This magisterial work is a lucid, remarkably compendious, yet still richly detailed study of the 1400-year ongoing ebb and flow of Islamic jihad conquests or preparatory attacks — and the Christian West’s reconquests or reprisals. A skilled Arabic linguist and student of military history under the tutelage of Professor Victor Davis Hanson, perhaps the outstanding achievement of Ibrahim’s compelling narrative is how it shatters contemporary “academia’s” rigidly enforced, dogmatic Islamophilia.
[T]he anti-colonialist Left, whether Christian or not, often goes so far as to sanctify Islam and the contemporary ideologies of the Muslim world … Understanding has given way to apologetics pure and simple.
Sword and Scimitar is organized around eight momentous battles between Islam and Christendom: Four in which the Muslim armies were victorious, and four when they were defeated by the opposing Christian armies. Spanning a millennium, these eight campaigns are: The Muslim victories at Yarmuk (modern Syria) in 636, Manzikert (modern Turkey) in 1071, Hattin (near Tiberias, modern Israel) in 1187, and Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1453; and the Christian successes at Constantinople (718), Tours (modern France) in 732; Las Navas de Tolosa (a mountainous region between Santa Elena and Miranda del Rey, modern Spain) in 1211, and Vienna in 1683.
Given the corrosive Islamophilic apologetic which prevails in academia, even the schematic structure of the conflicts is revealing and historically irrefragable. Each battle was spurred when the Muslim armies invaded (or in the case of Hattin, re-invaded) Byzantine (originally), European Christian territories, or discrete cities.
Notwithstanding the “controversial” nature of this overarching approach, Ibrahim’s narrative also presents the fascinating, if at times unsettling, military history of these decisive battles: brilliant tactical maneuvers and equally foolish blunders; how valor, serendipity, confusion, internecine struggle, and duplicity influenced each side’s fortunes; and the sheer human carnage of these conflicts described in unexpurgated, gruesome detail.
Ibrahim also takes pains to further contextualize this history with concise but carefully elaborated discussions of the germane events occurring before and after the eight battles. Two particularly interesting discussions: Ibrahim’s descriptions of both the late 15th Century Spanish (under Isabella and Ferdinand) and Russian (under Ivan III) campaigns of liberation from Islamic jihad-imposed domination (by Arabo-Berber Muslims and Tatar/Islamized Mongol Muslims, respectively) occurring between the crushing Ottoman Muslim jihadist victory at Constantinople in 1453; and the successful Christian repulsion of the Ottoman jihad siege of Vienna in 1683.
But it is Ibrahim’s singularly informed, uncompromised analyses of the opposing Islamic and Christian motivations for this warfare which cement the book’s unique contribution.
Intrinsic to this frank, accurate presentation of the contrasting religious outlooks is the wanton destruction wrought upon Christian lands by all the major ethnic Muslim invaders (Arabo-Berbers, Turks, and Tatars). This repeated practice is consistent with Islam’s doctrinal jihad-hatred of Christianity — and is not shared by Christian doctrine, or “reciprocal” actions, on anywhere near the same scale when the Christians triumphed.
From Yarmuk to Vienna (and well beyond — to jihadist depredations in the British Isles, even Iceland!), Ibrahim meticulously provides numerous examples of these ideological frameworks which coexist in diametric opposition. Citing both Muslim and Christian sources — which the author’s scholarly balanced analyses do for each of the eight battle case studies presented — Ibrahim describes the atmospherics just before the armed conflict ensued at Yarmuk, a prototypical scenario duplicated across more than 1000 years:
On the eve of battle, the Arabs “spoke of the fire of hell and the joys of paradise, and quoted the example set by the Holy Prophet in his battles,” writes Pakistani general and military historian A. I. Akram. “The Muslims spent the night in prayer and recitation of the Quran, and reminded each other of the two blessings which 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, as clergymen marched with crosses and pronounced the death prayer on the kneeling men, Vahan [an Armenian leader of the Christian allies] explained that “these Arabs who stand before you seek to … enslave your children and women.” Another [Christian] general warned the men to fight hard, otherwise “they shall conquer your lands and ravish your women.” Such fears were not unwarranted.
Even as the Romans were praying, Abu Sufyan — formerly one of Muhammad’s greatest enemies who, like Khalid, happily converted rather than lose his head — was prancing on his war steed and waving his spear around the assembled Muslims, exhorting them to “jihad in the way of Allah,” so that they might “seize their [Christians’] lands and cities, and enslave their children and women.”
Marshalling considerable evidence, Ibrahim rejects the exclusively “material or economic explanations” for the Muslim success at Yarmuk, and the wave of Seventh through early Eighth Century lightning jihad conquests in its aftermath. Such explanations are now proffered by contemporary Western academics dismissive of Islamic religious zeal:
[T]raditional Muslim historiography concerning why Muslims won holds that their win-win bargain with Allah — wherein the Muslim is rewarded with paradise either in the here [via booty, see entire Koran sura/chapter, “The Spoils of War,” 8: 1 ff, including sexual slaves, per 4:3;23:6] or hereafter [via “martyrdom,” Koran 61: 10– 12; 4: 74; 9: 111, and the eternal prize of Islam’s cosmic brothel, 44: 51– 56; 52: 17– 29; 55: 46–78] — enthused the Arabs’ fighting spirit to no end.
“The Muslim preachers did not cease to encourage the combatants [at Yarmuk]: Prepare yourselves for the encounter with the houris [virgins of Islam’s cosmic brothel; see Koran 43:70; 36:56; 55:70; 37:48] of the big black eyes,” explains a later Persian scholar. “And to be sure, never has a day been seen when more heads fell than on the day of the Yarmuk.” Or to quote a companion of Muhammad speaking to a Byzantine official prior to the invasion of Egypt: “Do not deceive yourselves. We are not afraid of your numbers. Our greatest desire is to meet the Romans in battle. If we conquer them, it is well; if not, then we receive the good things of the world to come.”
The idea that Muslim fanaticism was responsible for the Arabs’ victories was also adopted by European writers. As late as 1963, Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb maintained that “it was religious enthusiasm which provided the impetus for the Arab conquests.” He apparently knew what he spoke of: “I actually commanded, for thirty years, soldiers recruited from those very tribesmen who carried out the Great Arab conquests and who have remained unchanged for thirteen hundred years.”
Ibrahim succinctly encapsulates how such Islamic jihad fanaticism resulted in unparalleled conquests at Christendom’s expense, which have assumed a permanence. He also notes a foreboding and strikingly astute assessment by the 7th Century ecclesiastical writer Anastasius of Sinai on the significance of Yarmuk:
Just seventy-three years after Yarmuk, all ancient Christian lands between Greater Syria to the east and Mauritania (Morocco) to the west — approximately 3,700 miles — were forever conquered by Islam. Put differently, two-thirds (or 66 percent) of Christendom’s original territory — including three of the five most important centers of Christianity — Jerusalem (With the caveat that Jerusalem fell back to Christian hands during the Crusades and is today under Israeli authority), Antioch, and Alexandria — were permanently swallowed up by Islam and thoroughly Arabized.
For unlike the Germanic barbarians who invaded and conquered Europe in the preceding centuries — only to assimilate into Christian culture, civilization, and language (Latin and Greek) — the Arabs further imposed their creed and language onto the conquered peoples so that, whereas the “Arabs” once only thrived in the Arabian Peninsula, today the “Arab world” consists of some twenty-two nations spread over the Middle East and North Africa …
Even without the power of hindsight afforded to historians living more than a millennium after the fact, Anastasius of Sinai, who was a youth when Muslim forces overran his Egyptian homeland, testified to the decisiveness of the battle by referring to it as “the first terrible and incurable fall of the Roman army.
“I am speaking of the bloodshed at Yarmuk … after which occurred the capture and burning of the cities of Palestine, even Caesarea and Jerusalem. After the destruction of Egypt there followed the enslavement and incurable devastation of the Mediterranean lands and islands. But those ruling and dominating the Roman Empire did not understand these things.”
The arrival of Islam upon the stage of history was marked by a torrent of violence and destruction throughout the Mediterranean world. The great Roman and Byzantine cities, whose ruins still dot the landscapes of North Africa and the Middle East, were brought to a rapid end in the Seventh Century. Everywhere archeologists have found evidence of massive destruction; and this corresponds precisely with what we know of Islam as an ideology.
Over a millennium after the Muslim victory at Yarmuk, the same unchanged Muslim-Christian dynamics were apparent in distant Western Europe, circa 1683. A desperate and urgently assembled coalition of Christian forces — spearheaded by the Polish King Jan Sobieski (or John III of Poland) — broke the Ottoman jihad siege of Vienna, Austria.
Ibrahim’s post-script for Sword and Scimitar includes sobering reflections on this phenomenon of Christian self-abnegation which abets Western Islamization through both violent and non-violent jihad. Eight decades ago, as Ibrahim notes, Anglo-French writer and historian Hilaire Belloc warned about the West’s self-assured dismissal of predatory Islam. Belloc wrote:
Millions of modern people of the civilization of Europe and America … have forgotten all about Islam. They have never come in contact with it. They take for granted that it is decaying, and that, anyway, it is just a foreign religion which will not concern them.
It is, as a fact, the most formidable and persistent enemy which our civilization has had, and may at any moment become as large a menace in the future as it has been in the past.
And Ibrahim concludes his opus — an historical Reconquista — with a tocsin of looming, but still preventable calamity, we must heed:
As Muhammad’s civilization retreated into obscurity, the post-Christian West slowly came into being. Islam did not change, but the West did: Muslims still venerate their heritage and religion — which commands jihad against infidels — whereas the West has learned to despise its heritage and religion, causing it to become an unwitting ally of the jihad …
In short, if Islam is terrorizing the West today, that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to. For no matter how diminished, a still swinging Scimitar will always overcome a strong but sheathed Sword.