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The Sword and the Swastika: How a Medieval Warlord Became a Fascist Icon

November 28, 2016

On a fall day in the early 8th century, somewhere between the French cities of Poitiers and Tours, a Muslim army crashed into the serried ranks of a force led by a powerful Frankish noble: Charles, Mayor of the Palace and son of Pippin of Herstal. In the ensuing battle, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi — governor of the Muslim territories in Al-Andalus (Spain) — was slain, and his troops were routed. This confrontation between two Dark Age warlords echoed through the ages and acquired a potent symbolism, all despite the fact that medievalists know relatively little about the principal protagonists and the respective orders of battle, let alone how the fight actually unfolded.

Indeed, the battle of Poitiers (or Tours, as it sometimes known in the English-speaking world), has been framed as one of history’s most decisive military struggles, on par with the battles of Thermopylae or Waterloo. Commentators have presented the victory of Charles — later given the martial cognomen of Martel, or “the hammer” — as a civilizational as well as a military triumph, crediting the Frankish warrior with having stanched the Muslim expansion into Western Europe.

Edward Gibbon famously speculated that, had Abdul Rahman prevailed at Poitiers,

the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.

The French romantic writer Chateaubriand made the equally dramatic claim that, “if it were not for Charles Martel’s valor, we would all be wearing turbans.”

Perhaps most importantly, Charles Martel has become an enduring icon of fascist and far-right movements, in France and other Western states. The Vichy regime, for example, reveled in its warped reading of Charles Martel and of medieval French history more broadly. The francisca, an early Frankish throwing axe, featured prominently in Vichy iconography and propaganda, and Charles Martel was presented alongside Joan of Arc as an embodiment of pre-revolutionary Catholic virtue. Meanwhile, a notorious division of French volunteers to the Nazi SS was named the Division Charlemagne after the great Carolingian Emperor and grandson of Charles Martel. In the years following France’s bitter war in Algeria, a far-right group — the Cercle Charles Martel — conducted a string of terror attacks against Algerians and citizens of North African descent in France. More recently, the founder of the French Front National party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, reacted to the Charlie Hebdo killings by proudly claiming “Je suis Charlie Martel,” in defiance of the more republican and inclusive slogan “Je suis Charlie.” “Je suis Charlie Martel” has since become one of the rallying cries of French far-right activists.

This sinister historical crush extends far beyond France. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian neo-Nazi who slaughtered 77 people in 2011, claimed in his online rants to have “identified” with the figure of Charles Martel. In the United States, a group called the Charles Martel Society funds the publication of a pseudo-intellectual and deeply racist journal, The Occidental Quarterly. Charles de Steuben’s famous 19th-century painting of the Battle of Poitiers flashes through one of Richard Spencer’s slickly edited “alt-right” videos, providing a brief and jarring backdrop to a long stream of nativist gobbledygook.

Right wing extremism’s longstanding obsession with Charles Martel stems from three major preconceptions. The first is that the battle of Poitiers was truly decisive; the second is that it represented a civilizational triumph of Christendom over Islam, and the third is that Martel’s victory provides proof of the innate martial superiority of the West over what Edward Creasy famously termed “the Semitic peoples” in his classic and racially tinged study of the conflict.

Each one of these assumptions is deeply flawed.

A Truly Decisive Battle?

Most modern historians are skeptical of the notion that the battle of Poitiers constituted such a watershed moment. While the defeat of the Andalusian army by a Western European force was certainly significant, it was not unprecedented. Only a few years prior, Odo of Aquitaine crushed another Muslim army outside Toulouse, but this battle never acquired the same mythological symbolism of the battle of Poitiers.

The academic consensus now appears to be that Al Ghafiqi’s foray into what was then referred to as Northern Gaul was a long-distance raid or “razzia” motivated not so much by an ambition for conquest as by a desire for plunder. Indeed, we are told that the prime target of this raid was a wealthy religious sanctuary located at Saint Martin de Tours and filled with gold and precious fabrics. Hugh Kennedy has noted that the defeat seems to have had little resonance in the wider Arabo-Muslim world, and he views it as one symptom of many that marked the steady decline of the Syrian-based Umayyad Caliphate. Others have pointed to the Caliphate’s overextension into Spain and to the growing tensions between local Arab and Berber forces as well as rival tribes and clans.

In the wake of his victory, Charles Martel chose not to press his advantage by invading the Iberian peninsula. Instead, he used the opportunity to temporarily consolidate his influence over the rich Duchy of Aquitaine and over the politically fragmented territories of Provence and Septimania (a territory encompassing part of today’s Languedoc and Roussillon regions). Although the destruction of Al Ghafiqi’s field army depleted the Ummayads’ local reservoir of military strength, Moorish troops lingered in some southern French cities such as Narbonnes for two and a half more decades. Meanwhile, Muslim raiders continued their “ghazawat” across the Pyrenees for at least another a century, long after the fall of the Ummayads.

A Bipolar Confrontation Between Christendom and Islam?

It would be reductive to present the battle of Poitiers as the military manifestation of some age-old existential struggle between Christendom and Islam. Charles Martel’s Europe was a continent of many faiths and philosophies, not a religiously bipolar system. Late Merovingian and early Carolingian rulers spent more time waging savage campaigns against the pagan Danes and Saxons (described in Frankish texts as “being addicted to the worship of demons”) than they did against the Muslims of Andalusia. The Christianity of 8th-century France had yet to acquire the doctrinal rigidity of the later Middle Ages, and co-existed with or incorporated more rustic forms of faith and religious practice. As one detailed study of the Carolingian world stated:

…Self-professed Christians would very probably accept the possibility of eternal life after death for those who believed that God had become man in the person of Jesus. Many might further have accepted that public profession of this belief should be made through the initiation ritual of baptism. Beyond that, though, all was variety. Holy writ—the Bible—was by no means universally known, and there were in any case numerous interpretations of it. In short, there was not one Christianity, but many Christianities, not one Church, but many churches.

Religious differences could cut across tribes, kingdoms, and ethnicities. For example, along the Pyrenees resided the fiercely independent Basques, some of whom were Muslim, some of whom were Christian, and a portion of whom practiced more ancient forms of belief. The “Song of Roland,” a medieval ballad familiar to all products of French middle schools, recounts the cowardly ambush of one of Emperor Charlemagne’s retainers, the noble Roland, by enemy forces in a narrow mountain pass. For centuries, schoolchildren were told that the Carolingian knight had been killed by “Saracens” — Muslim forces based in Spain. It is now believed that Roland — whose prolonged death scene famously inspired Boromir’s in Lord of the Rings — was actually killed by Basques, rather than by Arabs or Berbers. This historical gaffe provides yet another indication of our tendency to overlook the rich tapestry of political and religious actors in early medieval Europe in favor of more binary models.

This reductionism applies equally to our understanding of the era’s geopolitics. Indeed, it is often forgotten that weaker European polities did not hesitate to ally with Muslim rulers against more powerful Christian kingdoms. This was the case in Provence, where local rulers frequently formed temporary partnerships with Moorish war chiefs in an (unsuccessful) attempt to counterbalance northern Frankish military might. One of the best-known and most tragic cases of cross-cultural alliance formation occurred in 731, when Odo of Aquitaine sought to establish a buffer zone across the Pyrenees by marrying off his beautiful daughter to a rebellious Berber leader, Munnuza. The latter subsequently adopted a policy of passive neutrality, refusing to conduct raids into Aquitaine and Southern Gaul. As a result, he soon found himself facing Governor Al Ghafiqi’s ire. Following a bloody siege of his fortress, the Berber warlord was summarily executed by his vengeful Arab overseer. His young bride was then bundled off to Damascus, to join the Caliph’s harem, along with Munnuza’s severed head.

Last but not least, it would be simplistic to view Charles Martel as a saintly champion of Christendom. What little we know of his life would suggest that he was above all a highly effective campaigner — an overachieving, pragmatic, and brutal bastard in the vein of William the Conqueror. One near-contemporary chronicle, the Liber Historiae Francorum, describes him as a “warrior who was uncommonly well educated and effective in battle.” By contrast, there is nothing to suggest that Martel was a religious zealot, although he favored Christianization as a means of cementing political control, a strategy his Carolingian successors would emulate. While some sources paint him as a defender of the faith, 9th-century writings lambast him as a “despoiler of the church,” pointing to his habit of seizing the estates of powerful clergymen who defied him.

A Deeply Contested Military History

Much of the difficulty resides in the paucity of primary sources and clear bias in those which exist. These sourcing problems have exacerbated longstanding and occasionally impassioned disputes between military historians over the details and significance of the battle of Poitiers.

For instance, there is still discord over the actual year of the battle, with some professing it occurred in October 732, while others claim it took place a year later, in October 733. The most important academic debate centers on the relative importance of military technology and shock cavalry. Beginning with the 19th-century German medievalist Heinrich Brunner, historians have claimed that Charles Martel’s victory could be attributed to a superior western way of war, and, most notably, to the effective use of heavy cavalry. In the 1960s, the American historian Lynn White Jr. introduced a “material culture” element to this school of thought, arguing that the battle of Poitiers coincided with the Frankish discovery of the stirrup, which then led to the fielding of the heavily armored shock cavalry so ubiquitous in our depictions of western medieval warfare. Most modern historians take issue with this thesis, which they deem anachronistic. While the speed at which Charles Martel’s forces moved to intercept their Muslim foes points to the extensive use of mounted warriors, European armies do not appear to have fielded shock cavalry until at least the 10th or 11th centuries.

There is no doubt a stirring romanticism to the image of a gleaming line of heavily armored Christian knights charging into the fray to defend flag and faith. In reality, Frankish forces were most likely primarily composed of infantry drawn up into a shield wall, with cavalry acting as scouts, skirmishers, and protectors of the flank. Medieval rulers were avid readers of the Roman military classics, and of Vegetius in particular. Historians such as Bernard Bachrach have gone so far as to claim that early Carolingian tactics were a continuation of Late Antiquity Roman warfare, with a focus on the formation of spear-armed phalanxes and the use of short thrusting swords optimized for the bloody scrum of close-quarters melee. In contrast, early Islamic warfare placed a great deal of emphasis on light cavalry and archery, a domain in which the Ummayad Caliphate possessed a clear technological edge via the widespread use of compound bows.

In short, many of the more traditional artistic renditions of the battle are totally inaccurate. In all likelihood, it was the Franks rather than the Andalusians who “played defense” at Poitiers, absorbing waves of light cavalry raids and dense clouds of arrows before grinding their foes into submission. This interpretation would largely comport with the scant references in 8th-century sources, with one chronicle describing the Franks as having “remained as immobile as a wall, holding together like a glacier.” Moreover, there is no evidence of the battle of Poitiers demonstrating any clear superiority of the so-called “Western way of war,” whether technological, material, or cultural.

As one study has aptly noted, one reason why battles dominate historical narratives is that they have traditionally been interpreted as:

…representative tests for the strength and abilities of competing cultures or polities. That is, battles are not seen as a rare opportunity for chance conditions to wipe out huge discrepancies in resources, thereby enabling, for example, a weaker party to overcome wealthier and stronger opponents. Rather, battles are seen as deterministic Darwinian tests, or as the just judgments of the God of History, demonstrating who was really stronger.… Battles have a wonderful capacity to simplify history.

In this case, Charles Martel’s victory can probably be attributed to his own strategic acumen, to chance, and to the discipline of his troops, who had been hardened in the crucible of a decade-long civil war against rival Frankish factions. Indeed, one of the most common tactics employed against a shield wall or Roman testudo by light cavalry was that of feigned flight. By simulating a movement of disarray, enemy riders could hope to trigger pursuit by hotheaded infantry, opening up breaches in the shield wall. This is what famously occurred at the Battle of Hastings, precipitating the defeat of King Harold at the hands of the Norman invaders. It is reasonable to assume that Al Ghafiqi’s troops employed the same tactic, albeit unsuccessfully, against the Franks.

In short, it was Charles Martel’s caution and levelheadedness combined with the fortuitous demise of his opponent that most likely carried the day — not the innate superiority of one cultural way of war over another.

The Crudeness of Historiography with Fascist Characteristics

To a certain extent, every country is an imagined community, and all national identities are structured around historiographic organizations of the past. As John Lewis Gaddis has observed, we are all naturally limited in our understanding of history. Using as a metaphor Caspar David Friedrich’s famous painting, “The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,” Gaddis notes that:

…by the time we’ve become aware of what has happened it’s already inaccessible to us: we cannot relieve, retrieve, or rerun it as we might some laboratory experiment or computer simulation. We can only represent it. We can portray the past as a near or distant landscape, much as Friedrich has depicted what his wanderer sees from his lofty church. We can perceive shapes through the fog and mist, we can speculate as to their significance, and sometimes we can even agree among ourselves as to what these are. Barring the invention of a time machine, though, we can never go back there to see for sure.

In sum, intellectual humility is the most important quality for the student of history.

Unfortunately, this character trait has never been prevalent amongst the demagogues and thought leaders of far-right movements. Anti-rationalism, after all, is one of the defining characteristics of right-wing extremism. As Robert Paxton noted in one of his classic studies, “fascists despise thought and reason, abandon intellectual positions casually, and cast aside many intellectual fellow travelers.”

One such example is Benito Mussolini and his lifelong obsession with the concept of “Romanita” and the history of the Roman Empire. The mercurial Italian’s reading of the classics was narrow and partial at best, and it fluctuated in accordance with his own ideological U-turns. During his early political life, when he was a rabidly anti-clerical socialist, ancient history was used as a negative example, with Mussolini pinning Rome’s decay on the corrosive effects of Christianity. Later on, classical antiquity was once again appropriated by El Duce this time for fascist ends — and presented as the strategic blueprint for Italian expansion into the Mediterranean.

Contemporary French and American far-right leaders may think that they understand our shared history. In reality, their reading of western civilization’s variegated past is crude, intellectually stunted, and most often erroneous.

 

Iskander Rehman is a Senior Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University. Prior to joining the Pell Center, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He can be followed on twitter @IskanderRehman

Image: Bataille de Poitiers, en octobre 732, Charles de Steuben

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41 thoughts on “The Sword and the Swastika: How a Medieval Warlord Became a Fascist Icon

  1. Sorry but whats the point of this article ?

    Remind us that nations, ethnic or religious groups like to remember victorious Ancient and Medieval Battles ?
    That they see the leaders of this time as hero’s sometimes and name military units after them ?

    That some violent individuals draw inspiration from these events ?
    That militaristic leaders love military history ?

    Remind us that what actually happened in Ancient and Medieval Battles is and will always be up for debate among historians ?

    That different historians interpret this battles differently ? That its hard to judge the impact of such a battle on todays world ?

    No, the goal of this article is just to tell the “white male” that there is really nothing he can be proud of, not about his nation, ethnic group, religion or history. And even battles won against foreign invaders…nah, no glory at all for you !

    This article follows the footsteps of the ridiculous Swedish documentary about the battle of Lützen and Gustavus Adolphus that tried hard to force a certain narrative on the audience. That there is nothing to be proud of and most of the Swedish soldiers were actually mostly foreigners…a nice hint at todays “diverse” Swedish society.

    Charles Martel won a pretty decisive battle against a invading muslim army…nah, that cant be good. At least his victory cant have been glorious or big. Or the other side not even tried…He should probably not have engaged in battle anyway and let them plunder, wouldn’t that have been progressive by todays standards ?

      1. No, looks more like you did actually not understand what i wrote…

        Why should ancient and medieval battles be only viewed “rational”…whats “rational”…thats the point. Its up for debate, no HD cameras and Twitter back then.

        With this mindset, nothing ever was glorious or good or significant, see what John Boland wrote.

        The point is, already in the headline the connection between Charles Martels victory over the Muslim invaders and Swastikas (Nazis) is being made.

        And then he goes on to downplay the victory and trash Charles Martel. If you know anything about history, then you know the authors interpretation is just that, a interpretation and up for debate.

        The reason this piece is here for is to read is the reason i stated, try understanding that if you are can.

        1. You do realise by stating there is no substantial truth (since its all down to interpretation) that can be proven by accurate historical records, evidence and deduction – this by virtue of heuristic principles – anti rationalism.

          ISIS does that same thing with their ridiculous arguments about the ‘rightly guided caliphs’ and such. I’d recommend that book ‘ISIS Apocalypse’ – it shows how historical falsehood and perversion can be used to justify anything.

          1. Are you even aware about what we are talking ?

            Today, we cant even be 100% sure what happened in Syria 2 days ago do to different sources, lacking evidence and different (biased) interpretations…

            “can be proven by accurate historical records”

            Please check the year this battle happened, check the “sources” and check the many different interpretations about it by many different historians.

  2. I’m with wiggum. What’s the point and why the sour grapes? Because Jean-Marie Le Pen likes Charles Martel? Sorry, but left wing nuts invoke and distort history just as much as right wing nuts, to wit Howard Zinn. There’s nothing wrong or inherently fascistic about French people celebrating Charles Martel any more than there is Arabs celebrating Salad ah-Din or Koreans celebrating Yi Sun-sin.

    For the record, the Battle of Tours was a historically decisive battle. It may not have been the Clash of the Titans of popular legend, but the fact remains that the Muslim armies never again incurred into western Europe, effectively ending the dramatic Arab conquests of the preceding century. History of often marked that way, and we could similarly say that the Battle of Hattin was the turning point in the Crusades and Battle of Ain Julat effectively ended the Mongol expansion. Incidentally, the main thing that makes a battle historically important is precisely how its perceived by posterity. That’s why there’s more books about the Battle of Waterloo than the Battle of the Nations despite the latter battle being far larger and more impactful.

    1. Well said. The author seems to be grinding a modern day antiratioanlism ax against their perceived political foe more than some historical significant revelation.

  3. Have either of you (wiggum or Boland) actually read the article in its entirety? Judging by your comments, it would seem you have not or are disinterested in what it actually says.

    1. I thoroughly enjoyed the objective history, the efforts to express the lack of evidence to support the classic view, and the presentation of different views on why Charles won. It’s late in the semester, but I actually intend to incorporate some of the information into a project I have due.
      However, while I don’t share wiggum’s vitriol, I have to agree with him and Boland that the article comes across as possessing a very strong bias.
      Many leaders, both good and bad, from either side of the political spectrum have manipulated history and public perception to achieve personal or political objectives. The author places them all in the category of “right-wing extremist.” He then goes on to make contrary assumptions about Charles Martel’s history based on an equal shortage of evidence. This muddies the thesis and suggests an agenda. I reject the oft-cited premise that “perception is reality,” and I extend the benefit of the doubt that the author wrote from an objective and open-minded position, but I feel Boland and wiggum are justified in their reaction.

      1. By citing Gibbon and Chateaubriand, it is clear the author does not argue that only right wing extremists possess this view. Rather he explains how right wing extremists have appropriated a misinterpretation of history for their own means.

        1. Just like all people since the stone age did and always will do.

          Everyone and especially political and religious movements have always and will always “misinterpreted history for their own means”.

          Most nations and religions today are based on “interpreting history for their own means”.

          Again, my rant is not about the interpretion of medieval historical in this article, its about the agenda and bias behind it.

          You are free to have a different view.

          1. Thanks for giving me permission. So your objection is that by pointing out that this historical event is misinterpreted by many and misused by far-right extremists, the author has an agenda and bias against, in your words, the “white male” and “his nation, ethnic group, religion or history”? I’m sorry, but it seems to me wiggum that by making this objection you are just proving the point of the article. Your argument does not cohere into anything logical.

            And if anyone, like wiggum, objects to the Pell Center, you can read about them yourself here: http://www.salve.edu/pell-center

          2. If only it were that simple Ryan.
            While you are correct to point out that historical revision has it’s place and is in many cases helpful and enlightening, leftist ‘thinkers’ do indeed have a tendency to use revision as a tool to diminish, degrade and try to make irrelevant any history that is seen to define white European identity, regardless of the historical factuality of such attempts at revision.
            Without knowing the authors philosophical leanings it’s impossible to tell for sure, but this article does seem to be one of those attempts.

          3. Verne: Thanks for your comment. The author is a great fan and admirer of European history, especially in France where he spent much of his early life (he is British and French). I think this piece shows that. He is also taking authoritative history and presenting it to our readers in an accessible way. What specifically about this article do you object to? If the facts we can derive from the historical record point to a specific story, should that story not be told for risk of offending those who are proud of their white European identity? To be a bit more snarky about it (no disrespect meant to you personally – just taking the logic where it leads) do we then need “safe spaces” or “trigger warnings” for fear of hurting the sensibilities of my fellow white folks?

          4. @ Ryan Evans

            hat specifically about this article do you object to?

            That its just a interpretation of medieval history (which would be fine) combined with a strong political bias/agenda ?

            The whole point of this article is not only to downplay the significance of the battle and point a unfavorable picture of Charles Martel (thats a interpretion of history and would be fine) but also to make a connection to “Swastikas” (Nazis), Fascism, right wing politicians and right wing terrorists.

            “should that story not be told for risk of offending those who are proud of their white European identity?”

            Question, cant this “story” (the authors interpretation of a medieval battle) not be told in a less biased way ? Without making a connection to Nazis, Fascists ?

            Basically, the idea of this “article” is to put shame on everyone who is proud of this victory against muslim invaders or remembers it in a favorable way by lumping them together with right-wing terrorists, Nazis and Facists.

            “o we then need “safe spaces” or “trigger warnings” for fear of hurting the sensibilities of my fellow white folks?”

            Thats delusional, no “feelings got hurt”.

            We just are not happy that you gave such a biased article with a clear political agenda such a prominent space.

            Only thing missing…some talk how great and progressive live in “al-Andalus” was…

          5. Wiggum:

            Fact: Far-right extremists, to include neo-Nazis, celebrate this battle and Charles Martel as heroic and representative of their ideals. Fact: The historical evidence does not match up with their interpretation of this battle or the political context surrounding it.

            Which part of this exactly do you contest? I can keep going all day. I fail to see the evidence for your argument that this has a “clear political agenda” and is “biased.” Give me some evidence or cease and desist.

          6. @ Ryan Evans

            Oh, i’m sure you can go “all day” while deleting half the comments i make here…thats cheap.

            Fact: Many “normal” non-facist and non-extremist people celebrate this battle and Charles Martel as heroic and representative of their ideals. Whole nations remember him as someone who stopped the Muslim invaders.

            So why does this article feel the need to focus on “facists” and “nazis” ?

            One sentence about that could have been enough…no the whole article tries to make this connection between those people and the Battle with the goal of dragging this battle and Charles Martel down into some “Nazi-Swamp”.

            Its so oblivious why this battle and leader was picked for this kind of article…the agenda is clearly visible.

            Fact: The historical interpretation of Iskander Rehman is just that, a interpretation of a medieval battle and does lack crucial evidence to support it. If you know anything about history, you know that this topic is highly disputed.

            So again, clear why you choose this kind of POV and mixed it with accusations to people who see Charles Martel as heroic and like the fact he defeated a invading and plundering muslim army.

          7. You write: “Fact: Many ‘normal’ non-facist and non-extremist people celebrate this battle and Charles Martel as heroic and representative of their ideals. Whole nations remember him as someone who stopped the Muslim invaders. So why does this article feel the need to focus on ‘facists’ and ‘nazis’ ? One sentence about that could have been enough…”

            Wiggum. Your fact is correct, but then you go off the rails. Iskander cites Edward Gibbon and Chateaubriand as repeating the same narrative about Charles Martel! Did you read the article? Third paragraph. Much more than one sentence. Again, what exactly are you objecting to?

            (Comments that engage in ad hominem do not make it through.)

      1. Ryan, to answer your question, what I and others have a problem with in this article is not necessarily the revision itself (though I do hesitate to talk on wiggums behalf..) because as both you and I seem to agree, it has it’s place and can be informative. If the author had just talked about the battle itself and the problems of the historiography around it, then that would be great, I personally always enjoy seeing a new take on things. However, the author then makes an explicit link between the historiography that paints this battle as a crucial one for the defence of Europe and so called ‘far right’ extremism, and that is a problem because it leaves no space for ordinary European patriots motivated solely by love of their people and land rather than hatred for the ‘other’ to celebrate this reading of their history and the place it occupies in their identity.
        The second problem is that (and this is by no means a WOTR exclusive problem) we’re supposed to live in a liberal western society where we ceaselessly pursue the truth, yet in this process, it only seems to be the history and identity of conservative white Europeans that gets ‘deconstructed’ amd cross examined. To put this in a WOTR context, for instance we have this article and it’s explicit criticism of the ‘far right’s’ relationship with the past. However I haven’t seen an article on this site yet dealing with this wonderful new liberal paradigm, where the Shia are now the ‘good Muslims’, with their wonderful ‘secular Assad’ and a ‘responsible Iran’ against the awful Jihadis in Syria and their decadent, weak and corrupt Gulf backers – a paradigm that magically came into existence immediately after Obama cut a deal with Iran’s leadership.
        So no safe space required Ryan, don’t worry about that. It would just be nice if we on the right got to do the deconstructing and cross examination for a change.

        1. Thanks for the thoughtful input, Verne. I will take it to heart, but I don’t agree that we aren’t even-handed in our “deconstructions.” To take your one example of Assad’s “liberalism,” I direct you to Emile Hokayem’s widely read article for us, which tackles those exact themes: http://warontherocks.com/2016/08/assad-or-we-burn-the-country-misreading-sectarianism-and-the-regime-in-syria/

          Further, by citing Gibbons and Chateaubriand, I don’t think the article leaves no room for non-fascist celebration of Martel

          1. Hey Ryan, thanks for reminding me of Hokayem’s article – it’s a good ‘un.
            However after re-reading it, I feel I stand uncorrected because even though his article is a seminal piece in the debunking of the ‘Shia/Iran good, Sunni/Gulf states bad’ narrative, he makes no explicit link to Obama’s supporters and other liberal contingents who have played a crucial role in the creation and propagation of this myth in the same way that this article links this historiography with the ‘far right’.
            I do understand your point about Gibbons and Chateaubriand, however i’m afraid the authors references to these thinkers will be a subtlety lost on many if not most. The unfortunate reality of the interesting times we live in is that the label ‘far right’ is used by the MSM and supposedly centrist and ‘impartial’ commentators as a signal to all common and decent folk that the thing or person being so labeled is unnacceptable, beyond the pale (like child abuse or slavery for instance) and cannot be negotiated or discussed. Thus a ‘forbidden zone’ if you will, is laid down around the offending idea or person. In this case, no space is left for ownership of this historigraphy by normal people.
            Please don’t take this as a critique of WOTR’s impartiality, it’s what keeps me coming back here. I (and I think the others here too) am just remarking on the tone of this article and how I feel it conforms to certain robust narratives in our society.

          2. You more than understand the political tone and bent the writter used as the basis of the article. the attempt to misappropriate Martel as some father of neo nazi as a means to discredit current political rivals to the authors agenda.

            How Martel and anyone that sees his actions a turning point in turning the tide of invading moors is some how a neo nazi. That for some reason the writter feels they must discredit and cast some shame on anyone that sees history in the context of its time is anti rational and that seeing Martel as an important figure in history makes those who you do fascists .

            The writers own closing statement exposes her true self as being “intellectually stunted, and most erroneous” she leaps from neo nazis to then painting right leaders as being crude stunted and erroneous. Clearly showing this is nothing but using Martel as a vessel for a hit piece on her political foes.

            Truly a lack of actual understanding of today’s contemporary French and American right. It also shows the writter intellectually stunted thought process to some how equate contemporary French and American right leaders with Italian and Germany Facism of which they have no demonstrated ties. Overall the writter exposes her crudeness of thought and heavy handedness.

        2. There’s no liberal conspiracy to paint the Shias as “moderate” just because of the Iran deal. With ISIS becoming more and more powerfull, growing in the region, claiming territories and slaying Shias, it was just obvious to any observer that Iran was a credible ally to fight them. And they did ! If you dont want to put boots on the ground, how do you do without shia’s militias ? Also, if you study Islam’s theology a little bit, its quite easy to figure out the problem with sunnis : Once you believe the sunna has the same authority as the coran then you understand it allowed during centuries political leaders to pay ppl to produce hadiths to legitimate their policies. Its been documented. Califs would pay to produce hadith long after the prophet was dead. It means you can find ANYTHING to legitimate your actions in the sunna. Shias are closer to the Coran, and had to suffer the sunnis oppression. ALL the recent attacks in europe or the US were made in the name of sunni leaders/jihadists. The few books and hadith they quote are always the same : al boukhari, Al-Asqualani, ibn taymiyya…

          1. Yep. And I will never forget one of my mates mums who is Persian explaining to me how the revolutionaries in ’79 would murder people en masse with automatic weapons in the streets (you know… kinda like ISIS?) and claim it was legitimate because the sinners were sent to hell and the saints sent to heaven.

          2. Verne : I’ve never said Shias weren’t capable of violence. And if you’re really into Iran’s revolution, don’t tell me the US never interfered with any regime and has clean hands. Has horrible Iran’s revolution was, you know the role of the US in taking down Mosaddegh (who was elected democratically). Iran funded Hamas & Hezbollah… But those are different from ISIS.

          3. I’m not defending the American government here at all. But you say that Hamas and Hezbollah are different from ISIS and that is simply wrong and untrue. If ISIS manages to survive in some form in the Syrian badlands, then they are going to have to govern and provide services, like Hamas and Hezbollah do, and they are going to have to thus moderate themselves as Hamas and Hezbollah do. Hamas and Hezbollah were once vicious partially underground revolutionary organizations as ISIS is now. ISIS just came along 30 years later. Your assertion that Mossadegh’s overthrow absolves the Mullahs of their crimes is also some pure Russian nationalist whataboutery.

  4. This is an excellent piece with a solid argument! Unfortunately, some of the commenters here do not understand the nature of quality historical analysis and historiography.

    1. Quality ?

      This article makes a connection between Charles Martels victory over the Muslim invaders and Swastikas (Nazis) right in the headline.

      Also, everything he wrote is up for debate as this is medieval history. Different historians have always and will always rate the significancy of the battle differently.

      Seems you dont like the outcome of the battle, as i said, it would have been very progressive for Charles Martel to not engage at all, that would have taught all those “Fascists”…

      1. Indeed, many things in history are up for debate. Where exactly did I say that I did not like the outcome of the battle? Why the constant harping about “progressive” in every comment? Quality historical analysis means not letting your political views slant and dictate your analysis. Quality analysis is also the direct opposite of your politically motivated screeds in the comment section.

        1. I suggest you reread the article. As for up for debate the author doesn’t want debate she wants to discredit. I agree on Quailty historical analysis and this clear misses that standard with snark on the right and hackney attempts to smear and tie the Right to fascism.

          It lacks as scholarly analysis of Martel beyond using Martel as a vessel to tie the French and American right to Itailian and German Facisim. I would say we are seeing the type of writing and revisionist history that only Goebbels himself would be proud.

          Also not sure why see didn’t lump in the English right into it.

      2. As a french guy interested in politics, this articles headline is not shocking at all.. Ask every french if they ever heard a non far right french politician bringing up Charles Martel’s victory. In France you have actually racist chants using his name. Its not a liberal/historian conspiracy to destroy patriotism : its the far right taking historical figures and distorting them so they can fit their discourse. I know that in the US, patriotism is less “tainted” than here in europe.. But its because of our history ! Because we had to go throught Petain and Hitler and such. For a while, nation state were crafted upon what we call “roman national”. In France its Jeanne d’Arc, Napoléon, Clovis, etc… But after 2 world war, suffering through totalitarism and fascism, using those figures as a pure political tool/symbol became more of a fringe thing. If you add to that more and more ppl getting higher education and being exposed to history as a social science, it became way harder for populists to take over those historic figures. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of your country and its history. But in those days of tensions and wars in the middle east, in those days of (sunni) terrorism exported in the west, Its quite obvious Charles Martel’s figure is mainly used by people who seek revenge, war, or a clash of civilisation. Military genius or not, I don’t see how using him wd work well, and I don’t even see what western values he’s supposed to represent. I mean protestantism for ex was born many centuries later aswell as economic liberalism and democracy. So if you speak of him as a model for 500AD”s feodal catholicism you’re welcome. But if you’re american for ex, remember catholics here hated lutherians and fought them maybe harder they ever fought other cultures.

    1. I witness this concerning several articles on this website. While the writers seems quite competent and clear minded, there’s a real gap between their understanding of foreign policy and politics and the readership/comments section. I think a lot of intellectuals and experts downplayed the role of populism, “fake news” and conspiracy theories in US politics, to the point of being totally out of touch with some portions of the US electorate. I tried to comment on this many times, and I tried on this very topic of Charles Martel to bring my frenchman point of view. But anyway, its really hard to fight powers like FNC, conservative talk radio and Russian trolls or Breitbart. If only some of you had tackle this problem soon enough, maybe US and the west wouldn’t be where it is today. I’m sorry to point this out, but even in some podcasts here I heard some worrying stuff. For too long, GOP establishment and think tanks have been giving a platform to all this. When I first arrived in the US, I was totally shocked to see some establishment guys and some decent experts invited on FNC, giving their take, in between news segments about Obama’s supposed muslim bias or lack of birth certificate. In europe, we learned the hard way not to give much credit to Murdoch’s publications. Like I commented many times, Murdoch here is seen as a private joke, publication we can laugh at. Almost nobody take them seriously. In the US, it sometimes feel FNC became a normal news organization. To the point of having anchors moderating presidential debate. After that, you can’t be surprised of all those comments. Anyway, that’s my take on it ;)

  5. As History major, clearly, Wiggum is falling for the fallacy of, when historians are examining history they are trying to understand and contextualise societies, they are NOT trying to make a contemporary political commentary.
    However, using ideological perspectives can be useful in studying historiographies, for example in course on Early Modern European History, the course studied the French Revolution from both the Marxian and Conservative approaches, which can provide original insights into historical events, yet their not co-opted into ideological discourse.