Crusades material and class plan

September 23, 2016

First of all, for those of you who have been patiently waiting for my report on the Saudi family, I’m still working on it. Every time I thought I was finished. I found something more.  I will finish it asap.

Now, for those of you taking my class on the Crusades, this is where you will find extra information and synopses of previous classes as well as my general ideas for the whole course.

another-map-of-first-crusade

This map will be on the screen at the next class.  In the last class we….

Set the scene by touching on the complexity of the situation in the three major areas: Western Europe, the Byzantine Empire (which they called the Roman Empire) and the Turkish Caliphs in Baghdad.  We also touched upon the various Christian sects in the east.  I forgot to mention that there were also at least three Jewish sects, Talmudic, Karite and Samaritan.  Yes, those Samaritans.

The idea of a Crusade to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims had been floating about for some time.  Pope Gregory VII had tried to stir up interest in 1071.  Prof. Andrew Holt has an excellent article on this in his blog: https://apholt.com/2016/07/12/gregory-vii-call-for-a-crusade-1074/

Why the call to a Crusade failed in 1071 and was wildly popular in 1095 is not easy to say.  There are a number of theories.  Some have been discarded by historians, such as the belief that invading the Holy Land would be an outlet for younger sons or that all of Europe blindly obeyed the pope. (They wished!)  One thing I stressed was that most individuals were very religious, if not respectful of clerical authority.  Whatever their other motivations, the remission of sins was a major reason to take the cross.

In the east the long wars between Byzantium and Baghdad had weakened both sides.  This was compounded by civil war among the Byzantines and loss of authority among other Islamic groups by the Sunnit Caliphs.  The Shi’ite Fatimids of Egypt were also moving into the Near East.  For the Caliphs, they were a greater threat than the  Christians.

We discussed the beginnings of the First Crusade and will go over this in the second class, along with the travel across Europe by both the “Peasant Army”  led by Peter the Hermit, and the “Army of the Barons”, led by an uneasy coalition of upper nobility.clearer-peter

The remaining five classes will cover:

2.  The First Crusade and settlement in the Crusader States.

3. The space between the Crusades and the acculturation of the new settlers as well as the reactions of Muslims, Eastern Christians, Jews and others to their arrival.

4. The Second and Third Crusades, both led by Kings.

5. The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople leading to an altered attitude toward crusading.

6. Other “crusades”: the Albigensian Crusade in Southern France, the Children’s Crusade and the expeditions of Louis IX aka St. Louis.

Well, that’s the plan, anyway.  I’ll give you a reading list at the end so that you can fill in the gaps.

 

 

The Rules of War?

January 24, 2016

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I’ve  been away for a few weeks and am later than usual in posting.  In spare moments, I have been researching the Koch brothers and the Saudi Royal family and, the more I do, the less difference I see between them. Did you know that the Koch brothers’ father was a founding member of the John Birch Society? Both families donate heavily to charities of their choosing and both show a wanton disregard for the rights of others. I’ll keep working on this, but it is very depressing.

 

So, while I’m depressed already, I thought I would discuss one of the more bizarre beliefs that seems to be shared by a number of people and, worse, governments. That is the myth that war has rules. I keep hearing that DAESH isn’t abiding by the rules of war, that everywhere civilians are being killed, hospitals bombed, people being raped and tortured and ancient art being destroyed.

Hello? That IS war. It isn’t two lines of eager volunteers in an empty field going at each other. That’s called football. War is when all laws, ethics and human decency break down. It’s when the people with weapons are encouraged to release their inner psychopaths. Civilization is simply the constant attempt to keep savagery tamped down. We aren’t doing a very good job of it at the moment, even though we’ve been trying for thousands of years.

(As a medievalist, I feel obliged to add here that, if the Catholic Church had been as powerful and good at mind control as many believe, then the Peace of God and the Truce of God would have ended war in Europe nine hundred years ago)

I think that a good first step would be to stop talking about rules of war and war crimes. War is a crime.

And, in my opinion, the ones with the guns aren’t the worst criminals. Many of the most terrifying crimes against humanity are committed by people in elegant offices with manicured fingers; people who donate to the charities of their choice.

p.s. I know nothing I say here is new, but it needs constant repeating if a real civilization has a chance.

Know Your Terrorist

November 20, 2015

I heard someone in politics say today that we have to refuse admittance to immigrants because this is a “very unique time”. This is incorrect on two counts. One: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘VERY UNIQUE’. IT IS AN ABSOLUTE. Two: This is not a unique time. America has always wanted to lock the door after “our” people came in. In the 1800’s Irish Catholics were going to turn the country over to the Pope. Then the Italians were all anarchists (see Sacco and Vanzetti) Eastern Europeans would bring communism when they arrived in the 1920s. The Chinese and Japanese were too “oriental” ever to fit in. In the 1940s millions of those who died in concentration camps were refused any place of exile. Jews again, of course, but who even suggested that we let in Roma or homosexuals or the handicapped? They would destroy our society. In the 1970s there was a backlash against the Vietnamese who ate strange food and overran the fishing industry and weren’t well enough vetted to keep out the Viet Cong and communists. Apart from the fact that Latinos settled mainly in states that were originally colonized by Spain and might make people nervous that they’ll try to take back Texas, I’m not really sure why we are worried about them.

Now who are the terrorists?

  1. Timothy MeVeigh, a white American, killed 168 people, including many children in Oklahoma City, in 1995
  2. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, white Americans, killed thirteen students and one teacher at Columbine High School in 1999
  3. Wade Michael Page, a white American, killed six people in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in 2012
  4. Adam Lanza, a white American, killed teachers and children at a Sandy Hook school in 2012
  5. James Egan Holmes, a white American, killed twelve people in a theater in Aurora CO. in 2012
  6. Dylan Roof, a white American, killed nine people in a church in Charleston SC. In 2015

There are too many more to keep track. If you’re feeling masochistic, add your own.

The glaring exception here is the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar.  They were white Chechnians who immigrated to America as children with their mother.  If you are wondering about the perpetrators or 9/11, all of them were here legally, coming from our good friend and ally, Saudi Arabia.  The shooter in Chattanooga this year, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, was a naturalized US citizen who came from our other ally, Kuwait.

I tried to find a report of any of the fears about earlier immigrants coming true. Of course, there is some question about Italians bringing the Sicilian Mafia with them. Perhaps we should have been more careful about Italians.

What I do find is that almost all of these murderers were men under the age of thirty. Also, the shooters in Paris were young men. Most of the members of Boko Haram, DAESH, and The Lord’s Christian Army, are young men, although some were unwillingly recruited as child soldiers. Al Shabaab, actually means “youth” in Arabic.

See a pattern? Clearly, if we are going to censure a group for the deeds of a few, we should be rounding up all males between the ages of fifteen and thirty and putting them in “comfortable detention” camps until they are deemed to have no homicidal tendencies.

Makes sense to me, statistically.

An interim interview

September 20, 2015

While I’m trying to decide which terrorist to write about next, here is a very nice discussion I had recently with Candace Robb on her WordPress website.

https://ecampion.wordpress.com/header-photo/

Now, which do you think, the Koch brothers

Koch brothers

….or the Saudi Royal family?

Saudi

They both are only know on the surface to most people and both scare me equally.

Know Your Terrorist: Bashar al-Assad and the Alawites

July 17, 2015

I know it’s been forever since I posted.  I have been working on this bloody article since April.  Finally, I realized that it wasn’t a dissertation, but a blog.  The main point is that we have ignored how much Alawite theology and history informs the state of Syria today.  Every time I started on this, I would read another article.  I followed the trail all over.  But you don’t need to know the history of the Ba’ath party or the Muslim Brotherhood and probably not the Gnostic elements in the religion.  So, here it is for the six or so of you faithful readers.  If you think it has merit, please pass it on.

*******

150210_atm_assad_intv

Born on September 11, 1965, Bashar Hafez al-Assad is the second son of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and his wife, Anisa. [i] Bashar received his early education in Damascus and studied medicine at the University of Damascus, graduating as an ophthalmologist in 1988. He then served as an army doctor at a Damascus military hospital and in 1992 moved to London to continue his studies.[ii] His older brother, Bassel, was intended to be the successor to their father. However, when Bassel died in a car crash in 1994, Bashar was brought in to take his place.

Fluent in Arabic, French and English, Bashar seemed to be a positive change from the iron rule of his father. However, events have proven that, if anything, he is more oppressive.

I’m not going into the labyrinthine recent history of Syria. It was part of the French Mandate, then part of Egypt under Nassar. The Assad family came into power only in 1980, when Hafez emerged as the leader after a coup. What interests me most is the religion that the Assads are associated with, Alawite. Without the support of others of the religion and without the accommodating nature of its beliefs, it’s doubtful that the family could have taken control of Syria.

I’ve seen very little in the mass media or in on-line comments about the Alawites, or Nusaryi as they were traditionally called. The more I’ve learned about their beliefs, the better I understand why Assad is still in power and why there was an uprising against him in the first place.

The Nusaryi religion is a syncretic mystery sect. It is syncretic because it draws from a number of other faiths, including Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic. It was also influenced by gnostic traditions in Iraq, where the sect began.[iii] The mystery part comes from the oaths members take never to reveal the dogma or rituals of the religion. The little that is known of these come from apostates who gave Nusaryi books to outsiders.[iv]

The Alawite/Nusaryi sect began in Bagdad in the early days of Islam. It developed from Twelver Shi’ism, probably in the 10th century.[v] But, unlike other forms of Shi’ism, it was also heavily influenced by other religions in the area.

“First, from paganism the Alawis adopted the idea of a divine triad, of its successive manifestation in the seven cycles of world history, and of the transmigration of souls. God revealed Himself to the worlds seven different times: each time with two persons who, with God, made a holy trinity. The Alawis also believe that at first all Alawis were stars in the world of light, into which a virtuous Alawi is transformed upon death. A sinning Alawi becomes a Jew, Muslim or Christian. Second, from Shi’a, Islam the Alawis took over the belief in a system of successive divine emanations and the cult of Ali (the Prophet’s cousin and his son-in-law). Unlike other Shi’ites, the Alawis believe that Ali was the incarnation of God Himself in a divine triad: Ali is the Ma’na (meaning or essence); Muhammad, whom Ali created in his own light, is the Ism (name), and Salman al-Farsi (the Persian; one of the Companions of the Prophet) is al-Bab ( the gate). This is the most distinguishing feature of the Alawi religion, namely the centrality of Ali, whom the Alawis deify. Third, in common with Isma’ili Shi’ites, the Alawis subscribe to the idea of an esoteric religious knowledge hidden from the masses and revealed to only a few who are initiated into the secrets in a lengthy and complex initiation. In fact, both the Isma’ili and the Alawis are known in Arabic as al-batiniyah, referring to the undisclosed tenets of their religion.”

They also have drawn some of their ritual from Christianity. They celebrate Christmas and sacramental wine is an important part of their ceremonies, particularly that of initiation.[vi]

There are two important aspects of the Alawite religion. The first is that the beliefs and rituals are intensely secret. No women and only a few of the men are admitted to the full mystical dogma of the sect.[vii] The second is that they were persecuted by both Sunni and Shi’ite rulers throughout their existence. These things combined to create the most important tenet of the Alawite religion; one can and should lie about one’s faith. This, known as taqiya, led naturally to dissimulating about everything else. Alawites are not Muslims and most Muslims consider them heretics, at best. But they are able to perform Sunni or Shi’ite rituals with no compunction when called upon. There is an Alawite saying. “However a man dresses does not change him. So we remain always Nusayris, even though we externally adopt the practices of our neighbors. Whoever does not dissimulate is a fool, for no intelligent person goes naked in the market.”[viii]

In 1940, as part of a new pan-Arab movement, a group of thirteen Nusaryi sheiks sent a letter to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, asking for a fatwa, or decree, stating that they were Muslim. The letter stated the basic tenets of the faith and assured the Mufti that they followed all of these. Amazingly, the Mufti and his advisors granted this. Why they did is difficult to say, since they presumably knew of the practice of taqiya.   From this time, the Nusaryi officially were known as Alawite.[ix]

 

            This demonstrates how Assad can with apparent sincerity tell the world that he has no chemical weapons. Then he says, whoops, has some but he’ll turn them over to the UN. Oh dear, he found a few more but he won’t use them. And, of course, he would never drop chlorine bombs on his own people. But, the people he’s bombing are Syrians, often Sunni or Christian or Druze. I presume he would never attack fellow Alawites. At least, that’s what he says.

In many ways, the rise of the Alawite power is much like that of other minorities who took over governments. They were generally reviled and persuted. Living in the mountains near Latakia, they were looked on as illiterate bumpkins. Sunni families in Damascus and other places hired them as maids and laborers, often under servile conditions.[x] Over the centuries, they acquired a reputation for a fierce isolationism. In addition to praying for the damnation of their Sunni enemies, Alawis attacked outsiders. They acquired a reputation as fierce and unruly mountain people who resisted paying the taxes they owed the authorities and frequently plundered Sunni villagers on the plains.”[xi]

Under the French Mandate of 1922, the Alawite’s were granted their own state in and around Latakia. Finally finding protection from their Sunni persecutors, they welcomed French colonial oversight. When the Mandate ended in 1946, and the Sunnis regained power, the Alawites joined with other minorities, Druze and Christians, in several attempts to overthrow them. They also began to join the Syrian army, a job considered low class by most Sunni Syrians. [xii]

With the support of the largely Alawite military, Bashar’s father, Hafiz, came to power in November, 1970, in a bloody coup. His consequent oppression of Sunnis led to the rise of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which committed several massacres of Alawites in 1979 and 1980, although they failed in their attempts to assassinate Hafiz.[xiii]330px-Hafez_al-Assad

Thanks to his father, who cultivated the Soviets, Bashar al-Assad has a well-armed army that he doesn’t hesitate to turn on his own people. The destruction of Aleppo and other cities is a repeat of the razing by Hafiz of large sections of centers of rebellion.[xiv]

In the years since 1970, the Syrian government has endured many revolts. Most of these it has quashed through force and dissimulation. It is known that Bashar al-Assad buys oil from the (self-named) Islamic State.[xv] Theoretically, he should be opposed to the extremist Sunni group that executes anyone who differs from their narrow view of Islam. One wonders if Bashar is still practicing ­taqiya to encourage his natural enemy to turn its sights to Iraq in exchange for cash.

With the dramatic brutality of the Islamic State, Bashar al-Assad has moved to the back pages.   The beleaguered citizens who have held out against him for almost four years are no longer noticed except when they flee to other countries. In Damascus, Assad still seems to be solidly entrenched, dropping bombs on his people, arresting and torturing those who oppose him and destroying more historical monuments than the Islamic State has managed to do. But, following the dictates of his faith, he has hidden behind dissimilation to misdirect the world’s attention toward the flashier terrorists. It was his behavior and that of his father that allowed the rise of, note only the Islamic State, but also the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet I wonder who will be left when the dust finally settles.

                                   

[i] Bashar al-Assad. [Internet]. 2015. The Biography.com website. Available from: http://www.biography.com/people/bashar-al-assad-20878575 [Accessed 28 Jun 2015].

[ii] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Bashar al-Assad”, accessed June 28, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Bashar-al-Assad.

[iii] Yaron Friedman. “al-Husayn ibn Hamdân al-Khasîbî: A Historical Biography of the Founder of the Nusayrî-‘Alawite Sect” Studia islamica No. 93, 2001. p. 92

[iv] Bella Tendler Krieger. Marriage, Birth, and batini tawil: A Study of Nusayri Initiation Based on the Kitab al-Hawi fi ilm al-fatawi of Abu Sa’id Maymun al-Ta barani” Arabica 58, 2011 p. 55

[v][v] For an explanation and history of the Twelvers, see: Andrew Newman. Twelver Shiism: Unity and Diversity in the Life of Islam, 632 to 1722. Edinburgh University Press, 2013

[vi] Krieger, p. 56

[vii] Daniel Pipes. “The Alawi Capture of Syria”. Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), 431

[viii] Quoted in Pipes. P. 433

[ix] Paulo Boneschi. “Une fatwà du Grand Muftī de Jérusalem Muḥammad ʾAmīn al-Ḥusaynī sur les ʿAlawītes” . Revue de l’histoire des religions. Vol 122 (1940) pp. 42-54

[x] Mahmud A. Faksh. “The Alawi Community of Syria: A New Dominant Political Force” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Apr., 1984) p. 133

[xi] Pipes. 436

[xii] Faksh. p. 143

[xiii] Amy Dockser. “Assad Hangs on”. Harvard International Review, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Jan/Feb 1984), p. 29

[xiv] Alysdair Drysdale. “The Asad [sic] Regime and Its Troubles”. MERIP Reports, No. 110, Syria’s Troubles (Nov. – Dec., 1982) p. 8

[xv] Mark Piggot. “Isis Crisis: An Unholy Alliance ‘Islamic State Selling Oil to President Assad’s Regime”.   International Business Report. Sept. 13, 2014 There are many more reports of this, including ABC news, the New York Times and Time Magazine.

Still working

March 7, 2015

I apologize to all three of you for not posting more. I have this problem with research: I do it. One thing leads to another and another. I’ve noticed that it’s incredibly easy to spout some unfounded “fact” off the top of one’s head or somewhere. It takes forever to check it and find out if it is totally imaginary, a half-truth, something out of context or even accurate.

So please excuse me while I track down what I can about who the real terrorists are. When I post it, there will be references.

Thanks.

Know Your Terrorist

February 1, 2015

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The recent tragic events in France have made it clear that most of us are a little vague on the different terrorist groups operating in the world today. Even the terrorists there weren’t sure who they were working for. When I realized that even they were confused, it seemed like a good idea to give a simplistic explanation of the major non-governmental terrorists so that the next time someone takes you hostage and says that they are from the Broccoli Liberation front, you can explain to them why they should kill you for another reason, rather than to free oppressed broccoli.

Here are the most active free-lance groups. In my next essay, Ill consider the governmental and corporate terrorist organizations that have created the more openly violent cadres.

BOKO HARAM

As the link below and all the news reports seem to agree, Boko Haram, operating in Northeastern Nigeria, is the most brutal and least comprehensible of the active terrorists. They love mayhem, murder and rape and don’t seem to be making any ideological demands apart from a fuzzy connection to Islam. Originally a non-violent group that protested oppression by the Nigerian government, it grew to oppose any form of what it considers western influence. This is why even Muslim children are killed or kidnapped at western-style schools. They say they are Islamic but, as with another group, ISIS/DAESH, they are imagining a mythical Islamic past. Actually, I think they are also imagining a mythical Africa derived from western films seasoned with Lord of the Flies.

For connected topics see: Nigerian Army, Nigerian Government, International Oil Cartels, Koch Brothers

A more academic explanation is here:

http://ijpr.org/post/nigeria-boko-haram-continues-its-campaign-terror

AL-QAEDA

This is not the oldest group but one of the most visible. It began in the late 1980s in the wake of the years of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. “With Soviet forces withdrawing …, the idea of a global jihad suddenly seems possible, and al Qaeda, literally “the Base,” is born. “We used to call the training camp al Qaeda,” bin Laden would later recall. “And the name stayed.”´ [sic] (http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/17/al-qaeda-core-a-short-history) Doesn’t that sound cozy? Al-Qaeda was founded by Osama bin-Laden, born in 1957 to a Syrian mother and Yemeni father. The senior bin-Laden was a self-made millionaire contractor who became the major builder for the Saudi Arabian monarchy. PBS Frontline has posted a fascinating biography, written by one of bin-Laden’s followers, portraying him as a pious young man who was doing contracting in Afghanistan when the invasion of Kuwait began: “While he was expecting some call to mobilize his men and equipment he heard the news which transferred his life completely. The Americans are coming. He always describes that moment as shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or approaching other members of the royal family, he started lobbying through religious scholars and Muslim activists.”  [sic] (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/bio.html)

Al-Qaeda was born because of the American support of the Saudis and vice-versa. Osama was considered a terrorist by the Saudis and, under him, A-Qaeda organized mutual support with the Taliban. “The leader of Taliban Mulla Omer was keen to meet Osama. He met him early 1997 after two TV interviews, Channel 4 and CNN.[!?] Mulla Omer expressed respect and admiration but requested him to have low profile…. Bin Laden noticed that the driving force in Taliban were Ulema (religious scholars). He made very good links with them and lobbied specifically for the subject of American forces in the Arabian Peninsula. He was able to extract a fatwah signed by some 40 scholars in Afghanistan sanctioning the use of all means to expel the American forces from the Peninsula. The issue of that fatwah was an asset to him inside Taliban domain. He felt that Ulema were at his back and he can go high profile after long silence.” (ibid)

“His relation with Taliban would best be understood if Taliban themselves are understood properly. First of all Taliban are not simply another Afghan faction supported by Pakistan. Taliban are sincere to their beliefs, a religiously committed group unspoiled by political tactics. They would never bargain with what they see as matters of principle. Bin Laden for them is a saint. He is a symbol of sacrifice for the sake of jihad. They see him as very rich Arab from the Holy Land who gave up his wealth and luxury to fight for the sake of his brother Muslims in Afghanistan.” (ibid)

I wish there were more such biographies.  It is essential for us to comprehend the rationale of the many people who support the terrorists. One problem we have is understanding why these terrorist leaders are so protected. If you read the whole article, it continues explaining why the Taliban and Osama were so revered. The author doesn’t mention bombings, murder, or the oppression of women and minorities, of course.

Even before Osama bin-Laden was killed, his grip on Al-Qaeda was slipping. Other groups in the Sudan, Nigeria and Syria, were not looking to them for leadership. Many, such as ISIS and Boko Haram, do not have a firm theological base other than, West and Jews = bad; our Islam =good.

See Taliban, George W. Bush, Oil Cartels

THE (SO-CALLED) ISLAMIC STATE

Of the Muslim-associated terrorist groups, this is the most interesting to me because, unlike the others, there is a medieval flavor about it. Sadly, as I mentioned above, they don’t seem to have any historians among them, so that the caliphate they plan is drawn from fantasy. They do appear to have some serious and competent Muslim scholars in their ranks, but they haven’t made it clear what school of Shari’a law they are working from. Of course, few people outside of fundamentalist Islam know that there is more than one branch. Have you ever noticed how many problems occur because no one thought to consult an expert in history?

ISIS grew from the Syrian al-Qaeda sector as a result of the Syrian civil war. The reasons for that war, beyond the Arab Spring, have been minutely dissected without any consensus. Suffice to say that ISIS is the richest and best-organized of the Islamist groups operating today. As with the first two groups, they succeeded because a dictator or other person in power was tormenting a minority group and they were able to come in and fill a vacuum. In this case, they began as rebels against the government of Bashir al Assad, which is not only dictatorial but heretical in their eyes. They state that they have set up an Islamist Caliphate.   The last Caliphate in the area was defeated by the Ottoman Empire over 600 years ago so the blueprint is rather old. Both the Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphates in the 8th through 11th centuries tended to be fairly easy going about minorities, even Islamic ones. I believe that, like Boko Haram, ISIS has been taken over by the psychopathic wing of the party. Their treatment of the Yazidi is an example of this. It’s not likely that their Caliphate will resemble the ancient ones.

Much has been made of the foreign volunteers coming to fight for ISIS. Some of these fighters arriving from other countries are devout Muslims who may be horrified by what they find. Indications are that others come in a spirit of adventure or from a feeling of failure at home. But too many recruits have come because they love having power and not having any rules of behavior. For historians out there, think French Revolution.

There are many other terrorist groups that have no religious attachments. Most of these are political or territorial. ETA, or Basque liberation, has been attempting to find a peaceful solution recently as has the socialist FARC, in Columbia. Greece has the far-right Golden Dawn; Ireland, the reformed Sinn Fein. All of these have used violence and terrorism in their quest to achieve their goals.

There have been many explanations for the success of the recent Islamist terrorists. Some say that it is a relic of European colonialism. Others that the terrorists are a reaction to oppressive governments and cultures of corruption and bribery at every level. Well, I don’t think any of these things helped. Certainly, many of the most violent groups are fighting against leaders who have ignored and oppressed sections of the society.

After much consideration, it seems to me that we and much of the media are looking at the problem from the wrong direction. We see the horrific actions of ISIS and Boko Haram, but these are distracting us from much more widespread and pernicious terrorism.

As I was working on this, I began to realize that, while we are busy trying to stop murderers, rapists and torturers, the people who are really responsible for their actions are thousands of miles away, moving pieces on metaphorical chess boards.

This will be the topic of my next post.

Interview on ISIS

January 5, 2015

Hi all! I’m working up to a look at who are joining ISIS, Boko Haram and also who are coming to Nigeria, Syria and Iraq to fight against them. Until then, here is an interview on the topic that I did with Prof. Andrew Holt.

http://apholt.com/2015/01/05/isis-and-medievalism-an-interview-with-dr-sharan-newman/

ISIS (etc) a Medieval throwback?

December 28, 2014

For weeks I have been researching background information on the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I’ve learned that the leaders, at least, are Salafi, a fundamentalist branch of Islam and that their idea of Shari’a law is fairly narrow, considering that there are four main branches of the law, just among Sunni. Since they have been called “medieval” and “apocalyptic” I felt the need to find out if there is any truth in it.
Of course, the answer I came up with is “sort of”. According to ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, a Syrian from near Aleppo, the West is associated with the Crusaders. However, he doesn’t seem to know much about the period. There are parallels with the 11th -13th centuries, however. War then was generally fought for control of territory, just as now. The difference was that there were no real standing armies so that the ground fighters were paid in booty: loot and women. Groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram seem to have that idea down.
The other constant, according to Adnani, is that the real enemies are not Western powers, or even Israel, but Shi’a Muslims. He writes, quoting, “Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi to build his case against the Shi’a. “Even though the US is dangerous, Rafidha [another derogatory term for Shi’a] are more dangerous on {to] the Umma [the Islamic nation or Muslims around the world]. Rafidha are the most dangerous enemy that threatens Islam and Muslims. The Islamic State took it upon itself to fiercely fight Rafidha everywhere. We will completely destroy them even if it took the death of our last soldier. Our fight against them is a united fight in Iraq, Sham [Syria and Lebanon], Yemen, the rest of the peninsula, and Khurassan [Iran].” http://iswiraq.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-time-to-harvest-is-coming-isis.html
Thus the need is to destroy all Muslims who deviate from their beliefs, including other Sunni. This has been voiced by Muslim writers since the eighth century. Most of the Muslim chroniclers of the Crusade era are much more concerned with the conflict between Muslims than with the Christian invaders.
OK, this is as much as I could learn. There are medieval traits to ISIS but clearly they have about as much understanding of the Middle Ages as the average Westerner, which is none.
I think it might be more profitable to look at ISIS in comparison with Utopian movements. Because that is was it really is. What they are trying to do is much the same as Cromwell in England, Savonarola in Florence, Hong Xiuquan in Nanking and many others. In all of these, people flocked to them, hoping for a better life. The idea of a Utopia is to establish heaven on earth. But, as with the other attempts, the heaven for a few is hell for everyone else. This is what many of the young people who have rushed to join the jihad are discovering.
My conclusions? ISIS is not medieval but part of a constant struggle in human society. Is it apocalyptic? Not really, as far as I can tell. But I’m reserving judgment until I’ve studied the matter more. My own mental breakthrough came when I realized that the debate about Islamism is obscuring the real nature of this movement and the motivations of those who join.
I have more thoughts on that topic. But this is enough for now. My recent books, The Real History of the End of the World http://www.amazon.com/The-Real-History-End-World/dp/0425232530 and Defending the City of God http://www.amazon.com/Defending-City-God-Medieval-Jerusalem/dp/113727865X cover some of the topics mentioned here. While you can get them from Amazon, I’m sure that your local independent bookstore or your local library will get them for you.

Apocalypses and Other Thoughts

For weeks I have been researching background information on the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I’ve learned that the leaders, at least, are Salafi, a fundamentalist branch of Islam and that their idea of Shari’a law is fairly narrow, considering that there are four main branches of the law, just among Sunni. Since they have been called “medieval” and “apocalyptic” I felt the need to find out if there is any truth in it.

Of course, the answer I came up with is “sort of”. According to ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, a Syrian from near Aleppo, the West is associated with the Crusaders. However, he doesn’t seem to know much about the period. There are parallels with the 11th -13th centuries, however. War then was generally fought for control of territory, just as now. The difference was that there were no real standing armies so that the ground fighters…

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ISIS (etc) a Medieval throwback?

December 28, 2014

For weeks I have been researching background information on the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I’ve learned that the leaders, at least, are Salafi, a fundamentalist branch of Islam and that their idea of Shari’a law is fairly narrow, considering that there are four main branches of the law, just among Sunni. Since they have been called “medieval” and “apocalyptic” I felt the need to find out if there is any truth in it.

Of course, the answer I came up with is “sort of”. According to ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, a Syrian from near Aleppo, the West is associated with the Crusaders. However, he doesn’t seem to know much about the period. There are parallels with the 11th -13th centuries, however. War then was generally fought for control of territory, just as now. The difference was that there were no real standing armies so that the ground fighters were paid in booty: loot and women. Groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram seem to have that idea down.

The other constant, according to Adnani, is that the real enemies are not Western powers, or even Israel, but Shi’a Muslims. He writes, quoting, “Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi to build his case against the Shi’a. “Even though the US is dangerous, Rafidha [another derogatory term for Shi’a] are more dangerous on {to] the Umma [the Islamic nation or Muslims around the world]. Rafidha are the most dangerous enemy that threatens Islam and Muslims. The Islamic State took it upon itself to fiercely fight Rafidha everywhere. We will completely destroy them even if it took the death of our last soldier. Our fight against them is a united fight in Iraq, Sham [Syria and Lebanon], Yemen, the rest of the peninsula, and Khurassan [Iran]. http://iswiraq.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-time-to-harvest-is-coming-isis.html

Thus the need is to destroy all Muslims who deviate from their beliefs, including other Sunni. This has been voiced by Muslim writers since the eighth century. Most of the Muslim chroniclers of the Crusade era are much more concerned with the conflict between Muslims than with the Christian invaders.

OK, this is as much as I could learn. There are medieval traits to ISIS but clearly they have about as much understanding of the Middle Ages as the average Westerner, which is none.

I think it might be more profitable to look at ISIS in comparison with Utopian movements. Because that is was it really is. What they are trying to do is much the same as Cromwell in England, Savonarola in Florence, Hong Xiuquan in Nanking and many others. In all of these, people flocked to them, hoping for a better life. The idea of a Utopia is to establish heaven on earth. But, as with the other attempts, the heaven for a few is hell for everyone else. This is what many of the young people who have rushed to join the jihad are discovering.

My conclusions? ISIS is not medieval but part of a constant struggle in human society. Is it apocalyptic? Not really, as far as I can tell. But I’m reserving judgment until I’ve studied the matter more. My own mental breakthrough came when I realized that the debate about Islamism is obscuring the real nature of this movement and the motivations of those who join.

I have more thoughts on that topic. But this is enough for now. My recent books, The Real History of the End of the World http://www.amazon.com/The-Real-History-End-World/dp/0425232530 and Defending the City of God http://www.amazon.com/Defending-City-God-Medieval-Jerusalem/dp/113727865X cover some of the topics mentioned here. While you can get them from Amazon, I’m sure that your local independent bookstore or your local library will get them for you.