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The Gates of Vienna - 12/27

By Rich Trzupek
  Civilization happens in fits and starts. Sometimes the forces of intelligence and good push humanity forward. Sometimes the forces of ignorance and selfishness drag us in the other direction.
  The Battle of Vienna, fought in 1683, marked the pinnacle of Ottoman expansion in Europe. It pitted the forces of Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha against those of a coalition of united western forces assembled from the Holy Roman Empire (basically modern-day Germany with splashes of other nations, mostly Austria and Hungary thrown in as seasoning) and from the united Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, under the skilled leadership of John III Sobieski, King of Poland.
  This incredibly significant battle is often portrayed as a conflict between religions: Christianity on the Holy Roman Empire/Polish-Lithuanian side versus Islam on the Ottoman side. Surely theology provided many a moving rallying-cry on each side, but neither Sobieski nor Kara Mustafa Pasha were primarily motivated by their faith per se, but rather by what their faiths implied when pondering the future of civilization.
  No, or at least an insignificant few, systems of faith were inclined back then to introduce much of human scientific discovery into the discussions inherent to their belief system. Science and religion were still very much divorced, but Sobieski and his allies represented a slowly growing trend to unite the tenants of faith and reason, while Kara Mustafa Pasha represented a slowly growing trend to divorce those two concepts.
  I do not deign to criticize Kara Mustafa Pasha. History is of two minds about the fellow. Personally, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, in that it is reasonable to believe that the leader of the strongest empire on earth at the time possessed at least some of the empathy and wisdom that we expect from our great chiefs.
  However, the great Ottoman retreat from Europe began on Sept. 12, 1683 after the Christian coalition under Sobieski’s inspired leadership whipped Kara Mustafa Pasha’s forces. It was as important an event in western history as Charles Martel’s victory over the Arab forces led by Abd al-Rahman near Tours, France in 732.
  Civilization took a much different course in the largely Judeo-Christian west than in the mostly Muslim Middle East. The intersection of the two styles – the Balkans – is relatively calm at the moment, but has long been the tinderbox of Europe.
  The thing that made the west different for so long is that we managed to separate faith and reason in a way that generally benefitted both. That is not to say that faith and reason could not coexist. Indeed, up to roughly the mid 19th century most of the great advances in science were made by people who were at the same time deeply religious, like Newton and Copernicus.
  But in the west we distinguished between church law and public laws. People of faith certainly hoped that their elected representatives would also be people of faith and that public laws would therefore reflect the best of spirituality as we understand it. But, though public laws might reflect church law, they were not required to.
  That has always been our greatest advantage in a troubled world. Freedom has meant the ability to create, build, cooperate or work alone, to live where we wish, with whom we wish and how we wish. And we are watching that freedom fade away. It is deeply depressing.
  It’s fading because of the rise of a new system of belief that believes speech must be controlled, interactions must be monitored, that we are divided into definable groups – some of which contain solely the elect and some of which are wholly sinful and it believes that government has the authority to compel us to take certain drugs. And it is this evil system of belief that is the cancer slowly taking over our government.
  Like the champions of every other supposed utopia on earth, today’s brand of fascists assure us it’s all for our good. If we would just follow them, we’d have heaven on earth. But that’s the thing about utopias: they always turn into hells.
  The barbarians are at the gates once more and I don’t know that we’ll find another Sobieski to send them packing.
  Email: richtrzupek@gmail.com

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