To be sure, in the grand scheme of things, “that pesky Meccan heresy,” as one writer has characterized Islam, is just one component part of the whole world-system of unbelief wrought by the Fall and is thus simply one among many revolutionary attempts to counter the Gospel. Or, perhaps better, Islam is just a single aspect of the one great error of revolt against God. So for instance, radical Islamicists from the House of Saud, the Hashemite kingdoms, Hammas, or the PLO have through the years lent support to revolutionary and/or terrorist organizations around the world like the IRA, the Red Brigade, the Shining Path, and the Khmer Rouge to say nothing of their complicity with the Kaiser, il Duce, and the Fuehrer--thus, revealing their essential, innate revolutionary character. They are, were, and ever will be kith and kin, fellow-travelers, and birds of a feather--part of the same revolt against the truth and the Truth.
But during the past 1000 years, the most persistent, plaguing, and noxious of the many and varied pretenders to truth in this chaotic but unified revolution has undoubtedly been Islam. It should probably not surprise us to learn then that the literature of the West has reflected this great conflict in a myriad of ways that we might not have noticed before if our own troubles with Islam had not come to dominate the headlines, define our foreign policy, and give new urgency to the day-to-day mission of our churches.
Themes revolving around the persistent conflict with Islam crop up in the oddest places, it seems. They intrude on William Shakespeare’s plays and Walter Scott’s novels. They make prominent appearances in the great poetic works of Dante, Milton, Chaucer. They form the backdrop for the stories of Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart, Wallace and Bruce, Don Quixote, St. Francis, St. Louis, El Cid, Marco Polo, Henry the Navigator, Columbus, Magellan, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They even make appearances in Pilgrim’s Progress, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, The Talisman, Greenmantle, and Ivanhoe.
Some have even argued that the very idea of the Western-style novel emerged from songs of chivalry, stories of knights in shining armor, and legends of the crusaders. One of the very earliest—and one of the best—of these tales describing the great conflict between Islam and the West is The Song of Roland. It is one of those strange works of literature that is almost entirely fictional but which nevertheless is more truthful than most history books filled with carefully verified facts. Indeed, its “true lies” tell us much about ourselves, our world, and the shaping of Western Civilization that we might not otherwise know.