9/11, Belloc, and Islam

As another sad anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States arrives, it’s clear that we are nowhere near the end of this conflict between the radicalized Muslim world and the Christian (and post-Christian) population. There seems no reason why the jihad of a relentlessly committed sector of Muslims may not continue for decades more.

While Catholics in America are also engaged in legal, political, and social battles to defend our religious liberties, those of us keeping track of the news in non-mainstream religious ghettos are increasingly horrified by the state of religious liberty elsewhere, and particularly in the Middle East.

The place where our Savior was born and lived has been under attack, as have surrounding countries such as Syria and Iraq, where many Christians are being driven from their ancestral homelands or even undergoing martyrdom. While we pray for peace in all countries where people of other faiths too are suffering persecution, naturally, what lies uppermost in our minds and hearts is the tragedy and exile of Christians with ancient roots in this biblical part of the world.

The modern-day revival of religious conflict between Muslims and Christians is not the main topic of this column, however. The Church, both Greek and Roman, has been in conflict with Islam (the supposed religion of peace) on and off for over a thousand years now. 

Within the first century or so following Mohammed’s death, Islamic forces swept across the Near East and Northern Africa, jumped the strait of Gibraltar to conquer almost all of Spain, and were threatening France. The medieval Song of Roland is a poetic account of the key defense of the Frankish army against Muslim forces in this area, while in Spain tales of El Cid celebrate the early part of Spain’s Reconquista, a centuries-long pushback by Christian Spain that barely concluded as Columbus’s began his voyage to the New World.

After 9/11, no one should be surprised to learn that Islam is turning the West’s superiority back on itself. What is surprising is that a lone historian saw this coming in the 1930s. The great Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc, friend of G.K. Chesterton and a prolific historian, was prescient as no other writer about the resurgence of Islam in our own era.

Here are just of the more salient passages from his work on the threat of Islam to the West:

  • “We shall almost certainly have to reckon with Islam in the near future. Perhaps if we lose our Faith it will rise.”
  • “The future always comes as surprise. . . .but I for my part cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam.”
  • “And in the contrast between our religious chaos and the religious certitude still strong throughout the Mohammedan world. . .lies our peril.”
  • “There is nothing inherent to Mohammedanism to make it incapable of modern science and modern war.”
  • “[Islam] still converts pagan savages wholesale. . . .No fragment of Islam ever abandons its sacred book, its code of morality, its organized system of prayer, its code of morals, its simple doctrine. In view of this, anyone with a knowledge of history is bound to ask himself whether we shall not see in the future a rival of Mohammedan political power, and the renewal of the old pressure of Islam on Christendom.”

You can read more in this same vein in The Essential Belloc: A Prophet for Our Times, edited by Scott Bloch, Brian Robertson, and myself.

Like Spain’s long but successful resistance to Islam, and the great sea victory at Lepanto that saved Southern Europe, the Eastern end of Europe also resisted repeated attacks by Muslim forces. One of the most dramatic of Christian Europe’s victories occurred quite late, in 1683. A terrific movie was made two years ago in Europe about this historic victory for the Faith and the West: The Day of the Siege. It recounts the successful resistance of a small contingent of cavalry in Vienna against 300,000 Ottoman Empire soldiers.

Briefly, the film begins after the First Siege of Vienna, a century and a half before the 1683 battle, and brings viewers through the various conflicts between European Christianity and Turkish Islam that led up to the September 13, 1683, battle. It then depicts the second siege of Vienna and the assault of Ottoman Turks led by Kara Mustafa and stopped by King Jan III Sobieski.

Let us pray to God for the conversion of Muslims – or at the very least that they make use of reason (as recommended by our Emeritus Pope Benedict in his Regensburg lecture) for tolerance and peace!

And remember that we Catholics are called to holiness, which in many parts of the world today (and perhaps soon in our own) includes our readiness to sacrifice our lives for our Faith. 

It is happening in the Middle East and, yes, it can happen here.

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.