A thought-provoking book written by Paul Moorcraft
The rapid conquest of much of the known world in the century or so after Muhammad’s death in 632 AD was a military miracle. Except perhaps for their night-fighting skills the Arabs had no technological edge. In fact the two superpowers of the time, the Byzantine and the Persian empires, had despised Arabs as backward barbarians useful only as mercenaries in border wars.
The Muslim armies would not have made progress a few decades earlier against the well-organised empires and their professional armies. But the two superpowers had fought themselves to a standstill and then plague overwhelmed many of the survivors. The small Islamic armies had relatively little opposition. After 711 they conquered nearly all of Spain in less than a decade. They advanced 1,000 miles from their original base in Gibraltar and swept through the Iberian peninsula and reached central France. If the rapid push from Gibraltar has been repeated to the north, then Muslim ships would have been anchored in the Thames and Arab armies could have been in Scotland.
In 732, however, Charles Martel stopped the ‘Saracen’ advance at the battle of Tours. Other battles ensured and most of France was freed of the Islamic conquest. Spain though was not fully liberated until 1492. Much nonsense has been written about the Reconquista, most of it in the light of the politics of hundreds of years later, including the period since 2014 when the Islamic State was established. The new state’s caliph has promised to regain the lost Islamic lands, including Al-Andalus – Spain and Portugal.
Hindsight tells us that Spanish Christian kingdoms fought together to throw off the cruel Islamic yoke. As it happened the Christian kings and princes often fought each other, sometimes in alliance with the Muslim emirs. This was true even of Spain’s greatest hero, El Cid. Likewise Muslims fought each other too and the conflicts with the north African Berbers often led to major rebellions. Nor was Islamic rule so cruel. Mostly the Emirs practised religious tolerance rtowards Jews and Christians. Much of Europe staggered around in the Dark Ages, while a remarkable renaissance in arts, literature, medicine, sciences and architecture blossomed in the Iberian peninsula as well as the Muslim heartlands in the Middle East. And much of this was funded by gold from Africa which was channelled into northern Europe. True, much of the Islamic achievement was based on the sword – Islam is definitely not a peaceful religion. Even after the reconquista, Muslim armies of the Ottoman empire threatened to conquer Vienna – twice – and almost overran Western Europe.
It is the heritage of the Crusades, European imperialism and the current wave of terrorism and beheading that have coloured the image of the often benign Islamic rule in Spain. What followed the fall of the final Muslim stronghold in Granada was mass persecution and killings of Christian and Jews – even when they converted. These atrocities were far worse than the behaviour of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Then it was topped by the brutality of the Inquisition.
In my new book, The Jihadist Threat: The Reconquest of the West?, I look at how the Muslim armies conquered so much so quickly. And I ask whether the Jihadists can do what they have promised – to take back the old lands, including Spain. As one of the few Western military experts who has lived with and been in battle alongside Jihadists from Afghanistan to Bosnia and North Africa, I can add a frontline eye-witness opinion. In the book I consider some of the options to prevent a Jihadist victory. It is unlikely but not impossible – even if we assume that Allah is not backing the deeply religious leaders in the Islamic State capital of Raqqah.
There are remarkable parallels today with the rise of Islam in the seventh century, not least that Europe appears to crumbling, helped by Russian subversion and the not unrelated mass migration. The US seems incapable of leadership and even preposterous would-be leaders such as Donald Trump would undoubtedly make matters far worse.
Although much of my book is a serious analysis, I allow some tongue-in-cheek speculations, not least about what Islamic rule would be like if it returned to Europe, The corrupt Greek governments have done much to scupper the EU and especially the single currency which must collapse soon because of its inbuilt contradictions. Arguably the Greeks were better administered under Ottoman rile. Obviously they appear incapable of running their own affairs. With alcohol and cigarettes removed from the economy corruption might decline. And the former fascist states of Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy might accommodate themselves to Islamo-fascism. If the UK is renamed the Islamic Republic of England, Wales and Ireland then Scotland might finally achieve its independence as a socialist republic free of Sharia law. The Scots would fight to the death for their whiskey. The rest of Britain would behave as their fellow citizens did in the Channel Islands and as the French behaved during the Nazi occupation: 10 per cent resisted actively, ten per cent actively collaborated and 80 per cent just tried to keep their heads down.
The expansionist Jihadists in the Islamic State have suggested that Sharia in the UK and the USA might take some time, but they believe that heaven has ordained that the old lands will be recovered soon. One advantage of of an Islamic Europe governed by Sharia would be the banks. Islamic jurisprudence has displayed great imagination getting around the fact that Muslims cannot charge Interest on loans. It is interesting that the Islamic banking system did not suffer like its counterparts in the big crash of 2008. Islamic bankers are clearly less greedy than their atrocious western counterparts.
I do not think that the Islamic State will re-conquer Spain but its terrorist outreach will undermine Western Europe for decades. The US-led coalition has done very little to stop the Jihadists, though Putin very rapidly changed the balance of power. Nevertheless, the Islamic State is likely to survive and mutate, just as its predecessor, Al-Qaeda, did. Even if it is eventually defeated in Syria and Iraq, it will switch its forces to Libya. In the end, in my opinion, the pack of cards that is Saudi Arabia will become the final resting place of the Jihadist state – where it all began between Mecca and Media.
Professor Paul Moorcraft is an internationally respected expert on crisis communications, especially relating to security issues. He completed his studies at six British, Middle Eastern and African universities, thereafter lecturing full-time (consecutively) at ten universities in the UK, US, Africa, Australia and New Zealand in journalism, politics and international relations. He was most recently a visiting professor at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. He worked full-time for Time magazine in Africa, then for the BBC and most of the Western TV networks as a freelance producer/correspondent. He has worked in 30 war zones in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Balkans, often with irregular, and sometimes jihadist, forces. Most recently he has been operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine/Israel, Nepal, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, Turkey, Sri Lanka and, for a pleasant change, the Maldives