Friday, 3 July 2009

Bat Ye’or, ‘Jihad on the Seas’

I’m doing some reading-up on White slavery at the moment, the Barbary corsairs and whatnot. The following is from one of Bat Ye’or’s books on Islam:

Rapidly exploiting sea-warfare techniques of the conquered Christian populations, the Arabs carried the jihad to the coasts of Europe. The populations of Cyprus (649) and the islands of Cos, Rhodes (672), and Crete (674) were slaughtered or enslaved. The Cyzicus peninsula was ravaged (670) and Paros was reduced to an uninhabited desert. The coasts of southern France and Italy were plundered.

After the forced Islamization of the Jewish and Christian Berber tribes of the Maghreb and the strengthening of Arab-Islamic power, Maghrebian pirates under the Aghlabid dynasty (800-909) undertook a number of expeditions along the European coasts in conjunction with Arabs from Spain. During the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, such razzias depopulated Sardinia, Sicily, the coasts of Italy and southern France and, in the eastern Mediterranean, the Cyclades, the regions of Athos, Euboea, and along the Greek coast.

Landing on Crete in 827 or 828, Arabs from Spain laid waste the island in the space of twelve days, enslaving the populations of twenty-nine towns and sparing one single site where Christians could retain their religion. Moving on to the island of Aegina (gulf of Corinth), they destroyed or deported all the inhabitants as slaves. After having subjugated Bari (842) in southern Italy, then Messina (843) and Modica (844) in Sicily, the Muslim armies set siege to Rome (846). During the 852-53 campaign against Castrogiovanni, Catania, Syracuse, Noto, and Ragusa in Sicily, the Tunisian al-Abbas “took booty in all these territories, ravaged, burned.” During the expedition to the island in summer 853-54, al-Abbas “destroyed the Christians’ harvests and sent expeditionary forces in all directions.” After a six-month siege, the inhabitants of Butira pledged to hand over to him six thousand prisoners, who were then led away. Every year, harvests were laid waste, villages burned and destroyed, towns conquered and reduced to ruins. In the course of the 857-58 campaign, the inhabitants of Cefalu (Sicily) obtained peace by promising to leave their town and abandon it to the Muslims, who then destroyed it. In 878 Syracuse fell after a nine-month siege: “Thousands of its inhabitants were killed and booty acquired, the like of which had never before been taken in any other town. A very small number of men were able to escape.” After pillaging the town, the invaders destroyed it. In 902, the inhabitants of Taormina were decimated by the sword.

This general picture of destruction, ruin, massacre, and deportation of urban and rural captive populations was common to all the conquered territories in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Well documented by contemporary Syriac, Greek, and Arabic chronicles, the few examples provided illustrate a general situation as it recurred regularly during the seasonal razzias, over the years, and for centuries. These chronicles, in great part translated and published, are well known to specialized historians and indicate clearly, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the rules of jihad concerning booty, the fifth part, the fay, levies on harvests, and the fate of populations (conversion, massacre, slavery, or tribute) were not just vague principles laid down by a theoretical treatise on warfare, construed by some obscure theologian. The Arabs, stirred by their profound belief and the conviction of belonging to an elite nation, superior to all others (Koran 3: 106), put them into practice, feeling that they were thereby fulfilling a religious duty and executing the will of Allah.

It must be stressed, however, that massacre or slavery of the vanquished peoples, burning, pillage, destruction, and the claiming of tribute were the common practices during the period under consideration of every army whether Greek, Latin, or Slav. Only the excess, the regular repetition and the systematization of the destruction, codified by theology, distinguishes the jihad from other wars of conquest or depredation.

Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam (Associated University Presses, London, 1996) p.50-51.

No comments: