Virtually every account of European history after the fall of the Roman Empire identifies ‘Europe’ with Christian civilisation, echoing, consciously or otherwise, the universalist claims of the Byzantine emperors, the popes and the western Roman emperors. Yet it is also the case that Islam possessed a European presence from the eighth century onwards, first of all in Spain and the Mediterranean islands, and later, from the mid-fourteenth century, in the Balkans, where the Turks were able rapidly to establish an empire which directly threatened Hungary and Austria. The lands ruled by Islam on the European land mass have tended to be treated by historians as European only in geographical identity, but in human terms part of a victorious and alien ‘oriental’ civilisation, of which they were provincial dependencies, and from which medieval Spanish Christians or modern Greeks and Slavs had to liberate themselves. Yet this view is fallacious for several reasons. In the first place, there is a valid question about our use of the term ‘civilisation’, which Fred Halliday has expressed as follows:
‘Civilisations’ are like nations, traditions, communities – terms that claim a reality and authority which is itself open to question, and appeal to a tradition that turns out, on closer inspection, to be a contemporary creation.