Eight Christian heroes who stood against Islam Book review by William Kilpatrick
Defenders of the West: The Christian Heroes Who Stood Against Islam, by Raymond Ibrahim, with foreword by Victor Davis Hanson (Nashville, TN: Bombardier Books, 2022). Hardcover: 368 pages. ISBN: 978-1642938203. RRP: US$30.00
"Christianity was saved in Europe solely because the peoples of Europe fought. If [Europeans]…had not possessed a military equality with, and gradually a growing superiority over the Mohammedans who invaded Europe, Europe would at this moment be Mohammedan and the Christian religion would be exterminated." — Theodore Roosevelt
I came across Roosevelt's observation in Raymond Ibrahim's recent book, Defenders of the West: The Christian Heroes Who Stood Against Islam. At a time when Islam once again seems poised to conquer Europe — this time by dint of immigration and higher birth-rates — Ibrahim's book serves as a timely reminder that this clash of civilisations is far from over.
Defenders of the West focuses on eight individuals who fought against Islamic armies at various times in past centuries. Interestingly, Ibrahim himself can be considered a modern-day "defender of the West" or, more accurately, "defender of the faith".
I say this because the faith can't be effectively defended unless Christians first realise that it needs defending. Much of Ibrahim's work concerns the oppression of Christians by Muslims all over the world but particularly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East — a story that relatively few Western Christians are familiar with.
Ibrahim, of course, also writes about the continuing threat to the West — to Europe and the Americas. Unlike the daily persecution and slaughter of Christians in Africa, however, Christians in the West are subject to more subtle but still effective types of intimidation which cause them to look the other way in the face of Muslim transgressions. Most Westerners now understand that the subject of Islamic aggression is to be avoided.
Indeed, the reluctance to get involved in the problems of other Christians was a major factor in hindering Christian efforts to resist Islamic attacks on Europe in past centuries. As long as their own territory wasn't threatened, many kings and princes refused to come to the aid of their neighbours despite repeated pleas from Rome to unite in defence of Christendom.
Some of these Christian leaders were even willing to make alliances with the (Ottoman) "Turks" and fight alongside them against their fellow Christians. Indeed, Defenders of the West is filled with considerably more accounts of betrayals than you will find in the pages of The Lord of the Rings.
Speaking of The Lord of the Rings, there is an almost fantastical quality to Ibrahim's book. Much of what took place seems beyond belief. Yet, Defenders of the West is based almost entirely on primary sources. And the stories they tell are astounding: Duke Godfrey of Bouillon's fight to the death with an "enormous" bear; Christian warriors prevailing against ten-to-one odds; and psychological warfare that sometimes took the form of mountainous piles of skulls left by the roadways as a warning to Christian soldiers of the fate that lay before them.
And the battles? If you've seen the battle scenes in the film version of The Lord of the Rings, you might assume that they are gross exaggerations of actual medieval battles. Well, yes and no. There were, of course, no Orcs or giants or walking trees in those days; but there were enormous armies — some of them numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Moreover, there were huge engines of war: enormous battering rams; giant catapults capable of hurling 400-pound projectiles; and wooden towers taller than castle walls which were constructed in a matter of days and wheeled up to the walls, enabling archers to shoot down from above into the courtyards below.
Remote as all this seems to us, however, there were aspects of the wars which seem both familiar and shocking to us. The Ottoman Turks were masters of psychological warfare and had developed a particularly cruel institution which allowed them to enlist Christian children against their own parents. It was called the janissary ("new soldier") system.
In those areas of the Balkan region which the Turks controlled, Christian families were compelled to make an annual blood tribute of their own sons. The Turks selected the strongest, healthiest, most talented and most intelligent of these boys and then turned them into Ottoman warriors.
As Ibrahim tells it: "These children were then marched to the Ottoman heartland, forcibly converted to Islam, indoctrinated in the teachings of jihad, trained to be — and rewarded for being — warriors par excellence, and then set loose on their former Christian kin, thereby perpetuating the cycle of conquest, enslavement and conversion, always to Islam's demographic gain and Christendom's demographic loss."
Thus indoctrinated, the youngsters often developed a slavish devotion to Islam and their Islamic masters, and a deep hostility toward Christians. Although the institution of the janissaries was novel at the time, we have seen several similar examples in the modern era. Both the Hitler Youth and the Soviet-era Young Pioneers aimed to inculcate youngsters with beliefs and values that were often in opposition to those of their parents. Moreover, children who betrayed their parents to the authorities were held up as models for other youth to emulate.
The most recent example of an organised attempt to separate children from their families and from the faith of their families can be found no further away than your neighbourhood school. All across the country, children are being indoctrinated to believe that gay is okay, that boys have the right to use the girl's locker room, and that children can choose their own gender.
Some teachers and counsellors even encourage children to believe that they have been assigned the wrong gender and offer to assist them in transitioning to their "true" identity. In the meantime, they advise the children not to inform their parents. And why should parents be informed? Like the Ottoman rulers of old, many education "professionals" have convinced themselves that the children belong to the state, not to their parents. Never mind what parents believe, teachers know best. And, indeed, it is now common knowledge that a K-throughcollege education often has the effect of turning children away from the values of their parents.
What's more, exposure to our educational system also has the effect of turning young people away from the values of our nation. In recent years, our academies of higher education have painted America as the root of all evil. According to this "woke" view, America was founded by racists, and is still guilty of systemic racism, white supremacy, ethnocentrism, sexism and transphobia.
Americans, in short, are taught to be ashamed of their culture and their heritage. A large part of that heritage, of course, goes back to our European ancestors and to the brave warriors who stood against Islam and ensured that our heritage would be a Christian heritage, not a Mohammedan one.
As everyone knows, the last several years have been marked by a concerted effort to "trash" our culture — to pull down statues of American heroes and to brand them all as white supremacists (even Lincoln and Frederick Douglass).
As Ibrahim shows in his final chapter, this trashing now extends to our European ancestors who fought to defend their faith and their liberties against the advance of Islam. For example, "in 1999, hundreds of self-identified Christians participated in a 'reconciliation walk' that began in Germany and ended in Jerusalem. Along the way, they wore T-shirts with the words 'I apologise' — in Arabic, no less."
More recently, in 2020 in St Louis, Missouri, "throngs of 'progressives' — led by Black Lives Matter and Muslim activists — violently targeted for destruction the 40-foot iconic statue of King Louis IX [St Louis]".
St Louis happens to be one of the eight heroic defenders of the West who are the subject of Ibrahim's book. "It mattered little," writes Ibrahim, "that the saint-king had spent much of his life and wealth in pious works of charity to better the lot of his fellow man."
At the same time that Western Christians were being smeared, however, Western academics were busy whitewashing the brutality of the Mohammedans. For example, as Ibrahim notes, the "devilish" institution of the janissaries "has been whitewashed and portrayed by Western academics 'as the equivalent of sending a child away for a prestigious education and training for a lucrative career'."
The janissary system, however, did not always work to Islam's advantage. The most fascinating chapter in Defenders of the West concerns Skanderbeg, an Albanian hero who spent most of his life fighting the Turks — but not all of it. In his childhood, Skanderbeg was taken from his parents and brought into the janissary system. He was an apt pupil, and because of his extraordinary strength and skills, he quickly rose in the ranks "and eventually became a highly decorated Ottoman general". But Skanderbeg (whose given name was George Kastrioti) had not entirely forgotten his roots in Christian Albania; and when he had his chance, he turned against the Sultan, and with an initially small group of Albanian fighters began his quest to retake Albania.
Ironically, much of Skanderbeg's success was due to his janissary training. He understood the Turkish mentality better than any other Western leader, and he knew their strategies and tactics. In battle after battle, he crushed Ottoman forces that were far superior in number to his own troops.
Needless to say, our own culture is badly in need of men like Skanderbeg, St Louis, Godfrey of Bouillon, El Cid and the others that Ibrahim writes of. Although they were far from perfect, they possessed qualities that are worth emulating in any age.
Not that any of us will necessarily be called on to fight a caliph and his armies — although that possibility should not be discounted altogether, seeing that President Erdogan of Turkey has given several broad hints that he desires to rule as caliph over a revived Ottoman empire that would include much of Europe.
In any event, it looks as if there are battles ahead. Sometimes they will be fought with weapons of war and sometimes by other means.
Whether it be radical Muslims, radical leftists, radical school boards, radicalised corporate boards or the Chinese Communist Party, there will always be a fresh supply of foes. And they will all want more or less the same things: for you to relinquish your rights, renounce your faith and hand over your children to be indoctrinated in a new creed.
One of the main lessons of Western history is that we can't afford to turn a blind eye to the troubles of our fellow Christians. Don't imagine that what's happening to them now in Africa or Asia or the Middle East can't happen to you or your family.
William Kilpatrick is the author of Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (2015) and other books about culture and religion. The above article is reprinted, with the author's permission, from Crisis Magazine (February 10, 2023). For more on William Kilpatrick's work and writings, visit his website, TurningPointProject.com.