“A Terrible Slaughter is Coming”: Kobani, Lepanto, and the Cycle of Terror

James Tonkowich | ReligionToday.com Columnist | Thursday, October 09, 2014

“A Terrible Slaughter is Coming”: Kobani, Lepanto, and the Cycle of Terror

Jeffrey Goldberg’s title in The Atlantic says it all: “‘A Terrible Slaughter is Coming’: On the Turkish border, the world stands idly by as ISIS threatens a massacre in a Syrian town.”


Goldberg spoke with Rooz Bahjat, a Kurdish intelligence officer who expects the town of Kobani to fall soon. “If it does,” Goldberg writes, “he predicts that ISIS will murder thousands in the city, which is crammed with refugees—Kurdish, Turkmen, Christian, and Arab—from other parts of the Syrian charnel house. As many as 50,000 civilians remain in the town, Bahjat said.”


“For those who know little history,” writes theologian Michael Novak, “today’s battle with the Islamic State in the Middle East may seem new and unprecedented. It is not…. What we are seeing in 2014 has a history of more than 1,300 years — a very bloody, terror-ridden history.”


In 622, Novak points out, Mohammed set out to conquer the world and, even today, “The dynamic obligation at the heart of their Islam is to conquer the world for Allah, and to incorporate all into the great Islamic Umma. Only then will the world be at peace. Submission to Allah is the reason the world was created.”


In only 110 years, Muslim armies, having conquered the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain, threatened France and the heart of Europe. In 732 they were driven back to Spain and in 1492 out of Spain.


But any part of the world conquered by Muslims is thought to belong to Islam in perpetuity. Thus, Novak points out, “the Islamic terror bombers who just a few years ago killed more than a hundred commuters in Madrid did so (they announce) to avenge the Spanish ‘Reconquista’ of 1492.” And after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden made reference to “the tragedy of Andalusia,” the last Muslim foothold in Spain. The world belongs to Allah and it will be conquered.


As Fr. James Schall, retired professor of political science at Georgetown University recently wrote, “It is the religious responsibility of Islam to carry out its assigned mission of subduing the world to Allah. When we try to explain this religion in economic, political, psychological, or other terms, we simply fail to see what is going on. … If we are going to deal with it, we have to do so on those terms, on the validity of such a claim.” This theological understanding is lost on most modern commentator and policy makers. 


Thus the brazen cruelty of ISIS comes as a surprise even though terror has long been part of the program. Novak writes that in the 16th century, “Three or four Muslim galleys would offload hundreds of marines, who would sweep through a village, tie all its healthy men together for shipment out to become galley slaves, march away many of its women and young boys and girls for shipment to Eastern harems, and then gather all the elderly into the village church, where the helpless victims would be beheaded, and sometimes cut up into little pieces, to strike terror into other villages.” Even without smart-phone videos, the Internet, and cable news, word got out and the word is certainly out today.


The world-domination mindset of ISIS comes as a surprise too even though they’ve declared a worldwide caliphate and expect that all Muslims will fall into line. Success will breed success.


But is success possible? Couldn’t “boots on the ground” in sufficient numbers put a quick end to the incipient caliphate? Probably, but whose boots? At Kobani, US tanks commandeered by ISIS are shelling the city. Boots on the ground are unnecessary. Cruise missiles will do the trick, but no cruise missiles are forthcoming. 


Fr. Schall comments, “No Islamic state has any serious possibility of defeating modern armies. But, ironically, they no longer think that modern armies will be necessary. They are convinced that widespread use of terrorism and other means of civil disorder can be successful. No one really has the will or the means to control the destructive forces that the Islamic State already has in place.” 


Novak’s article came out on October 7, the anniversary of the West’s victory at Lepanto. In the Catholic Church it was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. 


While Novak tells the stories of daring Christian defenders of Europe, the most important point he makes is the place of prayer. For months before the Lepanto, thousands upon thousands prayed the Rosary daily asking for victory over the Muslim forces planning to overrun Europe. 


Yes, I know most of my readers are Protestant and not too keen on the Rosary, but the point stands: prayer made the difference and still does. As Novak concludes, “Mere secular force will not do, since the fundamental battle is spiritual. Thus, the same movie seems to be played over and over.”


Can concerted prayer break the cycle? Perhaps we should find out.



Jim Tonkowich is a writer, commentator, and speaker focusing on the role of religion in our public life. His new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today is available from St. Benedict Press and other online retailers. 


Publication date: October 9, 2014