hard to find evidence of more than a few men or women of culture or even of a degree of social refinement.  In al-Andalus, in contrast, the arts flourished, new forms of poetry were invented, and musical tastes” advanced.[iii]

The problem here is not that these descriptions are false but that they are presented in a vacuum.  In fact, the prosperity of Islamic Spain, as with all premodern Islamic states, was built almost entirely on plundering its non-Muslim neighbors of their wealth and bodies (Córdoba was a slave emporium of white flesh for centuries).  As earlier and more sober historians, such as Louis Bertrand, explained:

To keep the Christians [of northern Spain] in their place it did not suffice to surround them with a zone of famine and destruction. It was necessary also to go and sow terror and massacre among them. Twice a year, in spring and autumn, an army sallied forth from Córdoba to go and raid the Christians, destroy their villages, their fortified posts, their monasteries and their churches….  If one bears in mind that this brigandage was almost continual, and that this fury of destruction and extermination was regarded as a work of piety — it was a holy war [jihad] against infidels — it is not surprising that whole regions of Spain should have been made irremediably sterile. This was one of the capital causes of the deforestation from which the Peninsula still suffers. With what savage satisfaction and in what pious accents do the Arab annalists tell us of those at least biennial raids. A typical phrase for praising the devotion of a Caliph is this: “He penetrated into Christian territory, where he wrought devastation, devoted himself to pillage, and took prisoners.”…  The prolonged presence of the Muslims, therefore, was a calamity for this unhappy country of Spain. By their system of continual raids they kept her for centuries in a condition of brigandage and devastation.[iv]

Likewise, Polk fails to mention that the “stunning” illiteracy of Europeans was itself a byproduct of the jihad.  After the Muslim conquest of Egypt (circa 641), papyrus ceased to be imported into Europe, causing literacy rates to drop back to pre-Roman levels. Indeed, Christian Europe’s “Dark Ages” came about largely “because Islam had destroyed the ancient unity of the Mediterranean,” as eminent medievalist/archaeologist Henri Pirenne showed.

“Victimhood”: The Blame-All to Islam’s Problems

About 520 of 550 pages (or 95%) of Polk’s book on The Thousand-Year War are confined to the last two or so centuries, when Europe ceased being on the defensive and went on the offensive against Islam.  Here Polk meticulously describes in vivid (and hyperbolic) detail every conceivable sin the West committed against Muslims:

Beginning at various times after Christopher Columbus led the way across the Atlantic and the Portuguese plunged down the West African coast, the actions of the North have been uniformly destructive and sometimes genocidal….  The first cause of the danger and insecurity [i.e., Islamic terrorism] we feel today is the long history of imperialism.  A century or more of invasion, occupation, humiliation, and genocide has left scars that are still not healed, and cannot heal if they are constantly reopened.[v]

Having whitewashed the first millennium of jihad on the West, it’s easy for Polk to make Europeans appear as unprovoked aggressors—greedy monsters come to destroy the glories of Islam.  Yet he fails to mention that Columbus sailed west precisely because the Mediterranean was an Islamic terror zone; and he presents Russian expansion into Tatar regions as a merciless enterprise without explaining that the Tatars—known as the “heathen giant who feeds on our blood”—terrorized and enslaved Russians for centuries earlier.

As more balanced historians, such as Bernard Lewis, have long known:

[T]he whole complex process of European expansion and empire … has its roots in the clash of Islam and Christendom.  It began with the long and bitter struggle of the conquered peoples of Europe, in east and west, to restore their homelands to Christendom and expel the Muslim peoples who had invaded and subjugated them.  It was hardly to be expected that the triumphant Spaniards and Portuguese would stop at the Straits of Gibraltar, or that the Russians would allow the Tatars to retire in peace and regroup in their bases on the upper and lower Volga—the more so since a new and deadly Muslim attack on Christendom was underway … threatening the heart of Europe.  The victorious liberators, having reconquered their own territories, pursued their former masters whence they had come.[vi]

Regardless, Polk habitually harps on how “Memories of [Western] imperialism are deep [among Muslims], and they helped create much of the world’s disorder and danger today….   [T]he humiliation and wholesale massacres of populations carried out by imperialists, though largely forgotten by the perpetrators, remain today vivid to the descendants of the victims.”[vii]   As such, every Islamic terror group—including the Islamic State—are products of “the anger and frustration of Muslims.”[viii]

Again, one need only look to real history to appreciate the folly of this deterministic reading which sees Muslims as perpetual victims of an imagined history.  After a millennium of actual European victimhood—a millennium of Muslim invasions that saw the conquest of three-quarters of Christendom’s original territory, the enslavement of five million Europeans (between just the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries), and the slaughter of untold millions—“backwards” Europe still managed to rise to the top of the world, and without any apologies or appeasements from Muslims.

Why can’t Islam?  Could it be that its problems are intrinsic and have nothing to do with the purported sins of Europe? 

For instance, in Polk’s chapter, “Somalia, the ‘Failed State,’” imperialism is again cited as the blame all.  Yet in 1855, decades before Europeans colonized it, adventurer Richard Burton described Somalia in decidedly unappealing terms, adding that Somalis “are extremely bigoted, especially against Christians … and are fond of Jihading.” Today Somalia remains a “failed state,” Al Shabaab (“the Youth”) is its jihadi vanguard, and any Somali outed as a Christian is beheaded.  Is European colonialism really necessary to explain such continuity?

“What Went Wrong?”

This is the crux of the issue: in order to exonerate the problems plaguing and emanating from the Muslim world—from socio-economic-political  difficulties, to rampant Islamic radicalization and terrorism—Islamophiles like Polk are committed to two premises: 1) that for centuries Islam was a beacon of light in a dark world (and thus something must have gone wrong since) and 2) that which went wrong begins and ends with Western meddling via colonization.

As should be evident by now, the reverse is true: Islam always did what Islam does, and was constrained only during that brief era of Western assertion.  The greater irony is that whereas jihads often culminated in slavery, depopulation, and devastation, European colonialists abolished slavery and introduced their Muslim subjects to the boons of modernity, from scientific and medicinal advances to the radical concepts of democracy and religious freedom.

“In a word,” writes a Copt around the turn of the twentieth century concerning British rule, “we say that the Egyptian State was at the highest degree of justice and good order and arrangement.  And it removed religious fanaticism, and almost established equality between its subjects, Christian and Muslim, and it eliminated most of the injustice, and it realized much in the way of beneficial works for the benefit of all the inhabitants.”

Or consider how North Africa was among the most prosperous and civilized regions of Christendom in the seventh century, but centuries of “jihading,” ransacking, and the enslavement of literally millions turned it into a desert.  Then, for some three centuries before the colonial era, its Muslim population subsisted entirely on enslaving Europeans.

In fact, the United States’ first war as a nation was with these “Barbary States.”  When Thomas Jefferson and John Adams asked Barbary’s ambassador why his countrymen were enslaving American sailors, he said nothing about “open scars” or the “anger and frustration of Muslims.” Rather the “ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that … it was their right and duty to make war upon them [non-Muslims] wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners….”[ix]

Sticking to the “Narrative”

Sadly, Crusade and Jihad is reflective of both academic and popular opinion concerning the relationship between Islam and the West.  As is typical of the social sciences—and increasingly the hard sciences as well—reality, in this case history, has been recast in conformance to the accepted narrative, one which follows a familiar matrix: anything white and Christian = hypocrisy, intolerance, greed, exploitation; anything nonwhite and non-Christian = honesty, tolerance, fair-mindedness, dignity.

The double standards required to make this narrative work are often stark.  Thus and despite how Muslims persecuted Spain’s Christians for centuries, here is how Polk describes the indigenous liberators vis-à-vis the invading occupiers:  “Over the centuries … the warlike Christian states … pushed south until, in 1492, they drove away tens of thousands of Muslims … and put an end to one of the most advanced societies in Europe.”[x]

The lesson is clear: from a historical point of view, Islam can do no wrong—even when it invades, conquers, and persecutes; and the West can do no right—even when it defends, liberates, and civilizes.  While we are to exonerate contemporary Muslim terrorism as a product of “grievances” against (an imagined) history, only censure remains for those premodern Christians who set wrongs to rights (but to Islam’s disadvantage).

Such are the pseudo-histories that have long plagued the West’s understanding of its relationship to Islam.  It is in part to combat these false narratives that I wrote my new book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West.  Not only does it document the politically incorrect facts of history, but every century gets its fair due.


The Cult of Color

Is it okay for people of certain persuasions to discriminate? Not exactly.

Notorious for its hypocrisy, the woke community strikes again, this time excluding white girls from being involved in a music video. Beyoncé, heralded as a sort of goddess to the Woke “people of color,” had no issue openly discriminating for her music video casting call. Interestingly enough, she seeks diversity among brown and black people, but there are no people of European descent in her video — despite the video being recorded in London, which still has a white population of about 60%.

Responses to the casting call were mixed. White people were baffled at the attempt at segregation. After all, white westerners fought to include black and brown people into society. On the flip side, woke worshippers see Beyoncé’s “rule” as no big deal; that discrimination happens all the time anyway.

It’s strange that the same people who cry out against being left out of job opportunities have no problem with people of a white persuasion being left out of said opportunities. These individuals claim oppression at every instance yet slam down the iron fist of discrimination when the opportunity presents itself.

The Golden Rule (“Do unto others…” See Matthew 7:12) had become a widely accepted moral attitude in our society regardless of faith. But what does this mean to this woke generation that conceals supremacy under the cloak of compassion (for only select races, of course)?

And while this is just a casting call, how far will progressives go to push white people out of other areas — employment, lending opportunities, and so on?

Diversity is the raggedy crutch that Democrats and liberals lean on heavily. Their lies and special interests weigh down the definition of the very term, transforming it into something different entirely. This leaves white people scratching their heads, wondering what it was we fought for over the past century. Did the Civil Rights movement even have a point?

The answer: It did, and it still stands for something today. But diversity and acceptance are a two-way street. We meet in the middle when we acknowledge the following:

That diversity doesn’t exclude, no matter how you frame it.
That all peoples are capable of racism and unjust discrimination.
That a society that is truly moving forward must do away with “skin worship.”

People say that the parties and ideologies switched sides, but what they aren’t addressing is how racial supremacy has done the exact same. It’s time we do away with supremacist mentalities as a whole — that is, if we are to truly leave racism behind.


Australia: Animal rights activists are ordered to tear down 'misleading' billboard calling for captive dolphin breeding at Sea World to be banned

I'll stop eating animals as soon as animals stop eating one-another

Days after launching a campaign against dolphin breeding at Sea World an animal rights group was told their 'misleading' billboards would be taken down.  

World Animal Protection launched the campaign on December 2 targeting Sea World's use of dolphins and allowing them to breed in captivity .

But just days after the billboards went up on the Gold Coast advertising company JCDecaux announced they were taking them down.

The decision to remove the billboards came after Sea World proprietor Village Roadshow slammed the signs as 'false and misleading'.

A Sea World spokesman told the Gold Coast Bulletin preventing dolphins from breeding in captivity would impact negatively on the animals.

'Reproduction is a natural process which enriches the lives of the animals and helps contribute to positive welfare of the animals, which is our utmost priority,' the spokesman said.

'All management strategies to stop breeding are against best practice and decreases the welfare of the dolphins.'

World Animal Protection Head of Campaigns Ben Pearson said he was disappointed by the move. 'It's disappointing our education billboards on the Gold Coast are being taken down after just two days, but our campaign will continue,' he said.

Mr Pearson said the group was fighting to make the current generation of dolphins at Sea World the last.

'With Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbour having already made this commitment, Sea World is now on its own and out of step with the growing public awareness that keeping dolphins in captivity is cruel,' Mr Pearson said.

'There are currently around 30 dolphins at Sea World, most of which were born and bred there, with breeding to continue in future to provide entertainment for tourists.

Daily Mail Australia has contacted World Animal Protection, Village Roadshow and JCDecaux for further comment. 



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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