The swift advance of Islam across North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries virtually extinguished Christianity there, thus severing the Mediterranean region into two civilizational halves, with the “Middle Sea” a hard border between them rather than a unifying force. Since then, as the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset observed, “all European history has been a great emigration toward the North.”
That’s an interesting way to describe a terrifying jihad that swept aside Middle Eastern and North African Christianity and captured the Iberian Peninsula — as a “swift advance.” There was no mere “emigration” to the North. There was a flight to the North. Then there’s this:
Islam did much more than geographically define Europe, however. Denys Hay, a British historian, explained in a brilliant though obscure book published in 1957, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea, that European unity began with the concept (exemplified by the Song of Roland) of a Christendom in “inevitable opposition” to Islam—a concept that culminated in the Crusades. The scholar Edward Said took this point further, writing in his book Orientalism in 1978 that Islam had defined Europe culturally, by showing Europe what it was against. Europe’s very identity, in other words, was built in significant measure on a sense of superiority to the Muslim Arab world on its periphery. Imperialism proved the ultimate expression of this evolution: Early modern Europe, starting with Napoleon, conquered the Middle East, then dispatched scholars and diplomats to study Islamic civilization, classifying it as something beautiful, fascinating, and—most crucial—inferior.
So here’s Kaplan’s history of the conflict between Islam and Christian Europe — first there is a morally neutral Islamic “swift advance,” then came the Crusades and a Christian sense of superiority that culminated in colonialism. That fits neatly into a view of the world that sees Muslims as victims and the marauding West as...
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