Twenty-one years ago today, on 11 September 2001, nineteen Islamic terrorists hijacked four American airliners and used them as missiles to attack auspicious symbols of the United States. Two of them, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, respectively. American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93, was flown towards Washington, D.C. Its intended target will never be known, because it crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania while several passengers were fighting the hijackers.
The Islamic terrorist organization al-Qaeda claimed ultimate responsibility for the 11 September attacks. Although the nation reeled, this was not even the first time al-Qaeda or their leader, Osama bin Laden (OBL) struck the United States. In fact, OBL had issued some fatwas urging faithful Muslims to attack the US and allied countries. The most recent of his fatwas, issued in in 1998, was the inspiration for the 1998 US Embassy bombings. Before that, al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center another time in 1993.
Today, a sizeable part of our adult population are either too young to remember 9/11 or weren't yet born when it happened. Yet, 21 years later, the effects on our nation remain. Even our universally horrible airport experience is a holdover from changes implemented in response to that day.
In short, we all remember 9/11, whether first-hand or as a historical event. But do we really know the significance of the date itself? Did OBL have a particular reason he chose to attack the United States on 11 September, of all days? He did. The reason is found in the 17th century, when Christian Europe was on her knees and the Muslim Ottoman Empire ran roughshod over the civilized world.
On 14 July 1683, the Ottoman Empire besieged Vienna, Austria with 300,000 men. By this point in history, the Ottoman Empire was vast. It controlled all of the Middle East and all of North Africa, in addition to the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, Malta, and a large swath of Eastern Europe. Even its imperial capital, Istanbul, was a treasured prize.
Naturally, the European nations recognized the Ottoman Empire as a huge threat, both martially and culturally. In light of their shared Christian identity, Europe mobilized relief forces and sent them to Vienna's aid. During the resulting Battle of Vienna, regarded as one of the battles that saved Western civilization, King John III Sobieski of Poland led the largest cavalry charge in history (18,000 horsemen) and destroyed the attacking Ottoman forces. This was on 12 September, 1683.
12 September 1683 was the Ottoman Empire's Waterloo. It didn't collapse overnight, but it would never regain the glory it held prior to Sobieski's heroic charge. Gradually it lost influence in the world until ultimately passing into irrelevance in the early 20th century.
That is why OBL chose 11 September. By that symbolism, he hoped to remake the world as it was on 11 September 1683, when Ottoman banners encroached on the territory of Christian Europe and held them at mortal peril. He hoped to usher in a new Ottoman age.
I'll share with you two apocryphal stories surrounding the Battle of Vienna. The first one takes place in the immediate aftermath of Sobieski's victory. The story goes that Christian defenders, looting the abandoned Ottoman camps, found a substance that, up till then, most believed to be mere legend. They found sacks of beans that, when steeped in water, provided the Ottomans with the energy required to stay alert all day and night.
In other words, they found coffee.
The second story occurs a little later, when news of the Ottomans' defeat had reached the surrounding area. It's said that, in celebration of the Christian victory, a local baker created a pastry shaped like the crescent moon on the Ottoman flag.
In other words, he created the croissant.
So, this 11 September, join me in mourning those who died withstanding the Ottomans' destruction (not only Sobieski's men and the Viennese, but those in NYC and around the world who bore the cost of 9/11, then and since). However, I also invite you to join me on 12 September, remembering Sobieski's victory in a small, simple way by feasting on coffee and croissants. In memorializing the victories of the past, we look forward to the ultimate victory still to be won at the Second Advent. Christ is King of Kings!
^ When that city was in Christian hands, it was Constantinople: the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire.
^ In fact, the drink they made by mixing coffee with sugar and steamed milk - not done in the Islamic world - was called kapuziner in German, from which we get the word cappuccino. Supposedly this is in honor of the Capuchin Franciscan Marco d'Aviano, who played a role in rallying the Christian forces toward unity.