Quotulatiousness

July 19, 2016

Attempting to make sense of the state of the Middle East

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait links to an essay that summarizes some of the confusing and contradictory motives and actions that have roiled the Middle East for the last few years:

I haven’t much to say about all this, but one thought does occur to me, which is that it seems rather wrong for Americans to blame other Americans for this bloody shambles. (Haivry himself does not blame America.) The next silliest thing to believing that your country is an unchallengeably magnificent superpower that never ever errs is to believe that your country’s mistakes and crimes are overwhelmingly more important and blameworthy than those of any other country, these two attitudes being far more similar than those who indulge in the latter one typically realise. The Middle East would surely now be a bloody shambles whatever the Americans had recently tried to do about it.

If there are imperialist villains to be blaming, how about Britain and France? But one suspects that, again, even if those notorious “lines in the sand” had never been drawn around a century ago, what would be happening on top of this sand would still now be a bloody shambles.

The only rays of light that Haivry discerns are in the form of the various little non-Islamic and anti-Islamist statelets that are starting to form, such as the newly emerging Kurdistan. The Kurds aren’t the only ones doing this, apparently. Good to hear.

Here’s the link to the Ofir Haivry essay.

In 2007, in a seminar room in Jerusalem, a day-long session was devoted to Israeli regional strategic perspectives. I was among the participants together with several other scholars, a former Israeli interior minister, a future Israeli defense minister, and two future Israeli ambassadors to the U.S. At a certain point, the talk turned to various scenarios for the regional future and the opportunities or dangers each of these entailed for Israel. When the possible breakup and partition of Arab states like Iraq or Syria was raised, the near-unanimous response was that this was simply too fantastic a scenario to contemplate.

Now we live that scenario. The great Sunni Arab implosion that began with the 2011 “Arab Spring” was unforeseen in its suddenness, violence, and extent. But some, both inside and outside the Arab world, had long suspected that, sooner or later, a day of reckoning would indeed arrive. (Among Westerners, the names of Bernard Lewis and David Pryce-Jones come most readily to mind.) Today, those in the West who acknowledge this great collapse for what it is will be better able to face the emerging realities. But the first and most important step is to recognize that there is no going back.

[…]

And what would all this entail for Western interests and for the regional policy of the U.S. (should it wish to have an active one)? There is no point in dreaming any longer of a grand deal with Iran, or of rebooting the good old days with Turkey, let alone resuscitating an Arab hegemony led by Egypt and the Saudis. As with the huge, decades-long effort by Great Britain to prop up the Ottoman empire, finally blasted in World War I, so with the increasingly forlorn effort by the U.S. to save the Sunni Arab regional order from collapsing, now finally revealed as a road to nowhere. One might as well attempt to restore the Balkans to the Habsburg empire or the Ottoman fold, or to resuscitate Yugoslavia.

With artificial regimes and borders gone, people in the region seek protection and solidarity in the old identities that have survived the Arab reverie: their nation, their religion, their tribe. These are the only building blocks upon which a new and stable system can be founded. The process will be long, complex, and fraught with difficulty, but it offers a prospect of strategic as well as moral coherence. A region redrawn along lines of actual self-definition would give voice to the communities on the ground that will become invested in its success and work for its stability.

For Western observers and policy makers, the principle should be to look with appropriately cautious favor on significant groupings that possess their own voice and some degree of self-government, while ensuring that in the event of their political defeat, they will not be exterminated—which is far more than any of the Arab world’s political systems ever offered anyone. Some of these groupings will evolve into robust independent nations, others into weak federal states or new tribal confederations. Some, cherishing the opportunity, will build thriving and prosperous democracies, and perhaps even become natural allies of the West and Israel. Others will undoubtedly, yet again, waste their opportunities, devolving into another round of petty and corrupt tribal entities—though with the advantage to themselves of ethnic and religious cohesiveness and to outsiders of being too small to entertain dreams of internal or external genocide. In the Middle East, again, not such a bad outcome.

July 4, 2016

The History of Writing – Where the Story Begins – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Jun 2016

How did the ancient civilization of Sumer first develop the concept of the written word? It all began with simple warehouse tallies in the temples, but as the scribes sought more simple ways to record information, those tallies gradually evolved from pictograms into cuneiform text which could be used to convey complex, abstract, or even lyrical ideas.
____________

Sumer was the land of the first real cities, and those cities required complex administration. The temples which kept people together were not only religious places, but also warehouses which stored the community’s collective wealth until it was needed to get through lean years. As the donations came in, scribes would count the items and draw pictures of them on clay tablets. The images quickly became abstract as the scribes needed to rush, and they also morphed to represent not just an image but the word itself – more specifically, the sound of the word, which meant that it could also be written to represent other words that sounded similar (homophones). Sumerian language often put words together to express new ideas, and the same concept applied to their writing. As people came to use this system more, the scribes began to write from left to right instead of top to bottom since they were less likely to mess up their clay tablets that way. Those who read the tablets didn’t appreciate this change, so the scribes rotated the words 90 degrees allowing tablets to be rotated if the reader preferred – but this made the images even more abstract, until eventually the pictograms vanished entirely to be replaced by wedge-shaped stylus marks: cuneiform. Many of Sumer’s neighbors adopted this invention and helped it spread throughout the region, though completely different writing systems developed independently in cultures situated in places like China and South America!

May 19, 2016

Suleiman the Magnificent – VI: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Apr 2016

Suleiman’s decisions came back to haunt him, starting with the Knights of Malta (once Rhodes). He tried to kick them off their island again, but failed. He launched a new campaign to take Vienna and prove the might of his empire. But he was so old…

A messenger disrupted Suleiman in his reverie. He brought news from Malta…

Suleiman had outlived both his friends and his rivals. Charles V had passed, but his throne had passed to a son who proved just as vexing. An ardent Catholic, Philip II set his ships to harass Ottoman fleets in the Mediterranean and emboldened others to dispute Suleiman’s mastery of the sea. The Knights of Malta, whom Suleiman had defeated at Rhodes and allowed to leave peacefully, once again gave safe habor to these Christian ships. Suleiman sent a force to take their island, but his commanders argued with each other and Christian Europe united against him in a way that it could not when he’d been a younger man. The Knights Hospitallier withdrew into their forts. His army struggled for three weeks to take just one of them, and although they succeeded, Suleiman’s commander died and the Christian reinforcements had time to join the remaining two forts. At last, faced with yet another fleet of reinforcements, Suleiman’s commanders decided to withdraw.

Back in his garden, Suleiman knew that this defeat would destroy the invincible image of his empire. He resolved to prove that the Turks were still a force to be feared, and organized a campaign to take Vienna. He would lead them himself. They left in 1566 with great fanfare, but they were immediately greeted by torrential rains that slowed their advance and cost them materiel. Suleiman spent the whole trip confined to a carriage, and when they finally arrived to siege Szeged, he had to retreat a sickbed in his tent. He died while the battle still raged outside, never to know his empire’s fate.

May 6, 2016

The British Surrender At Kut – Germany Restricts The U-Boats I THE GREAT WAR – Week 93

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 May 2016

After 140 days, the Siege of Kut ends with the biggest surrender of British forces in history. The remaining soldiers are starting their long march into captivity. Meanwhile the Italian front lights up again as Luigi Cadorna plans a new offensive and the Germans give in to diplomatic pressure and stop their unrestricted submarine warfare.

May 2, 2016

Suleiman the Magnificent – IV: The Shadow of God – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Apr 2016

When a dispute arose over the control of Hungary, Suleiman saw an opportunity to extend his empire into Europe and gain allies from those who’d asked for his help. Though he took Buda quickly, Vienna had time to fortify against him and pushed his troops back.

Suleiman looked back on those heady days, and wondered how his victories had all turned to ash…

After the Battle of Mohács, Suleiman found himself quickly pulled into the politics of western Europe. The Queen Mother of France asked him to intercede for her in a quarrel with the King of Spain, and the Austrian Hapsburgs had claimed Hungary as their own territory despite his recent victory there. The Hungarians, meanwhile, had elected their own king John Zápolya and refused to acknowledge the Austrians. Suleiman decided to settle the matter by marching with his armies again, and found Zápolya a willing ally. Bad weather slowed his advance and cut his numbers, but he nonetheless took Buda by storm and made an example out of the Austrians they found there. When they got to Vienna, however, they found that the city had been fortified and reinforced by several European nations. Though Suleiman offered a king’s ransom to the first man over the walls of Vienna, his troops just couldn’t push through. The arrival of winter forced him to withdraw the siege, unsuccessful. He pretend to consider it a victory, but he knew that this defeat meant he’d never be able to acquire the European empire he had dreamed about. Besides, he was growing older, and the question of succession weighed heavy on his mind. By tradition, only one of his sons would be allowed to live and inherit the throne, but he couldn’t bear the thought of his beloved Roxelana forced to watch her sons die. Especially considering his most likely heir, Mustafa, wasn’t a son of Roxelana’s at all. The quandary weighed heavy on him.

May 1, 2016

T.E. Lawrence And How He Became Lawrence Of Arabia I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Britain, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 30 Apr 2016

Check out HistoryBuffs review of Lawrence of Arabia: http://bit.ly/NickOfArabia

Big thank you to Nick from History Buffs for this collaboration. It was really fun!

T.E. Lawrence better known as Lawrence of Arabia is one of the biggest legends of World War 1. His adventures in the Middle East during the Arab Revolt were made into a movie and a bestselling book. But how did Lawrence actually end up in Cairo? And what was his relationship with Faisal?

April 29, 2016

Dividing Up The Middle East – The Sykes-Picot Agreement I THE GREAT WAR Week 92

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:22

Published on 28 Apr 2016

The secret agreement between France, Britain and Russia that was signed this week 100 years ago was a turning point in the relations to the Arab world. It negated all future promises made by the British and still has consequences 100 years later. The Middle East was becoming more and more important to the British in 1916 and people like T.E. Lawrence are starting to become major players in the background.

April 27, 2016

Suleiman the Magnificent – III: Sultan of Sultans – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 26 Mar 2016

The victorious Suleiman begins to consolidate his empire and his home. With Ibrahim and his favorite concubine, Roxelana, by his side, he reorganizes the empire and begins his great work: a book of laws. But Hungary still stands untaken, and he must have it.

Suleiman had made so many decisions out of earnest love, but now he could only look back with regret…

Suleiman returned from his campaigns to find that two of his sons had died of illness that year, but also that his favorite concubine had borne him a new son. Her name was Roxelana, and although she was only a Polish slave, he loved her deeply and soon elevated her to become his legal wife, the Hürrem Sultan. He also promoted his best friend, Ibrahim, up the ranks until he finally appointed him grand vizier. With these two ruling at his side, he felt ready to take on the world. But Ahmed Pasha, his second vizier, was jealous of Ibrahim. He’d expected to get the position of grand vizier for himself, and when he didn’t, he asked for a governorship of Egypt instead – which he then used to mount a rebellion against Suleiman. His rebellion triggered a wave of uprisings through the empire. Suleiman sent Ibrahim to quell them all, which he did, and then reorganized the provinces to break up the power blocs that had acted against his sultan. At the same time, Suleiman had begun working on a great work of law, reforming the hodgepodge legal heritage of the Ottmans into a unified code that would guide the empire for the rest of its days. While it was still in progress, he saw an opportunity to reach for Hungary again and he took it. His troops marched through a torrential downpour of rain until they encountered the Hungarian troops on the Field of Mohács. Impetuous nobles had pushed the young King Louis II to take the field and go on the offensive, despite being outnumbered and outgunned by the vast Ottoman force. Their brave but foolhardy charge failed, and the Ottomans surrounded and destroyed them. Although Suleiman wept over the corpse of the young king, calling his death a tragedy, he did not shy from claiming his victory and declaring Hungary his own.

April 23, 2016

QotD: Colonialism

Filed under: History, Middle East, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are Muslims in Israel for the same reason that there are Muslims in India. They are the remnants of a Muslim colonial regime that displaced and oppressed the indigenous non-Muslim population.

There are no serious historical arguments to be made against any of this.

The Muslim conquests and invasions are well-documented. The Muslim settlements fit every historical template of colonialism complete with importing a foreign population and social system that was imposed on the native population. Until they began losing wars to the indigenous Jewish population, the Muslim settlers were not ashamed of their colonial past, they gloried in it. Their historical legacy was based on seizing indigenous sites, appropriating them and renaming them after the new conquerors.

The only reason there’s a debate about the Temple Mount is because Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem and ordered a mosque built on a holy Jewish site. The only reason there’s a debate about East Jerusalem is because invading Muslim armies seized half the city in 1948, bombed synagogues and ethnically cleansed the Jewish population to achieve an artificial Muslim settler majority.

The only Muslim claim to Jerusalem or to any other part of Israel is based purely on the enterprise of colonial violence. There is no Muslim claim to Israel based on anything other than colonialism, invasion and settlement.

Israel is littered with Omar mosques, including one built in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, because Islam is a colonial entity whose mosques testify to their invasive origins by celebrating colonialism as their true religion. The faith of Islam is the sworn religion of the sword.

Islam is a religion of colonialism that spread through invasion, settlement and conquest. Its caliphs, from the original invaders, including Omar, to the current Caliph of ISIS, wielded and wield religious authority in the service of the Islamic colonial enterprise.

Allah is the patron deity of colonialism. Jihad is just colonialism in Arabic. Islamic theology is nothing but the manifest destiny of the Muslim conquest of the world, colonial settler enterprises dressed up in the filmy trappings of religion appropriated from the culture of conquered Jewish and Christian minorities. Muslim terrorism is a reactionary colonial response to the liberation movements of the indigenous Jewish population.

Daniel Greenfield, “Islam is Colonialism, Palestine is Colonialism”, Sultan Knish, 2016-04-10.

April 22, 2016

The Muddy Graves of Russia and Kut I THE GREAT WAR Week 91

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 21 Apr 2016

With the spring in Russia and the Caucasus came the thaws on the Eastern Front and all the way down to Mesopotamia. The soldiers had to adapt to survive let alone fight. The Battle of Verdun still rages on though the French are not moving more airplanes to the area to break the German air superiority.

April 20, 2016

Suleiman the Magnificent – II: Master of the World – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 19 Mar 2016

Knowing that most of Europe is preoccupied with internal struggles, Suleiman launches his wars against Hungary and Rhodes while they’re cut off from outside reinforcements.

Suleiman wanted to erase the failures of his predecessor, and extend the Ottoman Empire into Europe…

The boy king of Hungary had given Suleiman the perfect pretext for war by killing his envoy, and he’d done it at a time when Hungary was especially isolated from the rest of the continent. The Holy Roman Empire and Papal States were being torn apart by the declarations of Martin Luther. Spain and France were busy fighting each other. Suleiman even ensured that Venice would stay out of the dispute by offering them a lucrative trade treaty with his empire. Though he felt certain of victory, he still studied every route and painstakingly worked out the logistics of moving his army. He would not risk failure through carelessness. Yet the siege from his cannons could not bring down the walls of Belgrade, so he turned to treachery: eventually, the Orthodox Serbian contingent in the city gave him access in order to escape the oppression of the Catholic Hungarians. Suleiman massacred the Hungarians, but honored his agreement with the Serbs and let them leave. Then he turned to Rhodes. He offered them a chance to surrender in advance, but they refused. The Knights of Rhodes were after all a sacred order, equal in discipline to his janissary forces. They fought hard, repulsing several attempts by the Turks to invade through collapsed walls and repeatedly refusing Suleiman’s offers to let them surrender. But at last they wore down and agreed to terms of truce. Suleiman allowed them to leave along with any Christian subjects who wished to go with them. It had taken him two years to complete his wars, but he had succeeded.

Creating a real Palestinian state

Filed under: Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Sultan Knish, Daniel Greenfield calls for the establishment of a true Palestinian state:

A Palestinian state has never existed during any period in human history. Let’s change that.

The United States has spent billions of dollars trying to create a Palestinian state. It’s time that we finally got our money’s worth.

We’ve been putting money in the broken Palestinian slot machine in the metaphorical Palestinian casino (the real one was shot up when terrorists turned it into a base) for decades. It’s time to finally get our Palestinian jackpot.

But to make it happen, we need to be realistic.

Forget the peace process. Forget negotiations. They’ve never worked before. They’re not going to now. And there’s nothing to negotiate anyway.

There are almost a million Jews living on territory claimed by the PLO. Removing them would be the single greatest act of ethnic cleansing against an indigenous population today. It would also be impossible. But the same people who insist that the United States, a country of 318 million, can’t deport 11 million illegal aliens, think that Israel will somehow deport 1/8th of its own population if they just chant loudly enough about “occupation” outside Jewish businesses in London or San Francisco.

Ethnically cleansing 8,000 Jews from Gaza/Gush Katif led to nationwide civil disobedience, riots and, eventually, the fall of a political party and three straight terms for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Now imagine trying to deport 800,000 people from their homes simply because they’re Jewish.

And it wouldn’t just be the Jews alone being rounded up into trucks, buses and maybe boxcars.

52 percent of Arabs in East Jerusalem would rather be Israeli citizens than live under the PLO. Are we support to deport 100,000 Arabs from Jerusalem to make way for this imaginary “Palestinian” state?

How much ethnic cleansing do we have to do to make the Islamic colonial fantasy of Palestine real? It’s not going to happen.

Let’s create a real Palestinian state instead. And I don’t mean the PLO’s President for Life Mahmoud Abbas going down to the UN to give another speech. Abbas is on his 11th year of a 4-year term. The US spent $4.5 billion promoting “Palestinian democracy” and the last PLO election was ten years ago.

April 10, 2016

Suleiman the Magnificent – I: A Lion Takes the Throne – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 12 Mar 2016

A young Suleiman ascends the throne of the Ottoman Empire. He wants to be a benevolent ruler, but he must prove that he is no pushover.

Perhaps it all began when Suleiman’s father died…

Suleiman’s father, Selim I, had pushed the borders of the Ottoman Empire further than any before him. Suleiman and his childhood friend, a Greek named Ibrahim who’d once been his slave, had to race back to Constantinople to claim the throne before news got out. Suleiman immediately bestowed gifts on the janissaries and court officials whose favor he would need for a successful reign, but he also carried out executions against those he suspected of treachery. He could not afford to be too kind. Indeed, his rule was challenged immediately by a revolt in Syria, which Suleiman crushed with overwhelming force to secure his reputation as a powerful leader. He wanted to stretch the empire even more, to bring it into Europe, which brought his attention to Hungary (his gateway to Europe) and Rhodes (a thorn in his side in the Mediterranean). The young prince of Hungary gave him the excuse he needed by executing an Ottoman envoy who’d come to collect tribute. Suleiman prepared his troops for war.

March 15, 2016

Justinian & Theodora – Lies 2 – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Mar 2016

By the time Narses was sent to join him Italy, Belisarius had been away from Constantinople for a very long time. The royal family wasn’t sure if they could still trust him, or if his repeated victories had gone to his head, so they sent Narses (who had been in Constantinople and earned their trust) to keep an eye on him. But this laid the groundwork for disputes that would unravel the military effort there. John looked down on the “barbarian” Ostrogoths and did not consider them a threat, so he viewed the war in Italy as a political battlefield between his friend Narses and his commander Belisarius. Although Procopius defends John’s courage and capability as a cavalry commander, John did not see the bigger picture in Italy and his actions interfered with Belisarius’s overall strategy even though Narses and his family connection to the previous emperor helped keep him safe from repercussions. Belisarius wound up doing the same thing when he refused Justinian’s orders to leave Italy immediately. And in the end, the arrival of the plague – Bubonic Plague, the Black Death – interfered with all their plans. Although we believe Theodora’s actions helped hold the empire together, historians like Procopius take a much darker view: he thought she went power-mad and ruined everything. It’s also worth taking a moment to point out that Theodora was a miaphysite Christian, not a monophysite as we described her in this series. We’ll clarify the difference in a future series on Early Christian Heresies, but for right now we decided to simplify. And there was one thing we left out of this series, a story we love about how Justinian succeeded (where so many had failed) in getting silk worms out of China by bribing monks to smuggle silk worm eggs away in their canes. He helped found a silk industry that brought a lot of money to the empire, and helped it survive longer than it might have otherwise.

March 12, 2016

Justinian – XII: Caesar I was, and am Justinian – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Feb 2016

Faced with a crumbling empire, Justinian remained determined to realize the dreams of his youth – even though he was now over 65 years old and without Theodora by his side. He worked tirelessly to bring revenue back to the empire, and with money in hand he could finally deal with the forces that threatened it. He assembled his last company, an odd selection of leaders for his army, made up of men who were either old, or inexperienced, or even known for failure – yet they succeeded. His instinct for choosing the right person for the job did not fail him, as one by one his last company made peace with Persia, tamed the Balkan threat, and reclaimed Italy from the Ostrogoths. But fate was not yet done with him. A wave of natural disasters and the return of the plague shook the empire while its foundations were still being rebuilt, and left it vulnerable to an invasion by the Bulgars. Justinian turned to his old friend Belisarius, calling him out of retirement for one final campaign. As always, Belisarius succeeded against the odds, but it would be his last fight. One by one, all of Justinian’s close friends and advisors died of old age. Increasingly alone, he spent his last years trying to consolidate his empire and struggling to reconcile the Christian church. Finally, after one of the longest reigns in Roman history, Justinian died in 565 CE. His reign was a great “What If:” What if all those disasters hadn’t struck? Would his grand ambitions have succeeded? He accomplished so much with the expansion of empire, the construction of the Hagia Sophia, and his overhaul of the legal code. But in the process, he risked – and perhaps lost – everything. He emptied the treasury, overextended the borders, and left the empire vulnerable to the Ottomans years later. Good or bad, his legacy reaches through the centuries to touch our lives today.

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