Archive for the ‘Sharan Newman’ Category

My Women’s Shuffle inWashington

January 29, 2017

shari-pussy-hat

Here I am, totally ignorant of what will happen, trying on my pussy hat for the Women’s March on Washington. ( “SPES” by the way, is Latin for “hope”, something in short supply lately.)

People asked me why I felt I had to take my walker and go all the way across the country to do this when there were protests in town.  There are either too many answers to that, or none.  One reason is that more than half my ancestors have been in the country since before 1700.  They settled the land, served in the armies and government.  Some were kind, compassionate people, some weren’t.  Some clear cut trees for their fields, fought Natives in King Joseph’s War, owned slaves and persecuted Quakers.  One can be proud of Colonial ancestors but also see the results of their actions.

I stand with Standing Rock, because they were among those who pushed Natives onto reservations.  water-is-life

 

I stand for women’s rights because my  male ancestors refused to vote for them.susan-c-davis-young

I believe Black Lives Matter remembering how those of my family believed their lives were property.  black-women

In short, I believe in not repeating history but in working hard to make the world better and more equal for all.

So, I went to Washington and it was a euphoric experience.  Whatever you hear, I was surrounded by people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, ages, genders and professions.  They say that there were so many causes that it was chaos.  I didn’t see one sign I didn’t agree with.  Heidi Stemple put it better than I can:

I’m seeing lots of criticism of the Women’s Marches. Let us all remember, that whatever it meant to each of us– every one of those reasons are important and significant. Did we save access to health care for women? Did we stop the pipeline or make undocumented people more safe? No. But, we needed each other and we showed up to prove that we are here and not to be taken lightly, forgotten, or discounted. We are women who, when pushed, will push back. Will letters or phone calls help these causes? Perhaps not. But, we, the daughters, mothers, lovers, and sisters, we will raise our voices and shout down those who wish to keep us down–every damn time– until the time when we find or make or learn other ways to make a difference. We ARE the wall. We will take care of the children you will leave behind and we will boil the water you make unsafe to drink. We will nurse the ill who have no access to health care. We will teach the science you refuse to believe. We will remember the souls you shoot and kill on the streets. We will form the secret networks to help all the people you care nothing about. We are not snowflakes. We are the people who birthed you, fed you, nurtured you. Do NOT mistake our femininity as weakness. Because, even when we are down, WE ARE NOT WITHOUT POWER.

What she said.  Here are some examples of the wonderful people who came out to support us all:

united-health-care-workers

 

United Health Workers.  There were at least a hundred of them, with shirts, purple hats and stickers.  (They gave me one)  They marched for health care for all and better working conditions for those who do the real caring; home health workers, CNAs and nurses.

queer-to-stay

There were many people supporting gay and trans issues.

 

domextic-workers

Domestic workers came to many of the marches all over the country.  They wanted respect, immigration reform, health care and decent pay.  Or, as they said. Human Rights for all.

These speak for themselves.  Personally, I think that a man wearing a pussyhat is very appealing. A man who takes his daughter to a march for human rights is a treasure and an example to fathers everywhere.

i-roll-for-my-future

When your congress person votes to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, this young man is the one who will have fewer treatment and education options.  Many people were concerned about health care cost and availability.  I rant about this all the time.  We are the only first world country without national health.  Could is possibly be because there is such a powerful health insurance lobby ?

we-the-people

So, this is my new Facebook image, partly because I need to keep reminding myself not to fear and partly because I really would like to look as beautiful as she.

 

Going to the Sources

November 26, 2016

I apologize for not getting this to you before.  I almost had the whole list finished when I was called away for a family emergency.  I’m still playing catch-up.  Those of you who were in my class won’t be surprised that most of these books are translations of primary sources.  There are others in Arabic, French, German and Latin but these are a good place to begin. I have included authors from several sides of the Crusades.  Not just Western European and Muslim, but Greek, Armenian, Syrian and Jewish points of view, as well.

At this time, when contradictory information is flying about everywhere, I believe it’s useful to examine what we think we know about history and then apply it to a critical look at the report of an horrendous atrocity that one’s brother-in-law just posted.

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Crusade Bibliography

Primary Sources: Muslim

Ibn al-Athir, The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period 2. Volumes. tr. D. S. Richards (Ashgate, 2007) [He wrote in the 13th century and was an advocate for Saladin, but he had access to a lot of older material]

Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin. tr. D. S. Richards (Ashgate, 2002) [a contemporary and friend of Saladin who witnessed many of the events]

Francesco Gabrieli, ed. and tr. Arab Historians of the Crusades, (Dorset Press, 1969) [For a long time this was one of the few English translations. It covers the time between the First Crusade and the fall of Acre and is a good introduction]

Ibn Al-Qalansi. The Damascus Chronicles of the Crusades. Tr. H.A.R. Gibb (Luzac & Co. London, 1932) [An account by an important member of the government of Damascus who was an adult at the time of the First Crusade.  He died in 1160.]

Usama ibn-Munqidh. An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Time of the Crusades. Tr. Phillip K. Hitti (Columbia University Press, 1929) [Usama (1095-1188) wrote this memoir late in his eventful life. An Arab aristocrat who refused to learn Turkish, although he fought with the Turkish armies, he was born at Shaizar and died in Damascus.  Arrogant but entertaining, his account shows the ways in which the Christian settlers and upper-class Arabs interacted. The Templars kept a place for him to pray; he hunted with the king of Jerusalem, but that didn’t stop him from killing them in battle. Some stories are hearsay and other embellished.  Great fun.]

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Primary Sources: Western:

Edward Peters, ed. The First Crusade: the Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978)

Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, ed. & tr. Letters from the East: Crusaders Pilgrims and Settlers in the 12th and 13th Centuries, (Ashgate, 2013) [While not all these are letters as we would term them, the collection gives first-hand slices of information on events that are often only given a sentence or two in histories.]

Fulcher of Chartres. A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127, tr. Frances Rita Ryan (Norton 1969) [Fulcher went on the First Crusade and stayed in Jerusalem.  He was a cheerleader for settlement and sometimes his description is a bit too rosy, but his account is invaluable.]

Anon. Gesta Francorum: The Deads of the Franks and the other Pilgrims to Jerusalem ed. Rasalind Hill. (Oxford University Press, 1962) [ An eyewitness account of the Frist Crusade from the speech at Clermont in 1095 to the siege of Ascalon in 1099.  The author was an educated soldier, not a cleric.  His descriptions of battle and the siege of Antioch are harrowing]

Guibert de Nogent, The Deeds of God through the Franks, tr. Robert Levine. (Boydell, 1997) [Guibert was a French monk who got his information from returning pilgrims.  He presents various views on the crusades.  He also wrote an autobiography, which I find very amusing]

Albert of Achen.  History of the Journey to Jerusalem  2 vols. Tr. Edgington (Ashgate 2013) [Albert also stayed in Europe and acquired his information from returning travelers, but his account fills in gaps in others]

William of Tyre. A history of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, ed. Babcock and Krey. (Farrar Straus, Giroux, 19760 [born in Jerusalem, William was sent back to Europe for schooling and returned to become bishop of Tyre and tutor to Baldwin IV, the leper king.  Many of the events he recorded happened while he was gone, but he is excellent, if opinionated, on people he knew and interviewed many who had lived through the time he chronicles.]

The Gesta Tancredi of Ralph of Caen Bachrach, Bernard S. and Bachrach, David S. (eds.), (Ashgate.)  The Norman view of the early Italo-Norman rulers of Antioch.  I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet.

Odo of Deuil, The Journey of Louis VII to the East. Tr, Virginia Berry. (Norton, 1948, many editions) [Odo went with Louis and Eleanor and was miserable most of the way.  His chronicle ends when he reached Antioch and things started to get interesting.  He seems to have been to depressed to say more.]

Peter Edbury, ed. The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade (Ashgate 1998)  [This is a translation of the continuation of William of Tyre.  It covers the complicated dynastic struggles in Jerusalem, the rise of Saladin and the resulting crusade.]

The Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi tr. Helen J. Nicholson, (Ashgate 2001)[ A flattering portrait of the Third Crusade and King Richard the Lionheart.]

G. A. Loud, ed. & tr. The Crusade of Frederick Barbarossa: The History of the Expedition of the Emperor Frederick and Other Accounts. (Ashgate, 2010) The best known life of Frederick and his time on the third Crusade was written by his uncle, Otto.  Loud gives translations from a variety of other chroniclers

Robert de Clari. The Conquest of Constantinople, tr. Edgar Holmes McNeal (University of Toronto Press,1996) [Robert was a soldier on the Fourth Crusade.  His report from the ground is illuminating , since he stayed through the capture of Constantinople.]

Janet Shirley tr. Crusader Syria in the Thirteenth Century  (Ashgate 1999) [A translation of two chronicles covering the crusades from 1229 – 1261, led by Theobald of Champagne and then Louis IX of France.  The first, Rothelin, is totally disjointed but wonderful in that he veers from accounts of the expeditions to magic and protest songs from the ranks.  Eracles is not so much fun but contains much information]

Peter Jackson, ed. & tr. The Seventh Crusades, 1244-1254: Sources and Documents (Ashgate, 2007)

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Primary Sources: Levantine

Walter the Chancellor. The Antiochene Wars tr. Asbridge and Edginton (Ashgate 1999) [Walter was chancellor in Antioch in the early days of the Latin settlement.  He gives the story of the battles among both the Crusaders and the local Muslims, making it clear that they often allied against a common foe.  He tells of his time as a hostage in Aleppo.  A good counterpoint to the completely Eurocentric accounts]

Anna Comnena. The Alexiad.  tr. E.R.A. Sewter (Penguin Classics, 1969/2003) [Opinionated Anna was in the thick of things in Constantinople during the First Crusade.  The book was written to glorify her father, the usurper, Emperor  Alexis, but everyone else is fair game.  Her comments on the leaders of the Crusade are priceless]

Matthew of Edessa, Armenia and the Crusades. Tr. Ara Doustourian. (Armenian Heritage Press, 2014) [This new, revised edition is fabulous.  Matthew lived in Edessa before and during the early Crusades.  He is highly opinionated and he gives accounts of life there under Muslim and Frankish rulers that are barely mentioned in other sources.  Everyone interested in the crusader period should read this.  We have so few minority views of life then.]

 

General Histories of the Crusades:

Thomas F. Madden The New Concise History of the Crusades. (MD: Rowman &Amp; Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006)[I’ve liked much of his earlier work but haven’t had a chance to look at this]

Hans Eberhard Mayer The Crusades (Oxford University Press, 1988) An expert German historian who takes a less French-centered view.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusaders, 1095-1131, (Cambridge UP, 1997) [A comprehensive look at the leaders and ranks of the first wave from the west.  He also wrote a three volume history on all the Crusades.]

Carole Hillenbrand. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. (Edinburgh University Press, 2010) [This is a fabulous book, full of quotes, analysis and pictures.  She discusses relations among the Arab/Turkish/North African Muslims as well as their interactions with other groups.  Her writing is clear and she makes her biases obvious so that the reader can take them into account.  Whatever general history you read, this should be a companion.]

Christopher Tyerman. God’s War: a New History of the Crusades. (Belnap/Harvard, 2006)  [A vast history, strong on military and political events.  It’s not intended to be a social history and powerful women are given less space than the men.  The strengths of the book are an emphasis on the role of the Italian city-states, his coverage of the crusades in Spain and the Baltic, and a section on the Albigensian Crusade.]

WARNING!!!  Whatever book you choose for a general survey of the period, if the author is listed as a reporter for the New York Times or the Washington Post, put it back on the shelf.  These books are popular but wildly inaccurate.  I have no idea why these people think they can write a history because they’ve been to the Middle East and read a couple of books on the topic.  ARRGH!

 

Websites and blogs:

Andrew Holt is a medieval historian and local TV pundit who has a blog that often covers the Crusades.

https://apholt.com/2016/10/26/byzantine-recruitment-of-western-warriors-before-the-first-crusade-peter-frankopans-call-from-the-

He has also edited a book with Alfred J. Andrea, Seven myths of the Crusades, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 2015 ($19.00)  This is a good corrective for a lot of things that “everyone knows”, including the non-connection between the Templars and the Freemasons.

The Medieval Sourcebook.  This is a wonderful resource for primary sources in translation.  Paul Halsall has maintained it for many years.

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/sbook.asp

No longer Crusaders: the 12th century and beyond

October 26, 2016

For those of you who haven’t been able to make it to all of my Crusades classes and those who are interested but don’t live nearby, I am, belatedly, giving a summary of the last few classes.

The leaders of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099.  They also had control of Antioch, Edessa, Tripoli and other coastal cities.  Most of those who survived went back to Europe.  The ones who remained were largely from three areas: Flanders, Norman Italy, and Languedoc/Provence.  Most of the time, the rulers of these areas worked at consolidating their holdings and conquering more.  As time went on, they established law codes of a sort, often regulating religious practice and trade.   crusader-state-map

I handed out time lines in class with names of the rulers and dates of battles etc.  But what is difficult to do in any short session is to show how the invading Crusaders were much the same as the Sunni Turks who had invaded only a few decades before, the Byzantine Greeks who were trying to regain their land and the Shi’te Fatimids who had recently conquered Egypt.  The natives of the area were largely made up of Islamic and Christian sects descended from the ancient invaders as well as the Persian, Greek and Roman colonists.  These included, Maronites, Syriac Christians, Nizari, Jacobites, Druze, Armenians (fairly new) Yazidi, Allowites and many other sects. Added to that were at least three Jewish sects: Palestinian, Samaritan and Karaite.  Genetically, they were, and are, a mix of millennia of conquests.

Recently, I endured an exchange on Facebook on the Crusades.  At least some of the participants were historians, although no medievalists.  They repeated the same weary arguments about either the barbarian Europeans destroying a peaceful Muslim kingdom for profit or a valiant effort by the West to take back the cradle of Christianity.  The number of ‘facts’ stated was amazing, although no sources were given.  Neither of these opposing arguments are true, although one must acknowledge that many of those who made the expedition were motivated by strong religious feeling.

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Bishop Admer leading the army of the First Crusade

 

What many people don’t know about the period is that only the first generation of invaders could be called Crusaders.  Their children were natives of the states they were born in.  Some were the product of mixed marriages.  Melisende (whom I wrote a book about) was the daughter of the Flemish King Baldwin and the Armenian, Morfia.  She never went to Europe and certainly spoke French, Armenian and possibly, Arabic. Jerusalem was her home and her kingdom.

The major opponents of the Latin States were the Muslim rulers of Aleppo and Damascus.  However, they were often fighting each other, too.  The Norman rulers of Antioch loathed the Frank/Armenian counts of Edessa.  More than once Aleppo teamed up with Antioch to fight Edessa and Mosul.  By the third generation, many of the descendants of the crusaders spoke Arabic or Syriac.  Visitors from Europe commented that they had created their own dialect, which some called poulain.  Churches and homes were built, along with fortresses.  Monasteries copied and illuminated manuscripts.  There were stone carvers, jewelry makers and other artists.  It’s only in the intervening centuries that most of this has been lost, along with stories and music that might have been a part of this mixed culture.

It wasn’t a peaceful land.  There were always pilgrims and warriors coming from Europe.  There were new Turkic tribes moving east.  Eventually, in the thirteenth century, there were Mongol armies.  They soon realized that India and China were richer by far than the near east and set up kingdoms in those countries.

I believe that the Latin States would have eventually assimilated in the mix, becoming part of the culture of that thin strip linking Europe, Africa and Asia.  But two things happened.  The first was the rise of a strong Sunni leader, Zengi, who united squabbling factions and captured the city of Edessa.  This loss prompted the Second Crusade, led by Louis VII of France, the Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad and the young co-ruler of Jerusalem, Baldwin III.  This new invasion solved nothing, as a council decided to attack Damascus instead of Edessa.  The attack failed but, what was worse, it drove the Damascenes to make a treaty with Zengi and then his son, Nur al-Din.  Thus, a cosmopolitan, fairly tolerant city was taken over by fundamentalist Sunni.  Their successor, Saladin, was determined to drive the Fatimids out of Egypt and, after that, to eradicate the Latin States.  He succeeded in taking both Cairo and Jerusalem.

This led to the new king of England, Richard I and the king of France, Phillip II, joining in another Crusade with the Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa.  This led to a lot of ballads and legends and the strengthening of some of the coastal Latin states, but it also galvanized Muslims who hated each other to fight against the common foe.

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Saladin and Richard.  I think Richard is on the left, but I’m not sure.

Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth were brought back into the Latin States by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and enemy of Pope Innocent III.  In 1229, he made a treaty with the Egyptian sultan, Al-Kamil  that regained the territory and allowed Muslim control of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque.  How Frederick became involved is a long dynastic story.  Al-Kamil wanted peace with the Latin Kingdoms in order to engage in his own wars within his own religion.  Jerusalem was lost for good in 1244 when it was taken by the Khwarezmians, a group from Central Asia who were being pushed west by the Mongols, under Genghis Khan.  However, the final battle consisted of the leaders of Jerusalem and Damascus against the sultan of Egypt and Khwarezmian mercenaries.

al-kamil_muhammad_al-malik_and_frederick_ii_holy_roman_emperor

Frederick and Al-Kamil bargaining.

The last major crusade (in two parts) was that of King Louis IX.  He accomplished nothing except to die at the gates of Tunis and be made a saint. Why Tunis?  Another long story; history is really messy.

 

The era of the crusades to Palestine ended with the capture of Acre in 1291.  But the idea of crusade took on a life of its own, becoming a term for any single-minded fight.  The Teutonic knights, formed in the Latin States, soon began a crusade to wipe out paganism in Poland and the Baltic, although some remained in Acre until the end.  Innocent III set off a crusade against the Albigensian heretics in what would become the south of France.

I recently stumbled upon a book on the Children’s Crusade, which will be discussed in class on Oct. 27.  I really mean I stumbled on it; it was in a stack on the floor of my office.  The author, Gary Dickson, does a wonderful job of disentangling the myth from what might be the reality of the events.  Even more, he talks about the creation of myths and why we prefer them to the messy, multi-sided truth.  Crusades have taken on a life of their own and that means that the first crusades and the multi-cultural life of the Latin Kingdoms are likely to be lost, smothered by the myths we have created.

Review of First Crusade

October 2, 2016

Last week, I gave a wild ride from Europe to Jerusalem, touching on the sieges of Antioch and Jerusalem.  Here is a summary and a list of participants, many of whom will appear over and over.

Dramatis Personae:

European.

Peter the Hermit. Leader of the Peasant army.  The peasants were mostly killed or sold into slavery but Peter survived and went home to a comfy monastery.

Count Robert of Flanders

Stephen, Count of Blois (married to Adele, daughter of William the Conqueror) Came home and was sent back by his wife to atone for his cowardice.  He died in battle, which seems to have pleased her.

Robert, Duke of Normandy, a son of William the Conqueror.  Robert went home but was captured by his younger brother, Henry I of England, and died in prison.

Hugh of Vermandois, brother of Phillip I, king of France (Phillip was excommunicated at the time since he was living with his mistress, the wife of the count of Anjou)

Bohemond, Count of Taranto (Italy) Son of the Norman, Robert of Guiscard. Bohemond led the siege of Antioch, claimed it for himself, then left for Europe and never returned.

Tancred, Bohemond’s nephew, who administered Antioch for his uncle.

Raymond of St. Gilles, Count of Toulouse, born c. 1041,  with his 3rd wife, Elvira, the illegitimate daughter of King Alphonse of Castille and his son Bertrand.  Raymond died there in 1105.  Bertrand became count of Tripoli.

Eustace, Count of Boulogne, Godfrey, Duke of Lower Lorraine; and Baldwin of Boulogne, brothers and the center of later Crusade legends.

Their cousin, Baldwin of LeBourq, later King Baldwin II

Bishop Adhemar of le Puys, spiritual leader and papal legate, but not adverse to picking up a sword, if necessary.

Bishop Fulcher of Chartres wrote one of the best eye-witness accounts of the crusade.  He remained in Jerusalem, where he died.

In the East

Alexis, emperor at Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Empire.  Alexis had usurped the throne and was fighting a civil war as well as Turkish invaders.  Naively, he believed that the crusading army were there to help him and then go home.

Kirbogha, the atabeg of Mosul, who brought his army to keep the crusaders from taking the city of Antioch.  The army was a coalition of the leaders of several area, including Hims and Damascus. Although the crusaders were few and starving, Kirbogha was defeated.  The Christians were sure it was because the had the newly-discovered Holy Lance.  Muslim chroniclers say it was because there was infighting among Kirbogha’s  coalition.

(for those who want more on what an atabeg was: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/atabak-turkish-atabeg-lit)

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The taking of Jerusalem. Note the several images of Jesus and the depiction of the city as a church.

After the establishment of the Crusader States, Bishop Fulcher wrote the following idyllic version of life in the Hold Land:

“Consider, I pray, and reflect how in our time God has transferred the West into the East, For we who were Occidentals now have been made Orientals. He who was a Roman or a Frank is now a Galilaean, or an inhabitant of Palestine. One who was a citizen of Rheims or of Chartres now has been made a citizen of Tyre or of Antioch. We have already forgotten the places of our birth; already they have become unknown to many of us, or, at least, are unmentioned. Some already possess here homes and servants which they have received through inheritance. Some have taken wives not merely of their own people, but Syrians, or Armenians, or even Saracens who have received the grace of baptism. Some have with them father-in-law, or daughter-in-law, or son-in-law, or stepson, or step-father. There are here, too, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One cultivates vines, another the fields. The one and the other use mutually the speech and the idioms of the different languages. Different languages, now made common, become known to both races, and faith unites those whose forefathers were strangers. As it is written, “The lion and the ox shall eat straw together.” Those who were strangers are now natives; and he who was a sojourner now has become a resident, Our parents and relatives from day to day come to join us, abandoning, even though reluctantly, all that they possess. For those who were poor there, here God makes rich. Those who had few coins, here possess countless besants; and those who had not had a villa, here, by the gift of God, already possess a city. Therefore why should one who has found the East so favorable return to the West? God does not wish those to suffer want who, carrying their crosses, have vowed to follow Him, nay even unto the end. You see, therefore, that this is a great miracle, and one which must greatly astonish the whole world. Who has ever heard anything like it? Therefore, God wishes to enrich us all and to draw us to Himself as His most dear friends. And because He wishes it, we also freely desire the same; and what is pleasing to Him we do with a loving and submissive heart, that with Him we may reign happily throughout eternity.”

 

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.