Why a jihadist? Understanding why radical Islam has such a big appeal- Part B

The happy ending of Reconquista and the unhappy result of the Crusades managed to hold Islam outside Europe. Though, the struggle was not over. A new conflict between the two religions would break out. This conflict was conducted soon.

The flag of the Ottoman Empire. The Crescent and the Star are visible. Those symbols are parts of the flag of modern Turkey.
(Source: wikipedia-https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:Flag_of_the_Ottoman_Empire.svg)

In the 14th century a new Muslim power started to emerge in the East. It was the Ottomans. Their campaign brought them to Anatolia. There, they fought against the Orthodox Byzantine Empire and conquered a lot of its lands. After they solidified their control in almost all Anatolia, they crossed the Straits of Dardanelles and reached Europe. Islam was again present in European soil, this time in the Balkan Peninsula. The Byzantine emperors could not stop their enemies. The Ottoman Army was victorious capturing a large part of the Balkans and defeating the other Orthodox kingdoms (Serbians, Bulgarians and others). The Muslim faith was an important factor for those victories. Ottomans implemented a campaign of Islamization on the conquered lands.

In the 15th century the Ottoman power would be dominant. Under capable Sultans such as Mehmed the Conqueror managed to conquer Constantinople in 1453 and the other part of the Balkans. The main representative of the Orthodox Church was vanished. Christianity in the Balkans was defeated. The Ottoman troops conquered and parts of Wallachia and Moldova as well. In addition, the Sultan campaigned in Italy without a success. Now, the Catholic world which didn’t help the Byzantines perceived that the Ottoman Empire would be an existential enemy as the previous Caliphates were.

Early in the 16th century, some of the most notable Catholic cities were besieged by the Ottoman Army. Venice (1499) and Vienna (1526) were two of them. Venice was saved, but it lost all its territories in Greece. Vienna was saved as well, but the Habsurgs lost a big part of their power. At the same time, the Ottomans became the strongest naval power in the eastern Mediterranean. The Catholic world was in fear. Pope Paul III in order to protect Christianity created the Holy League. It was a religious alliance of Venice, Genoa, Papal States and Spain and its task was to protect Catholicism. The religious character of the war was clear. The League lost at the naval battle of Preveza (1539), a defeat which caused nervousness and disappointment. The alliance of the Catholic France with the Sultan created a breach inside the Western Christian kingdoms. Ottomans meanwhile continued their conquests of Hungary and Eastern Europe, except Russia. Moreover, they beat and destroyed the remaining weak Caliphates of Iraq and Egypt (Abbasids). In the middle of the century, the Sultan was the Caliph, the leader of all the Muslims and its state was a Caliphate. Islam was present under one leadership.

However, in the end of the above century, the first signs of exhaustion were clear for the Ottoman Army. In the naval battle of Lepanto (`1571) the Ottoman fleet was defeated by the one of the Holy League, while in Asia the Portuguese victories diminished the Ottoman presence. The optimism started to came back for the Christian kingdoms. Ottomans were not unbeaten.

The siege of Vienna in 1683. This battle was not important only for the future of Europe. It was crucial for the survival and the future of Christianity, especially the Catholicism. (Source:Wikipediahttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vienna_Battle_1683.jpg)

The few defeats didn’t discourage the other Ottoman Caliphs. During the 17th century the Ottoman Empire and Islam became again an existential fear. A new campaign was planned in 1683 to capture Vienna. Had this plan been successful, it would open the road for the Western Europe and for the vanishing of Catholicism. The war was again existential. For a second time, Ottomans were inflicted a serious defeat. They abandoned the siege and retreated. Christianity had been survived. The Ottoman retreat, gave the signal for a general counter-attack of the Habsburgs. So, a campaign started which was successful and led to the conquest of the half of the Balkans. Christianity now was the victor. The Austro- Ottoman War finished in 1699 with the Treaty of Karlowitz. The Catholicism was victorious.

In the eve of the 18th century the Ottoman Empire was strong enough. Although it had lost many of its lands, it was extended and the Sultans were forceful and fearful. The hostility between the Catholic and the Muslim world was not over. But, a new threat was added for the Caliphate, the Orthodox Russia. Being enhanced after several victorious campaigns in the Baltic region and in Ukraine, it wanted to have presence in the “warm seas”, namely the Mediterranean Sea. Naturally, it would be in a state of war with the Ottoman Empire. This time, Islam was under attack both by Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The religion was a strong motive for both the Christians and the Muslim leaders and individuals so as to be in a position to fight. From 1716 to 1718 the Habsburgs were again at war with the Ottomans. The Treaty of Passarewatz confirmed the loss of many Balkan lands for the Sultan. The rivers Danube and Sava became the natural border between the two worlds, the Catholic and the Islamic.

Russian expansion and influence were the most important threats for the Muslim Empire. The Tsars using the Orthodox dogma, tried to destabilize the Ottomans and Islam by provoking revolts in the Balkans. During the reign of Catherine the Great a conflict of large scale broke out. A revolt in Greece broke out as well. The war was victorious for the Russians, but not for Greeks. However, the Russian victory permitted Cathrine to negotiate and achieve better living conditions for the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman territory. The Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca (1774) established that status. Russia after its efforts to become the “Third Rome”, a successor of the Byzantine Empire, now was presenting itself as the protector for all the Orthodox Christians. The end of the century would lead to further decline in the Ottoman power.

In 1804 a revolution was declared by the Orthodox Serbs. A revolutionary struggle was conducted from 1804 to 1817 between Serbs and Ottomans. In the end, Serbs managed to gain their semi-independence. In 1821 another revolution, the Greek one, broke out. It ended in 1830 with the emergence of an independent Greek state. The Greek Revolution had a religious character as well. The first signs of disintegration of the Ottoman Caliphate were obvious. The Russian Empire exploited the revolutionary period of 1804-1830 in order to gain more territories from the Sultan. It achieved at its goal. The Ottoman Empire and Islam were in defense now, trying to survive. Until 1850, the Orthodox Christians were the existential enemy for the Ottomans.

The surrender of Ottoman troops to the Russian Imperial Army in Nikopol. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 was one of the most known events of the Eastern Question. At the same time, it showed the value of the faith. (Source:Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russo-Turkish_War_(1877%E2%80%931878)

Concerning the Catholic world, after Passarewatz it didn’t want to march further against the Ottoman state. The Ottomans were not expansionist, neither the Habsburgs nor other Catholic kingdoms were. However, the rise of the Russian power caused nervousness among the Western European leaderships. The Ottoman Caliphate was the appropriate candidate to be used as counter-weight to the Russians. During the Crimean War (1853-56) the British and French armies fought alongside the Ottomans against the Russian troops with a success. The Russian Empire and the Orthodoxy were serious reasons for the collaboration between Catholicism and Islam.

Thought, in the second half of the 19th century everything changed. It was clear for the Western European countries that the Ottoman Caliphate was not capable of preventing the Russian expansion. Also, a chance was created to Ottoman lands be attached to the Western Empires. So, from 1860’s the Europeans started slowly to penetrate the North African Ottoman territories. Gradually, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt fell in the hands of the British and French Empires. After another lost war of the Ottomans against the Russians, Sultan lost additional soil. It was evident that the Caliph could not protect successfully the Islamic community.

The above fact was the main reason behind the “shock” of the Islam. When the Europeans established their presence and rule, a breach was created into the Muslim Community (Ummah). From the one side there were some scholars that wanted to combine the Muslim principles with the Western values. On the other side were the more conservatists who wanted to liberate their countries from the Western- Christian domination and establish a religious regime. This polarization became clearer in the 20th century with the struggle between secularism and Islamism.

The beginning of the 20th century marked the end of the Ottoman Caliphate. Italy managed to capture Libya and the Dodecanese defeating the Ottoman Army. Some Balkan states conquered Ottoman lands in that area. The end of WWI was the final blow of the Ottoman Empire. In 1918 the Sultan was a “puppet” of the British government. He was not the protector and representative of the Muslims. The termination of the WWI followed a period which was called Interwar (1919-1939). During this period, Turkey became an independent country with the secularity and westernization being a state policy. In 1924 Kemal Mustafa abolished the Caliphate. The Ottoman Empire was past. In the Muslim world, the Western powers solidified their presence creating a political elite faithful to them, while expanded their lands. Islam was under the Western- Christian rule. Furthermore, it was divided. The main threats of the Western countries especially Great Britain and France were the nationalism in the MENA region and the communism in Eastern Europe. Islam from 1920 was not the enemy.

The last Caliph, Sultan Abdulmejid II (1922-1924). The abolition of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal, the first Turkish president, was a serious blow for the Islamic world. (Source: Wikipedia https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:Portrait_Caliph_Abdulmecid_II.jpg)

In conclusion

The Ottoman Empire from the 15 to 20th century took the position of the Muslim Caliphates in MENA region. In addition, its leader, the Sultan, became the Caliph, the leader of all the Muslims. The Sultans had the same aspirations as the previous Caliphs, the expansion. The most important difference was the fact that the Ottoman leaders managed to unite a large part of the Muslim world. So, the Muslim troops under one leader started the expansionist campaigns. Islam was a dominant power in a very vast territory from Morocco to Central Asia.

Christianity faced serious blows. The Orthodox side was totally defeated. It reappeared after three centuries with the emergence of Orthodox Russia as one of the Great Powers and the creation of independent states in the Balkans. The Catholic one was in a difficult position, but it survived.

In the 19th century the environment changed. The Western world decided to collaborate with the Muslim Ottomans in order to face another Christian state. From 1870 this attitude was transformed. The Ottoman Empire being weak, it was an easy target. It was controlling strategic parts of the world. The control of those parts could secure worldwide dominance. Moreover, the colonialism was a mean of controlling the Muslims. Islam should not be an existential enemy again. The colonialism, indeed, caused a serious blow in Islam and divided it. This fact has an effect till nowadays.

The abolition of the Caliphate in 1924 left the Islamic population without a strong leader. At the same time, it left an inheritance which affects today the attitude of the Muslims and especially the Islamists.

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