Afghanistan: Convictions Versus Opinions

Courage is not obligatory, but common sense is. Both seem now to be lacking in the West, having again been replaced by cowardice, as nicely demonstrated by Afghanistan. The West fails to understand that the endgame is to have a repeat of 2015-2016, which nearly brought Europe to the tipping point, with an even larger stream of refugees — the populist Pied Pipers who in reaction come out of the woodwork fit into this grand scheme nicely.

The leftist Gutmenschen, who see Culture as a bourgeois construct, think they can instrumentalise (weaponise) Islam (cf., the French intellectuals who accompanied the Ayatollah back to Teheran in 1979), by creating social discord through multicultural ideology. The Left, who are materialists, however, can never understand religion, which works in categories of eternity.

Islam, however, is in this regard quite different than Christianity. Islam shares with the Left, the idea of an élite (Eric Voegelin would call this the “Gnosis”) that knows what’s best for you (nanny state, run by technocratic experts, or the Ulema) and the idea that Utopia can be created now — William F. Buckley’s one-liner summarising Voegelin comes to mind “Don’t immanentise the Eschaton.” While the Left’s post-revolutionary Utopia and that of Islam are antithetical, they both have a common enemy – Western culture and its Christian underpinnings.

The Left hopes that religions will destroy each other mutually in the short to mid-term; Islam knows it will win on the long-term. The European refugee policy, taking in large numbers of young Afghan men — who were not willing to fight for their country, thus begging the question as to what their contribution to our societies may be — depleted Afghanistan of necessary vitality. The West’s “self-critical” diffidence, about not imposing democracy on other cultures, blah-blah, is contradicted by the fact that seemingly everyone now wants to leave (including those seen on news footage of the evacuation from the Kabul aerodrome speaking Urdu, or now under security detention in their host countries).

Europe and the US —nothing has changed since the Yugoslav crisis, where a commentator not without due irony noted that “the Europeans are gutless, the Americans are witless” — fail to understand that the “Taliban” are a modern phenomenon (not mediaeval), which has replaced the traditional tribal structure (similar to the development of the notion of citizen during the nineteenth century; but then the Islamic variant, belonging to the Umma is a quite different thing).

Democracy, or our notion of “rights” (which must necessarily be symbiotically joined with the notion of “duty”), cannot work in an Islamic society, in which there is no concept of the individual. The notion of “Individual” is intrinsically liked to the Christian idea of individual salvation through Christ’s death and then further formulated by that African, Punic-speaking Berber, who invented the “West,” Saint Augustine (his formulation of the Trinity in three personæ; it is no coincidence that his Confessiones is the first autobiography!). 

We forget that in totalitarian systems — whether socialist, Islamic or fascist, or of some other ilk — the large majority of the population remains ambivalent, paying lip-service to the enlightened elite, especially when it is socially advantageous. This says more about human nature than anything else. The “Taliban,” like “Nazis,” or “Communists” are not extraterrestrial beings; they are fearmongers who thrive among us on the opportunistic maxim, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Totalitarianism thrives on collective cowardice, freedom on individual courage. Tyranny emerges when the categorical imperative is replaced by the hypothetical. By abandoning Afghanistan — the Europeans blame the Americans, the Americans blame Trump (forgetting that in Islam there is no developed concept of juridical persons, i.e., the officeholder being distinct from the person who holds it; whatever the Taliban may have agreed with Trump was for them no longer binding when a new president entered office) — the world sees (dictators of the world unite) that the values we espouse as being universal and self-evident truths are at best “Western,” but in reality not worth the paper they’re written on, because we are unwilling to make a stand for them.

We were rooted out from Afghanistan, with our tails between our legs, not because it is the proverbial graveyard of empires, nor because our soldiers were not up to the military task, but because our complacent leaders, elected by self-indulgent, apathetic societies, lack vision and intrepidity, unlike the Taliban: Natura abhorret vacuum.

Our biggest problem… Well, when Heinrich Heine, the German poet, went on a walking tour of French cathedrals in the nineteenth century, the last stop was Amiens. His traveling companion, a man named, Alphonse, asked Heine, why it was no longer possible to construct buildings such as the Amiens cathedral. Heine responded – “Dear Alphonse, in those days men had convictions, whereas we moderns only have opinions, and something more is needed than an opinion to build a Gothic cathedral.”


The featured image shows, “Courage, Anxiety and Despair,” by James Sant; painted ca. 1850.

EUTM-M: A New UN Training Mission

The EU could have a military training mission in Mozambique in few months; the bloc’s head of foreign policy said, to help the southern African country counter Islamist insurgents. “I think we could approve this mission,” Josep Borrell told reporters, before a meeting of EU defense ministers in Lisbon, where the topic was to be discussed. The problem appears to be in identifying countries of the Union, in addition to Portugal, willing to provide personnel.

Borrell previously said that 200 to 300 military personnel could be sent to Mozambique by the end of the year. Portugal had already sent 60 instructors to its former colony in May to begin training Mozambican soldiers to counter the Islamist insurgency, share information and use drones to track the movements of militants.

Portuguese Defense Minister Joao Cravinho had said other countries were willing to send personnel but without providing further details. Obviously, Portugal would be the “leading nation” of the mission, said Cravinho and that he expects the activation of the mission, which is likely to be called EUTM-M (EU Training Mission – Mozambique), by the end of the year, taking advantage of the pause that the Islamist insurgents have been handed, because of a victorious operation by local troops.

Mozambique has been grappling with an insurrection in its northern province of Cabo Delgado since 2017; and the violence has grown significantly over the past year. Dozens of civilians were killed in Islamic State-related attacks in the coastal city of Palma in April, and a $20 billion liquefied natural gas project, run by French oil giant Total, was halted by the violence.

It is useful to remember that the Community of Southern African States (SADC), for political reasons, after having formulated a proposal to send a multinational force of 3,000 soldiers in support of the Maputo forces, took a lot of time before being deployed. Finally, a Rwandan contingent arrived in August and immediately fought the insurgents, crushing their units; Angolan and other contingents finally are on their way to Mozambique. Furthermore, the USA, always at the request of the Maputo government, has sent a training and support mission to the local forces engaged against the Islamist militias.

Finally, the UN, which since 2019, has faced a persistent (and unresolved) political struggle between the government of Mozambique and the opposition movement (RENAMO) that had been also operating in the north of the country, and to facilitate dialogue, appointed the Swiss diplomat Mirko Manzoni as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General. Manzoni, assisted by a small office, is working in quietly to re-establish dialogue between the parties.

A Necessary, Comprehensive Review

For several years, the UN and the Member States have discussed how best to support some of the ongoing military operations in the Sahel, a region suffering from increasing levels of violence, as well as political, humanitarian, and environmental crises. Since December 2017, the UN has offered to support the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel, through a complicated series of agreements. Today there are growing demands from the United Nations to establish a specific body dedicated to supporting the multinational force. The issue is not new, as early as the mid-2000s the UN began using its peacekeeping funds to support other missions.

Africa has been at the center of these activities, starting from 2006, with the supply by the UN of the so-called “support packages,” initially light and subsequently more substantial, to AMIS, the African Union Mission in Sudan (to which even NATO had provided significant support).

Then, in 2009, came the decisive step. The UN established a United Nations Support Office for AMISOM (the African Union mission in Somalia), the first dedicated mechanism funded by peacekeeping. In 2015, it was reconfigured into the UN Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS), which continues to operate to this day and is dependent on the Department of Logistics Support. Some experts believe they are repurposing this model, which works quite well, in support of the G5S. The leaders of the G5 Sahel have called for such a mechanism; the Secretary-General of the UN also suggested it.

However, there are some perplexities and issues for debate. Formally, the G5S is not a peacekeeping force (in reality, even the AMISOM is not, as it is a fighting force). Peace operations are generally defined as involving civilian and uniformed foreign personnel, working in support of a peace process (and in apparent contradiction to what has been said, AMISOM is also this and has civilian personnel for political, civil, humanitarian and police forces to train local ones).

The Joint Force G5 Sahel does not meet this definition. In fact, it is a set of military forces (with heavily armed police forces) operating on their national territory (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina, Niger, Chad), and which have limited activities, “hot pursuit” (i.e., during a cross-border action).

Earlier this year, Chad deployed its own contingent in the region, where the borders between Burkina-Faso, Mali and Niger meet, but based on a specific agreement and for a specific time (then the Chadian government withdrew from the area because of national needs after the death in combat (though at home) of President Idriss Debi). So, for the most part, the countries contributing to the G5S Force are simultaneously the “hosting state.”

Legally, therefore, the issue does not require the authorization of the UN Security Council, because it is an example of collective self-defense, authorized by the states on whose territory the personnel of the force operate and the existence of an integrated HQ (in Bamako), and it is not enough to transform a sui generis force into a full-fledged multinational force. Rather than legal authorization, G5 Sahel leaders would like to obtain a Chapter VII mandate from the UN Security Council for the force, which allows access to UN peacekeeping funds, as has been the case in Somalia, following the AMISOM model.

When the host state and the contributing country are the same, this would pose significant challenges for the UN to identify national operations (as opposed to joint forces) and to ensure accountability (financial, legal, and ethic-political). It would be one thing if the G5 Sahel states were transparent and timely in reporting their operations; but they were not (and the use of materials and equipment provided by many EU states to the force are an example).

Furthermore, as the latest report by the UN Secretary General noted, MINUSMA (and partners such as UETM-Mali, EUCAP Mali, EUCAP Sahel and several states) underlined the persistent lack of information from the Joint Force G5S on the conduct of operations.

Another problem is that the G5S force already benefits from multiple support mechanisms. There are bilateral security assistance agreements from over a dozen states, as well as the European Union (EU). In addition, the UA is still working out how to deploy 3,000 reinforcements for the Joint Force G5S. Since February 2018, a trust fund has also supported the force by receiving approximately $145 million from Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Turkey, UAE, and the West African Economic and Monetary Union. As mentioned, it also receives the support of MINUSMA (logistic, medical, technical, and engineering assistance).

Despite some recent improvements, compliance and accountability issues persist, in that Joint Force G5 Sahel personnel are regularly accused of violating international humanitarian law. Recent improvements include the establishment of a casualty and accident monitoring and analysis cell in January 2021; sending radio messages prior to operations to all intervention units on their legal obligations; and monitoring the capture, detention, and transfer of detainees. It is true that AMISOM also constantly suffers from liability and compliance problems. But persistent legal violations by the G5S contingents risk scrapping this hypothesis, together with the recent coup in Mali.

Finally, using a dedicated UN mechanism, funded by the organization’s assessed peacekeeping contributions to primarily support domestic counter-terrorism operations would set a dangerous precedent as it would undermine the UN’s claims of impartiality and further blur the border between peace operations and internal counter-terrorism activities. It would also likely encourage other states and organizations around the world to seek similar UN support for their own domestic counter-terrorism operations, which in some circumstances are dubious and a cover to crack internal oppositions.

Old Ghosts

It seems that the Balkans, including the Western ones, cannot get rid of old patterns. In early June, the Council of Europe warned that divisions between ethnic communities are deepening in Montenegro, stressing that the monitoring of hate speech needs to be improved. In its report on the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in Montenegro, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe noted that the authorities said that the social distances between almost all ethnic groups have increased. This contributed to the Committee’s view that divisions between communities could deepen and become more marked. Episodes of religious discord between different communities of the Orthodox Church were also noted, the report said. Despite that hate speech is criminalized, there is little social media monitoring by the authorities because no agency has the mandate to do so.

The Council called on the authorities to pay particular attention to the prevention of hate speech in consultations with the new media law and to ensure that the law addresses the problem of online hate speech. The Strasbourg body said the new media law must clearly define responsibilities for published hate speech and authorize a state agency to monitor and sanction cases of hate speech online.

The European Commission’s 2020 progress report on the country warned that hate speech and verbal abuse in the media and social networks have worsened. It then urged the Montenegrin authorities to increase the capacity of the judiciary to deal with hate speech and to ensure that such cases are investigated, prosecuted and properly sanctioned.

The Council of Europe has also invited the authorities to clarify the use of other state symbols in Montenegro, as the lack of clarity on the display of symbols of other states risks being a cause of abuse and further exacerbates the divisions present in the Montenegrin society.

Montenegro’s national symbols law does not prohibit ethnic minorities from displaying their national symbols; but it also requires them to display the national flag next to these symbols. or risk fines of between 100 and 500 euros. Belonging to the Albanian and Serbian minorities, they seem to be the object of the greatest number of actions by the security forces.
Montenegro is a multi-ethnic state and it is unusual not to have a community that makes up more than half of its population. About 45% of its population of about 630,000 people identify as Montenegrins, about 29% as Serbian, about 11% as Bosnian (Bosniak) or Muslim, and 5% as Albanian. But the report by the Council of Europe underlines the permanent fragility of the region, both for the old and for the new states there.

The events of Montenegro are exemplary in representing the injustices of history. In fact already during WWI the small kingdom had disappeared from the agendas of the Allied and the Associated, and despite a different willing assimilated to the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia and its autonomy, during the Titoist era, already limited, ended again from 1991 until it reached full independence in 2006.

Montenegro was dragged into the maelstrom of civil war and associated with the Serbia of Milosevic and his gloomy associates. Independence, as often happens, develops very strong identity dynamics (especially when they have been deliberately ignored and repressed) and situations that have already been seen and that no one wants to review, are resumed.

But recent polarizations have not helped the initiation of a dialogue and choices. In present-day Montenegro, issues, such as, NATO membership and the EU accession process, have (re) ignited rivalry, along with Serbian (and Russian) concerns, further worsening conflicts; and the civilian populations still risk being held hostage to ambitions and ethnic cleansing by unwanted foreigners, and unlikely revenge, also touching upon the religious dimension, witnessed by the very harsh separation between the Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox churches and also the revival of old and semi-forgotten Albanian and Kosovar claims on border areas (respectively Bar, Ulcigno and Berane).

The Mysterious Island

A mysterious airbase is under construction on a volcanic island off the coast of Yemen that is in one of the world’s crucial sea nodes for both energy shipments and commercial cargo. Although no country has claimed jurisdiction on Mayun Island in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, shipping traffic associated with a previous attempt to build a huge track across the island, less than six kilometers long.

The internationally recognized Yemeni government officials now say the UAE is behind this latest effort, although the UAE announced in 2019 the withdrawal of its troops from a Saudi-led military campaign fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and that shortly before a tough political confrontation had opposed Riyadh and Dubai over the presence of Emirate forces on the Yemeni island of Socotra.

The runway on Mayun Island allows anyone who controls it to project power into the strait and easily launch air strikes into mainland Yemen, ravaged by a bloody war that has been going on for years. It could also provide a base for any operation in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and neighboring East Africa, now one of the most important regions on the planet.

Satellite images showed construction work on a 2-kilometer runway, and other installations and hangars to equip this installation with the capacity to host attacks, surveillance, and transport aircraft. A previous attempt, started towards the end of 2016, and subsequently abandoned, had seen work on an even longer track (over 3 kilometers).

Yemeni officials said the recent tension between the UAE and Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi stemmed in part from the Emirati’s request to his government to sign a 20-year lease for Mayun. The initial (and halted) construction project came after the UAE, Saudi and allied forces recaptured the island from Iranian-backed Houthi militants in 2015.

Other sources note that the Emirati’s apparent decision to resume construction of the air base comes after they dismantled their military installations in Eritrea, and used as a starting point for the campaign in Yemen, revealing not only a mere geographical reorientation, but confirming its strategic interests in the region.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).


The featured image shows a mural about the lost boys of the Sudan.

Ancestors Of ‘Issa – Meaning Of History, Meaning Of Suffering

The Koran speaks of Moses (Moussa), and the Bible specifies his role in history. When Israel escaped from Pharaoh and left Egypt, God revealed Himself as the One who sees misery and who descends to deliver from the oppressor (Exodus 3, 7-8). He also summons to leave the idols produced by man and to leave occult systems that end up hiding the true God and enslaving people.

On Mount Sinai, Israel said, “Yes” (Exodus 19), and the people progressively came out of injustices, but also from magic (Exodus 22, 17-26). They stopped the sacrifices of infants and the prostitution linked to the magical rites of the Baals that the prophet Baruch qualified as a demonic cult (Baruch 4, 7). This new life was progressively organized in a kingdom, notably with King David (Daoud).

The Koran cites several biblical prophets, such as Nahum, Malachy, Jeremiah, Isaiah. Their era knew grave tribulations. The kingdom of Samaria fell in the hands of the Assyrians in the year 721 BC. There were to be no more victories to comfort believers; only interior signs henceforth were to guide man in his discernment of good and evil.

Jerusalem was burned in the year 598 BC. And God seemed to be silent. The prophets prayed. Were the people or their ancestors obliged to expiate a sin? This was the time to become more humble, infinitely more humble.

Maybe also the people had to live in exile to discover that God was greater than what they had understood up to now. Cyrus, the Persian, believed in one single and unique divinity, Ahura-Mazda, permitting him to peacefully centralize his empire and to unite philosophers and beliefs. But this was an abstract, impersonal divinity. The prophet Isaiah wasn’t impressed; rather, he acknowledged the idea of a unique God. But this God is the personal God revealed on Mount Sinai (Isaiah 44, 6).

One day the exiles came back to the land. The Temple was rebuilt. Some thought humbly that no one could pretend to understand the celestial light, not even the Sanhedrin, for sin too much clouded their hearts. There had to be a Temple for God not made by human hands, a celestial Temple, a new pardon, and then there would be light. “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence” (Isaiah 64, 1).

The prophet Daniel announces the coming of Al-Massih, a Messiah “Holy of Holies,” who resides where God resides. He is also “Prince-Messiah;” hence king, but a “massacred Messiah” (Dn 9, 24-26). His prophecy counts seventy weeks which are read according to the numerical customs of the ancient Orient. Thus, very probably, the weeks are counted as years (Dn 9, 24-25), then counted as months (Dn 9, 26), then as days (Dn 9, 27), with a sum of 70 years; that is to say, for a period that covers the life of Maryam and her son Al-Massih.

The sage reflects on the error of the impious who say: “For if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected” (Wisdom 2, 18-20).

And the sage observes: “Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, or hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls /…/ but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wisdom 2, 21-24).


Francoise Breynaert is a secular oblate of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Desert (Belgium). A doctor of theology, she has published foundational works (biblical, Christological) and also Marian and spiritual works. She has also done theological research on the salvation of non-Christians and the Good News for the deceased, and on the Coming of Christ, which the West often confounds, unhappily, with the end of the world, and finally on the exegesis of orality in connection with the Christians of the East. Her works are recognized (imprimatur, episcopal prefaces) in France and abroad. Her research has interested Islamologists who, in turn, have made her part of their studies.


The featured image shows the Virgin and Child, Mughal, circa 1580.

Secularism or Islamism: Two Nightmares?

The idea of an ideal world comes from the Christian idea of the salvation of the world. Al-Massih (the Messiah) has achieved the salvation of the world by his victory over Shaytan (Satan), obtained at the time of the Passion. This salvation has unhappily been rejected by one part of humanity, so in order that the world in its entirety may be saved, we must now await the manifestation of the Antichrist, Ad-Dajjal, and then the glorious Coming of Christ, who will purify the world of the Antichrist and of his supporters. (In the New Testament: Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:36-43; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

We can also say here that over the centuries, what we derived from Augustinism prevented Christians from announcing the true hope for the world and also from dialoguing with Muslims on the theme of the eschatological hope – for the world.

Those who reject the salvation of Al-Massih have kept the idea of the salvation of the world, or of an ideal world, but have charged themselves with the execution of the judgment of the world. The massacres perpetrated are an act of judgment, from which it is expected an ideal world will emerge, liberated or submitted, but pure and perfect. (And there is also satanic nihilism in which there is no hope at all remaining).

We find this idea in the secularism of the French Revolution where the revolutionaries massacred those that resisted them, in the illusory hope of a liberated world. We find it again in the ideal of the Soviet conquest of the world by the Socialist International.

Islamist thought also aims at massacring the unsubmitted in view of an ideal world which is “submitted” to the same logic (which would explain why global secularist movements are sometimes the first to finance these Islamic movements).

This thought is expressed in numerous hadiths of the Muslim tradition, but as it involves armed combat, these writings circulate in a rather private, non-official way: Muslim governments, conscious of the subversive charge against these traditions do not favor their exposition in the full light of day. In effect, on the basis of such a belief, the least bit of preaching or media campaign defining “the forces of Evil to combat” is capable of drawing believers into massive combat. And thus all manipulations are possible.


Francoise Breynaert is a secular oblate of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Desert (Belgium). A doctor of theology, she has published foundational works (biblical, Christological) and also Marian and spiritual works. She has also done theological research on the salvation of non-Christians and the Good News for the deceased, and on the Coming of Christ, which the West often confounds, unhappily, with the end of the world, and finally on the exegesis of orality in connection with the Christians of the East. Her works are recognized (imprimatur, episcopal prefaces) in France and abroad. Her research has interested Islamologists who, in turn, have made her part of their studies.


The featured image shows, The Annunciation, from Mir’at al-quds (a Mirror of Holiness), Mughal India, ca. 1602-1604.

A Conversation With Pierre Bergé

Pierre Bergé (PB) was born on November 14, 1930, and he passed away on September 8, 2017. He was a French award-winning industrialist and patron. He co-founded the fashion label Yves Saint Laurent, and was a longtime business partner of the designer.

A supporter and personal friend of François Mitterrand, Bergé was often described as a social liberal. Bergé participated in all the campaign rallies of François Mitterrand (except in 1981, when he did not vote for Mitterrand). Bergé later served as President of the Association of the Friends of the Institut François-Mitterrand.

A longtime fan and patron of opera, Mitterrand appointed Bergé president of Opéra Bastille on 31 August 1988. He retired from the post in 1994, becoming honorary president of the Paris National Opera. Bergé was also president of the Comité Jean Cocteau, and the exclusive owner of all the moral rights of all of Jean Cocteau’s works. In 2010, he bought a stake in Le Monde newspaper, along with investors Matthieu Pigasse and Xavier Niel.

Bergé was also the author of several essays devoted to Yves Saint Laurent, as well as to freedom and republican values. He published a book in 2010, Lettres à Yves, which was translated into English as Yves Saint Laurent: A Moroccan Passion, in 2014.

The following conversation with independent scholar Grégoire Canlorbe (GC) was conducted in January 2017, in Paris. It was initially published in French in the March 2017 issue of the French journal, Revue Arguments. The Postil is very pleased to release the first English version of this interview.

GC: “A woman,” writes Yukio Mishima in Forbidden Colors, “is never as exhilarated with happiness as when she discovers desire in the eyes of a man.” As a fine connoisseur of the feminine soul, do you hold this remark as insightful?

PB: This Mishima’s quotation echoes what Yves Saint Laurent said about the beauty of a woman in love. “The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves.” Do not think I am bringing everything back to Saint Laurent, I am not so candid! But you will agree that the resemblance of his intuition with that of Mishima is striking. What Saint Laurent had in mind, with this statement, is that a woman does not need clothes to be happy, because the essential lies elsewhere.

You describe me as a fine connoisseur of the feminine soul. This may be true, but I nonetheless think I am more aware of the male soul. As to whether I agree with Mishima, it seems to me that he is somewhat reductive in his statement. I believe that it is every human being who is never so happy as when he discovers sexual attraction or admiration in the eyes of another human being, whether the latter is a man or a woman.

GC: It is not uncommon, among conservative circles, to deplore what they perceive as a pronounced disdain for the military and religious functions – the warrior and the priest – in post-1789 society, while “merchants,” i.e., entrepreneurs and capitalists, are excessively valued in the nation. Would you say that the captains of industry are precisely the warriors of the capitalist era, the samurai of modern times, by virtue of their conquering character, their sense of abnegation, and their competitive spirit?

PB: Georges Clémenceau said, of the French Revolution, it is to take “en bloc.” In other words, if one adheres to the values of the Revolution, one must also accept the bloodbaths that accompanied the promotion of the ideals of 1789; and what the Revolution has brought to the world is too great and too decisive for us to be entitled to deny it in the name of the atrocities committed during the Terror. I regret it obviously, but the Revolution is to be taken in its entirety, with its good and its bad sides.

Your question is interesting. Unfortunately, your idealist portrait of businessmen is far from reality. I am often taken aback when I hear a politician, such as those who present themselves during this campaign period, claiming to be concerned exclusively with the fate of France. The truth is that a politician cares, in the first place, for his own interests – and only secondly for France. But those you call captains of industry, for their part, have no ounce of patriotic consideration. They care so little about the interests of France that they do not hesitate to relocate their production sites or to settle in tax havens.

I may surprise you, but I am not admiring the business company. I remember talking about it with President Mitterrand, who had somewhat let himself be distracted at the end of his first seven-year term. “You would make a mistake,” I told him in essence, “if you thought the company was there to create jobs.” He was visibly intrigued by my remark. “In reality,” I continued, “the company is there to create profits; and the day it can make a profit without creating a job, it does it.” This is all the more true at the moment. Like the assembly line a century ago, the robotization is about to allow the companies to do without a considerable part of manpower; and this is what the company is there for.

The company is there to produce, sell, negotiate, and optimize; and all the rest, I tell you straight away, is bullshit. If you ask big business leaders, you will certainly hear them claiming great principles, such as, the fight against unemployment, the economic influence of France, or its leadership in technological innovation. No doubt they will agree that they are the samurai of modern times. But let them perpetuate the custom of seppuku, if they really want to walk in the footsteps of the samurai of old! I fear very much that you will not find many who have the courage to give themselves a “beautiful death,” or even to renounce some juicy profit, to do honor to France.

GC: Feminist sociologists are generally inclined to denounce all kinds of voluntary female behavior, particularly with regard to sexual preferences or dress habits, on the grounds that these behaviors reflect “symbolic violence” from males. Yet the veil often escapes their warnings, and they even see in it a mark of feminine dignity and resistance to the diktats of male lust. How do you explain this apparent complacency on the part of feminists towards Islam?

PB: Your ascertainment surprises me. It seems to me that it is a minority of feminists, not the majority of them, who make this complacent speech vis-à-vis Islam. You do well, however, to draw attention to the possible straying of today’s feminism. Our society, imbued with gender theory, wants to make women and men equal. But equality is a dreadful word. Men and women are certainly equal before the law; they are not equal in anything else.

We evoked above the Revolution of 1789. As beautiful as the triptych on the pediment of the French Republic is, the choice of the term equality was a regrettable error. The word justice would have suited our motto “freedom, equality, fraternity” better. No human being, male or female, is equal to another, except that everyone has the right to freedom and to the pursuit of happiness. Men and women are certainly unequal; it does not follow that women are inferior to men in dignity and freedom; they are simply different.

My friend Louise de Vilmorin used to say, in essence, that if men and women were not there to perpetuate the human race, if they had no sexual attraction, a woman would walk next to a man like a rabbit next to a hat. Women and men belong to two different worlds. I have many female friends, whom I respect; and I spent my life defending women. But in wanting to make women absolutely equal to men, one ends up preaching total nonsense. The search for parity is one such nonsense. Hiring a woman on the pretext that she is a woman cancels the exercise of judgment on her objective skills, and prevents a sincere appreciation of her work and her talents.

That said, that women are rarely at the level of men in working life, and there are persistent inequalities in treatment. I will not dispute it. After centuries of female oppression by religion and the law, society is marked by old power struggles; and one cannot seriously expect the gap between men and women in business, and elsewhere, to be leveled overnight. There is no denying injustice. But denouncing this state of affairs is not an alibi to promote the egalitarian feminism on which I have just expressed myself.

As concerns, more particularly, the Islamic veil, there is undoubtedly an attempt to standardize the hijab, even the full veil, in our Western lands. I obviously denounce this trend, because I see the Islamic veil for what it is: a perfect instrument of legal and religious oppression, which is out of place in a lawful society. No coherent defender of the freedom and dignity of women can rejoice at the trivialization of this dress custom in public space and in homes.

The contemporary complacency with regard to the Islamic veil takes on a paradoxical allure, when we know to what extent the emancipatory ideals of feminism, indisputably incompatible with traditional Islam, have moreover conquered our era, not without some excesses which I have spoken of above. In your question, you do well to suggest this tension. But it is much less the feminist intellectuals and activists, rather the previously mentioned “merchants,” who advocate a spirit of misguided tolerance. I recently spoke in the media to denounce the “Islamic fashion” that several major clothing brands adopted.

When the sense of priorities is reversed to the point that the spirit of profit prevails over the values of the Republic, one can effectively claim that the City is corrupted by an excessive valuation of the market function. I told you that I do not admire, personally, the business company. I admire art and creation; that’s true. But I hate commerce and marketing. In addition, I have always felt that a fashion designer was there to embellish women, to encourage them on their path of freedom, and not to be the accomplice of misogynistic manners that are hostile to the liberal principles which are theoretically those of Westerners and, in particular, of the French since the Revolution.

GC: “A very common error… consists in believing,” Konrad Lorenz tell us in his 1972 essay, Behind the Mirror, “that feelings of love and respect cannot be associated together… I have the absolute certainty to have never loved and respected a friend more deeply than the undisputed leader of our group of children of Altenberg, four years my elder… Even those of my age whom I would classify… as inferior to me, always had some something in themselves that impressed me and in what I felt them to be superior to me… I don’t think that one can truly love someone whom one looks down on, from all point of view.” In regard to your own experience, do you subscribe to this analysis of love?

PB: All those I have loved in my life were also people I admired. I endorse Konrad Lorenz’s wording: I do not believe either that one can truly love someone that one looks down on, from all points of view. It is true that one can have a very strong sexual attraction towards someone whom one despises. One can even get on remarkably well with him in the bedroom. But if one does not admire him, one may well be subject to his animal charm, sensitive to his dangerous side, but it will not be love – even if this means deluding oneself about the tenor of feelings that one experiences towards him.

I would add that one can love and admire someone who is self-destructing before one’s eyes. It happened to me; and it was with a heavy heart that I had to bring myself to leave Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s. Addiction is a disease just like cancer or depression. Would you stop admiring and cherishing someone because he has a tumor?

GC: It is not uncommon to hear that a “deregulated” market economy necessarily leads to growing income inequalities which state intervention is fortunately able to correct. Opposed to this first approach is notably that which estimates that, whatever the economic system considered, communism or capitalism, the market economy left to its own devices or accompanied by a redistributive system, the state of affairs is such that 20% of the population holds 80% of the national income. Which of these two opinions do you prefer?

PB: The second option that you evoke seems to me to present what has actually happened so far. All economic systems have experienced a highly unequal distribution of wealth. I do not know whether one should see in it the manifestation of an eternal law of human affairs, inscribed in the natural order of things. But as a man of the Left, I would prefer, of course, that it be possible to correct this tenacious tendency for the majority of national income to be concentrated in the hands of a minority of the population. That said, I am no longer fifteen; and I am no longer under the spell of communist or Proudhonian ideals. I will not tell you, like a François Hollande, that finance is my “enemy.” But I keep being shocked, in the age of globalization, by the indecent distribution of wealth and the dubious practices of certain companies.

GC: Which one, between Putin’s Russia, religiously Orthodox, and militant Islam, do you currently see as the greatest threat to the freedom of women and minorities?

PB: Both seem to me to be dangerous, beyond the shadow of a doubt; but the greatest danger assuredly comes from militant Islam. I am aware that the Orthodox Church is close to power and that the Patriarch of Moscow is making an authoritarian speech on social issues. Even though homosexuality was decriminalized in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR, the government expressly talks about fighting “homosexual propaganda,” in other words, the political and social demands by the LGBT community.

The fact remains that the terrorist acts which strike France and other countries in the world are concretely coming from the Muslim community. It is easy to notice that it is not the Orthodox who provoke a crash, besiege an embassy, assassinate journalists and caricaturists, take hostages in a supermarket, commit assaults in a performance hall, the street or a Christmas market, and enslave men and women.

GC: A fashionable assertion is that Western societies have secularized to the point of giving rise to a spiritual void unprecedented in human history. In the opinion of Vilfredo Pareto, in his 1917 treatise. The Mind and Society, the Christian religion has only given way to the democratic religion.

“The acts of worship of the Christian religion,” he writes, “have diminished among modern civilized peoples, but have been partially replaced by acts of the worship of socialist saints, humanitarian saints, and especially of the worship of the State and of the god, People… The Catholic processions have almost disappeared, but have been replaced by ‘processions’ and by political and social ‘demonstrations’… For many of those who deviate from the Christian religion, Christian enthusiasm has changed to ‘social,’ or ‘humanitarian,’ or ‘patriotic,’ or ‘nationalist’ enthusiasm; there is something for every taste.”

Do you subscribe to Vilfredo Pareto’s iconoclastic thesis, or to the common opinion that we have indeed come out of religion in the West?

PB: This analysis that you cite is perhaps iconoclastic, but it does not hold water. To begin with, it is wrong that the Christian religion is on the decline in the world. We mentioned earlier the Orthodoxy that is rising from the ashes. Furthermore, it is excessive to present democracy as a substitute for the Christian religion. In fact, democracy is simply not a religion. But it is quite true that the leftists regrettably tend to classify all Catholics as reactionary rightists.

I like to say that leftists, to whom the Republic very much owes its existence, have emptied the churches to fill the museums. I totally agree with it. But we certainly have not replaced Catholic worship with socialist worship. It is foolishness to pretend that we would worship a “State god” or a “People god.” The state does have a significant weight in society; and the ambient discourse is indeed articulated around the values of assistantship, secularism and the nation. But none of this has ever taken on nor could have ever taken on a religious character.

I fail to see how Christian practices and beliefs would have diminished on the grounds that democratic institutions were gaining ground. They have certainly decreased, at least in France, but if they have done so, it is certainly not in the context of a competition with the values and customs of the Republic. The reason for this relative decline of Christianity, more particularly Catholicism, is to be found in the obsolete side of its beliefs and practices. After having been in the spotlight for two thousand years, not without the support of force, to the extent that the Church burned heretics, they are simply going out of fashion.

In the end, what has changed with the secular Republic is not that a new official cult has tried to supplant Catholic worship, but that religious affairs have been relegated to the private sphere. This was not the case before. Let us not forget that the Catholic Church has persecuted the Protestant community from which I come. Even if religion now belongs to the intimate sphere, and no longer to the political sphere, the religious beliefs of Catholic citizens have of course an impact on their electoral preferences and on their positions about a given subject in society or a given draft law.

As evidenced by a recent survey, relayed last week by an article in Le Monde, it is however a biased perception that every Catholic is opposed to marriage for all or to surrogacy. In reality, there are multiple scenarios among Catholic voters. A number of them are politically right-wing, when it comes to the economy, and yet sensitive to left-wing concerns about so-called social issues. I think, therefore, that we have to take a step back from the overly obvious prejudices that we leftwing men commonly share about Catholics.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a few words?

PB: You did well to request this interview. Now I would like it if you tell me about yourself.

The Fall Of Acre

I often say that the Crusades were a high point of Western civilization. And they were, but they were also an example of flawed glory. Certainly, the goal of the Crusades was peerlessly laudable, and the virtues shown by Crusaders admirable.

At the same time, the Holy Land Crusades illustrated key weaknesses of the West, and, after all, if nothing succeeds likes success, nothing fails like failure. In Roger Crowley’s The Accursed Tower all of this is on display, though Christian valor is probably the dominant theme, as it should be. In a sane society, the events of this book would be used for a blockbuster movie featuring the Christians as doomed heroes. Not in today’s society, to be sure, but maybe in tomorrow’s.

The book’s focus is the final years of the Crusader States, which were founded after the epic success of the First Crusade in reconquering Muslim-occupied Palestine in A.D. 1099, and are generally deemed to have ended with the fall of the ancient city of Acre to the Mamluk sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil in 1291.

The Crusader States had been in decline since Saladin’s victory at the Horns of Hattin in 1187, and what intermittent respite the Crusaders had gotten from Muslim pressure came from Muslim disunity, not Crusader gains. Then as now, Muslim discord was the norm (Frederick II took advantage of it to regain Jerusalem by treaty in 1228; it was lost again in 1244).

But off and on, due to religious fervor or political consolidation, which usually went hand-in-hand, pressure on the Christians spiked, so the writing had long been on the wall. In the end, it was simple: the Muslims were both rich and close to Outremer, effectively surrounding it, while at this time the West was relatively poorer and farther away.

The book’s title comes from one of the towers defending Acre, a sea port defended on its landward side by extensive fortifications, including a double wall and numerous barbicans and towers. (It mostly could not be approached from its seaward side, and its harbor was protected by the chain formerly guarding the Golden Horn in Constantinople, stolen by the Crusaders sacking Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, in 1204).

As Crowley notes, much of the precise layout of both the city and its fortifications can only be conjectured at this point, but all agree that the Accursed Tower (a name of uncertain origin) lay at the crucial bend in the walls, and thus was the key pressure point during the Muslim siege. Acre had belonged to the Crusaders since it was retaken from the Muslims in 1104 (who had taken it from the Eastern Romans in the late seventh century), except for a two-year period after Saladin conquered it in 1187—it was retaken in a brutal siege in 1189, part of the Third Crusade.

But the Third Crusade failed to free Jerusalem from its occupiers, and the Crusader States for the next one hundred years were sadly diminished, consisting of a string of principalities and fortresses, the latter typically operated by the military religious orders, most famously the Hospitaller citadel at Krak des Chevaliers, north of Acre, near Tripoli (the Outremer Tripoli, not the one in North Africa).

Acre became de facto the center of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, the south end of the Crusader States, both for trade and war, thus becoming a very wealthy and cosmopolitan city. It was also, in the way of rich port cities at the crossroads of civilizations, a pit of vice, although no doubt this was somewhat exaggerated by pious Western churchmen shocked upon their first arrival. And like most of the Crusader States, Acre debilitatingly lacked coherent political leadership.

The King of Jerusalem was an absentee landlord and the strongest power was the Pope’s representative, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (who lived in Acre, not Jerusalem), but other powers, including the Templars and Hospitallers, were nearly independent.

Acre’s existence as a Christian stronghold throughout the century was therefore tenuous, but daily life not all that different from a hundred years before, or from any other Mediterranean port. Muslim and Christian merchants struck deals; the Genoese and Venetians traded with everyone, including the enemy, and fought each other; everybody got along in some years and not in others.

The Christians talked about retaking Jerusalem and did nothing, but on the other side, chronic Muslim civil war, and the threat of the Mongols, kept the Muslims from concentrating on permanently dislodging the Crusaders. And, often as not, the trade brokered by the Christians was of great benefit to Muslim rulers, reducing their incentive to do more than issue vague endorsements of jihad and in practice to curb Muslim fanatics eager to fulfill the Prophet’s commands for ceaseless war against the infidel. All in all, no doubt daily life was fairly pleasant for most people, contrary to the myth of medieval suffering.

The first half of the book is a lively narration of the thirteenth century in Outremer. Crowley covers the mid-century Seventh Crusade, where Louis IX’s armies came to grief in Egypt. He covers the Mamluk defeat in 1260 of the Mongols at Ain Jalut, Goliath’s Spring, neither hindered nor helped by the Crusaders, who at least gave the Muslims safe passage to the battlefield.

He narrates the takeover of Egyptian power by the military slave Mamluks from their Ayyubid overlords, and their welding into a disciplined conquering force under the sultan Baybars, the “Lion of Egypt,” a puritanical Muslim like so many successful conquerors. (As Crowley notes, because the Christians of Damascus had dared to drink wine and ring bells when the Mongols were admitted to Damascus, Baybars collectively punished Christians by, among other crimes, destroying “the hugely significant church of St. Mary in Nazareth, the supposed site of the Annunciation”).

Most relevantly for the current narrative, Baybars systematically increased pressure on the Crusader States, killing peasants in the fields and intermittently besieging and conquering towns and cities. These included the southern towns of Caesarea, Arsuf, and Jaffa, and the critical northern city of Antioch.

He made life difficult for Christians, who were incapable of mounting a unified response, and lacked the military manpower to do much more than man their fortresses and battlements. And he didn’t care much that the Christians provided economic benefits to his realm; jihad was far more important, and this was what sealed the fate of the Crusader States.

The Christians in Europe were well aware of what was going on, but as so often, mustered only a feeble response accompanied by a great deal of hot air. Henry III’s son, Edward Longshanks (later Edward I, made famous several years back by the movie Braveheart), along with Louis IX, led the Ninth Crusade.

Edward landed in Acre with his knights in 1271 (shortly after Baybars finally managed to capture Krak des Chevaliers), and won some major victories over Baybars, but soon enough departed (though he left behind several men who were critical to the final defense of Acre), changing nothing.

The second half of the book narrows the focus to the Fall of Acre. In 1280, Baybars died (probably poisoned), to be succeeded as sultan (after the usual civil war) by another Mamluk general, Qalawun, who continued what Baybars had accomplished, following much the same religious and political policies. He prepared to attack Acre, but died in 1290, to be succeeded by Khalil, who again continued his predecessors’ program. Men and material, called to jihad with its dual rewards of paradise and booty, swarmed to Khalil from every direction, and he began the siege in April, 1291.

Unlike towns earlier conquered by the Muslims, however, Acre was very strongly defended (though, due to internal conflict, the defenders had not beefed up the defenses adequately before the siege) and had a full garrison, of infantry, mounted knights, and such ancillary critical personnel as Pisan siege engineers.

It could be re-supplied from the sea (the Mamluks never had any navy to speak of) and thus had to be taken by force, not by starving out the defenders. On the debit side of the balance sheet, though, the defenders had unclear military command, and failed to coordinate properly, a problem the Sultan did not face. The man effectively in overall charge was the Patriarch, Nicolas de Hanapes (the only canonized Crusader), but his hold was persuasive, not dictatorial. And, the biggest problem of all, Khalil had functionally infinite resources with high morale and strong incentives, so the result was largely inevitable.

Crowley does an outstanding job of narrating the siege and the Fall. Attacks and counterattacks; siege machines; mining; sorties by land and sea. He uses fascinating stories from contemporary sources, both Muslim and Christian, most interestingly from the “Templar of Tyre,” an anonymous Arabic-speaking knight who was probably not a Templar but was included within the councils of the Templars.

On both sides, the heroism often found in such battles, ancient and modern, was on display—the men from the book Red Platoon, fighting in twenty-first-century Afghanistan, would fit right in here, and the men fighting in Acre would fit in there. Over several weeks, the Muslims wore the Christians down; not enough men arrived to replenish losses, and the Christians grew short of ammunition.

By mid-May, the battle was nearing its end. On May 18, after bombardment and mining broke in the walls, Khalil’s troops, coming in endless waves of heavily armored, highly disciplined men, overcame Christian resistance at the Accursed Tower, and thereby entered the space between the double walls, which allowed them to spread out to attack the gates. Last-ditch resistance of the city itself was organized by the Marshal of the Hospitallers, Matthieu de Clermont, who is depicted on the cover of the book in a nineteenth-century French painting (note the double walls).

Clermont and his men rode out and died in the streets, and the Muslims then slaughtered and raped their way through the city, killing or enslaving everyone not able to get away by ship. (Such behavior was the norm in medieval warfare, of course, but is always talked about nowadays as if it was only something Christians did, so it is refreshing to see historical honesty).

A few of the internal citadels, such as the Templar’s castle, held out for a while, but were soon ground down and the same treatment meted out to the survivors. Khalil then demolished much of the city, though its skeleton was a landmark for passing ships for centuries.

So ended the Holy Land Crusades, mostly forgotten in the East until resurrected as part of resistance to colonialism in the nineteenth century, and remembered mostly only in distorted fashion in the West, a propaganda tool for Protestants and atheists up to the present day.

But today I am less focused on politics; today is mostly straight history. One reason I very much enjoyed this book is that I have long had a fascination with medieval weaponry and siege equipment, and Crowley also appears entranced by siege weaponry, especially catapults and trebuchets, about which he talks a great deal.

Why I have such an interest, I have no idea, but it has always been true. I had castle-building Lego analogues as a child, with which I played endlessly. I had toy soldiers, knights in armor, one of which now stands by me as I write, wielding a morning star (a real, if rare, weapon, despite occasional modern claims to the contrary).

I know from reading Howard Pyle’s Men of Iron at the age of five what a glaive-guisarme is (a weapon consisting of a blade on a wooden pole, used to slash and stab, with a hook on the other side, used in the novel in the climactic duel by the underdog). Perhaps my personal interests made this book more gripping to me than it would be to others, however, so if this type of thing bores you, maybe this book is not for you.

Accuracy is key for Crowley, to the extent that a narrative of any ancient event can be made fully accurate. Unlike many modern writers, he does not ascribe to Muslims inventions they did not make. He notes that the Chinese invented most of the catapult-type siege weapons used by Khalil, including the traction trebuchet, which the Byzantines had also used.

The more powerful counterweight trebuchet, a vital weapon in Khalil’s arsenal, able to topple stonework like the Accursed Tower, was probably invented by the Byzantines, though the record is unclear. (With both stonethrowers and, later, gunpowder, the Europeans took the basic idea that had existed for hundreds of years with incremental improvements, and proceeded to reinvent and massively improve the technology within a few decades.

No doubt that is why many of Khalil’s catapults were ifrangi, “Frankish catapults”). The only error that Crowley does make is to claim, repeatedly, that the Mamluks used Greek Fire, by giving that name to all incendiaries, not actual Greek Fire, a liquid that burned on water and was dispensed under pressure, the secret of which was probably lost by this time even to the Byzantines. But that’s a pretty small and common error, that does not detract from the book.

Crowley wrote an even better earlier book, Empires of the Sea, which centers on the 1565 Siege of Malta, where the Christians won. I have been to Malta, and there is no experience like standing where such an epic battle took place, seeing in your mind’s eye what it must have been like. That’s not really possible in Acre, anymore, but reading this book nearly puts you there.

Strangely, Crowley mentions modern Acre quite a bit, but never once mentions that it is in Israel, and most of its modern population is Jewish. Which goes to show that times change, I suppose. I won’t predict the future for Acre, but looking backward allows the reader to grasp, in outline, the life and death of the Crusades.

The Fall of Acre is in many ways a microcosm of that age of action, showing both the good and the bad: heroic men performing acts of glory, and bad men betraying each other and indulging in vice. Often it was the same men. These are the sorts of stories we should tell our children, and, as I say, make movies about. One can hope.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “The Siege of Acre,” by Dominique Papety, painted ca. 1840.

Why Eastern Europeans Do Not Want Islam

Why Eastern Europeans are much more reluctant to accept Muslim migrants than their Western counterparts can be traced back to circumstances surrounding a pivotal battle, that of Kosovo, which took place on June 15, 1389, exactly 630 years ago today.  It pitted Muslim invaders against Eastern European defenders, or the ancestors of those many Eastern Europeans today who are resistant to Islam.

Because the jihad is as old as Islam, it has been championed by diverse peoples throughout the centuries (Arabs in the Middle East, Moors (Berbers and Africans) in Spain and Western Europe, etc.). Islam’s successful entry into Eastern Europe was spearheaded by the Turks, specifically that tribe centered in westernmost Anatolia (or Asia Minor) and thus nearest to Europe, the Ottoman Turks, so-named after their founder Osman Bey.   As he lay dying in 1323, his parting words to his son and successor, Orhan, were for him “to propagate Islam by yours arms.”

This his son certainly did; the traveler Ibn Batutua, who once met Orhan in Bursa, observed that, although the jihadi had captured some one hundred Byzantine fortresses, “he had never stayed for a whole month in any one town,” because he “fights with the infidels continually and keeps them under siege.” Christian cities fell like dominos: Smyrna in 1329, Nicaea in 1331, and Nicomedia in 1337. By 1340, the whole of northwest Anatolia was under Turkic control.  By now and to quote a European contemporary, “the foes of the cross, and the killers of the Christian people, that is, the Turks, [were]  separated from Constantinople by  a channel of three or four miles.”

By 1354, the Ottoman Turks, under Orhan’s son, Suleiman, managed to cross over the Dardanelles and into the abandoned fortress town of Gallipoli, thereby establishing their first foothold in Europe: “Where there were churches he destroyed them or converted them to mosques,” writes an Ottoman chronicler: “Where there were bells, Suleiman broke them up and cast them into fires. Thus, in place of bells there were now muezzins.”

Cleansed of all Christian “filth,” Gallipoli became, as a later Ottoman bey boasted, “the Muslim throat that gulps down every Christian nation—that chokes and destroys the Christians.” From this dilapidated but strategically situated fortress town, the Ottomans launched a campaign of terror throughout the countryside, always convinced they were doing God’s work. “They live by the bow, the sword, and debauchery, finding pleasure in taking slaves, devoting themselves to murder, pillage, spoil,” explained Gregory Palamas, an Orthodox metropolitan who was taken captive in Gallipoli, adding, “and not only do they commit these crimes, but even—what an aberration—they believe that God approves them!”

After Orhan’s death in 1360 and under his son Murad I—the first of his line to adopt the title “Sultan”—the westward jihad into the Balkans began in earnest and was unstoppable. By 1371 he had annexed portions of Bulgaria and Macedonia to his sultanate, which now so engulfed Constantinople that “a citizen could leave the empire simply by walking outside the city gates.”

Unsurprisingly, then, when Prince Lazar of Serbia (b. 1330) defeated Murad’s invading forces in 1387, “there was wild rejoicing among the Slavs of the Balkans. Serbians, Bosnians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Wallachians, and Hungarians from the frontier provinces all rallied around Lazar as never before, in a determination to drive the Turks out of Europe.”

Murad responded to this effrontery on June 15, 1389, in Kosovo.  There, a Serbian-majority coalition augmented by Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian contingents—twelve thousand men under the leadership of Lazar—fought thirty thousand Ottomans under the leadership of the sultan himself. Despite the initial downpour of Turkic arrows, the Serbian heavy cavalry plummeted through the Ottoman frontlines and broke the left wing; the Ottoman right, under Murad’s elder son Bayezid, reeled around and engulfed the Christians. The chaotic clash continued for hours.

On the night before battle, Murad had beseeched Allah “for the favour of dying for the true faith, the martyr’s death.”  Sometime near the end   of battle, his prayer was granted. According to tradition, Miloš Obilić, a Serbian knight, offered to defect to the Ottomans on condition that, in view of his own high rank, he be permitted to submit before the sultan himself. They brought him before Murad and, after Milos knelt in false submission, he lunged at and plunged a dagger deep into the Muslim warlord’s stomach (other sources say “with two thrusts which came out at his back”). The sultan’s otherwise slow guards responded by hacking the Serb to pieces. Drenched in and spluttering out blood, Murad lived long enough to see his archenemy, the by now captured Lazar, brought before him, tortured, and beheaded. A small conciliation, it may have put a smile on the dying martyr’s face.

Murad’s son Bayezid instantly took charge: “His first act as Sultan, over his father’s dead body, was to order the death, by strangulation with a bowstring, of his brother. This was Yaqub, his fellow-commander in the battle, who had won distinction in the field and popularity with his troops.” Next Bayezid brought the battle to a decisive end; he threw everything he had at the enemy, leading to the slaughter of every last Christian—but even more of his own men in the process.

So many birds flocked to and feasted on the vast field of carrion that posterity remembered Kosovo as the “Field of Blackbirds.” Though essentially a draw—or at best a Pyrrhic victory for the Ottomans—the Serbs, with less men and resources to start with in comparison to the ascendant Muslim empire, felt the sting more.

In the years following the battle of Kosovo, the Ottoman war machine became unstoppable: the nations of the Balkans were conquered by the Muslims—after withstanding a millennium of jihads, Constantinople itself permanently fell to Islam in 1453—and they remained under Ottoman rule for centuries.

The collective memory of Eastern Europeans’ not too distant experiences with and under Islam should never be underestimated when considering why they are significantly more wary of—if not downright hostile to—Islam and its migrants compared to their Western, liberal counterparts.

As Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán once explained:

“We don’t want to criticize France, Belgium, any other country, but we think all countries have a right to decide whether they want to have a large number of Muslims in their countries. If they want to live together with them, they can. We don’t want to and I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country. We do not like the consequences of having a large number of Muslim communities that we see in other countries, and I do not see any reason for anyone else to force us to create ways of living together in Hungary that we do not want to see….  I have to say that when it comes to living together with Muslim communities, we are the only ones who have experience because we had the possibility to go “through that experience for 150 years.”

And those years—1541 to 1699, when the Islamic Ottoman Empire occupied Hungary—are replete with the massacre, enslavement, and rape of Hungarians.

This is an excerpt from Raymond Ibrahim’s book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, which was also reviewed in the Postil here.

The photo shows, “The Kosovo Maiden,” by Uroš Predić, painted in 1919. The scene illustrates a scene from the poem, “The Kosovo Maiden,” from the Kosovo-cycle of Serbian poetry.

Of War And Islam

History is about expansion and contraction – of ideas, of economics, of ambitions, and of the pursuit of power. A crucial element in this pulsation of human action is war.

Recalling von Clausewitz’s famous observation provides a meaningful framework for discussion: “We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses…War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

Earlier, von Clausewitz defines war as, “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.”

Raymond Ibrahim actively engages with von Clausewitz in his latest book, Sword and Scimitar, by examining war as the fulfillment of the will of Islam. He looks at eight critical battles which marked how two worlds (one Moslem, one Western and Christian) view each other, down to the present.

Indeed, the encounters between these worlds stretch back more than a millennium, which means that Islam is not something new that suddenly burst into Western consciousness on and after 9/11. Rather, Islamic terrorism is part-and-parcel of a very ancient struggle which has expanded or contracted, sometimes favoring the West and sometimes giving the upper hand to Islam.

War in this context is to be understood as jihad, through which Islam subdues all those that oppose the will of Allah and the example of Mohammad. Ibrahim therefore defines jihad as, “warfare to spread Islam,” and quoting Emile Tyan, he explains that jihad must continue “until the whole world is under the rule of Islam . . . Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad can be eliminated.”

Here, the famous ideological two-fold division of the world, into the “House of Islam” and the “House of Faithlessness,” takes on its proper meaning. Moslems inhabit a reality which can never accommodate the Other, for to accept infidelity (kufr) as a viable way to live out a human life is the denial of Allah, and thus cannot be permitted. This gives the lie, of course, to those that would promote multiculturalism.

This outright rejection of the Other (termed the dhimmi), as unacceptable because he is innately hostile to Allah, renders no other outcome than continual conflict, until the Other is no more – either he is Islamized or annihilated. Here, the concept of the jizya is often trundled out (which is protection-money that non-Moslems must pay in order to live as second-class inhabitants inside Islamic territory).

But such a levy does not mean acceptance or accommodation of the Other. It simply means that each non-Moslem life is a “possession” of Islam, which yields monetary recompense. The dhimmi must pay to live. Ibrahim quotes from a Moslem jurist: “their [infidels’] lives and their possessions are only protected by reason of payment of jizya.”

At its core, therefore, Islam is a political ideology, constructed to change society into the House of Islam, governed by the laws of Allah and the example of Mohammad (Shariah). Accordingly, more than any other faith system in the world, it is the expansion and contraction of war, which defines the character and purpose of Islam.

Violence is not an evil that must be neutralized by way of love (as is the Christian view), in order to win peace. Rather, bloodshed and fear are necessary, and on-going, tools to bring about the end-game of Islam, which is the subjugation of the world. In this way, the practice of Islam in the world is radically different to the practice of Christianity – love produces a certain type of civilization; fear and violence produces another.

A serious problem in the West right now is the lazy habit of assuming that all religions are exactly like Christianity and are therefore to be “handled” in the same way. This is yielding destructive results.

This further means that Islam has always sought war, in order to vanquish its enemies, since such destruction is a holy act, which will meet with much reward in heaven. Thus, a Moslem who engages in jihad is termed a ghazi, or one who raids the territory of the faithless (the kafirs), and slays the unbelieving – because they are Allah’s enemies.

Thus, each Moslem should strive to be a ghazi. Shedding the blood of non-Moslems is meritorious, and much pleasing to Allah. As one Islamic chronicler states: “The Ghazi is the sword of Allah; he is the protector and refuge of the believers. If he becomes a martyr in the way of Allah, do not believe that he has died—he lives in beatitude with Allah, he has eternal life.”

This means that without war Islam loses not only steam but its very purpose, for the world outside Islam is to be changed through violence and the fear that the threat of violence produces. In the East, Islam was, and is, in contention with paganism.

In the West, it fights Christianity (even though the West is now more pagan than Christian). As Ibrahim observes, “Muslim armies went to war against the West more often as religious rather than as national or ethnic forces, and their warring against the Westerners was so seen as mostly a monolithic struggle against Christendom rather than particular European states.”

Thus, Islam exists to wage war in the world. The winning of territory is simply the consequence of this purpose. In the words of Mohammad, “I have been made victorious with terror.”

This means that a negative view of Islam (both in the East and in the West) is a historically grounded response to the violence inherent in Islam. It is not simply “racism” or Islamophobia (both these terms become useless in the context of jihad, by virtue of which each terrorist is a ghazi).

How opposing the violence of jihad can possibly be racism or Islamophobia is never properly explained by those who deploy such terms, especially when the similar opposition brings out the same negative response to Islam among non-Moslems in the East.

Ibrahim raises such crucial issues, which makes his book that much nuanced, for it is more than a richly textured presentation of military history. Although each battle is comprehensively analyzed and detailed, with much insight into the “construction” of terror by Islamic warriors, Ibrahim also uses the subject of war to lay out a social critique (of both Islam and the West), because war also builds an outlook, a point of view, a mindset.

It is a given that Islam as a religion enjoys sociopolitical protection by the Western elite. In this regard, Ibrahim raises a very fundamental point – Islam has never changed; it is still engaged in subduing the world for Allah, by following the example of Mohammad. The West, however, has changed, and in the process has entirely abandoned its own history. This has put the West in a position of weakness, in that it has gotten into the habit of appeasing the violence of Islam.

The Islamic mindset is the same as it was over a millennium ago. The best defense that the West can now muster is multiculturalism, borderless post-nations, relentless hedonism, and appeasement. This puts the West in a perpetual posture of weakness, for it can no longer thwart Islam’s will.

In this regard, Ibrahim ends his book with a dire warning: “…if Islam is terrorizing the West today, that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to.”

A little earlier, the words of Alan G. Jamieson are highlighted: “At a time when the military superiority of the West—meaning chiefly the USA—over the Muslim world has never been greater. Western countries feel insecure in the face of the activities of Islamic terrorists…In all the long centuries of Christian-Muslim conflict, never has the military imbalance between the two sides been greater, yet the dominant West can apparently derive no comfort from that fact.”

This paradox is easily understood, of course. Islam has not lost its will and still wants to impose it on the world. The West, on the other hand, no longer has a will of its own and therefore no longer understands what it is supposed to do in the world. The only thing it can offer is endless self-indulgence and the pursuit of pleasure. All the while, Islam pursues power. Who will win? Perhaps, Islam is the West’s wakeup call. But the problem now is – what shall the West wake up to?

Raymond Ibrahim’s book should be required reading for all those interested in understanding the future of Islam in the world. It would appear that the West no longer wants a future.

The photo shows, “Bedouins Taking Aim,” by Adolf Schreyer, date unknown.

Imagining Muhammad

Cole presents Muhammad as a contemporary Western statesman devoted to peace, tolerance, multiculturalism, and gender equality, and sympathetic to Christian Byzantium. To support this portrait of Muhammad—which the author admits “differs significantly from the picture of the Prophet in most Muslim commentary”—Cole rejects mainstream Islamic historiography, relying instead on select Qur’anic verses, unsourced “folk memories,” plenty of academic conjecturing, and heavy use of the verb “would.”

For example, on the war between Rome and Persia, he writes, “Muhammad would have watched with horror”; on the Persian siege of Jerusalem in 614, “Muhammad would have listened with horror to the reports of travelers”; or “Muhammad … would have been acquainted with Roman law, culture, and languages”; and “Muhammad would have sent envoys seeking good relations with the new imperial authorities.”

Why the subjunctive tone? Because there is zero textual evidence for these statements. There is, however, plenty of contrary evidence. For example, the only record of relations between Muhammad and Byzantine emperor Heraclius found within the Islamic tradition—the Prophet’s order that the emperor abandon Christianity and submit to Islam or face war—is not mentioned. Instead, Cole writes, “Muhammad had allied with Constantinople and went to his grave that way in 632” even though no evidence of any such alliance exists.

Because Cole is at pains to present Muhammad within the Western tradition, the best he admits to is that “Muhammad was occasionally forced into a defensive campaign” and that the “Qur’an allows warfare only in self-defense.” Long quotes from Roman statesmen, church fathers, and European philosophers, asserting that defensive war is just, typically follow such assertions, as if to say the violence Muhammad is often accused of was exclusively defensive—which, after all, Western authorities permit. In Cole’s view, even the “Arabic notion of jihad, or exertion for the sake of virtue, was paralleled in Aristotle, Plotinus, and the New Testament.”

While Cole associates Islam with classical and early Christian notions of war, he frequently presents Islamic principles as more humanitarian. Thus, whereas St. Augustine’s rationale for war alluded to combatting vice, “the Qur’an gives Lockean grounds for warfare.” Moreover, “Christian law helped create the endogamous Christian ‘race’ or ‘nation,’ whereas the law of the Qur’an creates a rainbow race of Abrahamians.” This is because the “Qur’an … celebrates gender and ethnic diversity as an enrichment of human experience.” No mention is made that the Qur’an permits husbands to beat their wives and own sex slaves (4:34 and 4:3).

Mainstream Islamic historiography flatly contradicts Cole’s revisionism. It maintains that most of Muhammad’s wars were not defensive but offensive while coercing non-Muslims to embrace Islam often on pain of death was the norm. It also maintains that Muhammad engaged in any number of atrocities that would seem to contradict just-war sensibilities: assassinating elderly men and women who mocked him or torturing a Jewish man with fire until he revealed his tribe’s hidden treasure—and then having him decapitated and marrying his beautiful wife.

Cole dismisses all such unflattering but widely accepted anecdotes. Despite much documentation, he asserts that “the Qur’an does not mention anything about a mass slaying of the [Jewish] men of Khaybar and rather suggests that deaths occurred during a battle but that the Believers offered the enemy quarter and took prisoners.” Similarly, Cole suggests that Muhammad’s well-known expulsion of Jews is a later archetype based on “Christian expulsion of Jews in late antiquity.” Muhammad’s biographers, Cole posits, must have projected this trope back onto him since “the few details in the Qur’an do not support” it.

This is a radical departure from how Muslims ascertain Muhammad’s biography. Because the Qur’an is notoriously ambiguous, unchronological, and mostly poetic, from the start, Muslims needed to turn to other sources (chiefly the sira and hadith) to piece together their prophet’s life.

Even Cole’s exclusive reliance on the Qur’an does little to prove that Muhammad’s wars were purely defensive. Mainstream Islamic exegesis maintains that the Qur’an was revealed in three phases: 1) Muhammad’s earliest years in Mecca when he was vulnerable and outnumbered during which he preached religious tolerance (e.g., 2:256); 2) Muhammad’s transitional years when he began making alliances outside of Mecca and preached self-defense (e.g., 22:39); and 3) Muhammad’s last decade (622-32) when his forces became stronger than and overwhelmed his Meccan rivals during which he preached going on the offensive (e.g., 9:29).

Cole regularly quotes Qur’anic verses from the first two phases while ignoring or reconfiguring those from the third to conform to his thesis. Consider his approach to 9:29, which reads: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the last day, and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful, and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the scripture until they give thejizyah [tribute] willingly while they are humbled.”

Although Islamic exegesis always interprets “those who were given the Scripture” as Jews and Christians, Cole tells readers that this verse is actually talking about fighting pagan Arabs; the notion that it is referring to Christians and Jews, he believes, is “frankly bizarre.” He fails to mention that the very next verse, 9:30, makes perfectly clear that 9:29 is talking about Jews and Christians, as it names them, before adding “may Allah destroy them!”

Cole later confesses in an obscure endnote on his claim that the verse is not referring to Christians and Jews, “I should warn readers that I am engaged in a radical act of reinterpretation here.” The vast majority of readers will be ignorant of this important caveat tucked away in the back.

Moreover, in the main text he writes: “In my reading, Qur’an 9:29 does not have anything to do with a poll tax on Jews and Christians [as Islamic exegesis has always understood it] but rather demands reparations from pagans guilty of launching aggressive wars.”

Here is the most Cole will admit to concerning the third phase of Muhammad’s life when, according to traditional Islamic history, the Prophet launched approximately nine raids per year in search of power, plunder, and slaves.

He writes, “In one of the great ironies of history, Muhammad, who had preached returning evil with good and praying for peace for one’s enemy, had violent conflict thrust upon him in the last third of his prophetic career. The Qur’an maintains that he waged even that struggle, however, in self-defense and in the interests, ultimately, of restoring tranquility, the late-antique definition of just war.”

Cole presents Muhammad’s conquest of and entry into Mecca “as more resembling the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 march on Washington than a military campaign”—somehow overlooking that King did not turn up with ten-thousand armed men threatening the denizens of D.C. with a bloodbath if they did not submit to his rule.

Cole also whitewashes the early Arab conquests (632-750), most of which occurred over Christian territory. Although eyewitnesses and early chroniclers all write of devastation and atrocities from Syria to Spain, Cole dismisses them as “exaggerated” and “hyperbolic,” unjustly causing Islam to suffer from a “black legend.” He suggests that if excesses were committed, these were introduced by Christian converts to Islam, who “brought into the new religion their own long-standing practices of religious violence.”

Cole’s book is a massive distortion meant for Western consumption and catering to Western sensibilities. To validate his thesis, which is the antithesis of what Muslims believe about their prophet, he either ignores or manipulates the entirety of Islamic historiography and Qur’anic exegesis.

Raymond Ibrahim is a widely published author, public speaker, and Middle East and Islam specialist.  His books include, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West (Da Capo, 2018), Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (Regnery, 2013), and The Al Qaeda Reader (Doubleday, 2007). He is currently the Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

The photo shows Mohammad in paradise, with houris. Detail from a 14th-century Turkish manuscript.

The 21 Martyrs

This book is, brought to the temporal sphere, Revelation 20:4. “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Martin Mosebach’s The 21 is an exploration and explanation of the twenty-one Coptic Christian migrant workers killed by Muslims in 2015 for refusing to apostatize from their Christian belief, a martyrdom made famous by the slickly produced video through which the killers broadcast their bloody work.

The 21 also embodies how, and under what circumstances, Muslims could be allies with Christians in the American wars to come, against a ruling class whose totalitarian doctrines they both oppose, concluding that while many obstacles exist, that was theoretically possible, and certainly desirable.

But this book shows that in what Muslims call Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam, those places where Islam has once been supreme, there can be no such cooperation, since there by definition there Islam must rule, and no observant Muslim would disagree, although what that exactly means is interpreted in different ways.

The martyrdom of the Twenty-One was a planned operation. The killers researched the names of the workers, who lived together as they gathered money before returning home. They took them, and held them for two months, before marching them out to a nearby Mediterranean beach and sawing their heads off with knives.

They then released the video, titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” By that nation, they do not mean America, as Americans probably assume (and Mosebach also seems to assume, at least in part), but explicitly “Rome.” That doesn’t mean Pope Francis, either, who is no threat at all to Islam.

Rather, it means, in this brand of Islam, Christians collectively, especially as represented by their national powers, since Islam’s main objection is not to Christian belief as such, incorrect as it supposedly is, but to Islam not ruling in the temporal sphere, a pattern of thought that non-Muslims find hard to understand.

Those who murdered the Twenty-One hold a mainstream, though not majority, view of what must be done to achieve and maintain the supremacy of Islam. In their minds, they are responding to the crimes of Christians.

Their video begins with footage of Barack Obama apologizing for those supposed crimes, and to them the killings are the blood price, for a simple apology is inadequate. (We can ignore that Obama should, objectively, never have apologized, for there is nothing that any part of Christendom or the West, America or other, has ever done as a collective entity that requires any form of apology to any Muslim, including, especially, the Crusades).

We should not focus on the killers, though; they do not appear except as bit players in this book. Rather, what The 21 explores extensively is primarily Egypt’s Coptic Christians, strangers to the West, and secondarily their relationship with Egyptian Muslims, who invaded and still occupy their lands.

The author, a German journalist (this book was originally written in German), set out to learn more about the martyrs, traveling to Egypt to talk to the great and the small among the Copts. He learned about their families, their religious and political milieu, and, most importantly, why they acted as they did.

Mosebach divides the book into twenty-one chapters, each headed by a picture of one of the martyrs, some taken from the video of their deaths, some from hagiographic iconography made after their deaths. The book packs a tremendous amount of information into relatively few pages—since Americans know almost nothing about Egypt, and even less about the Copts, and both are alien to American sensibilities, the reader learns a lot.

True, Mosebach shows cognitive dissonance. He shows empathy, sympathy, and admiration for the martyrs, and offers an informative view of the Coptic Church, but every single time he pulls back to examine the broader world, of Egypt, of Islam, or the entire globe, what he has to say is Merkel-ite nonsense. Fortunately, most of the book is narrowly focused on the Twenty-One, not the globe, so this is a relatively small defect.

The martyrs were mostly young men in their twenties or thirties who had gone to Libya to find work. Sixteen were from the small town of El-Aour, in Upper Egypt; the others came from other Egyptian towns, except for Matthew Ayariga, from Ghana. He was not Coptic; it is not even clear if he was originally Christian, but as with other saints throughout Christian history, he voluntarily joined, receiving, if no other baptism, the baptism of blood.

Ayariga is visually central to all depictions of the martyrs; with his black skin, he stood out, and both the killers and the iconographers put him in the center of all group depictions. Mosebach did not talk to his family, and little is known about his background, but as Mosebach notes, he was like Saint Adauctus, whose name means “added man” since his real name was unknown, who volunteered his Christianity when he saw Saint Felix being led to death during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, and was then also executed.

I’m familiar with the basics of Coptic theology and history, but how those things translate to the modern world I didn’t know. The Copts split from mainstream Christianity when their position, called Miaphytism, that Christ had only one nature, combining human and divine, rather than a separate human and a divine nature (unconfused and indivisible) was rejected at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.

This division created the Oriental Orthodox, of whom there are about 100 million in the world, and whose liturgy and organization is very similar to the Eastern Orthodox, with whom they are not in communion, although to an outsider, they are nearly indistinguishable.

Mosebach does an exemplary job of trying to understand and get inside the Coptic mind, despite that he appears not be religious himself. Most of all, he correctly identifies the centrality of the Divine Liturgy. “From the very first moment, it is clear that the exclusive intention of the holy devotion is the realization of God’s presence, and everything that happens in this liturgy has to serve this extraordinary purpose. . . . Time and eternity are bound together as one, in a sphere where past, present, and future have always already happened, and at the same time are now happening again.”

The Orthodox believe that once a church is consecrated, an angel stands by the altar, forever in and out of time worshiping the Triune God, so that when we enter the church, we are not commencing a worship service, we are joining one already in progress. You cannot understand the Copts, or the Orthodox, without grasping the numinous nature of the Liturgy, where seraphim serve at the altar alongside the priest, uniting Heaven and Earth in an unbroken chain of timeless moments.

What unites all the Copts is steadfastness in faith. Since nobody paid much attention to the Twenty-One when they were alive, they are somewhat one-dimensional. Their families offer similar generalized characteristics: “He was quick to forgive.” “He was calm, obedient, and quick to confess.” “He gave alms even though he was poor.” “He was compassionate and strove to help others.”

But their deeds, both their refusal to apostatize and their calm demeanor when being led to execution, with only low cries to Christ as they died, exemplify that steadfastness, and their witness to Christ at the most basic and essential level. It is this steadfastness that seems to unite all the Copts, an eternal cord binding them together.

You could transport today’s Copts to the age of Nero, and nothing would be much different, neither daily life nor their resolve in the face of persecution.

Mosebach visits the local Coptic bishop, who embodies this steadfastness in faith and combines it with an untroubled feeling of superiority to Islam, a latecomer as far as he is concerned. Mosebach describes the bishop as “the absolute archetype of a pragmatic, forward-looking reactionary—a kind of leader utterly unknown in the West.” It does not bother them, quite the opposite, that theirs is the Church of the Martyrs.

This same attitude permeates all the Copts, including the families of the martyred. While they have the normal human sadness, it is greatly exceeded by their unalterable conviction that their beloved sons and brothers have received the crown of martyrdom, and they offer iconography in that vein. In most of their families’ houses, they also have and show the video of their killing, proud, rather than traumatized.

And they ascribe miracles to the Twenty-One, small ones, local ones, but all in the ancient tradition of martyrology. They embody, as one of the fathers says, King David’s behavior in II Samuel, who when his son died, did not mourn anymore, for “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” As Sarah Ruden notes in her excellent book on Biblical translation, The Face of Water, this verse in the original Hebrew conveys the meaning that the child will never return—but the father will keep moving toward the child. So with the families of the Twenty-One.

Beyond their cohesive religiosity, it is apparent that the Copts are, in the manner of many minorities in Muslim lands, both second-class citizens and more materially successful than the majority population. Mosebach says that Egyptian Muslims see all Copts as rich (while still having contempt for them), and although that’s obviously not true, since many are merely poor farmers like the Twenty-One, it is more true than not.

No doubt this is because the Copts are not bound by the inertia and fatalism, along with male laziness, that characterize Muslim societies. Plus corruption—according to Mosebach, even though (like all Muslim countries) Egypt makes it very hard to build new churches, still, new Coptic churches are springing up everywhere, because the Copts bribe the authorities to look the other way.

The Copts also run large related institutions, such as hospitals (including “the largest and most modern in Upper Egypt”). That is, the Copts are bound up with the world. Other than monastics (something that has revived in modern times), they do not retreat from, but rather engage, the world.

Can this ancient Coptic way of life can survive modernity? It is not a promising sign that within living memory Coptic villages have changed from their ancient form of order and cleanliness to ugly, trash-filled sprawls of half-finished concrete block buildings.

The old roles, where everyone had a place in an extended family, have faded. Atomization has increased, even if it is not anywhere near as bad as in the West. According to Mosebach, these changes are not the result of increased wealth, but flow from some other source, which he does not identify, although he implies the Aswan Dam had something to do with it.

My guess is television and increased ability to move from the place of one’s birth, but I don’t know. Most importantly, Mosebach does not address whether the Copts are having children, which is all that really matters. Yes, there seem to be many young Copts, and Mosebach relates how they are enthusiastically religious, like the Twenty-One, but if Egypt ever becomes wealthy, will the Copts fall away, leaving their faith and contracting like other societies around the globe? These seem to me to be the essential questions, and not ones the Copts are asking themselves.

Whatever happens, though, the Copts will still be oppressed by the Muslims. They have been oppressed for fourteen hundred years, ever since Islam conquered Egypt. Like many Middle Eastern Christians, when Islam arrived they unwisely did not perceive Islam as much of a threat, or even welcomed it, tired of taxation from the Roman Empire, then sited in Constantinople, and of being viewed as heretics by most of Christendom (not to mention that Islam itself was initially viewed by many as merely another Christian heresy, not all that different from other brands of Christian belief).

As always with Islam, which has no interest in proselytizing, only in the dominance of Islam, the treatment of the Copts varied over time, with the one constant that their subordination was always enforced. Mosebach mentions how all the mighty churches of the Copts were torn down and “the columns and Corinthian capitals of those venerable ruins have been visibly incorporated into Cairo’s most beautiful mosques.” He seems to think that should make the Copts feel better.

For the most part, though, the Muslims and Copts historically managed to co-exist. It is only in the modern world, with a newly militant resurgent Islam and the technology of global communication and new weapons, along with oil money, that the Copts, like all Middle Eastern Christians, are threatened with expulsion or extermination.

Mosebach says “violence isn’t an option, probably not even for fanatical Islamists, because there are too many Copts to simply drive them all out or murder them. In other words, the Turkish solution for Armenians and Greeks is no longer on the table.”

But he gives no reason why that’s true, and for large numbers of Muslims, though probably far from a majority in Egypt, that solution is very much on the table. And since it only would take one such successful campaign to wipe out the Coptic presence in Egypt (ask the Chaldean Christians—thanks, George W. Bush!), the Copts will always be at risk, whatever wishful thinking Mosebach wants to engage in.

How the Copts are to solve this problem is unclear to me. Fighting isn’t going to work—even if the Copts really are a quarter of the Egyptian population, as they claim, they don’t have the weapons, and aren’t going to. Mass conversion of Muslims to Christianity, transforming the Middle East, sure would be nice, but such a thing has never happened in human history—Islam is a strong religion highly resistant to the lure of conversion.

True, as Mosebach quotes Tertullian, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” but there have been a vast number of Christian martyrs in Muslim lands over the past fourteen hundred years, and mass conversions haven’t started yet, though the martyrs doubtless do strengthen the Church.

Israel conquering the Middle East and converting all the Muslims to Judaism would be a good alternative, although that’s even less likely. Probably the best approach, if not solution, is to ensure that the Middle East isn’t infected with democracy, something that in Muslim countries leads at best to the unleashing of Muslim hatred against Christians in a stable system, and often to genocide against Christians when the political system collapses, as it always does in these societies for which democracy is not a good fit.

Instead, the Copts (and us) should support, or at least not oppose, strongmen such as the Assads, or the current Egyptian military dictatorship, because those men both maintain order, which benefits minorities, and tend to rely on Christians as a counterweight to Muslims who want a theocracy.

Thus, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi keeps the Muslim Brotherhood down, which is a service to the world in general and to Christians specifically, if you ever read Seyyid Qutb. Mohammed Morsi would, sooner or later, have turned to exterminating the Copts. And America would have ignored it, since the Left is fine with Christians being exterminated, and the Right, or at least Republicans, are too cowardly and weak to take any action that is seen as benefitting Christians specifically.

Mosebach’s proposed solutions to the “Coptic question,” that is, the oppression of the Egyptian Copts by the Egyptian Muslims, are equally stupid. He sounds like a clueless Eurocrat, peddling old and tired cant. “We shouldn’t resign ourselves to a permanent state of injustice and violence. . . .

After all, there are think tanks working hard to solve the world’s problems. These thinkers, of course, would know exactly what questions to ask: Isn’t there any way that the Coptic community and Islamic majority might eventually live in peace and harmony?

What kind of international peace conference, United Nations intervention, peace mission, transnational roundtable, or moderated conflict resolution might take care of the ‘Coptic question’?” Blurg. Mosebach’s “solutions” are so obviously dumb and ineffective as to be offensive. No such mechanism has ever solved a single problem in the Middle East, and none ever will.

Mosebach’s Pollyanna attitude toward Coptic survival is just one example of his general geopolitical blindness. Most of this stems from the same source—the author’s desperate desire to assign some share of blame to the United States, and to the West more generally, and to exonerate Islam from blame. Thus, Mosebach early on preaches “One must be careful not to view this massacre as one more chapter of an ongoing religious war—that would be false use of religion.”

Instead, Mosebach entertains the idea that the killers were “mercenaries who can be bought to commit all kinds of bloodshed, perhaps to benefit the Americans or the Russians, or maybe the Syrians or the Muslim Brotherhood.” Or maybe they were just “pawns on a board whose actual players and goals are unknown to them.”

This is a dumb fantasy; the killers were ISIS militants, part of a much larger group with coherent ideals and many other similar acts to their name, and both their actions and justifications are part of a long and coherent tradition within Islam. One more chapter of an ongoing religious war is exactly what this is. Reaching for tinfoil-hat theories to explain that obvious fact away makes Mosebach seem like a clown.

Such blinkered stupidity is on display more than once. The American prison at Guantanamo Bay, where a few hundred captured Muslim enemies were held (although by any other country, and in any other past war, they simply would have been summarily executed), in conditions of comfort where they are allowed to practice their religion and any disrespect to their religion is punished, is “where the United States has permanently ruined its reputation as nation that respects the rule of law.” No, Saint Joseph was not a “migrant worker.” No, the Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia was not killed in a religious dispute. And so on.

Beyond the Copts, as to the core geopolitical problem the book details, Muslim mass murder of Christians (on display yesterday in Sri Lanka; tomorrow on display somewhere else), the correct solution is the one Donald Trump implemented and brought to a successful completion recently—kill in battle all Muslims who fight for ISIS or any similar brand of Islam.

True, that that would be less necessary if we had not destabilized so much of the Middle East, since the local Muslim rulers would have done it for us, but that’s water under the bridge. But as I say above, these are stopgap measures; in the modern world, there can be no permanent peaceful coexistence on equal terms between Islam and Christianity on at the level of the nation-state, so long as Islam’s adherents actually believe.

There never has been such coexistence, and there never will be. Any society with a large number of Muslims will face the problems inherent to and generated by Islam. This is unfortunate, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Certainly, it is equally true that on an individual level Muslims and Christians can get along fine, but to confuse personal relations with the relations of power that must characterize any human society is a basic mistake.

This English translation of The 21 was sponsored by, and the book published here by, Plough, the publishing house of the Bruderhof. The Bruderhof are practitioners of radical Christianity, “they renounce private property and share everything in common in a life of nonviolence, justice, and service to neighbors near and far.” In other words, they live the life of the very earliest Christians.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if all Christians lived that life. Would they simply be exterminated by their enemies, as would seem to be the logical and inevitable result, especially in the modern world? Or would their example change the world to be something different, and better, than it is?

I worry, sometimes, too, that I err by advocating meeting, and preparing to meet, the enemies, rather than adopting the simple Christian life. But, like the scorpion, it is in my nature, and the Christian tradition of armed defense has nearly as long a pedigree as pacifism.

If I am wrong, at least I am in good company, and this book suggests I am not wrong, even if the Twenty-One took another path.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “The Twenty-One Martyrs” by Wael Mories, a Coptic painter.