Russia and the West are fighting to decide whether Syria will be run by Sunni Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia or Shiite Islamists backed by Iran. This insane civil war has burned up countless lives, not to mention plenty of dollars, rubles, euros and pounds. The only certain winners of this war, once the dust has settled, will chant “Allahu Akbar” and call for the death of the infidels.
Daniel Greenfield, “It’s a Mad, Mad War”, Sultan Knish, 2016-10-27.
November 15, 2016
October 9, 2016
Question: You write that, “There was no rational explanation or single event that triggered this sudden desire to possess Jerusalem. Various Muslim factions had held it for over four hundred years.” So how and why did what later became known as the First Crusade get started?
Answer: From a Western perspective, there was a growing interest in the Holy Land. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem had increased throughout the 11th century. There was more of a focused interest on the historical life of Christ, and as a result on historical Jerusalem, than there had been earlier in the Middle Ages.
From the Eastern perspective, starting in the mid-11th century there was an incursion of, as we like to say in the historical game, “barbarians from the East,” in this case the Seljuk Turks. Their advent — their takeover of Baghdad, their embrace of Sunni Islam — destabilized the region in a way that hadn’t happened in about 150 years.
Mixed into this was the emperor of Byzantium, Alexius Comnenus, who clearly felt endangered on all fronts, [including] from the Turks. He decided that the best way to deal with that was to write to the West and to request mercenaries to help him. He framed his request in semi-religious terms, but what he was really after were hardened professional mercenaries.
Meanwhile, in the West, pilgrims were coming back with horror stories of what they’d encountered in Jerusalem. There was a sense that the city of Christ was in danger and was being polluted by these barbarians whom they barely understood. When the request for mercenaries came from the emperor, which was subsequently given a stamp of approval by the pope, it transformed into a massive military movement fought in the name of holy war.
Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.
September 13, 2016
David Warren posted this as his September 11 retrospective:
As I suggested above, we are still too close to this event to grasp its full significance; but after fifteen years we in the West are in a much worse position than we were on the 10th of September, 2001. We showed, as the Islamists predicted, that we did not have the stamina to prevail, even against weak adversaries; that America and allies could only fight “Vietnams.” Our will is shaken, and to Salafist delight, we have by now expressed contrition for fourteen centuries of Christian defence against Islamic aggression. We bow respectfully, as our culture is insulted, and as versions of Shariah are imposed. In disregard of our own security, we have thrown our borders open to massive Muslim immigration. We follow, at every junction, the course of sentimentality, and adapt to the certainty of defeat. After each hit we call for grief counsellors.
It is instructive that, in the present circumstances, with Christians reduced to desperation through much of the Near East, we import Muslim refugees almost exclusively. The Christians flee to the protection of the Kurds; not to refugee camps in which they would risk massacre. Western governments take only from those camps; or in Europe, the flotillas launched from Turkey and Libya. The Islamists gloat at this demographic achievement; the Daesh now recruit from the disaffected young in the new Muslim ghettoes of Europe, radicalized in Saudi-built-and-financed mosques. Few directly engage in suicidal acts of terrorism; but those who do are lionized as heroes. Lesser, safer acts, such as rape of European women, and desecration of churches and synagogues, have become commonplace. We are, and we know that we are, as incapable of assimilating these migrants as the Romans were of assimilating the Vandals and Huns through their increasingly porous frontiers.
Crucially, in the mindless fantasy of “multiculturalism,” we refuse to recognize the contradictions between Islamic and Christian teaching, and look the other way, muttering fatuities about “the religion of peace” after each psychopathic explosion. This is just what Osama predicted: the harder the blows, the more docile we would become, and the more complacent in the face of the ancient Islamic demand for submission.
The genius of Osama bin-Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, was to know that the de-Christianizing West would respond in this way. Their propaganda spelt out, from the beginning, the argument for their methods. They called us chestless wonders; they said we would fold under any sustained pressure; that we had lost the confidence of our Christian identity. We are an aging society now, vitiated by abortions, needing immigrants to pay our pensions; a people addicted to drugs, from opiates to iPhones; lapsed in creature comforts, and spineless in the face of adversity.
September 11, 2016
Q: One of the striking aspects of your accounts is how fractious and fragmented the Crusaders were. They come from different places, they’re following different people, and they have somewhat different motives. The divisions reminded me of the various jihadi groups vying to be top dog today. Do we remember the Crusades as more unified than they actually were? Do these divisions tell us anything about the situation today among the other would-be holy warriors?
A: Particularly with the First Crusade, we do tend to remember it as a more unified movement than it was. We assume that when the pope preached his voice rang out with greater authority than it did, and that it would have been better remembered and better understood than in fact I think it was. We don’t have any record of what the pope said at Clermont except for one sentence [about penance]. All the other stuff is people making it up later.
A goodly number of Crusaders from the north had actually fought wars against the popes. They’re not necessarily on the papal side. A lot of people, particularly from the north were inspired by Peter the Hermit, not by the pope — a very different message. When the Crusaders marched through Byzantium, there was extreme mistrust between a lot of the armies, particularly the ones that got there first, and the Greeks whom they were allegedly on Crusade in part to defend. There was this sense that [the Byzantines] aren’t real Christians, that there’s just something wrong about them. There was no leader of the Crusade once it started marching. There was a council of leaders.
That probably parallels a lot of what’s going on with ISIS and al-Qaeda and the way these groups tend to metastasize. It also points out how powerful and uniting the notion of religious warfare can be — that you can have these different groups suddenly coalescing around this idea and against all odds succeeding. The most mind-boggling aspect of the First Crusade is that it succeeded. There’s no reason that this should have worked, that these armies should have survived and gotten to Jerusalem. They somehow did. They held together. This ethos of holy war, which is a fairly terrifying one, can be powerful and effective at holding groups together.
Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.
August 10, 2016
In City Journal, Victor Davis Hanson says the rise of Trump and other populist politicians is being powered by lower- and middle-class rejection of the elite preference for open borders:
Driving the growing populist outrage in Europe and North America is the ongoing elite push for a borderless world. Among elites, borderlessness has taken its place among the politically correct positions of our age — and, as with other such ideas, it has shaped the language we use. The descriptive term “illegal alien” has given way to the nebulous “unlawful immigrant.” This, in turn, has given way to “undocumented immigrant,” “immigrant,” or the entirely neutral “migrant” — a noun that obscures whether the individual in question is entering or leaving. Such linguistic gymnastics are unfortunately necessary. Since an enforceable southern border no longer exists, there can be no immigration law to break in the first place.
Today’s open-borders agenda has its roots not only in economic factors — the need for low-wage workers who will do the work that native-born Americans or Europeans supposedly will not — but also in several decades of intellectual ferment, in which Western academics have created a trendy field of “borders discourse.” What we might call post-borderism argues that boundaries even between distinct nations are mere artificial constructs, methods of marginalization designed by those in power, mostly to stigmatize and oppress the “other” — usually the poorer and less Western — who arbitrarily ended up on the wrong side of the divide. “Where borders are drawn, power is exercised,” as one European scholar put it. This view assumes that where borders are not drawn, power is not exercised — as if a million Middle Eastern immigrants pouring into Germany do not wield considerable power by their sheer numbers and adroit manipulation of Western notions of victimization and grievance politics. Indeed, Western leftists seek political empowerment by encouraging the arrival of millions of impoverished migrants.
July 30, 2016
Q: What were the long-term effects of the First Crusade?
A: The most immediate long-term effect was that French states were established in the Middle East. People usually think of the Crusades as failures because they did [ultimately] fail, but in fact there were French-speaking states, Christian Catholic states created in the Middle East that lasted for about 200 years. We tend to forget that the West included the Middle East for this stretch of medieval history. If you live in the Middle East it’s more obvious because there are Crusader monuments and medieval-style architectural details everywhere. The entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, for example, could be the entry to any ornate 12th-century church in Europe, the styling is so close.
Another impact of it, which I’m beginning to think has been more enduring than is often recognized, is that on the Islamic side, the notion of jihad was dying out [before the Crusade]. Holy war was something that had happened in the past, and there had been this steady state reached in the Middle East. I’m not sure that the Turks saw what they were doing when they were engaging the Byzantines as engaging in jihad. After the First Crusade, within 10 years of it, you get Islamic voices like Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami, in the last document in my source reader, saying we need to revive jihad. He says: The Franks have been waging jihad against us; now we have to get the jihad going back up again.
It also seems to me that the new model of jihad borrowed from what the Crusaders brought. You get the idea of martyrdom — the idea that if you died you would go straight to heaven. You get mythical holy figures appearing in battles that Muslims were fighting against Christians. You get a more poisonous relationship between religion and warfare than existed before.
Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.
July 29, 2016
David Warren on the kind of recruit ISIS depends upon:
In many mosques, financed by the oil-monied Wahabis, the worst features of Islam are emphasized. The Islamists do much recruiting there, and also in prisons: like the Communists before them, they are looking for psychoses to exploit. And of course, the Internet is a great boon, to all of satanic tendency.
A proof, to my mind, that we deal with the unbalanced, is the incompetence of most terror strikes. The operatives kill and maim a handful when, with the weapons they had accumulated, they could have killed far more. They lack the needed organization and skills. But training psychos is like herding cats.
The Daesh in Iraq and Syria pretend to run a military organization, but from everything I’ve seen, it is poorly disciplined. A real army will reject psychologically unstable recruits: they get in the way of teamwork. They won’t properly focus on whom to shoot. Their reckless, suicidal courage is more a danger than an inspiration to their comrades. Even one-on-one in a boxing ring, a psycho is too wild. He will score a knock-out only by chance, get knocked down easily, and always lose on points. No professional sportsman could want to coach a psycho.
No, war is serious business, and it is a huge scandal that the Daesh were not wiped out in short order. The Arab armies opposing them are also poorly disciplined, for cultural reasons our technologist trainers are ill-equipped to plumb. But behind these dubious allies, is the schizophrenic, shadow-boxing West. Our attacks are almost entirely from the air: mallet blows against the ants in their native sand. We have not wanted to get our hands dirty — to suffer casualties in an electoral season — and besides, the Daesh have been convenient to many political interests, not only within the Middle East.
July 19, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.