Lepanto and Islamic Imperialism

Political Mavens Mark Judge

Sometimes you need a pope who can kick some ass.

This is the ringing message of Lepanto, a terrific little book published by Ignatius Press. “Lepanto” is a poem by the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton. It details the seminal Battle of Lepanto, fought on October 7, 1571, in the Gulf of Lepanto south of Greece. Many historians consider it the pivotal turning back of Islamic imperialism, which had been spreading since the time of Mohammed. Lepanto the book includes the poem and commentary by historians.

The man most responsible for the Battle of Lepanto was Pope Pius V. Pius, despite witnessing a Europe wrought with religious bickering and opulent Renaissance politics and decadence – Chesterton called 16th century Europe “diseased and divided” – managed to form an army to take on the advancing Turks. In 1453 Turks had taken Constantinople, and were now setting their sights on Europe (funny how this is never taught in Western public schools). They were guided by the Sultan Selim, who was “under pressure to further expand the reaches of his empire.” While Europe argued over religion and practiced Machiavellian politics, Pope Pius attempted to sound the alarm. Brandon Rogers, one of the several commentators with small essays in Lapanto, explains: “Pius understood the tremendous importance of resisting the aggressive expansion of the Turks better than any of his contemporaries appear to have. He understood that the real battle being fought was spiritual; a clash of creeds was at hand, and the stakes were the very existence of the Christian West.”

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2 thoughts on “Lepanto and Islamic Imperialism”

  1. This was such a spectacular and historically important naval battle, I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t made it into a movie starring Brad Pitt. Two great Aramadas clashed, fiery cannons roared, musket balls and arrows flew, swarms of sailors in boarding parties clambered over the gangway with scimitar and cutlass drawn. At the climax of the battle the two opposing flagships, collided and engaged each other in battle.

    Lord Kinross describe the action:

    The main battle developed in the center, where the flagships of the two commanders-in-chief, La Real and Sultana, made head on for one another, prow to prow. They collided with such violence that the beak of the Sultana became embedded in the rigging of La Real, locking the two ships together to make a central battlefield, with the Venetian and papal flagships on either hand. here fighting raged desperately for two hours, between the well-matched arquebusiers of the Christians and the Janissaries, armed with arquebuses and bows, while reinforcements clambered aboard when required from supporting galleys and galleons. Gradually the fight went in favor of the Christians, whose artllery was superior, while the Turkish ships had been provided with inadequete defenses against boarding parties. Don John, after his men had twiced been repulsed by the Janissaries, led a boarding party on to the Sultan in person, which was gallantly resisted by Ali Pasha at the head of his defenders. In the resulting struggle Al Pasha was hit in the forehead by a bullet and fell forward, dead on the gangway.

    from, The Ottoman Centuries. Part IV Seeds of Decline.

    It should be noted that shortly before this encounter the Turks wrested Cyprus away from the Venetians, but there intent was to capture strategically valuable territory and taxable estates and revenue for the Empire, not to impose forced conversion on the indigenous Christians.

    Lord Kinross writes:

    Its (the Ottoman Empire) subsequent administration of the Island was enlightened enough following the standard Ottomn practice at this time in conquored territories. The former privileges of the Greek Orthodox Church were revived at the expense of the Latin Catholics, and it’s property retored to it. The Latin system of serfdom was abolished. The land which formerly belonged to the Venetian nobility was transferred to the Ottoman state.

    So in this respect, Mark Judge, the author of the article above has it completely wrong. The Ottoman thrusts at Europe were not driven by religious fervor so much as as they were intended to expand the territories subject to rule by the Sultan. Christians living under Ottoman rule were indeed second-class citizens and could not rise to positions of power, but their right to practice their religion was repected by the Ottomans.

    So it would therefore be a completly incorrect interpretation of history to suggest that the events of 1571 carry some important message regarding relations between the Christian and Muslim worlds today. Offensive Jihad can only be declared by a Caliphate and no Caliphate exists in the Islamic world today. The Ottoman Empire, when it existed maintained a Caliphate, but it’s declarations of Jihad were more a reflection of the desires of the Sultan, than any religious imperative.

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