Quotulatiousness

March 22, 2017

QotD: Sharia and women’s rights

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

As a moral and legal code, Sharia law is demeaning and degrading to women. It requires women to be placed under the care of male guardians; it views a woman’s testimony in court as worth half that of a man’s; and it permits a husband to beat his wife. It’s not only women’s legal and sexual freedoms that are curtailed under Sharia but their economic freedoms as well. Women generally inherit half of the amount that men inherit, and their male guardian must consent to their choosing education, work, or travel.

In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and parts of Nigeria, where Sharia law underpins the judicial system, women’s rights suffer greatly.

There is a growing trend among some feminists to make excuses for Sharia law and claim it is nothing more than a personal moral guide, and therefore consistent with American constitutional liberties. Yet the rules that such “Sharia-lite feminists” voluntarily choose to follow are also invoked to oppress women — to marry them off, to constrain their economic and human rights, and to limit their freedom of expression — who have not consented to them. The moral conflict between Sharia and universal human rights should not be dismissed as a misunderstanding, but openly discussed.

Many Western feminists struggle to embrace universal women’s rights. Decades ago, Germaine Greer argued that attempts to outlaw female genital mutilation amounted to “an attack on cultural identity.” That type of deference to traditional practices, in the name of cultural sensitivity, hurts vulnerable women. These days, relativism remains strong. Too many feminists in the West are reluctant to condemn cultural practices that clearly harm women — female genital mutilation, polygamy, child marriage, marital rape, and honor violence, particularly in non-Western societies. Women’s rights are universal, and such practices cannot be accepted.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “On This ‘Day Without a Woman,’ Don’t Leave Women Oppressed by Sharia Law Behind”, The Daily Beast, 2017-03-08.

March 19, 2017

Byzantium, Persia and the rise of Islam

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

At The Declination, Dystopic explains why he’s fascinated by the untold stories of the sudden influx of Muslim armies from the Arabian peninsula that shattered the Persian Empire and nearly toppled the Byzantines in the 7th century:

In the course of perusing my backlinks, I discovered a little-known blog call the House of David. This one is fascinating because the author delves deeply into a topic which has bothered me for most my life: just how was it that Islam conquered Sassanian Persia and most of Byzantium more or less simultaneously? Normally this question is answered in the West, at least, by primarily Greek sources. Those are useful, yes, but only paint part of the picture. The proprietor of House of David seeks to answer the question from Persian and Arabic sources, also.

The strangeness of this event cannot be overstated. As successors to the Romans (or as Romans themselves, depending on how you account them), the Byzantines were masters of siege craft. Certainly the Theodosian walls impress well enough. Being consummate engineers of fortifications, Roman forts and walled cities dotted the empire, and for the most part, the Romans were excellent at defending them. The Byzantines continued the tradition of effective defense throughout most of their history, as they were under near-constant assault from all sides.

[…]

In some cases, of course, there was treachery from some of the Byzantines themselves, most notably in Egypt. But in other cases, such as the Exarchate of Africa, local Byzantine resistance was absolutely fierce. The wars in North Africa absolutely devastated the place. It never recovered after this. So complete was this devastation and desolation that Carthage, which bounced back even after the Romans razed it, never recovered from it. Even conquest by the Vandals had not been so terrible.

And still, after the Byzantines themselves lost much of North Africa, the native Christian Berbers continued to resist for some time under a supposed witch-queen named Kahina. And Byzantine resistance remained for a time around Cueta even after Carthage was destroyed, where the possibly-apocryphal Count Julian was said to have finally thrown in with the Muslims in order to avenge himself upon the Visigoths.

Yet the Arab steamroller moved on.

The final triumph of Byzantine siege craft could be seen in the twin Arab sieges of Constantinople, both beaten back effectively by the Byzantines. So why did they lose so completely everywhere else?

March 17, 2017

The Tsar Abdicates – Baghdad Falls I THE GREAT WAR Week 138

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 16 Mar 2017

The protests that emerged in Russia this week are growing stronger and the Tsar is increasingly isolated until even his generals are pushing for his abdication. And after 300 years of Romanov rule, Tsar Nicholai II abdicates and when his brother refuses to take up the throne, the dynasty is no more. Meanwhile in the Middle East, the British are taking Baghdad effectively seizing control over a large area.

March 16, 2017

Origins of the Silk Road

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

I’ve been quietly fascinated by the ancient Silk Road trading route spanning from the Middle East to China since I first heard about it as a kid. (The most recent book I read on the topic, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, blended bits of the history of the route with the activities of European spies in the area preceding the start of the First World War.) At Ars Technica, Annalee Newitz summarizes some recent work in Nature that pushes back the origins of the Silk Road more than two millennia:

The Silk Road was a series of ancient trading routes that spanned Asia, reaching as far as the Middle East and Europe. Self-organizing and vast, it fell under the control of various empires — but never for long. The polyglot civilizations of traders who lived along its routes are the subject of legends, and more recently the Silk Road lent its name to an infamous darknet market. Historians usually date the Silk Road from roughly the 200s to the 1400s. But a new study in Nature suggests the trade routes may be 2,500 years older than previously believed and its origins much humbler than the rich cities it spawned.

Historical accounts of the Silk Road begin in China in the 100s, when the Han Dynasty used its many routes to trade with the peoples of Central and South Asia. Han soldiers protected the roads and maintained regular outposts on them, allowing wealth and knowledge to flow across the continent. Monks wandering the Silk Road brought Buddhism from India to China, while merchants brought spices, gems, textiles, books, horses, and other valuables from one part of the continent to the other. Great Silk Road cities such as Chang’an (today called Xi’an) and Samarkand grew fat on wealth from the routes that passed outside their walls.

But Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist Michael Frachetti and his colleagues wondered how people traversed the many difficult stretches of the Silk Road that switchbacked through the mountains of Central Asia. Even though these routes weren’t urban or under the protection of soldiers, people used them all the time to pass between Asia and the Middle East. We can see where these travelers camped at over 600 archaeological sites in the mountains. Writing in Nature, Frachetti and his colleagues describe how they had to devise a new approach to track the routes people took between these camps.

The problem was that previous scholars assumed people took routes that resembled what a “least cost” algorithm would draw — essentially the easiest path. This is “largely effective in lowland zones where economic networks and mobility between urban centers are consistent with ease of travel,” the researchers write in their paper. But those algorithms won’t work in the mountains, on uneven terrain that was often barren.

NHK and CCTV did a 12-part documentary on the Silk Road, with beautiful theme music by Kitaro:

Published on 18 Sep 2013

Camels plodding across the desert, and a sense of timelessness evoked by Kitaro’s theme music… NHK devoted 17 years to the planning, shooting and production of The Silk Road, which unearthed trade routes linking long-lost civilizations of East and West. A landmark in broadcasting history, this series told the story of the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.
The NHK Tokushu and China’s CCTV documentary series The Silk Road began on April 7, 1980. The program started with the memorable scene of a camel caravan crossing the desert against the setting sun, with Kitaro’s music and a sense of timelessness. It was the start of an epic televisual poem.

The first journey described in the series began in Chang’an (now Xi’an), at the eastern end of the ancient route. On 450,000 feet of film, the NHK crew recorded the path westward to the Pamir Heights at the Pakistan border and this material was edited to make 12 monthly broadcasts. In response to viewers’ requests that the series be extended to cover the Silk Road all the way to Rome, sequels were made over the next 10 years. Seventeen years after the program was conceived, the project was completed.

1) The Glories of Ancient Chang-An
Chang-An – China’s old center. The journey begins from Chang-An, current Xi-an that was more than 1,000 years a capital in China, and the melting pot of international influences.

February 26, 2017

Disc Grenade – Camel Corps – Austro-Hungarian Heroes I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 25 Feb 2017

Indy sits in a French Chair this time and answers your questions about World War 1. This week we talk about the German disc grenades and the heroes that were celebrated in Austria-Hungary.

February 24, 2017

Mechanised War In Mesopotamia – Toplica Uprising I THE GREAT WAR Week 135

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 23 Feb 2017

After the humiliating defeat at Kut last year, the British upped their game in Mesopotamia and this week 100 years ago the British Indian Army starts making gains towards Baghdad. In the occupied territories of Serbia the local population is rising up against the Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian occupants and on the Western Front, the British make surprisingly easy progress against the German Army.

February 22, 2017

TEDxWarwick – Tim Harford – Management Lessons from the War in Iraq

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

Uploaded on 17 Mar 2011

Tim Harford is an economist who writes about economics theories behind our daily lives in books and as a Financial Times columnist. All of his books have been sold worldwide and widely translated, namely The Undercover Economist that has sold one million copies. He is the also only person who runs a problem page “Dear Economist” in Financial Times in which readers’ problems are answered with the thought-provoking economic ideas. Tim currently presents the BBC radio series More or Less and contributes regularly to other radio, TV programmes and publications. His talk in TEDxWarwick this year focuses on the similarities between the War in Iraq and the organisation’s top-down management.

About TEDx, x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Interestingly, the name H.R. McMaster pops up a few times in this talk…

December 24, 2016

Smug Canada has been lucky … so far

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Chris Selley enumerates a few of the problems other western countries have been having with Islamic terrorism, and points out that Canada just been lucky not to have a greater share:

Here in Canada in 2016, meanwhile, we have endured … almost nothing. Aaron Driver hatched a plot to blow himself up in public somewhere, but police cornered him in his parents’ driveway, the bomb didn’t work and he’s dead now. I had forgotten his name.

Instead, some of us spent 2016 patting ourselves on the backs for accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees. It was a good thing to do. But heading into 2017, I think we might usefully recall demands to bring in five or 10 times that number, immediately, and perhaps finish their security screening on Canadian soil. European countries are struggling with failed asylum-seekers they can’t deport — to Tunisia, never mind Syria. Only someone from a decadently peaceful country like Canada would ever suggest running that risk voluntarily.

Some in my trade spent 2016 penning encomiums to Canada’s supposed new status as a beacon of sanity: while Europe and America devolve into simian nativism and xenophobia, here we are enlightened, welcoming, serene. Some of these pieces conceded that being protected from uncontrolled immigration by oceans to the east, west and north, and by 1,500 kilometres of a larger, warmer economy to the south, might help keep the peace. Heading into 2017, I think we might usefully ponder just how pampered we are by that geographic reality. Faced with the European situation — unstoppable flows of unknown people, regular acts of terror, frequent reports of young migrant men abusing women — would we really react with this patented Canadian equanimity?

December 21, 2016

The western press has been colonized by ISIS/al Qaeda

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Brendan O’Neill on the way western media have been trained to report certain events to benefit terrorist organizations:

The British press is morphing into a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda. Consider its coverage of yesterday’s assassination of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey. It is borderline sympathetic. The killer’s words — or rather, certain of the killer’s words — have been turned into emotional headlines, into condemnations of Russia’s actions in Syria. That the killer’s first and loudest cry was ‘Allahu Akbar’ — the holler of the modern terrorist — has been downplayed, and in the case of at least one newspaper, the Express, completely ignored. Instead the papers upfront the killer’s other cries, about Aleppo. ‘This is for Aleppo’, says The Times. ‘Remember Aleppo’, says the Mirror’s headline, but with no quote marks, because these were not the exact words spoken by the gunman — they’re more like the Mirror’s own sympathetic echo of the killer’s sentiment.

To get a sense of how disturbing, or at least unusual, this coverage is, imagine if the 2013 murder of British soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamists had led to headlines like ‘This is for Afghanistan’ or ‘Remember Basra’ (those two knifemen, like Karlov’s killer, justified their action as a response to militarism overseas). Or if the 7/7 bombings had not given rise to front pages saying ‘Terror bombs explode across London’ or ‘BASTARDS’ but rather ‘While you kill us in Iraq, we will kill you here’. Reading the early coverage of Karlov’s killing, and noting how different it is to British press coverage of other acts of Islamist terror, one gets the impression that the media think this killing is justified, or at least understandable. ‘Remember Aleppo’: they’re saying this as much as the killer is — a perverse union of terrorist and editorial intent.

But the killer said, first, ‘Allahu Akbar’. Which perhaps suggests that his sympathy was not with Syria as such but with certain forces in Syria. Forces likely to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they kill people. Islamist forces. Something peculiar has happened in British media and political circles in recent weeks. Having spent years telling us al-Qaeda-style groups are the greatest threat to our way of life, these people have lately become spectacularly uncritical about, and even weirdly supportive of, the existence and influence of al-Qaeda-style groups in Syria. The press coverage of Karlov’s killing is in keeping with the superbly reductive, highly moralised media coverage of events in Aleppo over the past fortnight, in which there are apparently only two sides: defenceless civilians and evil Russia and Assad. The militants in Aleppo, which include some grotesquely illiberal and misanthropic groups, have been airbrushed out of the coverage as surely as some reporters airbrushed away, or at least demoted to paragraph six, the Turkish assassin’s cry of ‘Allahu Akbar’.

November 15, 2016

QotD: The one certain outcome of the Syrian civil war

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

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.

October 9, 2016

QotD: What triggered the First Crusade?

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

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

The largely successful strategy of Al Qaeda

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

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

QotD: The fractious coalition that fought the First Crusade

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

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

Populists and open borders

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

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

QotD: What were the long-term effects of the First Crusade?

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

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.

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