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Jihad against Italy

Sacrificer           unknown
Sacrifice code       wfor0396
Sacrifice date       25 march 2009

Jihad against Italy

By the mid 7th century, after overrunning North Africa, the Arab Muslims turned their attention towards the North Mediterranean coast in an effort to invade the Byzantine Empire from the West. By then the Arabs, who already controlled the North African coast and Spain, considered Sicily a highly strategic step for their expansion towards the north of Italy and an advance into Europe. The Arabs who had started developing pretensions to becoming a naval power, sent a fleet to Sicily and conquered the undefended fortress of Palermo in Sicily in 830. With Sicily as a base they started harassing the mercantile shipping in the Mediterranean, and more importantly they tried repeatedly to invade Italy from Sicily.

The Battle of Palermo

The Christian resistance began immediately to recapture the island of Sicily. The Franks tried to take back the island in the 7th century, but failed. By the 11th century, the baton of resistance to the Saracens was taken up by the Normans. The Normans undertook an attempt to liberate Sicily by sending in an expeditionary assault in 1068 with just sixty knights, but with their shock tactics, they gave a stunning blow to the Arab chieftain Ayub ibn Temim at the Battle of Misilmeri (then called by the Arabs Menzil el Emir), outside Palermo. This was followed by the main Norman assault in 1071, when they attacked and defeated the Arabs at Palermo. This fortress whose very name derived from the Arab Balarm - defines its origins as an Arab city. Palermo, when it was an Arab emirate for five hundred years, was described as "the city of the 300 mosques, very few of which survive today, with most of them having been converted into Churches.

The Battle of Palermo stands as one of the most astounding Norman escapades in Italy against the Muslims. It rivals the Battle of Hastings (1066) in importance. Socially, the Normans' occupation of Arab Palermo was far more significant than their conquest of Saxon London, as it brought Sicily back into the European orbit, a development which eventually established an Italianate presence in the central Mediterranean. The Normans had taken Messina during an early morning battle in Spring 1061. In the ten years since, they had sought to consolidate their control of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula, fighting the Arabs in a string of skirmishes. At Palermo, the Arabs were again led by their wily and intrepid commander Ayub ibn Temim and the Normans by a young and energetic leader named Robert Guiscard de Hauteville and his younger brother, Roger de Hauteville. But the Normans with their conquests in other parts of Europe, notably England , where they fought the battle of hasting in 1066 and defeated the Saxons, were chronically short of trained knights. (Indeed, it would be years following the Battle of Palermo before they could wrest back control of Enna, from the Muslims. Enna had been an Arab-Muslim stronghold in east-central Sicily

In 1072 Palermo had something over a hundred thousand residents. On the morning of 5 January, Robert's cavalry attacked the al Kasr district (high ground near what became the cathedral, Piazza Vittoria and the Norman Palace). Fighting was fierce, and penetrating the walls seemed like an impossible feat. Leaving his brother, Roger, to maintain the attack on al Kasr, Robert and some knights attacked al Khalesa, the administrative district on the coast, built around the emir's fortress.

This was taken by nightfall, though most of the adjacent al Kasr district, further inland, remained in Saracen hands. Nevertheless, a Saracen delegation surrendered to the Normans the following morning. Specifically, the Normans first entered al Khalesa over a wall near what is now the Spasimo. (In a corner of this structure the vestiges of a eight-century Mosque that the Normans changed into a church. The traces of this change can be seen even today.) The ceremonial entry of the Norman Christians into Palermo took place on 10 January, with a Greek Rite mass celebrated by the Orthodox bishop Nicodemus of Palermo in the old cathedral (on the site of the present one), hastily re-converted into a church from its use as a mosque. Here was a historic juncture where Robert and Roger chose to defy convention and their own Christian tradition. All mosques that had been churches (before the Arabs' arrival two centuries earlier) were re-converted into Churches. With the conquest of Palermo, the Normans had liberated only a part of Sicily, the rest of the island still lay under Arab occupation.

But in spite of the Norman attack, the Arabs in Sicily were divided, and taking advantage of the situation, Count Roger, after a series of campaigns, subdued the rest of the island and brought it under Norman Rule. Count Roger also invaded other islands to make sure his southern flank was secure from a possible Arab attack, having reduced the Arabs to a state of vassalage and releasing the foreign Christian slaves, he returned to Sicily without even bothering to garrison his prize. In 1127, Roger II the son of Count Roger, led a second invasion of Malta; having overrun the Island he placed it under a more secure Norman domination under the charge of a Norman governor. He also garrisoned with Norman soldiers the three castles then on the islands. From about this period the Maltese moved back gradually into the European orbit to which they had belonged for a five hundred years prior to the Arab interlude.

Lessons from the Battle of Palermo

Sicily had been under Muslim occupation for nearly three centuries from 812 up to 1071. the population had been wholly converted to Islam, and there was not a single church left standing. They had either been reduced to rubble or had been converted into Mosques. When the Normans retook Sicily, they reversed history in equal measure and with equal ruthlessness. After the Norman liberation, there were no Muslim left in Sicily, Malta, Sardina and any other surrounding islands that had been under Muslim occupation. This ensured that the population forgot about the Islamic interlude. The Norman acted as an exorcist to exorcize the influence of Islam on the population and returned the lands to Christendom.

The Battle of Lepanto

Although Sicily was never directly threatened again, the shadow of the Islamic Jihad loomed once again when the Ottoman Turks started moving into the Mediterranean after 1500. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the prospect of the conquest of Europe was reignited in Muslim hearts. This prospect had been defeated at Poitiers, Palermo and had been rolled back by the Reconquista in Spain. The Ottomans now moved toward Malta which had remained a peaceful Christian bastion for four more centuries after its liberation by the Normans in 1127. In the meanwhile Malta had become the base for the Crusader knights of Malta and it played an important role as a transit point for the crusaders to go to the holy land. Malta was a marked fortress for the Muslims who bided their time to seek revenge when they could again come within striking distance.

And so it s if to prove the point, the Turks launched two attacks against the island in 1547, and again in 1551, 1565 till they were finally routed decisively at the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Turks had a policy of ravaging the Maltese countryside they ignored the fortified towns, and turned their attention to the island of Gozo and carried away the entire Christian population into slavery, the children being brought up as Muslims who were to be thrown into battle as suicide warriors named Janissaries (from Jan = life and Nisar = given away). That same year the Turks drove the Knights out of Tripoli. these attacks stung the Knights into feverish activity to improve the islands' defenses in anticipation of another, and possibly bigger, attack.

On the 18th May, 1565, the Ottoman Turks and their allies pitted 48,000 of their best troops against the islands with the intention of invading them, and afterwards to make a thrust into Southern Europe by way of Sicily and Italy. Against them were drawn up some 8,000 men: 540 Knights; 4,000 Maltese; and the rest made up of Spanish and Italian mercenaries. Landing unopposed, the first objective of the Turks was to secure a safe anchorage for their large invasion fleet, and with that in mind, launched their attack on St.Elmo. After a heroic resistance of thirty one days the fort succumbed to the massive bombardment and continuous attacks of the Turks. After the fort had been reduced, the Ottomans turned their to the two badly fortified towns overlooking the harbour. Subjected to a ceaseless bombardment, and repulsing attack; behind the crumbling walls, the Christian forces, against all odds, kept the enemy at bay until a small relief force of some 8,000 troops arrived from Sicily (a smaller relief force of 600 men had previously landed at about the time that St.Elmo had fallen). Totally demoralized, as the Turks were, by losses from disease, fire and steel, added to the fact that their supplies were running low, they were in no position to offer an effective resistance, and the Turks retreated never again to attempt another invasion in that part of the Mediterranean.

In 1571, Don John of Austria commanding the fleet of the Holy League, met the Ottoman Turks in the waters at the mouth of the Gulf of Patros. Don John of Austria met his fleet off Messina and saw that he had 300 ships, great and small, under his command. The Pope himself had outfitted twelve galleys and the depth of his war chest had paid for many more. Don John's eye must have gazed with pride on the 80 galleys and 22 other ships that had been provided by his half-brother Philip II of Spain. Each of these Spanish galleys held a hundred soldiers on top of the rowers who propelled the ship through the water and no less than 30,000 men in the service of Spain would fight at Lepanto. The next largest contingent was that of Venice.

Thought they were no longer the dominating power of yesteryear, the Venetians could still assemble a fleet of more than a hundred vessels beneath the winged Lion of St. Mark standard. provided the technological cutting edge that was to win the battle.

The Turkish fleet under the command of Ali Pasha had been reinforced by a Calabrian traitor fisherman who had turned Moslem. His name was Uluch Ali and he was now the Bey of Algiers, that notorious nest of the Muslim corsairs feared by all Christian ships plying their trade in the Mediterranean. Don John moved his force towards the anchorage of Lepanto where he knew the Turks to be waiting and during the night of October 6th, with a favourable wind behind him, Ali Pasha moved his fleet westward towards the mouth of the Gulf of Patras and the approaching ships of the Holy League.

The action that was to follow was the biggest naval engagement anywhere on the globe till then. The Turks, initially arrayed in a giant crescent-shaped formation, quickly separated into three sections also. The centre, under Ali Pasha, pushed forward and the action opened when the cannon of Don John's two centre galleasses (gunships) began to do great execution among Ali Pasha's advancing ships. Seven or more Turkish galleys went down almost immediately as a result of the longer range of the Christian fleet. The Turks were not lacking in courage, however, and they pressed on in the face of intense fire from the galleasses, the galleys' guns and crossbowmen on the Christian decks. Ali Pasha tried to come alongside the Christian ships in the hope of boarding and here the legendary steadfastness under fire of the 16th and 17th century Spanish infantryman came to the fore and attack after attack was beaten off by killing shots from their guns and engaging in hand to hand combat by the Spanish swordsmen. Then Don John gave the order to board Ali Pasha's flagship. In a wild melee of attack, retreat and counterattack played out on decks awash with the blood of the slain, the air rent by the screams of the wounded and dying the Spaniards forced their way onto the Turkish galley three times. Twice they were beaten back but finally they stormed the Turkish poop and a wounded Ali Pasha was beheaded on the spot. His head was spitted on a pike and held aloft for all the Turkish fleet to see and the Ottoman battle flag, never before lost in battle, was pulled down from the mainmast. The Muslim centre broke and retired as best it could, their courage forgotten in face of the grisly sight of their admirals head held aloft by the elated Spaniards.

Lessons of the Battle of Lepanto

The Christians had now learnt their lessons. It was a battle to death for both sides. Negotiations were never on the agenda. The options were fight, flight or death. The first mistake made by Rodrigo in Spain when he faced the first Muslim Jihad in 711, he had tried to walk his out by negotiating his freedom, only to be betrayed and having his head sawed off to be paraded before the demoralized Spanish army at the Battle of the Guadalete river between the Muslims and the Spaniards. In this case the Christians never forgot nor forgave the Muslims. And so mercy was a quality not much in vogue any longer in the wars between the crescent and the cross. The Christians were quick to learn the tactics of foul warfare from the Muslims and turn their new earning against a ruthless adversary. Apart from the bravery of soldiers on both sides, the tactic that clinched victory was the gruesome act of beheading of the Turkish Admiral Ali Pasha and his deputy Uluch Ali. These were unchristian and uncivilized practices, but it was the Muslim who had introduced them into Europe, and the Christians were quick to learn and use them against the Muslims.

The engagement at Lepanto had lasted for more than four hours and when the smoke finally cleared it became apparent that this was a major victory for the Holy League and a bitter defeat for the Ottoman Turks. Almost 8,000 of the men who had sailed with Don John were dead and another 16,000 wounded. On the brighter side 12,000 Christian galley slaves had been released from their servitude to the Ottomans. The Turks and Uluch Ali's Algerines had suffered much more grievously. Of the three hundred and thirty Turkish ships , fewer than fifty managed to escape and most of them were burned because they could not be made sufficiently seaworthy for further use; one hundred and seventeen Muslim galleys were captured intact and the rest were sunk or destroyed after they had been run ashore by the fleeing Turks. A large majority of the seventy-five thousand men who had entered the battle on the Muslim side were killed, five thousand were taken prisoner (with at least teice that number of Christian galley slaves liberated), and only a few were able to escape either by ship or by swimming ashore. Turkey, for the first time in several centuries, was left without a navy

The day belonged to Don John, the Holy League and Christendom. When the news of the victory broke, church bells were rung all over in Europe in a spontaneous outburst of joy and thanksgiving. The victory at Lepanto, put paid any further Turkish adventure to invade Italy by sea. More so it left the European powers without any formidable rival on the seas, paving the way for aggressive and bolder forays by the European maritime powers to sail across all the oceans and establish colonies in the Americas, Australia, Africa and Asia. The Jihad had a penultimate break at Lepanto, the final one was to come a century later at Vienna in 1683, that put paid all attempts of the Muslims to overrun Europe. Muslim rule was thenceforth confined to the south eastern corner of Europe in the Balkans where the seed of Islam was not uprooted when the Christians liberated those lands between 1850 and 1920. Modern liberalism had set the lethargy in motion a lethargy that came to roost at Mostar and other cities in the Balkans which saw the slaughter by the Muslims and Christians of each other. Howsoever ideal may liberalism be, it is of no value when dealing with the blood-thirsty Muslims. This is the lesson which the Serbs and Croats learnt in the 1990s. But these being Christian lands originally, it was the Muslim who were the occupiers and even if we forget the concept of anyone being an occupier, since the world belongs to all humans, with their beastlike behavior, the Muslims became unwelcome citizens wherever they lived, with whomsoever they lived. The quarreled and fought with everyone, and when there were no non-Muslims around they fought among themselves. Such is the warlike legacy that Islam has given the modern age.

But the overarching relevance of the Battles of Palermo and Lepanto was that they saved the Italian mainland from a Muslim invasion and so also indirectly the Islamization of Europe when there was no power strong enough in Central Europe in the 10th to the 15th centuries to resist a successful Muslim onslaught.


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