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When Vienna Stood Against Jihad on 9/11/1683

(This article is adapted from the author’s new book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West. All quotes are sourced therein.) 

On September 11, 1683 -- 335 years to the day before the Twin Towers of New York came crumbling down -- another Western city, Vienna, stood between life and death, also against the jihad.

Two months earlier, the largest Islamic army ever to invade Europe -- 200,000 combatants under Ottoman leadership -- had come desiring “to fight generously for the Mahometan faith ... for the extirpation of infidels, and the increase of Muslemen,” as quoted by a contemporary.

Having surrounded the walls of Vienna on July 14, Ottoman grand vizier Kara Mustafa followed protocol. In 628, his prophet Muhammad had sent an ultimatum to Emperor Heraclius: "Aslam taslam" -- "submit [to Islam] and have peace." Heraclius rejected the summons, jihad was declared against Christendom (as enshrined in Koran 9:29), and in a few decades, two-thirds of the then Christian world -- including Spain, all of North Africa, Egypt, and Greater Syria -- were conquered.

Over a thousand years later, the same ultimatum of submission to Islam or death had reached the heart of Europe. Although Starhemberg, the Viennese commander in charge, did not bother to respond to the summons, graffiti inside the city -- including “Muhammad, you dog, go home!” -- captured its mood.

On the next day, Mustafa unleashed all hell against the city’s walls. For two months, the holed-up and vastly outnumbered Viennese suffered plague, dysentery, starvation, and many casualties.

Then, sometime around September 11, as the Muslims were about to burst through, the desperate commander fired distress rockets into the night sky to give “notice to the Christian army” -- that is, the relief force Vienna had beyond all hope been counting on -- “of the extremity whereto the city was reduced.” Understanding exactly what these rockets signified, cries of “Allahu Akbar!” followed them, as the Ottomans implored their deity to “obliterate the infidels utterly from the face of the earth!”

It was then that it happened: “After a siege of sixty days,” wrote an anonymous eyewitness, “accompanied with a thousand difficulties, sicknesses, want of provisions, and great effusion of blood, after a million of cannon and musquet shot, bombs, granadoes, and all sorts of fireworks, which has changed the face of the fairest and most flourishing city in the world, disfigured and ruined [it],” continued the verbose writer, “a vigorous defense and a resistance without parallel, heaven favorably heard the prayers and tears of a cast down and mournful people.”

To the city’s great joy, Starhemberg’s distress rockets were answered by a hail of fireworks that lit the night sky. A Holy League, consisting of some 65,000 heavily armed Poles, Austrians, and Germans, all hot to avenge the beleaguered city, had come. Even worse for the Ottomans, they were under the overall command of the formidable king of Poland, John Sobieski, who firmly believed: “It is not a city alone that we have to save, but the whole of Christianity, of which the city of Vienna is the bulwark.”