Saturday, September 16, 2006

September 11th ... 1565

A friend alerted a list I'm on by email of another significant battle between the West and Islam that occurred on September 11th. But that one, fought between the Knights of St. John and the Ottoman Empire on Malta was won by the West.

This is an episode that becomes even more important in today's environment given that the Pope is now living under Jihadi threat for his recent remarks, and as a result, has had to beef up his security. And the misinterpretation of his speech has been used as an excuse to firebomb and otherwise damage several churches in Moslem land.

From Lt Col P at Opfor.com:
The fifth anniversary of September 11th 2001 is upon us. It is fitting that the day should see both a solemn remembrance of the dead and the renewal of a cold-hearted resolve to win the war that was declared on us.

There is however, another September 11th that we should also remember, and from which we can take heart in our own struggle. It is September 11th 1565; the scene was different and so were the actors too, but the nature of the battle was all too familiar. On that day, a small force of European knights and the entire population of Malta dealt Ottoman Turkey a decisive defeat, and in doing so probably saved western civilization.

In May of that year, a Turkish invasion force landed on the island of Malta, held only by a combined force of knights, their hired soldiers, and the mobilized population of the island. The Turkish aim was to seize the strategically located island and clear the way for the expansion of the crescent flag of Islam into the western Mediterranean and western Europe. The Turks, under Sultan Suleiman the Great, also sought to exterminate the last vestige of a crusading order that was still proving to be a dangerous foe.

Those old crusaders were the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John, of Jerusalem of Rhodes, and of Malta. Originally founded in the eleventh century as a hospital order to provide relief to Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, they quickly grew into a formidable military force that also protected those Christian pilgrims. (They still exist as hospitallers, but if they existed today in the same form as in 1565, they would surely be the strangest NGO in the world. Imagine a merger of Catholic Charities and Blackwater; imagine Mother Teresa with a .45 and the will and skill to use it.)

The Knights of St John were by 1565 already living anachronisms. (Today, wouldn't they be called warmongers and the religious right?) The crusades from they derived were old history even then; the Order had been expelled first from the Holy Land and then from the fertile island of Rhodes. They were given the rock of Malta as much to keep them away from Europe as to allow them to get at the Turks, who they saw as mortal enemies. They waged ceaseless war against the Sultan in the form of commerce raiding and other operations.

The Knights knew their enemy well. The Order's intelligence network gave early warning of the Turkish Sultan's preparations for a massive attack to crush the Knights for good. Under the Grand Master, Jean de la Vallette, they prepared their defenses and called in their brethren from estates across Europe...

...On September 8th, when at last a relief force from Sicily appeared bearing 8,000 Knights and soldiers from across Europe, the Turks began to withdraw. But they left a force ashore, hoping to draw the Knights and their soldiers into an ambush that would secure them the victory in the open that they could not gain in the siege. Their fleet was still mostly intact, and even with the arrival of a relief force the issue was still in doubt. The Grand Master recognized what was afoot but was determined to finish them off; he gave orders to sortie a force to meet the Turks and push them into the sea...

And so it was that on Tuesday, September 11th 1565, the Ottoman Turks were driven from the Malta by the stalwart defense of a small group of living anachronisms and the island's own brave inhabitants. The greatest military force in the Mediterranean was broken on the walls of the island's fortresses, and the swords, spears and shields of the islanders and the Knights.
By the way, among the reasons we should take heart, is that earlier on, in the 1550s, the leadership of the Hospitallers on Malta under Juan de Homedes, an aristocratic Spaniard, was so disunited and corrupt and weak that such a decisive victory against the Ottomans is impossible to imagine.

With a change in leadership on Malta, and the decisive will to win, victory became possible.

These days Europe is once again on the front line, but at this point, much of its leadership is weak, indecisive, corrupt, and the people of Europe have not yet manifested the will to win whatever battle may lie ahead. In fact, many of them refuse to admit that there is, in all probability, a battle looming over the horizon.

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