Unlike Osama bin Laden, who chose to launch his attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, as a symbolic reversal of the Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Vienna on that date in 1683, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, prosecuted their jihad in San Bernardino because that is where they lived and he worked. Yet in doing so, they unwittingly awoke memories of the last major struggle with Islam—a struggle which lasted centuries and lives on in the ideology of ISIS today.
The 15th-century Franciscan Bernardine of Siena, for whom San Bernardino is named, was an outstanding preacher in an order of great preachers, which is why Pope Eugene IV issued a bull commissioning Bernardine to preach the Crusade against the Turks. The Franciscan order had, from the beginning (even to this day), acted on its founder’s desire to bring the Gospel to the Muslims and to minister to and protect Christians in areas ruled by Islam. In 1456, 12 years after Bernardine’s death, his close friend and collaborator Saint John of Capistrano would lead the Christian troops to victory at the Siege of Belgrade, which stemmed the Ottoman tide for 70 years.
Farook was probably just as ignorant of this history as the average American, but he was bringing his side of it to life again in his own way. The day after the attack, Farook’s father told American reporters that his son was not an “extremist”; a few days later, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, he said that his son “shared the ideology of al-Baghdadi to create an Islamic State, and he was fixated on Israel.” There is no contradiction in his two statements, and those who do not understand why will never comprehend the nature of the threat that we face.
Eugene issued his bull in the last year of Bernardine’s life. There is no record of Bernardine acting on it, though, because he had a more important, though related, mission. His entire life had been spent in re-evangelizing Italy, and he devoted his last days to bringing the Gospel to the Kingdom of Naples. The true nature of the struggle with Islam, Bernardine knew, could only be understood in the context of the Christian Faith. That none of our elected leaders seems to understand what we face tells us all we need to know about the conceit that American is a Christian nation.