By Christine Douglass-Williams
Robert Spencer’s extraordinary new book, The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS (Bombardier Books), tells the little-known yet crucially important story of the victimization of Christians, Jews, Hindus, and other non-Muslims in jihadist warfare for fourteen centuries. The History of Jihad goes right up to the present day, and is a new and important confirmation of George Santayana’s famous dictum: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The epic story as it unfolds in this book is breathtaking. Is not presented as an unapproachable history manual but in a story form–an entertaining chronicle of a dismal history–that leaps out of the corridors of centuries past to meet the reader in the current day.
Following Muhammad’s death, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, once the most heavily populated Christian areas in the world, quickly succumbed to Islamic invasions, and by the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. Three centuries later came the Muslim conquest of Asia Minor, what is present-day Turkey, which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The Eastern Roman Empire, more commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece and the city of Constantinople, which fell to the jihad in 1453.
Spencer tells this account primarily in the words of eyewitnesses and contemporary historians, which gives this book a particular vividness. The History of Jihad is no dry exposition of names and dates and forgotten incidents drawn out of dusty books. On the contrary, it is a virtual tour of the battlefield, highlighting the heroism and courage of those who tried through the centuries to resist the jihad, the bloodlust of the jihadis, and the cravenness of the non-Muslims who compromised with the jihadis and enabled their advance throughout history for their own short-sighted ends. Parallels can be observed in the modern era which the author himself has experienced in his courageous resistance to the jihad, while confronting attacks by agents of the jihad and their non-Muslim collaborators.
Spencer also details the centuries-long and horrifyingly brutal jihad against India, an important story which the West is in need of education about. Spencer sheds a new light upon the current tension between India and Pakistan and also the communal tension between Hindus and Muslims in India that still exists today, rooted in ancient animosities which are still playing out, as policy analysts ignore the historical record (as they do far too often) at their own peril.
The History of Jihad is not just a history book, it is a veritable key to understanding present-day conflicts that still dominate the news. It also illuminates the reasons why negotiated settlements have failed repeatedly to bring peace between the Jewish state of Israel and the Palestinians, why the Muslim migrant influx into Europe is ill-conceived, why the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran is much greater than most people realize, and a great deal more.
The History of Jihad also reveals a great many false assumptions about Islamic history that are widespread in the West today and accepted as fact. Spencer explodes the idea that Western colonialism is the cause of jihad activity. He shows how the modern-day jihad is fuelled not so much by anger at the U.S. and Israel as by the aggressive Islamist agenda fueled by Saudi Arabia’s petrodollars and polemicists from Al-Azhar. Contrary assertions are popular in the West but fraudulent, and serve only to promote and justify the Islamists’ victimology narrative, and thus the advancement of the jihad.
Spencer’s book draws to a close with a detailed account of the Islamic State (ISIS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and its declaration of the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, with its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph, on June 29, 2014. He explains how the phenomenon of ISIS, though shocking to most, is not new in Islamic history. The ideology of the Islamic State is that of Sunni Salafist-jihadism, a hardline interpretation of Sharia law, validated by problematic texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and there have been similar groups throughout Islamic history.
The History of Jihad vividly illustrates the fact that the ISIS militants’ plan for global domination was simply a new manifestation of the jihad imperative to advance into new territory that has existed throughout Islamic history, and has often turned inward, as the victims of Sunni jihadis have, as Spencer shows, often included Shiites, viewed by the Sunnis as heretics worthy of death. Jihadis of all sects of Islam have aggressively pursued this warfare around the globe since the time of Muhammad, enticing fighters with promises of material rewards in this world and paradise in the next.
The atrocities committed ISIS are just the latest example of how militants throughout history have invoked Islam to justify sadistic violence. The History of Jihad shows that contrary to the claims of Islamist apologists such as Karen Armstrong and John Esposito, obscene human rights abuses were routinely inflicted upon victims in Islamic states throughout Islamic history, long before colonialism, and long before the Christian Crusades. The history of Islam is not, unfortunately, characterized by tolerance and peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims.
That is one of the many reasons why The History of Jihad is such a monumental book. It explodes many of the cherished assumptions of modern-day policymakers, and in so doing, shows a path forward to a more realistic approach to the global jihad threat that the free world so desperately needs. It also serves as a useful handbook in any personal library as a reference guide when needed.
Christine Douglass-Williams is a nine-time international award-winning broadcast journalist and author of the book The Challenge of Modernizing Islam.