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Doing Justice to the Classics

Islamophobic Site Finds Evidence of a “New Dark Ages” in the Fall of Rome

Gates of Vienna is a xenophobic and Islamophobic website that has been in existence since 2004. The anti-racist group Hope Note Hate calls it “one of the most influential counter-jihad sites in the world” and lists its founder, Edward S. May, as one of the “top 16 players on the international Islamophobia scene.” Most of the material on the site is devoted to demonstrating that immigration from Muslim countries poses an existential threat to “Christian Europe.” Among the many articles on this topic is a three-part series entitled “How Long Until the Dark Ages Return?” arguing that the arrival of refugees from Muslim-majority countries has brought Europe to “the brink of [a] New Dark Ages” that will be marked by the “total chaos and absolute anarchy” that “ruled” in Europe following the collapse of Roman state power. The example of Rome is held up as a warning to Europe, since “It’s interesting to see how that came to be the last time.”

Gates of Vienna takes its name from “The Battle of Vienna” in 1683 where a coalition of European forces freed Vienna from a two month siege by Ottoman Turks. The website’s banner describes this conflict as a precursor to what they imagine to be a comparable, contemporary, assault on Europe by Muslims: “At the siege of Vienna in 1683 Islam seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe. We are in a new phase of a very old war.” This common comparison by Islamophobes does not stand up to historical scrutiny, but this does not prevent Gates of Vienna from serving as a platform for many prominent Islamophobic voices, most notably the blogger “Fjordman” whom mass-murderer and terrorist Anders Behring Brevik cited many times in his manifesto before killing 77 people.

The basic argument of the series is that today’s immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries are comparable to the “barbarians” who many xenophobes claim destroyed the Roman Empire. In addition to using the increasingly outdated and hostile term “Mohammedans” to refer to Muslims, the series invokes the whole repertoire of Islamophobic tropes (in essence, painting Muslims as violent terrorists bent on the destruction of “Western” values) that it validates with a series of comparisons between the state of Europe in April 2017 when the essay was written and the Roman Empire of the 4th and 5th centuries CE. Indeed, the series argues that Muslim immigrants are, if anything, worse than the tribes whose ascendancy marked the decline of Roman power: members of these tribes, the article claims, “very much looked up to Roman civilisation” whereas “our barbarians…despise and hate us” and intend to use their “military force” of “angry young men that terrorize our society” including the “6-year olds doing beheadings in Syria” with the “full support [of] their own religion.”

Karl Bryullov’s “Sacking of Rome 455” (1833-1836), one of several paintings included in the series

The series’ ultimate claim is that the “New Dark Ages” will begin sometime between “2025 and 2035” and that the decline leading to them is already well underway. It illustrates this, for example, by repeating the xenophobic lie that in modern Europe that are “no-go areas” controlled by Muslims, where “the police dare not enter without military support” and “the inhabitants live there in their own societies under their own rules and religion.” These, it argues, are like the “large areas of the [Roman] empire [that] were lost” when Rome became too weak to protect itself from “barbarian raids” and allowed these “barbarian kingdoms” to exist within their borders. Along the way it punctuates its narrative with historical paintings imagining various attacks on Rome, such as the “Genseric sacking of Rome” or the “Sack of Rome by the Visigoths led by Alaric I in 410, during the reign of Emperor Honorius” and images of ancient ruins intended to evoke the coming destruction of European culture, such as columns in the ancient agora of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), the forum in Rome,  and generic columns at sunset.

The series puts particular weight on the way that members of non-Roman tribes acquired political and military power in late antiquity. According to the series these “barbarian” generals “formed part of the government and consequently were able to pilfer state funds” but did not support the same ideals as their Roman counterparts because they were more loyal to their tribes than the Roman state. The series then claims that the increasing number of Muslims holding political offices in Europe will lead to a “New Dark Ages” when Muslims will “control our society” because “the mohammedans in our parliament” will “have access to [the] power of the government; they influence policy, control legislation and decide how and what to fund with tax money.” In keeping with the fear-mongering of the series, its author warns that these politicians will funnel government money into welfare programs designed to support the “many mohammedans, refugees and earlier mohammedan colonists,” who are represented as polygamists and pedophiles who “get benefits for having four wives” and “legally claim their 9-year-old wives to be transported at the expense of Western governments.”

Ancient Roman columns in modern Turkey are presented as if they foretell the future ruin of Europe at the hands of Muslim invaders

The series names several Muslim politicians as examples of people whose influence in government should be feared. Sadiq Kahn, the mayor of London and one of the most prominent Muslim politicians in Europe, is compared to the Visigothic leader Alaric, who rose through the ranks of the Roman military to become a general but eventually attacked Rome. Alaric is called “the forerunner of Sadiq Kahn” in that “both were ambitious cutthroats” whose should be expected to betray those who elected them: “Sadiq is first and foremost a mohammedan, then a Marxist (disguised as ‘socialist’), and only after that British citizen.” Similarly Ahmed Aboutaleb, the popular mayor of Rotterdam, who immigrated to the Netherlands from Morocco at age 14, is compared unfavorably to Flavius Stilicho, a Vandal who became a general in the Roman army under the emperor Theodosius I: Stilicho was “much more reliable, and without the very questionable religious ideology of Aboutaleb.”

Throughout the series the fate of Rome is held up as a warning to modern Europe, but just as the author thinks Muslims are worse than “barbarians,” it emerges that he believes the “New Dark Ages” will be worse than the period that followed the collapse of Roman state power. The author argues that “the common man” was not really affected by the onset of the “Dark Ages” because “his life was very harsh anyway” but that the Muslims will inflict much more pain on Europeans. “That’s a difference between then and now,” he writes, “because you will definitely notice that things have changed. For the worse.”

Underpinning the whole series is an assumption that Europe really did experience a "Dark Ages" following the collapse of Roman power, an assumption that has been debunked many times over

He bases this on a claim that there was more cultural continuity between Roman rule and what followed it than there will be between Europe as he defines it and the Muslim-dominated state he fears.  “Their [sc. Romans’] barbarians were Christians as well. Ours aren’t, and that is a huge difference.” Roman law, he says, “slowly deteriorated into Germanic law” but “that didn’t affect the common man too much” because “both forms of law were pretty harsh as they were.” Following an Islamophobic argument propagated by many anti-Muslim hate groups, the series claims that Muslims seek to impose Shariah law on Europeans, which the author describes as “an extremely crude and biased form of tribal law” that is “much worse” than the racist and anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws that he says “were probably based on or at least influenced by Shariah law.” Comparisons of Muslim immigrants to Hitler and the Nazis recur in the series, except that “mohammedans are much more open about what they want…[to] lie on pillows, be waited on by Western slaves (you and I), who will do all the necessary work…they have tried it many times in the past, this is just another attempt.”

Underpinning the whole series is an assumption that Europe really did experience a “Dark Ages” following the collapse of Roman power, an assumption that has its roots in European nationalists’ desire to represent themselves as superior to their recent past (while simultaneously creating a fantasy of racial continuity with the classical world) and that has been debunked many times over even as white supremacists continue to invoke the Middle Ages in support of their politics. The xenophobes at Gates of Vienna need the period following the collapse of Rome to be “dark” so that they can frighten their reader with the specter of impending catastrophe. It’s true that those in power under the Roman empire lost their power when it fell. What the xenophobes are really afraid of is that this will happen to them.

If you would like to see the full text of “How Long Before the Dark Ages Return,” you can use the following links to visit archived versions of Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 without generating traffic for Gates of Vienna. Part 1 of the original series can be found here.

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