We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Edited back into history: the martyrs of Otranto

Within hours of the July 7 2005 bombings in London, the BBC stealth-edited its reports so that any references to “terrorists” that had initially appeared were changed to “bombers” or a similar purely descriptive, non-judgmental term. This was done in response to a memo from Helen Boaden, then Head of News. She did not want to offend World Service listeners. Given this reluctance to use the word “terrorist”, suspended for a few hours when terrorism came to its front door and then reimposed, I often wondered what it would take for the BBC to rediscover the ability to use words that imply a moral judgment.

One answer was obvious. It was fine to describe bombing as a “war crime” if it was carried out by the Israeli air force.

But in general as the years have gone by the BBC stuck to what it knew best: obfuscation. For instance, this article from last December, describing how fifteen Christians had their throats slit in Nigeria described the perpetrators as the “Islamist militants Boko Haram”. In venturing to describe the murders as a massacre, that article went further than most; the bombings of churches in Nigeria by Boko Haram are routinely described in terms of “unrest”, or as “conflict” – as if there were two sides killing each other at a roughly equal rate.

However, on Sunday I observed something I had not seen before. An atrocity carried out by Muslims against Christians was described as an “atrocity”. It happened in 1480, but still.

The BBC report says,

Pope Francis has proclaimed the first saints of his pontificate in a ceremony at the Vatican – a list which includes 800 victims of an atrocity carried out by Ottoman soldiers in 1480.

They were beheaded in the southern Italian town of Otranto after refusing to convert to Islam.

A reminder that “martyr” used to mean someone who died for his faith rather than killed for it. A reminder also of a centuries-long struggle against invading Islam that has been edited out of our history. You can bet the Seige of Vienna, which proved to be the high water mark of the Ottoman tide, does not feature in any GCSE syllabus. Nor does the rematch one and a half centuries later. The epic Seige of Malta was once celebrated in song and story, but don’t expect to see a BBC mini-series about it any time soon. Damian Thompson recently said a lot of what I had been thinking when he wrote about the the mass canonisation of the martyrs of Otranto in the Telegraph (subscription may be required):

Martyred for Christ: 800 victims of Islamic violence who will become saints this month

The cathedral of Otranto in southern Italy is decorated with the skulls of 800 Christian townsfolk beheaded by Ottoman soldiers in 1480. A week tomorrow, on Sunday May 12, they will become the skulls of saints, as Pope Francis canonises all of them. In doing so, he will instantly break the record for the pope who has created the most saints.
I wonder how he feels about that. Benedict XVI announced the planned canonisations just minutes before dropping the bombshell of his own resignation. You could view it as a parting gift to his successor. Or a booby trap.

The 800 men of Otranto – whose names are lost, except for that of Antonio Primaldo, an old tailor – were rounded up and killed because they refused to convert to Islam. In 2007, Pope Benedict recognised them as martyrs “killed out of hatred for the faith”. That is no exaggeration. Earlier, the Archbishop of Otranto had been cut to pieces with a scimitar.

Thompson continues,

There are, however, good secular reasons for welcoming this canonisation. Our history is distorted by a nagging emphasis on Christian atrocities during the Crusades combined with airbrushing of Muslim Andalusia, whose massacre of Jews in 1066 and exodus of Christians in 1126 are rarely mentioned. Otranto reminds us that Islam had its equivalent of crusaders – mighty forces who nearly captured Rome and Vienna.

The Muslim Brotherhood is still committed to a restored Caliphate; this week its supporters prophesied the return of a Muslim paradise to Andalusia. These are pipe dreams, it goes without saying. But they matter because they inspire freelance Islamists whose fascination with southern Europe has nothing to do with welfare payments. They think of it as theirs because they know bits of history that we’ve forgotten.

Our amnesia comes in handy in dialogue with Muslims: we grovel a few apologies for the Crusades, sing the praises of the Alhambra, and that’s it. But what does this self-laceration achieve? Arguably it’s counterproductive, because it shows Muslims that we’re ashamed of our heroes as well as our villains. Which is why the mass canonisation of 800 anonymous men is so welcome: it ensures that, even though the West has forgotten their names, it won’t be allowed to forget their deaths.

16 comments to Edited back into history: the martyrs of Otranto

  • Snorri Godhi

    Did you notice recent BBC articles about Buddhists massacring Muslims? do you remember any articles about Muslims massacring Buddhists?

    Incidentally, let me brag that i have actually seen the stone in Otranto that was allegedly used for the beheadings. (NB: “allegedly used for the beheadings” is not the same as “used for the alleged beheadings”.) I don’t remember seeing the skulls in the cathedral, though.

  • JohnB

    this week its supporters prophesied the return of a Muslim paradise to Andalusia. These are pipe dreams, it goes without saying.

    Not such pipe dreams as you might imagine. Today’s impossibilities become tomorrow’s norms.
    Just look back 20, 30 years.

  • Rob

    I recall (but cannot find) one BBC article which referred to the perpetrators of the Beslan massacre as ‘activists’.

    Yes, the BBC obfuscated to the point where it bagged them up with those people who go around knocking on doors at election time to see if you’ll vote for their party.

    It was absolutely outrageous, but expected. The question is: Why?

  • Mr Ed

    This bbc article refers to the, as ‘armed attackers’.


  • Laird

    Recognition of martyrs to Islamic atrocities is, I suppose, welcome even if after 500+ years. But canonization? I’m not a Catholic, but aren’t there certain rules about how one becomes a saint? Aren’t there supposed to be 3 miracles attributed to him? Have there been 2,400 miracles attributed to the skulls at Otranto? If so, were they attributed to individual skulls/ How? Or can 800 people “collectively” work miracles so they all get the credit?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Paul Marks

    From the 7th century AD to the 19th century (yes the 19th century – there were Islamic slave raiding attacks upon Europe as late as the 1800s) Christians were under attack from aggressive, expansionist Islam.

    In the little “Historical Tables – 58 BC to AD 1965” by Steinberg (which I picked up in a library – they have a habit of getting rid of all the interesting works, either by selling them or by destroying them) Islamic invasions and sacking of Christian towns and cities are reported dryly (the same as any other events) – today an historical reference work would airbrush them out (Islamic occupation of southern France? surely never happened? and so on).

    Modern academia (and thus the schools and MEDIA also) have twisted everything around 180 degrees.

    Islamic aggression against established Christian communisties (which is still going on – and has gone on since the time of Muhammed) is transformed into “Imperialist” Christian aggression against Islam.

    How far this is (demented) “liberal” guilt, and how far it is some sort of “cultural Marxist” plot to undermine the West (seeing Islam as an ally on the basis of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”) I leave to others to judge. But it is weird.

    For example Islamic Spain (a polity that did not miss a year without slave raiding attacks on the Christian population – over a period of centuries) is treated as wonderful and noble. I have seen BBC academics standing in front of what are obviously Roman ruins (Latin inscriptions and all) and describing them as Islamic.

    But then the evil Jews (sorry evil “Zionists”) were accused by the media of destroying wonderful buildings in Lebanon – and (again) the buildings actually shown were Roman ruins, destroyed at the end of the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century (and, ironically, destroyed by the forces of Islam – the very forces the international media were presenting as victims).

    The lying continues.

    For example the “orientialists” were those scholars (from the 1700s onwards) who argued that their were things of merit in oriental cultures (including Islamic culture) that were worthy of study.

    But that is not how “orientaliists” are presented today – thanks to the degenerate liar (and Obama friend) Edward Said (who even lied about the basic facts of his own life – although the college boy leftists of “wikipedia” will not tolerate anyone pointing it out), “orientalism” has become a term of abuse. You see “really” the orientalists were attackers of Islamic and other eastern cultures – tools of “imperialism” (read “capitalism”)….. and on and on.

    Winston Churchill in his “The River War” (the war against the Islamic radical take over of the Sudan – against the followers of the Mahdi who would have exterminated a Christian population that had existed in the Sudan for centuries before there were any such people as Muslims and had Christian Kingdoms which only fell to Islam after many centuries of war) is optomistic about the survival of the West.

    But Churchill was writing more than a century ago – before Western universities and schools (and the media they produce) fell fully victim to the “treason of the intellectuals” – people so consumed with hatred of the West that they will form a de facto alliance with anything (even Islam) in order to destroy the West.

  • renminbi

    Islam is like the Herpes virus. The only way you get rid of it is to kill the host

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Of course in Oxford today the editing of reality continues unabated. A gang of “Asian” men have been convicted of molesting children. What are they, Japanese? Chinese? Korean?

    Of course in Britain “Asian” is ostensibly shorthand for “South Asian”, or more specifically for people from the Indian Subcontinent. But only some of the men were actually Pakistani – so why call them “Asian”? Some of the men were from Africa. There was one thing they all had in common though, but there are no news outlets which will tell you what that is.

    If fact “Asian” in Britain is used, almost without exception, to avoid using another word. I have heard it mooted by Sikhs and Hindus that they rather resent so many negative articles in the news being blamed on those pesky “Asians” when they of course had nothing whatsoever to do with the events in question.

    It is always interesting watching so many words being spent while trying desperately not to talk about something. There was an intersting article here which blamed Nick Griffin for the events in Oxford, since by talking about this issue no-one wants to talk about way back in 2004, he made it impossible for anyone else to talk about it seriously. Yes, I’m sure if he had kept schtum it would have all been sorted out years ago….

  • Antoine Clarke

    I am deafened by the clamour of Muslims who denounce forced conversion to Islam.

  • Paul Marks

    J.V. – some of the rapist pimps were from North Africa.

    Yet they are called “asian” .

    Those “asian” Barbary Pirates.

    And Indian Hindus are somehow not “asian”.

    The establishment are demented.

    If there was a blue eyed, blond haired convert to Islam doing X, Y, Z, the establishment would (most likely)still say they were “asian”,

  • Runcie Balspune

    What were the Arab conquests in 7th century if not imperialism. Note how the “Arab spring” was never represented as an imperialist comeuppance whereas the legacy of the now defunct British Empire is still use as a stick to beat us on a regular basis. Today the reconstructed remnants of the Arab Empire in the middle east, having been freed from their Turk overlords (yet another Empire) 10y0 years ago with the blood of the aforementioned British Empire, still manages to convince the world it has more rights to the territories it conquered then the original inhabitants.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The record is not a clear one. In the Middle Ages, Christians were much more prone to forced conversions than Moslems. No non-Christian community was tolerated in any Christian-ruled country (except sometimes Jews).

    But large non-Moslem communities remained in many Moslem countries. Despite episodes of persecution, some of these communities existed right down to the present.

    In the 1400s, Ottoman Turkey ruled over large Christian communities in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Asia Minor, which all survived to the 20th century without significant forced conversions. (The Armenian and Greek communities in Asia Minor were eliminated by ethnic cleansing during and after WW I.)

    Not long after the Otranto Massacre, the Spanish monarchs conquered Granada, the last Moslem state in Iberia. This was followed by the forced conversion or expulsion of every Moslem there, and the conversion or expulsion of every Jew in all Spain.

    Thus, in the Middle Ages, by the standards of the time, Islam was more tolerant than Christianity, and remained about that tolerant until the 20th century.

    What this history should not blind us to is that this was not a high standard. “Less brutal than the Inquisition” is praise with a not-very-faint damn. The Otranto Massacre may not have been Ottoman state policy, but it happened. And remaining on that level through the 19th and 20th centuries is absolutely damning.

    Nor should it conceal the gross intolerance recently seen among some Moslems, which is in some ways unprecedented.

    I suspect it is the influence of Saudi-financed Wahhabism – inflaming attitudes that were always present, though not dominant, and reviving views and practices that were extreme even in the Middle Ages.

  • Runcie Balspune

    @Rich Rostrum

    I think you ignore that fact that Christianity had been spreading for 500 years before Islam came into being and took their land, it is hardly surprising that non-Muslims existed in the (conquered) Muslim states and not the other way round, most of the remaining (unconquered) Christian states never knew of Islam,

    Perhaps your statement is true of post-Reconquista Spain, but what of the example of the (reconquered) Crusader states, where Muslims actually faired better than their neighbours in Muslim states (according to Ibn Jubayr).

  • veryretired

    Good. Throw it right in their faces, i.e., refusing to convert to islam is the mark of a martyr and saint.

    Now figure some way to start canonizing the current /recent martyrs in the islamic world of today, and broadcasting the meaning of that step in no uncertain terms.

    I’m not a practicing catholic by any stretch, but I respected the way JP2 went right into former soviet countries and said bluntly that the individual human spirit and person was more precious than any state or ideology.

    It’s long past time to tell the islamic fascists the same thing, and do it loud and clear by religious actions which explicitly refute the limp multi-culti dishwater that has been the sermon of the quislings of the west for the last several decades.

  • Paul Marks

    Rich – you are repeating (NOT dishonestly repeating – but still repeating) establishment propaganda.

    In reality “Islamic tolerance” is a myth (some Islamic Kings were tolerant, but so were some Christain Kings – the religion certainly was not tolerant), for example the anti Jewish regulations imposed by the Council called by Pope Innocent III were a direct COPY of what was already being done under Islam.

    Still that does not give Christianity a pass.

    Unlike Muhammed, Jesus was not a persecutor – the crimes of Christians spit on the life and teachings of Jesus.

    And that includes such things as allying with Constantine (a savage man) and, later, treating Augustine (with his justification of using violence in matters of religion, his mocking of science, his predestination and……) as the greatest theologian since the time of all time (an absurd position).

    And, yes, that was long before Islam – indeed it gave Islam its opening.

    The Byzantine Empire was weakened by long wars with Persia and with the northern barbarians, and by Civil War – but, on paper, it was still very strong.

    But that strength relied on Christian cooperation between the various sects – and the sects were often in conflict.

    At the key battle some Christian Arabs went over to the Muslim Arab side – they regretted it later, but then it was too late.

    Also I must PRAISE Islam.

    In Islamic doctrine EVERYBODY (all free men) FIGHTS (as with Classical civilisation or the Germanic tribes) – the people who are not allowed weapons are the “monkeys” (Christians) and the “pigs” (Jews).

    The Christain Kingdoms (such as Visigothic Spain) and the Byzantine Empire inherited the (fatal) Imprerial Roman practice of only a special caste fighting.

    Sadly most of the modern West (the United States and Switzerland being exceptions) looks like the Byzantine Empire – only a special caste fighting.

    It does in other ways also.

    Very high taxation and a endless (“Byzantine”) bureaucracy.

    The best defence of the Muslims is not that did not enslave the population of the lands they took by war (of course they did – the “Pact of Omar” is about oppression and plundering) but that the people of the Middle East and so on were ALREADY enslaved.

    As for Israel….

    The evil folly of “gun control” exists in Israel.

    However, I was pleased to see so many ordinary young people (men and women)in uniform and with weapons.

    “So libertarian you are – being pleased by conscription”.

    If that is the only way that automatic rifles can be put in the hands of those who desperatly need to know how to use them…. then YES (I plead guilty) I am pleased.

    Of course, as I am a libertarian, I also believe their are other ways.