Europe and the Islamic World, by John Tolan, Gilles Veinstein, and Henry Laurens

Since 2001, global politics have been shaped by the struggle of Western states against Islamist movements rooted in the Middle East and South Asia. But is the West also confronting a holy war rooted in the religion of Islam itself—which, according to some, is the latest phase in a conflict of civilizations that has raged for over a millennium? That question has huge political consequences.

Christian-Muslim violence is a familiar historical fact. Much of what we think of as the Muslim world, in the Middle East and North Africa, was originally Christian before succumbing to armed invasion. Americans know something about the Crusades, but Europeans recall the prolonged Ottoman occupation of the Balkans and the southeastern regions of the continent and the threat that Turkish rule would extend into Austria or Germany. On both sides of these conflicts, combatants spoke the language of faith, as Islamic holy warriors confronted successive Christian coalitions that boasted the title Holy Leagues.

We sometimes think of these confrontations as “medieval,” but in fact some of the bitterest fighting between Christians and Muslims took place between 1680 and 1720, at a time when the American colonies were just establishing themselves in the New World. The pivotal battle took place in 1683, when allied Polish and imperial forces saved Vienna. Well into the 18th century, during the Enlightenment era, Christians living as far afield as Iceland and Ireland lived in fear of Muslim slave raids, and the new United States fought its earliest wars against the pirate/slaver states of North Africa. Much of the story of European imperialism involved the conquest of virtually the whole Muslim world, an occupation that ended only within living memory. The past is scarcely even past.