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Charles Martel, known as 'The Hammer,' smites a Muslim warrior during the Battle of Tours in 732.
'The events that rescued our ancestors of Britain, and our neighbors of Gaul, from the civil and religious yoke of the Koran.'
N A SUSTAINED, century-long rampage that would have wowed Rommel, the Prophet Mohammed and his successors beginning in A.D. 629 conquered not only Arabia, Persia, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, but also branded the crescent of Islam on lands formerly within the fold of a Christian Roman Empire then in ruins. In 709, Arab horsemen and their allies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. Four short years later, Spain belonged to the Empire of the Prophet.
In the summer of 732, the centennial of Mohammed's death, this veteran Islamic juggernaut, at least 80,000 strong with the skilled and popular general Abd er Rahman at its head, passed over the Pyrenees Mountains into what is now France to begin the conquest of "the Great Land"--Christian Europe. After that would come the subjugation of whatever new worlds lay across the oceans.
Probably, Mr. Reader, you did not yesterday wash five times, face Mecca, sink to your knees, and pray to Allah. Most likely, Ms. Reader, you did not cover yourself with a burka before venturing out to shop. Probably neither
For freedom from all of these obligations, you might spare a minute sometime today, and every October, to say a silent "thank you" to a gang of half-savage Germans and especially to their leader, Charles "The Hammer" Martel.
When the Muslim horde thundered out of the Pyrenees, hardly breaking stride to slaughter one small army of river-crossing defenders, it was Martel and his wild Frankish troops who stood waiting for them just outside the shrine-city of Tours.
Abd er Rahman must have smirked. With irresistible fury, he and his predecessors for a century had rolled up one opposition force after another on three continents, suffering no serious setbacks. His cavalry, the very size and splendor of which robbed brave men of their hearts before the order to charge ever sounded, was battle-tested and motivated by god and gold: Riches filled the Abbey of St. Martin of Tours, then the holiest site in Christendom.'Dreadful brotherhood'
The poet Robert Southey in "Roderick" described the intruders as "a dreadful brotherhood
And to prevent this, what? A square of shaggy quasi-barbarians armed with swords, spears, and clubs. Perhaps Abd er Rahman's chief regret was that there were too few of the outnumbered foe to go around.
But Martel was not the typical infidel jackleg general. A king's bastard son who had to fight to hold his own after the death of his father, Martel had honed his martial skills both against other Frankish princes and pagan invaders from the right bank of the Rhine--in the words of British historian Sir Edward Creasy, "fierce tribes of the unconverted Frisians, Bavarians, Saxons, and Thuringians."
In these berserkers, Martel saw a later version of his own kith and kin. Only a few generations earlier, it was his Germanic ancestors who had forded the river, torn off chunks of a dying Roman Empire, but, paradoxically and wholly unlike the conquering Arabs to the south, accepted the faith of those they slew and dispossessed.
Few details about the Battle of Tours survive. From what historians can glean from Christian and Arab sources, it appears that for six days in October 732 the two armies shifted and feinted. The weather grew colder. The Franks were dressed for it, the Muslims were not. Martel could afford to hold his ground. On a Saturday--the day after the Muslim holy day, when prayers were offered up to Mohammed on the 100th anniversary of his death and religious fervor reached its zenith--the Arab-led cavalry attacked.Macabre polo
On occasion, brave, disciplined infantry in tight formation could turn back a cavalry charge. It was when defensive phalanxes cracked and foot soldiers fled in pell-mell panic that the fun for the mounted warrior began. In Abd er Rahman's case, his men soon expected to be playing polo not with mallets and balls but with scimitars and heads.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the massacre. The Frankish square, though possibly penetrated, did not shatter. Martel's men stood fast, the spirit of Christ and Thor--a potent mix--fastening their feet to French sod.
The Muslim horsemen who fell in battle envisioned awakening in the heavenly arms of beautiful virgins. Not bad as long-term R&R goes. But the Franks, Viking blood coursing in their veins, likely foresaw a Christo-barbaric afterlife equally appealing: crystal streams rippling across new battlefields where they could eternally ply their gory art, and streets of gold fronting mead halls where the beer was cold and wenches willing. (While this may be an unorthodox view of life beyond Checkpoint Peter, be honest. It beats a 10-million-year harp concert, doesn't it?)
Matters went from bad to worse for the attackers when the rumor spread that some of the Franks were raiding the attackers' camp, looting the Muslim loot. As some of the cavalrymen sped back to their tents, others interpreted their movement as a frightened retreat--precisely what then ensued. In this chaos, Abd er Rahman was surrounded by the enemy, who cut him down.
Leaderless, the Arab throng broke off the fight. "All the host fled before the enemy," candidly wrote one Arab source, "and many died in the flight." A monk claimed that the ratio of Muslim to Christian dead was about 370:1. Even if he was exaggerating--a virtual certainty--the Islamic world took the loss hard. Muslim historians for centuries referred to Tours, notes Creasy, as "the deadly battle" and "the disgraceful overthrow."
Never again did Islamic armies seriously threaten the Great Land of Gaul and beyond. Martel spent the rest of his life crushing smaller bands of Arab interlopers. Eventually, the heroes of the reconquista threw the Moors out of Spain.
But if the Hammer had lost?Over the Rhine
In that case, the great historian Edward Gibbon foresaw this in store for a weak and divided Europe:
"A victorious line of [Muslim] march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens [Arabs] to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames."
Gibbon called those eight days in 732 "the events that rescued our ancestors of Britain, and our neighbors of Gaul [France], from the civil and religious yoke of the Koran."
Thus, Christianity might now exist in a few miserable oppressed enclaves--or not at all. In Persia, militant Islam overran a kingdom with a firmly established, 2,000-year-old religion. Bumped into any Zoroastrians lately?
In the book "What If?: The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been," Barry Strauss of Cornell points out that an Islamicized Europe would have meant that during the Age of Exploration, European sailing captains would have planted not the Cross, but the Crescent, in the soil of the New World.
Even without overrunning Europe, Islam spread its faith and doctrine to parts of India, the Philippines, Thailand, and central Africa. Had Charles Martel faltered at Tours, all of the largely Christian populations of Asia and Africa and South America would now, most likely, be solidly Muslim. "Today," writes Strauss, "there would only be one world religion: Islam."
And what sort of world would that be? Without the Christian quickening of conscience that helped abolish slavery in England, the United States, and elsewhere, the Quran-sanctioned institution might be the global norm. An Emir Ibrahim al-Lincoln would not have issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Ever wonder at the hatred of Orthodox Christian Serbs for Muslim Bosnians? One reason is that the ancestors of the former had to flee Constantinople when the Muslims overwhelmed the Christian East, killing or taking into bondage many who remained. The seething anti-Islamic passions in the Balkans make sense when you consider that the very name "Slav" comes from "slave."
Women the world over also would be permanent second-class citizens. Many if not most--observe Saudi Arabia--would be forbidden to drive a car, own property, or vote. Battered females might well lack legal or other recourse.Way of the world
Creasy argues also that the Martel victory "preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilizations ." That is, in a Moslem Dominion, the ferment of the Middle Ages, which sparked the Enlightenment with all of its scientific, economic, and political fruits, would never have occurred. Look at the modern Islamic world: backward, unfree, poor--in sad fact, scarcely modern at all. This could be the state of all humankind if not for a Europe where, as Strauss notes, "church and state were [often] at loggerheads," helping form a culture that was, "compared to Islam, decentralized, secularized, individualistic, profit-driven."
Half-educated Christophobes who think the faith contributed nothing but superstition and inventive torture to the human story should ponder Strauss' words. So should modern zealots who would happily marry church and state.
Without the victory at Tours, there would be no suds-swinging Oktoberfest, no Halloween (because no All Hallows Eve), indeed little fun now or at any other time of the year under a Shari'a, or religious law, not noted for winking at petty vices.
And probably no comic books, the medium where I first learned of Charles Martel. He was summoned up by a character called Kid Eternity, who could invoke the spirits of dead heroes to help battle modern-day evil. Alas, in the school books in which I hid my comics, I don't believe I ever read about Martel or Tours, the battle that preserved the Christian flavor of Europe.
That flavor now wanes: Regular church attendance is very low in most European countries. When cathedral bells ring in Amsterdam on Sunday morning, notes Penn State's Philip Jenkins, the only citizens one sees walking to worship are black African Christian immigrants, "clearly not terribly well-off, but each in his or her Sunday best, and everyone clutch[ing] a well-thumbed Bible."
Meanwhile, the continent's growing Muslim communities are united in faith if not fervor. Soon one in 10 Frenchmen may be Muslim, writes Jenkins, while Frankfurt alone contains 27 mosques.
Pray for Europe. But save a few prayers, too, for a band of bearded, coarse, but faithful men who stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a cold dawn and faced proven death galloping full-speed toward them--only to unhorse that grim rider and break his bones to bits.
Which is to say that if in the next life you can't find the Pearly Gates, just follow the sound of the loud German drinking songs. You'll get to the right place.
PAUL AKERS is editor of the opinion pages of The Free Lance-Star.