Osama bin Laden called America's response to September 11, a "new crusade and Jewish campaign led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross." He clearly meant to link the military campaign to European campaigns from a millennium ago, during which, the prevailing mentality holds, Christian warriors unjustly attacked Islamic possessions in and around Palestine.

By establishing this connection, though, the fugitive fanatic admits more than he alleges. In the Middle Ages, as in 2001, Islam struck first—and in such a way that the West would certainly respond.

Waves of conquest

Jerusalem has changed hands many times over the centuries, but the seventh century was particularly tumultuous. Pagan Persians stormed the city in 614. Eastern Christians, led by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, reclaimed it by 630. Within a few years, though, Islamic forces had broken the Byzantine military and chased them out of Palestine.

Jerusalem surrendered to a Muslim army in 638. Construction began soon afterward on a mosque at the Temple Mount. Sophronicus, the patriarch of the city, is said to have burst into tears and wailed, "Truly this is the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the Prophet!"

After capturing Jerusalem, the Muslim armies poured through the eastern and southern provinces of the reeling Byzantine Empire. In the 640s Armenia in the north and Egypt in the south fell to Islam. In 655 the Muslims won a naval battle with the Byzantines and very nearly captured the Byzantine emperor.

By 711 Muslims controlled all of northern Africa, and a Muslim commander named Tariq had set foot on European soil—on a rock that took his name (Jebel al-Tariq, corrupted into Gibraltar). By 712 Muslims had penetrated deep into Christian Spain. ...

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