Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The New Byzantium

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

— from “Sailing to Byzantium” by W.B. Yeats (1927)

The fall of ConstantinopleIn the late spring of 1453 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II besieged and overthrew the city of Constantinople, ringing the curtain of history down on the Byzantine Empire.

Mehmed was completing a process begun more than two centuries before. Decade after decade the Turks had nibbled at the edges of the empire, and now, as the marches of Byzantium tightened until they enclosed scarcely more than the capital city, the Sultan prepared to take the final bite.

The event was long expected within the city. Many inhabitants had fled to Venice or other points west; those who remained either had no place to go or were too brave or too foolhardy to leave. The last Christian days of the city were spent in a twilight of foreboding, with citizens laboring to shore up the defenses along the walls or melting down the gold ornaments from churches and cathedrals in order to make coins to pay the soldiers defending them.

By superior force and ingenious stratagem the Turks breached the defenses and overran the city. After the statutory three days of murder, rape, and pillage, the Turks controlled the city and the Sultan prepared to turn it into Istanbul, his new imperial capital. The Hagia Sophia became a mosque, the surviving Christians were forced to pay the jizyah, and the last outpost of the Roman Empire came to an end.

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The fall of ConstantinopleThe word “Byzantine” came to its modern meaning with good reason. It connotes elaborate bureaucratic complexity, subtle political intrigue, and a cynical and amoral style of living, all of which were characteristic of the Empire in its last stages. The Byzantines had access to the superior technology of Europe, but they lacked the cultural vitality of the Turks. Just as the barbarian Goths had overthrown the more powerful and sophisticated Romans a millennium earlier, so the Islamic barbarians overthrew the more civilized capital of Eastern Christendom.

A few generations later the Sultan’s heirs would succumb to the same weaknesses as their Christian forebears, and Turkey eventually became the “sick man of Europe.” But in the 15th and 16th centuries the Turks had their moment in the sun. Istanbul became the center of the most sophisticated culture in the world, and the Sultan’s court was the most important seat of power of its time.

Not that all of the Byzantines lacked strength of character. The last Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI Drageses, died with a sword in his hand fighting for Constantinople, as did so many others. But the larger processes of history were against him, and the culture of the Eastern Empire was not strong enough to stand against the vigor and might of the Ottoman Turks.

The Turks were the most recent in a series of nomadic invaders migrating to the West from Mongolia via the steppes of Central Asia. As they passed through Persia they converted to Islam before arriving in Anatolia. The Ottomans were most powerful and successful of the Turkish tribes, supplanting the Seljuks and eventually subduing all of Anatolia, as well as Arabia, Egypt, and North Africa.

All through the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries the Turks pressed on into Europe, overrunning Greece and the Balkans, taking Hungary, and threatening the heart of the Holy Roman Empire in Austria. Sultan Süleyman I was determined to conquer Austria and become dominant in Europe, and for a while it seemed inevitable that he would. But in 1683 the Europeans somehow managed to overcome all their internal strife and betrayal long enough to unite and throw back the Turks at the gates of Vienna. After that the Ottoman tide gradually receded.

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The fall of ConstantinopleThe Sultan of the Turkish Empire, in addition to his political office, held the title of Caliph, and was charged with the protection of all Muslims. This was the Turkish justification for many of the Ottoman military incursions: defending the faithful. Even the attacks on other Islamic states were rationalized as necessary to return apostate Muslims to the true faith.

Raising our gaze from the 15th century to the 21st, we see that the Ummah — the collective of all Muslims — lacks a Caliph. Osama bin Laden had his ambition for the position, and so may Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Each of them has viewed himself as the defender of all Islam — the true Islam, that is; the pure faith of the first four Caliphs.

Does our time also lack its Byzantium? Or do we have our own Constantinople, just waiting to have its walls breached by the siege engines and cannons of the barbarians?

The political culture at the center of the greatest world power is certainly Byzantine enough. Betrayal and intrigue; corruption and excess; a lust for power at the expense of anything else: all these we have in abundance.

Perhaps we are currently reprising 1453 rather than 1683, and this blog should be called “Walls of Constantinople” instead of “Gates of Vienna.”

And, although they spread a vile culture of death, the barbarians gathering outside the walls are certainly vital. They are vigorous and fecund, and plan to breed more Muslims than we do Christians or Jews or Hindus or atheists. From a military or technological standpoint they have no chance. But when the cities of Europe empty of Europeans, and fill up with Turks and Somalis and Arabs and Pakistanis, who wins?

In a much-noted essay last week, Mark Steyn discussed the demographic disaster facing Europe as its native population fails to replace itself and Islamic immigrants move in to sustain the swollen welfare state. In two or three decades Europe will become unrecognizable if present trends continue, and by the end of the century will no longer exist as we have known it.

Referring to Ireland, Yeats said, “That is no country for old men.” Yet Europe is fast becoming a country of nothing else. Those dying generations at their song of self-indulgence and luxury are coming to end, one way or another. So what will come next?

As Mr. Steyn repeatedly asks, “What do you leave behind?”

We monuments of unageing intellect in the blogosphere should consider carefully our answer to this question. We can leave behind a strong and civilized culture, or we can leave an archive of material to picked over by our Muslim successors while they blow up all our infidel monuments.

As Yeats wrote in the final stanza of his poem,
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.


Jeff Kouba said...

Here is a passage from Baudolino, by Umberto Eco. Granted, Eco was writing about the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by Crusaders. But, there's a passage I thought applied to 1453 as well.

"O Constantinople, Constantinople! Mother of churches, princess of religion, guide of perfect opinions, nurse of all learning, now you have drunk from the hand of God the cup of fury, and burned in a fire far greater than that which burned the Pentapolis! What envious and implacable demons have poured down on you the intemperance of their intoxication, what mad and odious Suitors have lighted your nuptial torch? O mother, once clad in gold and imperial purple, now befouled and haggard. And robbed of your children, like birds imprisoned in a cage, we cannot find the way to leave this city that was ours, nor the strength to remain here, but instead, sealed within many errors, we roam like vagrant stars!"

Mussolini said...

Muslims are already within the gates.

The West further believes that Islam will turn all warm and fuzzy when muslims see that we're desperate to "include" them. In our lust for tolerance (of anything), we will welcome the murderers while they murder and behead us. Note France, Sweden, Denmark, Britain, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands for examples already of Islamic rejection of "tolerance."

I engaged several thoughtful discussions with conservatives who were horrified that I proposed deporting muslims en masse. They were speechless that I thought "disenfranchising" voters was a good move.


Islam is a political murder cult. We would not have invited nazis to vote in our political process for the purposes of destroying it. The"moderate" muslims of America (CAIR) have stated that they have zero intentions of ever living beside other systems of government; their goal is to replace the constitution with sharia law. And those are the "moderates."

Hell. The only people talking about moderate muslims are infidels. Islam does not and cannot believe in peaceful co-existence.

There is no longer any "front lines." Muslim murderers are already in every Western country and practicing their murder.

Baron Bodissey said...

Bill -- I mean Duce -- stop being so thick. I know the enemy is already among us; that's part of the larger point of my post.

But he hasn't yet breached our cultural wall -- if he had, our women would be veiled and our churches would be mosques. We still have a little time left.

Mussolini said...

Thick? I didn't think I was being...

I was ranting like a good little Mussolini. If you thought I meant the "idiots" comments for this site and its readers, well, that's where you mistook me.

This site is one of those gems in the blogosphere that recognizes the danger. My comment was for conservative posters on other sites.

Hell, you read every post don't you? I haven't had any kind of a voting discussion here. That particular one I had at Ace of Spades, of all places.

Yes, we have time. Our politicians will refuse to see the danger, but us Westerners are a pretty bright bunch. Well, at least the masses are. Our reaction will require a few more tens of thousands of innocent deaths before we wake up.

I cheered when average Australians took matters in their own hands and battled the muslim gangsters. Call me a radical; I don't care. I cheered.

I can see we're on the same page, Baron. Just throwing my few cents around alongside yours.

ik said...

I think that what lead to the downfall of the Ottoman empire was that a path to India was found around the Cape of Good Hope (Vasco Da Gama), so the Ottomans could no longer "tax" the trade between the East and the West along the Silk Route. - less money to wage dawa and jihad so less ability to do damage (remind you of something more current;) )

An interesting fact about
The discovery of the new route
"in 1498 he picked up a Gujarati sailor sufficiently familiar with the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea to lead him on to the seaport of Calicut in southwestern India."

My "feelings" are that the Byzantines are poor misjudged victims ;) - civilized people throughout history have _ALWAYS_ lost to the Barbarians - my thoughts it has nothing to do with "cultural vitality" (if you have 100 barbarians and 100 civilized people only 10 of the civilized will specialize in war whereas all 100 of the barbarians will specialize in war - with no "force multipliers" (m/c guns, awacs etc) in those days the battle would always be lost by the civilized people.

"But in the 15th and 16th centuries the Turks had their moment in the sun. Istanbul became the center of the most sophisticated culture in the world"
I guess the Chinese/Japanese would probably disagree with that statement

ik said...

link about Vasco Da Gama

Wally Ballou said...

Excellent summary, Baron.

I work with a Greek Cypriot who is now a loyal and happy American, but he has a long and bitter historical memory, as many Greeks do (and few Americans are capable of). He loathes the Turks, and with good reason - he saw his school classmates raped, brutalized and murdered during the takeover, and his family was run out of their ancestral home. However, for him it's not all about Islam. He remembers the implicit complicity of our modern Metternich, Henry Kissinger, and going deeper into the mists of memory, he knows that it was not the Muslims who first raped and sacked Constantinople, it was their brother Christians, fighting under the cusader's cross. In hoc signo vinces, indeed.

Baron Bodissey said...

Wally --

You're right about the crusaders. In fact, the Western church promised to come to the aid of Constantinople, but never showed up. The Emperor had actually gone to Rome and signed a document to reunite the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity under the Pope, all in order to gain help for his city (and did so against the wishes of a large number of his people, I might add).

One of the ways that later Sultans made such headway in Europe is that they poured a lot of financial aid into the Protestant groups (Harvard and Georgetown, anyone?). Some question whether Luther could have succeeded without the Sultan's help.

The fractiousness of the Christian world has always been the norm. 1683 and John Sobieski were the exception.

Baron Bodissey said...

Ik --

You're right about alternate trade routes to the East -- the Portuguese did immense damage to the Turkish economy by going around Africa.

But I still think the Turkish empire was the most powerful & sophisticated in the world in 1500. The heyday of the Chinese empire had passed.

Japan I'm not so sure about -- I'm not well-informed on Japanese history. Maybe one of our commenters will jump in.

psaras said...

Let's not forget that a lot of local people, including mny classes of Greeks, from merchants to farmers where happy to be rid of the overlords from the west, including hard core feudal and repressive Franks on land, and Genoese and Venetian in the eastern ports.

this is not to say the Ottomans were benign, they weren't. But since the Crusades, espcially the Fourth, the forced concessions (and monopolies excluding Greeks) to the Venitians Genoese traders and Frankish mercenaries had utterly disenfrachised most of the Greek population.

The West insisted on conversion to Catholocism and complete loss of political, cultrual and economic autonomy in return for assistance against the final onslaught of the Ottomans. The Byzantines considered this a prfound betrayal since from their point of view they had been standing on the border defending the west all those centuries. The aid of course never came, the Venetians and genoese were already busy negotiation with the Ottomans to keep their monoplies.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Yes, the enemy is over the walls, at least in Europe but he has not prevailed yet. We must make his progress as protracted and as difficult as possible, in any way that we can.

I agree with Hanson, though, that we cannot, in the long run, survive here in America as a civilization withouth Europe. If we cannot save Europe from itself, in the short run, then we must plan, over the longer term, for the Reconquista.

I think the Reconquista is what to shoot for, because I don't think we're going to be able to reverse things before the Euros crash. We must begin, first, here at home, and work on ways and means to defeat and isolate the do-nothings, defeatists and barbarians within our own walls; then figure out how to get back into Europe.

As for the Byzantines/Eastern Romans, the fall of Constantinople was only the end of a long process -- but the proximate cause of the final collapse was the lack of a field army.

Saw somebody mention Sobieski. Now there was a splendid soldier.

"Gold may not get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can always get you gold."

Mark said...

One of the greatest problems that we face today in our battle to keep the West western and stop it being Islamized is this: Because of all the PC laws that have been passed, we are being forced 'to fight the battle' with our hands tied firmly behind our backs.

It has been mentioned that time is still on our side. Yes, I agree with that; but only if the powers that be are prepared to take bold steps. Thing is: Can anyone imagine the European politicians of today (and in this I include UK politicians, too) having the courage to take the necessary decisions to solve this problem? A problem, by the way, that can only get bigger and more difficult to solve the longer it is left to fester.

People and their leaders have become too soft - and yes, too tolerant, Mussolini - for their own good and well-being.

If this is an example of the ancient Chinese curse of Confucius 'May you live in interesting times!, then give me boring times, every time!

unaha-closp said...

Forget about Europe, why would we want that? Its cold and wet and full of French people. What the west needs is to secure lots of oil, set up a monopoly and live of the fat.

We should do what the Turks did - capture the Gulf, kick the Arabs down to the level of serfs and exploit the oil.

Mussolini said...

Turkey used to be ours (Christian). So did Egypt, Iran and Iraq.

Yeah, why can't we reclaim our lands? We reclaimed half of France and all of Spain... some of Italy.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Don't worry about "PC" and being forced to fight the battle with hands tied behind our backs.

True for a time. Patience is in order...our enemies are going to do all the arguing for a harder line that we need.

Mark said...

el jefe maximo:

I hope you're right!

Cobalt Blue said...

What a great post.

As for whether we still have time to turn back the barbarians--try as I might, I can't see how we do. We can educate our children (assuming we have them), we can discuss these things with our friends, and we can vote for the lesser of two evils. But the overriding power, the power of the lotus, to lull people to sleep is so strong . . .

Baron Bodissey said...

Stuart, thank you.

I'm not as dyspeptic as Mussolini, but I'm afraid he may be right: a whole lot more of "us" (i.e. affluent Westerners) will have to die before we take the menace of jihad seriously.

I hope I'm wrong...

Mark said...

Unfortunately, at the very time that Islam has gained so much in strength (largely through oil wealth), Westerners have become oh so 'touchy-feely'. For 'touchy-feely' read wimp-like!

Kiddo said...

Fabulous article about Occupied Asia Minor and the horrors that have plagued my family's native land ever since the muslims set foot in it.

I, too, was fascinated but disheartened by Steyn's article, but I do think that there can be a rally still. Especially in light of the now infamous cartoon madness. Many Europeans I know are split on this issue, but some speak of migrating to the US and continuing the fight here.

The study of Byzantium and its history are much neglected and I love seeing any commentary along these lines. I wrote a comparison to our situation with that of the Eastern Empire, as it was, in response to the all too familiar "We are Rome" comparison. I too believe us to be far closer to the position of the Byzantines, I am just awaiting all too impatiently for a leader to emerge. Well, to emerge and not get shot in the middle of the street!

nikita said...

it should be noted, that Eastern Empire collapsed in 1204 during fourth crusade: what existed for the following two centuries was a mere shadow of its former self.

Muslims turned Hagia Sophia into mosque? But crusaders turned it into a horse stable. It was at 1204 when preceless greek manuscripts were used as a fuel, churches desecrated, nuns and votaresses raped by their fellow christians. It was fourth crusade that delivered the final blow to the Greek culture.

friendlysaviour said...

Europe will be the battle ground for the survival of the descendants of Greek, Slav, Frank, Roman, Celt, Vikng, Norman. "Pale-faces"
Without external influence, war will be long and difficult,
We will be called the terrorists.
Nature has surprises in store though.
When we are cold, when we are hungry, when we cannot work, drive or turn on a p c, then our minds will be concentrated.
Nothing exists for too long without change. The hungriest wolf will preserve the bloodline of the wolves.
When bellies are empty and wracked with pain, then we will see who are the better wolves.
Todays islamic avante garde are well prepared. Already they are well stocked with weaponry, more so than authorities.
Blair and the Euro leaders know that without the will to do battle on our streets, and to train and arm a new home-guard, we are lost. The authorities do not have the personnel or materiel to withstand the insurrection of a vast mass of population. Our leaders know only how to bend and perpetuate the laziness and careless consumption of our modern society.
What is it that occupies the attention span of our citizens?
The opiates of sport, pop-idol, celebrities, drugs, booze, licentius behaviour of all forms.
It has made us weak. The enemy knows this. They despise us for this.
Sponsored by duplicitous pocket- lining politicos on a gravy train to oblivion.
THAT is why we are deemed easy meat for our enemy.
Don't you think they are the enemy?
I have seen a 30ish year old moslem pakistan drive his car (an open top black Mercedes) into a parking-place of an elderly British lady as she began to reverse.
This was in full view of security cameras in an outdoor car-park at a major town-centre shopping-mall.
When the old lady got out of her car and asked (politely) why he had been so rude he said this to her,....

"You f*cking white whore. Go an f*ck yourself"
When this plucky old lady said that he was "a very rude man", he turned to her and said
"What are you going to do about it, white-bitch?"
"Who is going to help you?
"THe whiteman is finished. You will be at crawling at our feet soon"
"The white man is dead meat, whore"

Because she was old, he turned and walked away, cursing. The security camera saw everything. The lady was distraught, I tried to comfort her,nobody came out, nothing more was done. It was reported. The police said that unless she was prepared to go to court, nothing could be done. Who wants to die in their home one night? The police will not protect the British citizen. They will turn away from going after muslims. They are afraid. the best you will get is a telephone number to speak to a charity called "Victim Support", volunteers who hum and hah and try to make you feel better.
Our leaders are guilty of dereliction of duty, The police are afraid to tackle the problem
Eight years of hate speech and collecting guns and ammo and Abu Hamza, radical imman gets Seven years. He will be out on licence in less than four.
His family will continue to get free-living from the state.
Do British white folk know what is going on.
Yes of course they do. But it is a crime to speak about these matters.
We have been let down by these leaders of ours.
Why did we expect ant different.
If the New Right of the bnp or others survives, then they will seem like saviours one day.
Those british muslims that live a peaceful, quiet life will suffer with the jihadists. We will all suffer.
There can be no other answer. Moderation will encourage even more defeat.
Resentment is growing. A festering sore must burst one day or the body will be poisoned and die.
We are approaching difficult times.

Anonymous said...

I believe the reason why the British authorities dithered with respect to Abu Hamza is because they feared he'd be more dangerous inside prison than outside. Many Muslim terrorists (including al-Zarqawi) were criminals who were introduced to extremist takfiri ideology while behind bars.

All these comments about popular culture are all well and good (though one ought to mention too the role of MAD in discrediting traditional martial values), but according to most of the people here, the West's sole real weakness is that it views ethnic cleansing as a crime...

alexius comnenus said...

finally, a forum where I share the exact same thoughts as other people!

my peers regard me as no different to these islamic extremists, particularly because of my fears of islamic domination of christian lands by the salafists.

then 9-11 came and i was vindicated.

humility aside, ive read voluminous books on byzantium, truly sad and almost (but not quite) inevitable doom of the empire.

JDvK said...

I'm afraid I must disagree with several of the above opinions.

Joseph said...

I have studied religion, history, and Islam since high school in the 70s. I saw 9-11 coming long before most had any idea--but no one listened.
I now write books about Christian military heroes of old. You can view them on Amazon.com & Barnes&noble.com
I concentrate on the clash of the cross and the crescent. I want to write a third, but need to sell more of the first two to be able to do that. My books have been well received and applauded in Christian circles, but have faced scorn in the PC crowd that controls the media. They prefer pro-Islamic books, and books about homosexual charactors. I only want to tell the truth. I plan my next book on Constantine XI. Please take a look at my first two.
(1) The Hero of Byzantium
(2) Hospitaller: A Tale of the Unknown Knight in the Third Crusade
You can read sample chapters on line. I need help with these in order to write more on the truth of islam and its violence toward jews, Christians, and Hindus.
Thank You.

Marco said...
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Marco said...
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Marco said...

The byzantines recieved the fatal blow from their supposed "christian brothers" which invaded the byzantine territory and capital in 1204 to support a political faction against another and exploited this chance to take over the Byzantine Empire.

Europeans recieved the fatal blow from their supposed "western brothers" from overseas which invaded Europe in 1944 to support a political faction against another and exploited this chance to take over Europe.

After 1204 the byzantines struggled to recover their power and sovereignity but they managed to do it only partially and were too weak economically and militarily to resist the muslims.

After 1944 the europeans have struggled to recover their power and sovereignity but they have managed to do it only partially and are too weak economically (the dependance from oil), too weak psychologically (the NEVER AGAIN ideology) and too weak demographically (the low birthrate thanks to US supported femminism, sexual liberation, consumerism) to resist the muslims.

It's funny how history repeats itself just with slight variations: this time however the backstabbing "brothers" are collapsing even faster than the new Byzantium, submerged by their local version of the muslims, the Latinos.