People talk about the long relationship between Islam and Europe. It is, in fact, a very long history, but it’s also a long history of war, raids, enslavement, and wanton destruction–by Muslims! A few examples.
By 846 Muslim fleets managed to land on the coast of Ostia, near Rome. Unable to breach the walls of the Eternal City, they sacked and despoiled the surrounding countryside, including—to the shock of Western Christendom—the venerated basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul. The invaders vandalized the two holy shrines, desecrated the tombs of Christendom’s two most revered apostles, and stripped them of their treasures.
Such sacrilege prompted Pope Leo IV to erect strong walls and fortifications along the right bank of the Tiber to protect the basilicas and other churches from further Muslim raids. Not ones to be deterred, “in 849 the Muslims attempted a new landing at Ostia; then, every year from around 857 on, they threatened the Roman seaboard,” explains French medieval historian C. E. Dufourcq.
And what of the character of these raids?
Sadistic treatment for the infidel always accompanied the raid; for “it was to the amusement of the Saracens to profane, as well as to pillage, the monasteries and churches,” notes Edward Gibbon. “At the siege of Salerno a Musulman chief spread his couch on the communion table, and on that altar sacrificed each night the virginity of a Christian nun.”
Although centuries of crusades largely safeguarded Italy and Sicily from further Islamic attacks, by 1480, Ottoman Sultan Muhammad II invaded Italy and captured Otranto. More than half of its twenty-two thousand inhabitants were massacred, five thousand led away in chains. On a hilltop (subsequently named “Martyr’s Hill”) another eight hundred Christians were ritually beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam (see above image ) and their archbishop sawed in half.
Here is how French priest Jerome Maurand described the fate of the inhabitants of the tiny island of Lipari off Sicily after it was invaded by the Ottomans in 1544: “To see so many poor Christians, and especially so many little boys and girls [enslaved] caused a very great pity.…The tears, wailings and cries of these poor Lipariotes, the father regarding his son and the mother her daughter…weeping while leaving their own city in order to be brought into slavery by those dogs who seemed like rapacious wolves amidst timid lambs.”
Keep in mind, that while all this was going on, in the Iberian peninsula the Spanish were waging the Reconquista for the better part of seven centuries to drive out the Muslims. In the Balkans, the Ottomans were driving into several Christian lands–Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary.
I, myself, am in part Sicilian. Palmer was anglicized from Palermo, from whence my paternal grandfather’s family came. My DNA test revealed that I carry evidence of the Muslim conquest of Sicily. I have genes that are Arabic and North African. Sicily was liberated by Norman Crusaders on the eleventh century. Not all the crusades failed.