Were the Crusades really expansionist ventures by an imperialist Europe? Or were they something else entirely?
The year is 732 A.D., and Europe is under assault. Islam, born a mere 110 years earlier, is already in its adolescence, and the Muslim Moors are on the march. Growing in leaps and bounds, the Caliphate, as the Islamic realm is known, has thus far subdued much of Christendom, conquering the old Christian lands of the Mideast and North Africa in short order. Syria and Iraq fell in 636; Palestine in 638; and Egypt, which was not even an Arab land, fell in 642. North Africa, also not Arab, was under Muslim control by 709. Then came the year 711 and the Moors’ invasion of Europe, as they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and entered Visigothic Iberia (now Spain and Portugal). And the new continent brought new successes to Islam. Conquering the Iberian Peninsula by 718, the Muslims crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into Gaul (now France) and worked their way northward. And now, in 732, they are approaching Tours, a mere 126 miles from Paris.
The Moorish leader, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, is supremely confident of success. He is in the vanguard of the first Muslim crusade, and his civilization has enjoyed rapidity and scope of conquest heretofore unseen in world history. He is at the head of an enormous army, replete with heavy cavalry, and views the Europeans as mere barbarians. In contrast, the barbarians facing him are all on foot, a tremendous disadvantage. The only thing the Frankish and Burgundian European forces have going for them is their leader, Charles of Herstal, grandfather of Charlemagne. He is a brilliant military tactician who, after losing his very first battle, is enjoying an unbroken 16-year streak of victories.
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