Battle of Tours

Robert Kaplan: ‘Europe Was Defined By Islam. And Islam Is Redefining It Now.’

Robert Kaplan, a contributing editor to The Atlantic, has just published a piece on Islam and the future of Europe. He claims, startlingly, that Europe “was essentially defined by Islam,” by which he means that before Islam swept across North Africa, Europe consisted of a single civilization, on both banks of the Mediterranean — that of the Roman Empire — and that Islam’s arrival severed “the Mediterranean region into two civilizational halves.” It is true that Muslim conquerors swept across North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries, but not quite true, pace Kaplan, that they “extinguished Christianity there.” Millions of Coptic Christians remained a majority in Egypt until the 14th century (that is, for at least 700 years after the time that Kaplan claims Muslim armies “virtually extinguished Christianity” in North Africa). And while it is true that the Roman Empire was sundered, it was not only by the forces of Islam, as Kaplan appears to believe: before the Arab armies arrived, others had been seizing territory from Roman control, including the Visigoths in Spain and the Vandals, who conquered the Roman province of Africa in 433 and held it till 539.