Where hast thou gone, Charles Martel? Thy nation has need of thee, once again!
In news that surprised perhaps only the most hopelessly naïve, the perpetrator of the most effective use of a mode of transportation as a weapon in a terrorist attack since September 11, 2011, has been identified as a Muslim immigrant. This comes on the heels of last month’s attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the Brexit vote which many have attributed to concerns over the European Union’s open door policy toward Muslim migrants, spearheaded by France’s neighbor Germany.
More to the point, while it is unknown whether Mohammed Bouhel was affiliated with ISIS, the Nice attack is the third act of jihad in France in just over a year and a half, and the second in only eight months. The body count from the Nice attack and November’s attack in Paris (the deadliest in modern French history) now stands at 214. That number is likely to rise as many of the wounded are now fighting for their lives in critical condition. Furthermore, the attacks occurred on Bastille Day, turning the celebration of French independence into mourning.
There is no question that France is under attack. The question is why.
The French ambassador to the United States responded to the attack by saying, “Our democracies are besieged. Let us stick more than ever to our values.” This is the same kind of response that President George W. Bush and others offered after the 9/11 attacks. This is the prevailing narrative: jihadists want to destroy the West because it is democratic, and therefore corrupt, and replace the vestiges of Christian culture that remain with theocracies that brutally enforce Sharia law. There is certainly value to this hypothesis but it does not tell the whole story, especially in regard to France.
Many commentators have pointed out the importance of noting what precise targets these particular terrorists have attacked. The largest death toll in the Paris attacks occurred in a theater, where a death metal band was playing a song entitled “Kiss the Devil“. When ISIS affiliated gunmen attacked the headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last January, they did so in response to images of the prophet Mohammed that they considered blasphemous. Most notably outside of France, Pulse nightclub, the site of the Orlando attacks, caters primarily to homosexual patrons. It would seem that Islamic jihadists, particularly those affiliated with ISIS, are targeting what they view as strongholds and/or symbols of Western decadence.
Bouhel no doubt chose to attack on Bastille Day because of the large amount of people who would be out and about celebrating France’s national holiday. However, as “Bad Catholic” John Zmirak pointed out a few years back, the Revolution that began on Bastille Day inaugurated an orgy of virulent bloodlust against the Catholic Church that perpetrated unprecedented atrocities against individual Catholics, both clergy and laity. The at best Deistic, certainly anti-clerical and individualistic ideology of the Enlightenment bloomed forth in all its ferocity, setting the groundwork for the secular, relativist, arguably post-Christian society in which we now find ourselves.
An argument can be made that just as God allowed the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to be conquered, deported and, in the case of the more wicked Israel, annihilated by the Assyrians and Babylonian Chaldeans, God is now allowing the remnants of Western Christendom to be assaulted by the likes of ISIS and Boko Haram. (ISIS comes from the same part of the world as the Babylonians and Assyrians, after all) The reason for this chastisement would be the almost total abandonment of Catholic faith by most of Western Europe. In this regard, France, the “first daughter of the Church” would have much for which to answer.
Obviously, none of this justifies the atrocities carried out in the name of Allah. It would be beyond foolish, suicidal in fact, to see Islam as a potential ally in a defense against rapidly advancing secularism. While I do believe that the rise and expansion of ISIS is a chastisement allowed by the permissive will of God, not even this fully explains why France has been the victim of so many attacks.
Jihadists Have Long Memories
While the French Revolution certainly led the way for the apostasy that has engulfed Western Europe, France hardly stands alone in her Godlessness. The attacks on Brussels and Orlando notwithstanding, other Western democracies have not been attacked in the same concerted manner as France. Furthermore, it is not simply Western democracies who suffering as ISIS wreaks barbarous havoc across the Levant in its efforts to establish a worldwide caliphate
When explaining the backstory of the One Ring in The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel says, “[S]ome things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend.” These words could as easily describe the Western secular mindset as well as they do Middle Earth in the Third Age. The historical background to and precedents set by historical events are often ignored. Such is not the case in the Muslim world.
The Ottoman conquest under Mehmet the Conqueror was halted in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna. The Ottomans had already conquered Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. Vienna was considered the gateway to Western Europe and taking it would have provided the Ottomans with easy access to the heart of Christendom. The victorious Christian forces were led by Polish King Jan Sobieski III who modified Caesar’s famous boast Veni, Vidi, Vici (“I came. I saw. I conquered.”) to Veni, Vidi, Deus Vincit (“I came. I saw. God conquered.”). This providential victory, overturning Islamic hopes for European conquest, occurred on September 11.
The battle of Vienna was not the first time that Islamic conquest of the Europe had been stymied by the victory of Christian armies. Whereas the Ottomans came from the East, the original wave of Islamic conquest came almost a millennium before from the West. Under the leadership of the prophet Mohammed, Muslim armies took control of the Arabian peninsula. Following the death of Mohammed in A.D. 632, Arab Muslim armies continued their program of conquest. By the end of the seventh century, Muslim forces controlled Syria, what had been the Persian Empire and Northern Africa.
Their position in North Africa, gave the Muslim armies a strategic position to launch an invasion of Western Europe. In A.D. 711, Muslim forces conquered the Visigoth kingdom of Spain and within a decade were poised to invade Gaul. Defeat at the Battle of Toulouse in A.D. 721 briefly checked their advance but they continued to pose a substantial threat, raiding towns and capturing various cities for the next eleven years.
Dropping the Hammer
During this time, Gaul was ruled by the tribe of the Frank’s, led by the Merovingian dynasty. It is from the Franks that France takes its name. After winning a battle he should have lost, the Merovingian king Clovis, at the prompting of his wife St. Clotilde, converted to Christianity in A.D. 500, earning France the title of “First Daughter of the Church.” By the end of seventh century, the dynasty had weakened to the point that the Mayor of the Palace, named Pepin, was de facto ruler of the Frankish kingdom. After a brief period of civil war, Charles succeeded his father in A.D. 718. He spent almost a decade consolidating his rule, but recognizing the state of the Muslim threat, he began to raise and train an army in A.D. 725.
By A.D. 732, this army was well trained and well disciplined. On October 10, the Frankish army met the invading Muslim on the field of battle between the cities of Tours and Potiers. It is disputed whether or not the Muslims outnumbered the Franks. However, the Muslims had a cavalry force while the Franks did not. An cavalry charge usually can easily break an infantry line but the well disciplined Frankish phalanx held the line against multiple charges and won the victory. In doing so, they turned back the tide of Muslim expansion. In the following years, Charles would push the Muslim forces even further back, although Spain would remain in Muslim hands for seven centuries.
The victory at Tours earned Charles the nickname of Martellus, which means “hammer,” essentially the Latin version of Maccabee. His dynasty, known as the Carolingians (Latin form of Charles) would, under Martel’s grandson Carolus Magnus (Latin: Charles the Great) a.k.a. Charlemagne would inaugurate the Holy Roman Empire. More importantly, the victory at Tours saved nascent Christendom. The historian Edward Gibbon, no friend of Christianity, argued that Muslim control would have extended from the Rhine to Japan and that the Qu’ran would have been taught from the podiums of Oxford had Charles Martel suffered defeat at Tours
Modern historians usually discount the importance of the Battle of Tours. And therein lies the problem and the point of this article. Western culture has lost something that should never have been forgotten. We have given up the fighting spirit of Charles Martel, who spent years preparing to face a threat that many did not see. We have put down the Hammer.
Charles Martel was able to defeat a (probably) numerically superior force with a tactical advantage because he was fortified by his Catholic faith and was fighting to defend a culture informed by that faith. Now, a secular, relativist culture with nothing to defend but radical individuality faces a civilizational clash with a culture inflamed and impelled by a fundamentally distorted view of an unmerciful God and the desire to wage jihad in order to force submission-Islam– to this version of God.
Following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a desire to show solidarity and support for free speech led many to adopt the slogan, Je suis Charlie, French for “I am Charlie.” Many Christians, including Pope Francis, rightly condemned attacks on the “fundamental right” of freedom of expression yet were wary of uncritical solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, because the magazine’s blasphemy was not limited to Mohammed and Allah but included depictions of the Blessed Trinity and the Virgin Mary that are too offensive to post here. A few days later, I found an appropriate alternative.
When faced with a cultural crisis of the magnitude that the West, especially Europe, now faces, many desire a strong leader who stand and fight the encroaching enemy. This is part of the reason so many support the likes of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Yet, brash men are not brave men and these men are no Charles Martel. God may yet raise up a new champion to defend us but until then, each of us must BE Charles Martel, if not for our countries at least for our communities and most importantly our families. We must take up the Hammer and defend them, our Catholic Faith and the last vestiges of Western civilization from the barbarians at the gates. With Aragorn, King of Gondor, “By all that you hold most dear, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” For as the Crusaders, of whom so many were French that the Muslims referred to them all as Franks, would say, DEUS VULT! (“God wills it!”)