Archive for the 'Arabia' Category

Islamic dynasties: 2, Umayyad Caliphs (Damascus)

July 12 2014

The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750

Capital: Damascus

The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.

Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.

The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)

His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.

In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.

In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.

In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.

On four fronts, they were defeated.

In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.

In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.

In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.

In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).

The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).

The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.

In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.

See Clifford Edmund BosworthThe Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.

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Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture: studyblue.com

Islamic dynasties: 1, Orthodox Caliphs

July 11 2014

The  Orthodox or Rightly Guided Caliphs, 632-61

The age of the pristine Islamic virtues

Abu Bakr (Abdullah ibn Abi Quhafa)

Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab)

Uthman (Uthman ibn Affan)

Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib)

Mnemonic: Arab uniters underestimate adversity

Capitals: Medina, Kufa

The leaders of the Muslim umma or community, all related to the Prophet by blood or through marriage. I won’t go into relationships. Muslim Arabs had not yet moved outside the Arabian peninsula when Muhammad died. He himself had fought in military campaigns within Arabia.

But by 641 they had conquered Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt from the East Roman Empire. The southern part of Iraq was conquered from Persia.

By 651 they had conquered Persia, as far north-eastward as Merv inclusive, extinguishing the Sasanian Persian Empire. Merv is now in Turkmenistan (one of Iran’s three eastern neighbours, along with Afghanistan in the middle, and Pakistan in the south).

In 653 the Armenians and Georgians (both ex-Roman and ex-Persian Armenian and Georgian subjects) had surrendered.

Between 647 and 698 they conquered north west Africa from the East Romans – who under Justinian had reconquered it from the barbarians.

Khalifa means “he who follows behind”. The Orthodox Caliphs ruled from Medina, the city previously called Yathrib which Muhammad had renamed.

Abu Bakr imposed the authority of Medina over outlying parts of the peninsula after the Bedouin tribes had renounced their personal allegiance to Muhammad (the Ridda Wars, ridda meaning apostasy).

Umar attacked the Byzantine territories of Syria, Palestine and Egypt and the Sassanid territories of Persia and Iraq. He adopted the title Amir al-Muʿminin, Commander of the Faithful, implying a spiritual as well as political element in his leadership.

Uthman was assassinated.

Ali moved his capital to Kufa in Iraq in order to confront Muawiya, the recalcitrant governor of Syria, in battle at Siffin on the Upper Euphrates. He was later killed, and his son, al-Hasan, was persuaded by Muawiya to renounce all rights to the Caliphate. Ali had been the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have continued through him. The martyrdom of one of Ali’s other sons, Husayn, in 680 is taken as the beginning of the Shiite split.

See Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I will follow it in this series, but will leave out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.

Kufa_Mosque,_1915

Kufa Great Mosque, 1915

Caliphates

July 11 2014

Some posts on the Caliphates in order of posting:

Ashura

Sunni and Shia

The Indian merchant

Ghosts of universal states

A tea-party in Delhi

Roads to Mecca

Hashish 2

The end of the Abbasid Caliphate

The Arab Kingdom of Syria

The Indian summer of the Caliphate

The resilience of the Caliphate

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) declared a new Caliphate in Mosul on June 29 2014 (the first day of Ramadan) with its Sunni leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new Caliph.

Wikipedia article.

Absit omen

April 27 2014

Pan-Islamism is dormant – yet we have to reckon with the possibility that the sleeper may awake if ever the cosmopolitan proletariat of a “Westernized” world revolts against Western domination and cries out for anti-Western leadership. That call might have incalculable psychological effects in evoking the militant spirit of Islam – even if it had slumbered as long as the Seven Sleepers – because it might awaken echoes of a heroic age. On two historic occasions in the past, Islam has been the sign [under] which an Oriental society has risen up victoriously against an Occidental intruder. Under the first successors of the Prophet, Islam liberated Syria and Egypt from a Hellenic domination which had weighed on them for nearly a thousand years. Under Zangi and Nur-ad-Din and Saladin and the Mamluks, Islam held the fort against the assaults of Crusaders and Mongols. [In] the present situation of mankind [...] Islam might be moved to play her historic role once again. Absit omen.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing

November 17 2013

A conversation [...] took place in the nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of Sanʿa and a British envoy whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-18 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in good part, he went on:

“And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?”

“I think not,” said the Imam with a smile.

“Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?”

“Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,” said the Imam.

“Indeed? And what institutions, for example?”

“Well, there are parliaments,” said the Imam. “I like to be the Government myself. I might find a parliament tiresome.”

“Why, as for that,” said the Englishman, “I can assure you that responsible parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, then there is alcohol,” said the Imam, “I don’t want to see that introduced into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.”

“Very natural,” said the Englishman; “but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, anyhow,” said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that the conversation was at an end, “I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing.”

The Englishman could not make out whether there was any suggestion of humour in the parting smile with which the last five words were uttered; but, however that might be, those words went to the heart of the matter and showed that the inquiry about possible further Western innovations at Sanʿa had been more pertinent than the Imam might have cared to admit. Those words indicated, in fact, that the Imam, viewing Western civilization from a great way off, saw it, in that distant perspective, as something one and indivisible and recognized certain features of it, which to a Westerner’s eye would appear to have nothing whatever to do with one another, as being organically related parts of that indivisible whole. Thus, on his own tacit admission, the Imam, in adopting the rudiments of the Western military technique, had introduced into the life of his people the thin end of a wedge which in time would inexorably cleave their close-compacted traditional Islamic civilization asunder. He had started a cultural revolution which would leave the Yamanites, in the end, with no alternative but to cover their nakedness with a complete ready-made outfit of Western clothes. If the Imam had met his Hindu contemporary Mr. Gandhi, that is what he would have been told, and such a prophecy would have been supported by what had happened already to other Islamic peoples who had exposed themselves to the insidious process of “Westernization” several generations earlier.

Toynbee’s distant perspectives are as dangerous as the Imam’s. The modern cultural interaction of the West with other societies was a subtler process than he acknowledges. He rarely examines its nuances. He had a rather superficial conception of what constituted modernity.

The Imam is, in Toynbeean terminology, a Zealot rather than a Herodian.

Britain in Yemen (old post).

List of British residents in Aden.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Turkish peasant-conscripts

August 26 2013

Supposing that, through the triumph of the Central European powers, the Porte were to recover all the territories it held in Europe before the Autumn of 1912 [Western Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Albania], this success would bring the Turkish peasant nothing but added misery. For him it would be a shouldering of cast-off burdens: he would once more spend years of his life garrisoning Macedonia far away from his family and his Anatolian farm, to perish at last most probably in some futile summer campaign to “Ottomanise” the untamable Albanians. The Turkish peasant is dumb [mute]: he has no education or cohesion, and therefore no public opinion: but if he could give expression to his will in a plebiscite, he would vote for being left in peace, and ask for some government which would not herd his folk out of their villages in thousands, and send them without commissariat, munitions of war, or medical succour, to perish in the deserts of Tripoli or on the stricken field of Lule Burgas. Since he is too inarticulate to express this, it is surely the mission of Panislamism, which has the ear of the civilised world and knows how to address itself to it, to speak for him and save him from his own government, instead of encouraging that government to exploit him to the detriment of his neighbours, and the danger of the general peace.

[...] [Let others imagine themselves] in the place of the unhappy Turkish conscript, transported from his temperate upland home in Anatolia to the military posts along that tropical volcanic plateau of “Stony Arabia” over which the Hejaz railway runs from Damascus to Medina, or worse still, dispatched by troop-ship down the Red Sea to the terrible, interminable Yemen campaign from which no soldier ever returns; or let [them] think of the Yemeni Arab himself. Heir to an archaic civilisation, isolated to an unparalleled degree by the deserts, he is not normally affected for good or evil by the rise and fall of world-empires; but now he is desperately at bay against the brutal, meaningless aggression of Turkish Imperialism, which has no better gift for him than for the Armenian or the Greek.

He shows some sympathy for Panislamism in this first book, completed early in 1915, but a Panislamism subject to the principle of Nationality, not an ideology for oppressive Young Turks exploiting their ownership of a Caliphate-Sultanate. Panislamism and nationalism are ultimately incompatible, so what does he mean?

The “New Arabia” [Arab territories east of Egypt] will not be the spiritual centre of the Arab race alone. By taking over from the Ottoman Empire the guardianship of the Holy Cities, it will inherit from it the primacy of the whole Moslem world. The sovereign of the new state will become the official head of Islam, and Arabia would do well to elect as its first constitutional sultan some prince of the reigning Ottoman house, who would inherit by birth the personal claim to the Caliphate won by his ancestor Selim, and transmit it to his heirs. This junior branch of the Ottoman line would soon eclipse its cousins who continued to rule over Anatolia, and the Arab would oust the Turk again from the dominant place among Mohammedan nations.

He deals with several practical questions, including some minorities – but not with the Jewish question. He was later strongly anti-Zionist, but the book says nothing about Palestine.

Old posts:

The birth of Turkish nationalism 1

The birth of Turkish nationalism 2

and the next two in that sequence (click forward).

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Roads to Mecca

August 24 2013

The stations on the two pilgrimage routes of the ʿAbbasid Age from ʿIrāq to the Hijāz – one route taking off into the Arabian steppe from Kūfah and the other from Basrah – are plotted out in Spruner-Menke Hand-Atlas für die Geschichte des Mittelalters und der Neueren Zeit, 3rd. ed. (Gotha 1880, Perthes), Map 81.

Here is that map: the two long, lonely roads with their stations and wells are clearly marked.

Kufa was an Arab cantonment on the border between the Arabian desert and Iraq. The fourth of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, Ali, had moved his capital there from Medina in order to confront Muawiya, the governor of Syria, in battle at Siffin on the Upper Euphrates (657). This was the end of the great age of Medina which had begun in 622 with the Hijra. Ali was later assassinated (661).

Muawiya persuaded his son, Hasan, to renounce rights to the Caliphate. Ali had been the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have continued through him. Kufa is one of their holy cities in Iraq, along with Kadhimiya, Karbala, Najaf, Samarra.

Muawiya (Muhammad had married his sister, but he was not otherwise closely related to the Prophet), established the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus.

The Abbasid caliphs moved the capital to Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyads everywhere except in Iberia (al-Andalus), where they survived, until 1031, in the Caliphate of Cordoba.

Basra had been founded by the second Rightly-Guided Caliph, Umar, while confronting the Sassanids.

A more northerly route from the Euphrates to Damascus and then south, “the King’s Highway”, is described here (old post). At the Gulf of Aqaba, the Highway would branch westwards across Sinai and south-eastwards into Arabia.

The road from Damascus to the Hejaz and beyond to Yemen was an ancient one.

Muhammad himself conducted caravans from Mecca to Damascus and back as the employee of his future wife, Khadijah. The most probable dates of his journeys [into Roman territory] are the peace-years between 591 and 604.

Paul Lunde, from Caravans to Mecca, Saudi Aramco World, November/December 1974 edition:

“Until the 19th century there were three main caravans to Mecca. The Egyptian caravan set out from Cairo, crossed the Sinai Peninsula and then followed the coastal plain of western Arabia to Mecca, a journey which took from 35 to 40 days. It included pilgrims from North Africa, who crossed the deserts of Libya and joined the caravan in Cairo. The other great caravan assembled in Damascus, Syria, and moved south via Medina, reaching Mecca in about 30 days. After the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, this caravan began in Istanbul, gathered pilgrims from throughout Asia Minor along the way, and then proceeded to Mecca from Damascus. The third major caravan crossed the Peninsula from Baghdad.”

The Baghdad caravan went via Kufa. The Hejaz Railway (map), part of the Ottoman railway network, followed the route of the Damascus caravan and was an extension of the line from the Haydarpaşa Terminal in Istanbul (Asian side) beyond Damascus. Work began in 1900 under Abdul Hamid II, with German help. The intention was to go as far as Mecca. The line reached Medina on September 1 1908, the anniversary of the Sultan’s accession, but had got no further than this – four hundred kilometres short of its goal – when war broke out. In 1913 the Hejaz Railway Station was opened in central Damascus. There was a branch line to Haifa.

The Emir Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, viewed it as a threat to the Arabs, since it provided the Turks with easy access to their garrisons in the Hejaz, Asir and Yemen. A section of it was blown up by TE Lawrence during the Arab Revolt. After the fall of the Empire the railway did not reopen south of the Jordanian-Saudi Arabian border. There is talk of reopening it now.

The Berlin to Baghdad Railway (post here) was being built at the same time. It, too, was incomplete in 1914.

Old posts:

Six German atlases

Shiite pilgrimages

Appointment in Samarra.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Reynold Alleyne Nicholson

August 23 2013

Reynold A. Nicholson, in his Translations of Eastern Poetry and Prose, [footnote: Cambridge 1922, University Press.] gave me a glimpse of a Classical Islamic literature that I was unable to read in the original.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Chinatown

August 15 2013

Chinatowns

Chinatowns in Africa

Chinatowns in Asia

Chinatowns in Australia

Chinatowns in Canada

Chinatowns in Europe

Chinatowns in Latin America

Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?

Chinatowns in Oceania

Chinatowns in the United States

Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.

Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.

In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.

The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.

It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.

Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.

Chinese laundries in North America.

See chinatownology.com.

Chinatown cooks

Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons

The resilience of the Caliphate

June 19 2013

The main line of Sunni Caliphs – Rightly Guided, then Umayyad, then Abbasid – came to an end when the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258.

A surviving member of the Abbasid house was installed at Cairo under the patronage of the newly formed Mamluk Sultanate three years later.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took the last nominal Abbasid Caliph at Cairo into custody and transported him to Constantinople.

When he died, the Caliphate was virtually in abeyance. The first time Caliph was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottoman Sultans was in the peace treaty with Russia at the end of the war of 1768-74, as a way of allowing the Turks to retain moral authority in territory they had ceded, notably the Crimea.

Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as Russia expanded into Central Asia. His claim was fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India.

The Khilafat movement (1919-24) was a vain pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in India to persuade the British government to protect the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Caliphate in 1924.

At the time when the present chapter was being written, it looked as if this had really been the end of the Caliphate, for an immediate attempt on the part of the Hāshimī King Husayn of the Hijāz to assume the office (on the eve, as it turned out, of his own ejection from his ancestral patrimony by Ibn Saʿūd) was – in spite of the Sharīf’s unimpeachable Qurayshī lineage and his sovereignty, at the moment, over the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina – as dismal a failure as most of his other enterprises. Nor did any practical action result from a Caliphate Congress held at Cairo on the 13th-19th May, 1926.

Yet, even if this forecast were to prove correct – though, in the light of previous history, it would not be safe to sign a death certificate for so resilient an institution as the Caliphate until it had been in abeyance for at least a quarter of a millennium [footnote: Its latest interregnum had lasted from the death of the last Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in A.D. 1543 to the drafting of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of Küchuk Qaynārja in A.D. 1774.] – the marvel would be, not that the Caliphate should have petered out at last, but that, on the strength of having been an effective sovereignty over a span of less than two hundred years, [footnote: From the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632 to the death of the ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn (imperabat A.D. 809-13), in a civil war with his brother and supplanter Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33) over the heritage of their father Hārūn-ar-Rashīd (imperabat A.D. 786-809).] it should have been able within that time to acquire a prestige sufficient to keep it alive, and twice revive it, [footnote: i.e. at Cairo in A.D. 1261 and at Constantinople in A.D. 1774.] for another eleven hundred years [footnote: Reckoning from the death of the Baghdādi ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn in A.D. 813 to the deposition of the Constantinopolitan ʿOsmanli Caliph ʿAbd-al-Mejīd in A.D. 1924.] during which it never emerged from the state of political impotence into which it had begun to decline in the reign of Hārūn-ar-Rashīd’s son Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33).

The revival of the Caliphate is often predicted today, in Brummie, Indonesian and other accents.

Ma’mūn is written thus in the OUP text, not as Maʿmūn.

At times in Muslim history there have been rival caliphs, notably those of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa, 909-1171.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The coalescence of the Oikoumenê

June 12 2013

By the year A.D. 1952 the initiative and skill of Western Man had been engaged for some four and a half centuries in knitting together the whole habitable and traversable surface of the planet by a system of communications that was unprecedented in the two features of being literally world-wide and being operated by a technique which was constantly surpassing itself at a perpetually accelerating pace. The wooden caravels and galleons, rigged for sailing in the eye of the wind, which had sufficed to enable the pioneer mariners of Modern Western Europe to make themselves masters of all the oceans, had given way [in the 1840s] to mechanically propelled iron-built ships of relatively gigantic size [some smaller steamships had wooden hulls]; “dirt-tracks” travelled by six-horse coaches had been replaced by macadamized and concrete-floored roads travelled by automobiles; railways had been invented to compete with roads, and aircraft to compete with all land-borne or water-borne conveyances. Concurrently, means of [instantaneous] communication which did not require the physical transportation of human bodies had been conjured up, and put into operation on a world-wide scale, in the shape of telegraphs, telephones, and wireless transmission – visual as well as auditory – by radio. The movement of sea-borne and airborne traffic had been made detectable at long range by radar. There had been no period in the history of any other civilization in which so large an area had been made so highly conductive for every form of human intercourse.

From this perspective, the creation of an electronic World Wide Web (for non-privileged users) in 1994 was the latest stage of a process that had begun with the discovery of Madeira by the Portuguese in 1419.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The match

April 20 2013

Since the domestication of the Arabian camel, nearly 2,000 years before Muhammad’s day, Arabia had been traversible, and ideas and institutions had been seeping into the peninsula from the Fertile Crescent that adjoins it on the north. The effect of this infiltration had been cumulative, and, by Muhammad’s time, the accumulated charge of spiritual force in Arabia was ready to explode.

Passage at greater length.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

The Swahili coast 2

April 4 2013

This is from Basil Davidson’s 1984 sweeping Channel 4 television series Africa: A Voyage of Discovery (from the third of its eight one-hour parts).

Davidson put African history on the map for laymen, including Africans. Is he still regarded highly? If not, is that because he has been superseded or because he was self-taught and a journalist and lacked any academic qualifications? Or is it a residue from a time when he must have seemed unsettlingly left-wing and when African history was not considered a real subject?

This blog should have recorded his death in 2010 at the age of ninety-five. Guardian obituary. Telegraph. Independent.

The Channel 4 series is all on YouTube, but not in one place and not in good recordings. There is no decent bibliography of him online. Many people will know his Lost Cities of Africa (1959), African Slave Trade (1961), Africa: History of a Continent (1966) and Time-Life book African Kingdoms (1966).

Swahili, or Kiswahili, is a Bantu language of the East African coast. It became the tongue of the urban class in the Great Lakes region and went on to serve as a post-colonial lingua franca in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Romans visited the coast in the first century. Arab traders had contact with the black coastal peoples from the sixth century CE or earlier. Islam reached the coast in the ninth century or earlier. There is cultural evidence of early Persian (or Arabo-Persian) settlement on Zanzibar from Shiraz. Swahili contains many Arabic and Persian loan words.

City-states – Muslim, cosmopolitan, and politically independent of each other – began to flourish along the coast and on the islands: Kilwa, Malindi, Gedi, Pate, Comoros, Zanzibar. They depended on trade from the Indian Ocean.

The Swahili acted as middlemen between Africa and the outside world. Slaves, ebony, gold, ivory and sandalwood were brought to the coasts and sold to Arab, Indian and Portuguese traders, who carried them to Arabia, Persia, Madagascar, India, China, Europe. Many slaves sold in Zanzibar ended up in Brazil.

Zanzibar grew spices: cinnamon and cardamom were introduced from Asia (when?), chilli and cacao were brought by the Portuguese from South America. When were cloves introduced? Were spices sent mainly to Europe or also to Asia?

How Arab were the ruling classes? How much of the Indian Ocean sailing was done by black Africans? Is there evidence for the arrival of black traders in China? Wikipedia on Chinese in the Indian Ocean and in Africa.

The sultanates began to decline in the sixteenth century, as Portuguese influence grew. The Portuguese in turn were threatened by Omanis, who controlled Zanzibar from 1698 until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the British started to interfere. They were in turn followed by Germans.

Commerce between Africa and Asia via the Indian Ocean declined, but some of the dhow trade survived when Davidson made his film. Swahili fishermen still sell fish to their inland neighbours in exchange for products of the interior.

The earliest known documents written in Swahili are letters written in Kilwa in 1711 in the Arabic script. They were sent to the Portuguese of Mozambique and their local allies. They are preserved in the Historical Archives of Goa. Another document in Arabic script is Utendi wa Tambuka (The History of Tambuka), an epic poem from 1728, written in Pate, about wars between Byzantium and Muslims from 628 to 1453. The Latin script was used later, under the influence of European colonial powers.

Arabia Deserta

March 15 2013

“The summer’s night at end, the sun stands up as a crown of hostile flames from that huge covert of inhospitable sandstone bergs; the desert day dawns not little and little, but it is noontide in an hour. The sun, entering as a tyrant upon the waste landscape, darts upon us a torment of fiery beams, not to be remitted till the far-off evening. – No matins here of birds; not a rock partridge-cock, calling with blithesome chuckle over the extreme waterless desolation. Grave is that giddy heat upon the crown of the head; the ears tingle with a flickering shrillness, a subtle crepitation it seems, in the glassiness of this sun-stricken nature: the hot sand-blink is in the eyes, and there is little refreshment to find in the tents’ shelter; the worsted booths leak to this fiery rain of sunny light. Mountains looming like dry bones through the thin air, stand far around about us: the savage flank of Ybba Moghrair, the high spire and ruinous stacks of el-Jebâl, Chebàd, the coast of Helwàn! Herds of the weak nomad camels waver dispersedly, seeking pasture in the midst of this hollow fainting country, where but lately the swarming locusts have fretted every green thing. This silent air burning about us, we endure breathless till the assr: when the dazing Arabs in the tents revive after their heavy hours. The lingering day draws down to the sun-setting; the herdsmen, weary of the sun, come again with the cattle, to taste in their menzils the first sweetness of mirth and repose. – The day is done, and there rises the nightly freshness of this purest mountain air: and then to the cheerful song and the cup at the common fire.”

___

Charles M Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta, third edition, with a Preface by Charles M Doughty, September 1921, two volumes, Philip Lee Warner, Publisher to The Medici Society, Ltd, and Jonathan Cape, London: and at Boston, USA, 1921; originally 1888.

Constantinople and Vienna

December 4 2012

Twin sieges. Of Constantinople by Arabs: 674-78 and 717-18. Of Vienna by Turks: 1529 and 1682-83.

The Arabs never returned to the walls of Constantinople, nor the Turks to Vienna.

The rout of Pan-Islamism by Nationalism

November 21 2012

The apparent triumph of our Western Political Nationalism in the Islamic World since the beginning of the twentieth century of our era – and, conspicuously, since the outbreak of the general war of A.D. 1914-18 – is a remarkable testimony to the assimilative power of our Western Civilization and to the inability of the Islamic Civilization to hold its own against it. For the Pan-Islamic Movement, which was set in motion under the patronage of the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph ʿAbd-al-Hamīd (imperabat A.D. 1876-1909) as an attempt to enable the Islamic World to repel the Western offensive, was not only good strategy on its merits (on the principle that “union is strength”); it was also in the true line of the Islamic tradition; for, from the time of the Hijrah, which was the crucial event in the career of Muhammad and in the history of the institution that he founded, Islam had been a unitary society which embraced both the two Western social fields of Church and State; and, after the founder’s death, the unity of Islam in its political aspect had been incarnated in the Arab Caliphate [...]. Thus the Pan-Islamic attempt to restore the political unity of Islam, under the historic aegis of a Caliphate, in face of a formidable external menace to the Islamic Society’s very existence, might have seemed a promising stroke of statesmanship; and the rapid rout of Pan-Islamism by an irresistible outbreak of Nationalism in the Muslim ranks is a surprising denouement.

[...]

A Study of HIstory, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Colonial Film

November 14 2012

“Welcome to Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. This website holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online. You can search or browse for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by our academic research team.

The Colonial Film project united universities (Birkbeck and University College London) and archives (British Film Institute, Imperial War Museum and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum) to create a new catalogue of films relating to the British Empire. The ambition of this website is to allow both colonizers and colonized to understand better the truths of Empire.”

Cultural diversity in universal states

October 20 2012

Owing to the tendency of the parochial states of a broken-down civilization in its Time of Troubles to sharpen their weapons in fratricidal conflicts with one another and to take advantage of this dearly bought increase in their military proficiency to conquer neighbouring societies with their left hands while continuing to fight one another with their right hands, most universal states have embraced not only a fringe of conquered barbarians but substantial slices of the domain of one or more alien civilizations as well. Some universal states, again, have been founded by alien empire-builders, and some have been the product of societies within whose bosoms there has already been some degree of cultural variety even on a reckoning which does not differentiate between march-men and the denizens of the interior of the same social world. [...]

No other universal state known to History appears to have been as homogeneous in culture as Japan under the Tokugawa régime. In “the Middle Empire” of Egypt, in which a fringe of barbarians on the Nubian glacis of its Theban march was one element of variation from the cultural norm of the Egyptiac Society of the age, there was another and more positive feature of cultural diversity in the Empire’s culturally Sumeric provinces and client states in Palestine and Coele Syria. As for “the New Empire”, which was a deliberate revival of the original Egyptiac universal state, it accentuated the pattern of its prototype by completing the assimilation of the barbarians of Nubia and by embracing the domain of an abortive First Syriac Civilization in Syria and North-Western Mesopotamia; and this culturally tripartite structure – in which the cultural domain of the civilization through whose disintegration the universal state has been brought into existence is flanked by culturally alien territories annexed at the expense of both barbarians and neighbouring civilizations – appears to be the standard type.

For example, in the Mauryan Empire, which was the original Indic universal state, an Indic cultural core was flanked by an alien province in the Panjab, which had been at least partially Syriacized during a previous period of Achaemenian rule after having been partially barbarized by an antecedent Völkerwanderung of Eurasian Nomads, while in other quarters the Mauryan Empire’s Indic core was flanked by ex-barbarian provinces in Southern India and possibly farther afield in both Ceylon and Khotan as well. The Guptan Empire, in which the Mauryan was eventually reintegrated, possessed an ex-barbarian fringe, with an alien Hellenic tincture, in the satrapy that had been founded by Saka war-bands in Gujerat and the North-Western Deccan, and a Hellenized fringe, with a Kushan barbarian dilution, in the territories under its suzerainty in the Panjab. In a Han Empire which was the Sinic universal state, the Sinic World proper was flanked by barbarian annexes in what was eventually to become Southern China, as well as on the Eurasian Steppe, and by an alien province in the Tarim Basin, where the Indic, Syriac, and Hellenic cultures had already met and mingled before this cultural corridor and crucible was annexed to the Han Empire for the first time in the second century B.C. and for the second time in the first century of the Christian Era. In the Roman Empire, which was the Hellenic universal state, a culturally Hellenic core in Western Anatolia, Continental European Greece, Sicily, and Italy, with outlying enclaves in Cilicia, in Syria, at Alexandria, and at Marseilles, was combined with the domain of the submerged Hittite Civilization in Eastern Anatolia, with the homelands of the Syriac and Egyptiac civilizations in Syria and in the Lower Nile Valley, with the colonial [Carthaginian] domain of the Syriac Civilization in North-West Africa, and with ex-barbarian hinterlands in North-West Africa and in Western and Central Europe as far as the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Danube. [Footnote: Leaving out of account the late-acquired and early-lost Transdanubian bridgehead in Dacia.]

There are other cases in which this standard cultural pattern has been enriched by some additional element.

In the Muscovite Tsardom, a Russian Orthodox Christian core was flanked by a vast ex-barbarian annex extending northwards to the Arctic Ocean and eastwards eventually to the Pacific, and by an Iranic Muslim annex consisting of the sedentary Muslim peoples of the Volga Basin, the Urals, and Western Siberia. This pattern was afterwards complicated by Peter the Great’s deliberate substitution of a Westernized for a traditional Orthodox Christian cultural framework for the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state, and by the subsequent annexation of additional alien territories – at the expense of the Islamic World on the Eurasian Steppe and in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin, and at the expense of Western Christendom in the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland, and Finland.

In the Achaemenian Empire, which was the original Syriac universal state, there was an antecedent cultural diversity, within the Syriac core itself, between the Syrian creators of the Syriac Civilization and their Iranian converts, and a geographical gap between Syria and Iran that was still occupied by the dwindling domain of the gradually disappearing Babylonic culture. The Achaemenian Empire also embraced the domain of the submerged Hittite culture in Eastern Anatolia, the best part of the domain of the Egyptiac Civilization, fringes torn from the Hellenic and Indic worlds, and pockets of partially reclaimed barbarian highlanders and Eurasian Nomads. Moreover, after its life had been prematurely cut short by Alexander the Great, its work was carried on by his political successors, and especially by the Seleucidae, whom it would be more illuminating to describe as alien Hellenic successors of Cyrus and Darius. In the Arab Caliphate, in which the Achaemenian Empire was eventually reintegrated, the Syriac core – in which the earlier diversity between Syrian creators and Iranian converts had been replaced by a cleavage, along approximately the same geographical line, between ex-subjects of the Roman and ex-subjects of the Sasanian Empire – was united politically, by Arab barbarian empire-builders, with barbarian annexes – in North-West Africa, in the fastnesses of Daylam and Tabaristan between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, and on the fringes of the Eurasian Steppe adjoining the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin – and with fragments of alien civilizations: a slice of the new-born Hindu World in Sind; the potential domain of an abortive Far Eastern Christian Civilization in the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin; an Orthodox Christian diaspora in Syria and Egypt; and a fossil of the by then elsewhere extinct Babylonic Society at Harran.

In the Mongol Empire, which was a universal state imposed by alien empire-builders on the main body of the Far Eastern Society in China, the annexes to a Chinese core were unusually extensive – including, as they did, the whole of the Eurasian Nomad World, the whole of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and the ex-Sasanian portion of a Syriac World which by that time was in extremis. The Mongols themselves were barbarians with a tincture of Far Eastern Christian culture. In the Manchu empire-builders, who subsequently repeated the Mongols’ performance on a less gigantic yet still imposing scale, there was the same tincture in a more diluted form; and the Chinese universal state in its Manchu avatar once again embraced, in addition to its Chinese core, a number of alien annexes: a “reservoir” of barbarians in the still unfelled backwoods and still virgin steppes of Manchuria, the whole of the Tantric Mahayanian Buddhist World in Tibet, Mongolia, and Zungaria, and the easternmost continental outposts of the Islamic World in the Tarim Basin, the north-western Chinese provinces of Kansu and Shansi, and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

In the Ottoman Empire, which provided, or saddled, the main body of Orthodox Christendom with its universal state, the alien ʿOsmanli empire-builders united an Orthodox Christian core with a fringe of Western Christian territory in Hungary, with the whole of the Arabic Muslim World except Morocco, the Sudan, and South-Eastern Arabia, and with pockets of barbarians and semi-barbarians in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, the Mani, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and on the Arabian Steppe. In the Mughal Empire, which was the Ottoman Empire’s counterpart in the Hindu World, the pattern was simpler, since, apart from the Iranic Muslim empire-builders and their co-religionists who had been deposited in the Hindu social environment by earlier waves of invasion from the Middle East and Central Asia [since the twelfth century], the Mughals’ only [sic] non-Hindu subjects were the Pathan barbarian highlanders on the north-western fringe of their dominions. When, however, the Mughal Rāj was replaced by a British Rāj, the pattern of the Hindu universal state became more complex; for the advent of a new band of alien empire-builders, which substituted a Western element for an Islamic at the political apex of the Hindu universal state, did not expel the Indian Muslims from the stage of Hindu history, but merely depressed their status to that of a numerically still formidable alien element in the Hindu internal proletariat, so that the Hindu universal state in its second phase combined elements drawn from two alien civilizations with a Pathan barbarian fringe and a Hindu core.

There had been other universal states in which, as in the Mughal Empire, the cultural pattern had been less complex than the standard type yet not so simple as that of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Empire of Sumer and Akkad, which was the Sumeric universal state, included no representatives of an alien civilization – unless Byblus and other Syrian coast-towns are to be counted as such in virtue of their tincture of Egyptiac culture. On the other hand, the Sumeric Civilization itself was represented in two varieties at least – a Sumero-Akkadian and an Elamite – and in no less than three if the domain of the Indus Culture should prove also to have been included in “the Empire of the Four Quarters of the World”. Moreover, the Babylonian Amorites, who eventually restored a polity that had been first constructed by the Sumerian Ur-Engur (alias Ur-Nammu) of Ur, were not merely marchmen but marchmen with a barbarian tinge. So, on a broader and a longer view, the cultural pattern of the Sumeric universal state proves to have been less homogeneous than might appear at first sight. “The thalassocracy of Minos”,  again, which was the Minoan universal state, probably included representatives of the continental Mycenaean variety of the Minoan culture as well as the creators of that culture in its Cretan homeland, even if it did not embrace any representatives of an alien civilization.

In the Central American World, two once distinct sister societies – the Yucatec Civilization and the Mexic – had not yet lost their distinctive characteristics, though they had already been brought together by force of Toltec arms, when the task, and prize, of establishing a Central American universal state was snatched, at the eleventh hour, out of the hands of barbarian Aztec empire-builders by Spanish representatives of an utterly alien Western Christendom. In the Andean World the Empire of the Incas, which was the Andean universal state, already included representatives of the Kara variety of the Andean culture [...] before the indigenous Incan empire-builders were suddenly and violently replaced by Spanish conquistadores from Western Christendom who turned the Andean World upside-down, with a vigour reminiscent of Alexander the Great’s, by proceeding to convert the indigenous population to Christianity and to variegate the social map by studding it with immigrant Spanish landlords and self-governing municipalities.

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which served as a carapace for Western Christendom against the assaults of the ʿOsmanlis, and which, seen from the south-east, wore the deceptive appearance of being a full-blown Western universal state, set itself, like the Tokugawa Shogunate, to achieve domestic cultural uniformity, but lacked both the ruthlessness and the insularity which, between them, enabled the Japanese isolationists for a time to put their policy into effect. In pursuing its aim of being totally Catholic, the Hapsburg Power did succeed, more or less, in extirpating Protestantism within its frontiers; but the very success of its stand, and eventual counter-attack, against the Ottoman embodiment of an Orthodox Christian universal state broke up the Danubian Monarchy’s hardly attained Catholic homogeneity by transferring to Hapsburg from Ottoman rule a stiff-necked minority of Hungarian Protestants and a host of Orthodox Christians of divers nationalities, most of whom proved unwilling to accept the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, even when the yoke was proffered in the easy form of Uniatism [union with Rome and retention of local rites], while, among those who did accept this relatively light burden, the rank and file remained nearer in heart and mind to their dissident Orthodox ex-co-religionists than they ever came to be to their fellow Catholics who were of the Latin Rite.

The [post-Assyrian] Neo-Babylonian Empire [or Chaldean Empire], which was the Babylonic universal state, similarly forfeited its cultural purity – and thereby worked unwittingly for the eventual extinction of the Babylonic Civilization itself – when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and annexed the homeland of the Syriac Civilization west of the Euphrates; and the impress of the indigenous Babylonic culture became progressively fainter as the domain which Nebuchadnezzar had bequeathed to a short line of native successors was incorporated first into the barbaro-Syriac Empire of the Achaemenids and then into the Hellenic Empire of the Seleucids.

Our survey has shown that, in the cultural composition of universal states, a high degree of diversity is the rule; and, in the light of this fact, it is evident that one effect of the “conductivity” of universal states is to carry farther, by less violent and less brutal means, that process of cultural pammixia that is started, in the antecedent Times of Troubles, by the atrocities that these bring in their train. The refugees, exiles, deportees, transported slaves, and other déracinés of the more cruel preceding age are followed up, under the milder régime of a universal state, by merchants, by professional soldiers, and by philosophic and religious missionaries and pilgrims who make their transit with less tribulation in a more genial social climate.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The old Islamic order

October 19 2012

The military vs the militant.

Thou shalt not

September 20 2012

I asked a Thai in Dubai whether he enjoyed living there. His answer, “Can not, can not”, reminded me of Blake.

Critical Muslim

June 19 2012

Newish Granta-format quarterly published by the UK-based Muslim Institute.

Editors: Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab.

International advisory board: Karen Armstrong, William Dalrymple, Anwar Ibrahim, Arif Mohammad Khan, Bruce Lawrence, Ebrahim Moosa, Ashis Nandy.

I worried about the title at first, but I suppose the implication is fair.

Issue 1: The Arabs Are Alive

Issue 2: The Idea of Islam

Issue 3: Fear and Loathing

Issue 4: forthcoming on Pakistan

Subscribe

Critical Muslim 3

Imperial Messenger

May 12 2012

“Look, I’m a little confused. Do the math for me. You are wearing an Islamic head covering, you are obviously a religious person, but you were educated in an American university and now you are bringing the Internet to Kuwait. I don’t quite see how it all adds up.”

“A Russian journalist, circling the Coke machine, under the CNN screen, speaking Russian into a cell phone, in NATO headquarters, while Kosovo burned – my mind couldn’t contain all the contradictions.”

“The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been – but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.”

Three Friedman quotations, I assume accurate, in a review at New Left Project by David Wearing of Belén Fernández, The Imperial Messenger – Thomas Friedman at Work, New York, Verso, 2012.

Risibly inane. Friedman is never deep, and he is prejudiced against Arabs even if he believes in their decency as potential Americans. But he is not always as bad as this. He is right about some things, like America’s obsession with al-Qaeda.

Other titles in Verso’s Counterblasts series: Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, The Imposter – BHL in Wonderland, and Derrick O’Keefe, Michael Ignatieff – The Lesser Evil?

Recent posts on Friedman at Pulse.

Earlier post here.

Holland and Bowersock

May 8 2012

(Now it sounds like a law firm.) Tom Holland’s reply to Glen Bowersock in the Guardian. I mentioned Holland’s new book about the Romano-Persian endgame and the origins of Islam a couple of weeks ago.

Both articles are worth reading, but severe limitations of space mean that they are skirting around questions about early Islam that really demand 7,000-word articles in the New York Review of Books, not a few inches in a daily. The arguments deserve to be outside scholarly journals, but as presented here are hardly comprehensible to ordinary readers. I don’t know who is right, but I had wondered about a few things in Bowersock’s “dyspeptic” piece. His superior phrase “with the publisher” about some early Qurʿanic manuscripts found in Sanaʿa: could there therefore already be a consensus about what they meant? His insistence that QRSh means only to congeal or clot, not to gather people: some language-instinct made me wonder whether that was so. But Bowersock is a major scholar. I just wish this discussion could be aired properly.

There is some simple background in this blog:

Since the domestication of the Arabian camel, nearly 2,000 years before Muhammad’s day, Arabia had been traversible, and ideas and institutions had been seeping into the peninsula from the Fertile Crescent that adjoins it on the north. The effect of this infiltration had been cumulative, and, by Muhammad’s time, the accumulated charge of spiritual force in Arabia was ready to explode.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

The Great Transition

April 27 2012

Peter Brown (currently at Princeton) reviews

Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th-9th Century), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 14-July 8.

I don’t know how I have missed other pieces by him recently in the New York Review of Books, but here is a list. He is one of the few historians whose collected works I’d consider for desert island reading.

“We have been taught to see late antiquity and [the early period of Islam] in exclusively religious terms. In the words of Finbarr Flood, the period has suffered from an ‘excessive focus on religiosity.’ Anna Ballian warns us not to assume that ‘religion permeated every aspect of medieval society and in importance far outweighed secular matters.’ For this was by no means the case. There was always room for a ‘religion of the world’ – a tenacious conviction that there was more to life than piety. There was also something thrilling and almost numinous about wealth, good health, and the gift of children.”

We look at Iran this way today. If you go there, there is also sensuality, and fun to be had. In a week in Tehran in 1994 I never even heard a call to prayer.

The exhibition covers some of the ground of Holland’s new book (April 25 post).

Holland and Davies

April 25 2012

Not a Jermyn Street shirt shop, but authors of two books I would like to read.

Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, Little Brown, 2012 will get the same mass readership as his others: Rubicon, Persian Fire, Millennium. The Romano-Persian Endgame and the Birth of Islam could be an alternative subtitle.

Michael Scott, Telegraph: “‘Is it possible,’ [Holland] asks, ‘that Islam, far from originating outside the mainstream of ancient civilisation, was in truth a religion in the grand tradition of Judaism and Christianity – one bred of the very marrow of late antiquity?’” Well, yes. Is that controversial?

Contents of Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, Allen Lane, 2011:

Tolosa: Sojourn of the Visigoths (AD 418-507)

Alt Clud: Kingdom of the Rock (Fifth to Twelfth Centuries)

Burgundia: Five, Six or Seven Kingdoms (c. 411-1795)

Aragon: A Mediterranean Empire (1137-1714)

Litva: A Grand Duchy with Kings (1253-1795)

Byzantion: The Star-lit Golden Bough (330-1453)

Borussia: Watery Land of the Prusai (1230-1945)

Sabaudia: The House that Humbert Built (1033-1946)

Galicia: Kingdom of the Naked and Starving (1773-1918)

Etruria: French Snake in the Tuscan Grass (1801-1814)

Rosenau: The Loved and Unwanted Legacy (1826-1918)

Tsernagora: Kingdom of the Black Mountain (1910-1918)

Rusyn: The Republic of One Day (15 March 1939)

Éire: The Unconscionable Tempo of the Crown’s Retreat since 1916

CCCP: The Ultimate Vanishing Act (1924-1991)

Ben Wilson, Telegraph.

The significant experience

April 11 2012

In the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on by now for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the West; and that is why, in the title of this book, the world has been put first.

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

Very light soil

April 10 2012

The nineteenth-century diplomatists’ idea of a desert was that it was a region of no economic or political value because it was incapable of supporting life. Accordingly, while they were prepared to haggle, and, in the last resort, to go to war, over a few square metres in Alsace or Oregon, they amicably partitioned the Arabian Desert and the African Sahara by blithely drawing straight lines of enormous length across small-scale maps. In this cavalier way they disposed of the sovereignty over vast areas which, in the atlases of the day, were the “perfect and absolute blank” commended as the ideal kind of map by the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. During the late-nineteenth century partition of Africa between European states there was an occasion on which Lord Salisbury – under fire in the House of Commons at Westminster for having acquiesced in the annexation of startling numbers of African square kilometres by France – made the celebrated reply that most of this territory that he had let slip [in essence, Niger] was “very light soil”. Some of it, however, was the soil under which the French oil-prospectors have recently discovered what they believe to be rich oil-bearing strata; and the time has long ago passed when diplomatists negotiating international frontiers in either the Sahara or Arabia were carefree. The desert-girt Buraymi oasis is at this moment an object of acrimonious dispute between the governments of Saʿudi Arabia and Great Britain. The “idea formed” of a desert has in fact been transformed – in regions in which deserts overlie an oil-bearing subsoil – by the late-nineteenth century discovery of the economic value of mineral oil and the twentieth-century development of techniques for tapping it at ever greater depths below surface-level. The Arabian desert is just as inhospitable to life today as it ever was, yet it has now become a key part of the environment of the peoples of Western Europe.

In the agreement of 1890, the town of Say, in southwest Niger, was taken as the western end of an imaginary line which ran eastward to Barrua on Lake Chad. This is roughly the border between Nigeria and Niger. The “light soil” of the Sahara was recognised as French.

Niger has oil, but if you look at all the countries which once formed the colonial federation of French West Africa (1895-1960) – Mauritania, Mali (French Sudan), Niger, Senegal, Guinea (French Guinea), Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), Benin (Dahomey) – none, even today, whether of light or heavy soil, is a significant producer. In 1890, the industrialised world was getting its oil from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Azerbaijan, the US, Canada, not yet from Iran or Iraq, much less from the area now comprising the GCC.

The Buraymi oasis, or Al Buraimi, is in Oman, at the border with Abu Dhabi. The dispute arose from Saudi Arabia’s claim, first made in 1949, of sovereignty over a large part of Abu Dhabi where oil was suspected to be present and an area in a 20-mile circle around Buraymi. Both Oman and the Trucial States were British protectorates.

The Saudi claim was backed by the American oil company Aramco. In 1952 a small group of Saudi Arabian guards crossed Abu Dhabi and occupied Hamasa, one of three Omani villages in the oasis. The Sultan of Muscat and Imam of Oman gathered their forces to expel them but were persuaded by the British, who were no doubt under American pressure, to exercise restraint.

On July 30 1954, it was agreed to refer the dispute to international arbitration. Saudi Arabia began a campaign of bribery to obtain declarations of tribal loyalty. It even extended to Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahayan, the brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi (he overthrew him in 1966), who is said to have turned down an offer of $20 million. In 1955 arbitration proceedings began in Geneva. They collapsed when the British abitrator, Sir Reader Bullard, objected to Saudi attempts to influence the tribunal. A few weeks later, the Saudi party was forcibly ejected from Hamasa by the Trucial Oman Levies (later known as the Trucial Oman Scouts), a British-backed force based in Sharjah (Trucial States), taken to Sharjah and dispatched to Saudi Arabia by sea. The dispute rumbled on and was settled in 1974 by an agreement, known as the Treaty of Jeddah, between Sheikh Zayed (then President of the UAE) and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.

1961, Lance Corporal (later General) Saif Bin Mubarak sends morse code on a Trucial Oman Scouts dhow; Flickr credit: laponik

A Study of History, Vol XII: Reconsiderations, OUP, 1961

The World and the West

March 6 2012

This is from the first of the 1952 BBC radio Reith Lectures, given under the title The World and the West. I posted the fourth, The Far East and the West, here. Background on Reith Lectures here.

In writing both the world and the west into my title, and writing the two words in that order, I was doing both things deliberately, because I wanted to make two points that seem to me essential for an understanding of our subject. The first point is that the west has never been all of the world that matters. The west has not been the only actor on the stage of modern history even at the peak of the west’s power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed). My second point is this: in the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the west that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the west; and that is why, in my title, I have put the world first.

Let us try, for a few minutes, to slip out of our native western skins and look at this encounter between the world and the west through the eyes of the great non-western majority of mankind. Different though the non-western peoples of the world may be from one another in race, language, civilisation, and religion, if we ask them their opinion of the west, we shall hear them all giving us the same answer: Russians, Moslems, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and all the rest. The west, they will tell us, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of western aggression to bring up against us. The Russians will remind us that their country has been invaded by western armies overland in 1941, 1915, 1812, 1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind us that western missionaries, traders, and soldiers from across the sea have been pushing into their countries from the coasts since the fifteenth century. The Asians will also remind us that, within the same period, the westerners have occupied the lion’s share of the world’s last vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind us that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonisers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their western masters’ greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind us that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for the west European intruders and for their African slaves.

This indictment will surprise, shock, grieve, and perhaps even outrage most of us westerners today. Dutch westerners are conscious of having evacuated Indonesia, and British westerners of having evacuated India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, since 1945.

That was all the territory Britain had lost by 1952, except for Palestine and concessions in China. We lost none, except Sudan (which was an Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”) and a military base at Suez, between Ceylon on February 4 1948 (which completed our evacuation of the subcontinent) and Ghana on March 6 1957.

1952 was also a year of direct British and American interference in the internal affairs of Iran.

British westerners have no aggressive war on their consciences since the South African war of 1899-1902, and American westerners none since the Spanish-American war of 1898. We forget all too easily that the Germans, who attacked their neighbours, including Russia, in the First World War and again in the Second World War, are westerners too, and that the Russians, Asians, and Africans do not draw fine distinctions between different hordes of “Franks” – which is the world’s common name for westerners in the mass. “When the world passes judgment, it can be sure of having the last word”, according to a well-known Latin proverb. And certainly the world’s judgment on the west does seem to be justified over a period of about four and a half centuries ending in 1945. In the world’s experience of the west during all that time, the west has been the aggressor on the whole; and, if the tables are being turned on the west by Russia and China today, this is a new chapter of the story which did not begin until after the end of the Second World War. The west’s alarm and anger at recent acts of Russian and Chinese aggression at the west’s expense are evidence that, for westerners, it is today still a strange experience to be suffering at the hands of the world what the world has been suffering at western hands for a number of centuries past.

The lectures introduced ideas which would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study.

In the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west [...], has had the significant experience

is the most striking sentence. These views were shocking, as he says, to many listeners in 1952. They seemed defeatist.

I have taken this from a transcript on the BBC website, not from the printed book: there may be differences. The transcript probably shows what was printed in The Listener. I have made the use of upper case in references to world wars consistent.

The lectures were published in book form as

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

Babylonic militarism

January 11 2012

When a Judah that had just escaped falling into Assyrian hands in 700 B.C. was carried away captive in 597 and 586 B.C. by the Assyrians’ Babylonian heirs, the only provinces of the Syriac World that still remained unscathed by Babylonic militarism were the Phoenicians’ colonial domain in the Western basin of the Mediterranean, which was insulated by the Sea, and Arabia Felix (the Yaman [sic]), which was insulated by Arabian deserts (the Najd and the Hijāz).

The Assyrians had controlled Egypt, but the neo-Babylonians did not. The post-Assyrian Neo-Babylonian Empire used to be called Chaldean. Chaldea is in southern Mesopotamia, Assyria was the north. Thus “Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11:28, 11:31, 15:7) in the period of Sumer.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Figure humaine

December 16 2011

Painting by Louay Kayali (1934-78) from the weblog of Imad Moustapha, who until a few days ago was the Syrian ambassador to the US. There is a lot of Syrian art on it. A Kayali site is here. Wikipedia.

Poulenc’s Figure humaine is a set of eight settings of poems by Paul Éluard. The notes to a new recording describe it as “a secret hymn to the French resistance”. The last poem is called Liberté.

The first is De tous les printemps du monde:

“Of all the spring times in the world
This is the most vile.
Of all my modes of being,
The trusting one is the best.

The grass lifts the snow
Like the stone from a tomb,
But I sleep through the storm
And I wake with clear eyes.

The short spell draws slowly to its close,
The roads had to pass
Through my most secret hiding-places
Before I could greet anyone.

I do not hear the monsters speaking:
I know them, they have said it all.
I see only beautiful faces,
Good faces, sure of themselves.

Sure of soon destroying their masters.”

My translation.

De tous les printemps du monde,
Celui-ci est le plus laid
Entre toutes mes façons d’être
La confiante est la meillure

L’herbe soulève la neige
Comme la pierre d’un tombeau
Moi je dors dans la tempête
Et je m’éveille les yeux clairs

Le lent le petit temps s’achève
Où toute rue devait passer
Par mes plus intimes retraites
Pour que je rencontre quelqu’un

Je n’entends pas parler les monstres
Je les connais ils ont tout dit
Je ne vois que les beaux visages
Les bons visages sûrs d’eux mêmes.

Sûrs de ruiner bientôt leurs maîtres.

BBC Symphony Chorus, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, conducted by Stephen Jackson, June 2003.

What to do in Kuwait

August 4 2011

A friend who is there for six days asked me what to do. I could have said more, but this is what I emailed:

“Short answer is that all social life is in private places except for a) OK but never amazing (and of course alcohol-free) restaurants, b) shopping malls. The best mall for strolling in is Marina Mall, which has a marina. The poshest (where Harvey Nichols is about to open) is Avenues.

There are cafés at odd points along the waterfront, between, say, Kuwait City and Salmiya. Stop at random.

The only expedition to anywhere is to Falaika Island, which is a 40-minute ferry ride away. Few people bother to go. It has a dilapidated hotel run by a Yorkshireman and some Hellenistic rubble. Obese teenagers race buggies along a dusty beach. Rusting military hardware from the Iraqi invasion is strewn around. There’s a small pre-1991 ghost town. Not a bad place if you have a camera.

The ferry goes from the marina behind Marina Mall. Call ferryman on 2224 4988. Whether it runs at all depends on the tides. You can do it in a day or spend a night in a basic (but clean) room in the hotel.

Er … that’s it.”

Dangerous borders

June 26 2011

Philip Walker, foreignpolicy.com, June 24.

Sudan – Southern Sudan

India – Pakistan

Afghanistan – Pakistan

United States – Mexico

Cambodia – Thailand

Democratic Republic of the Congo – Angola

India – Bangladesh

North Korea – South Korea

Venezuela – Colombia

Chad – Sudan

Saudi Arabia – Yemen

China – North Korea

Israel – Syria

Lawrence’s dagger

June 20 2011

Versailles, 1919.

The moving spirit of the Hashimite Hijāzī Arab delegation was Colonel T. E. Lawrence, and, when he was on his delegation’s official business, he used to make a point of wearing the highly distinctive uniform of an officer of the Hijāzī Army. One day, in a corridor of the Hotel Majestic, the present writer had the good fortune to see this picturesque and animated figure run into a weary-looking official of the British Treasury. In a flash, Lawrence had whipped out from under the folds of his robe a magnificent dagger with a head of chased gold, and was holding it under the Treasury official’s nose, saying: “Do you know what that is made of?” “No, I don’t,” said the Treasury official rather testily. “A hundred and fifty of your sovereigns,” Colonel Lawrence retorted; and the intended shock was duly registered by his victim.

Which is like a scene from the David Lean film, except that that stopped before Versailles. The Treasury had called in British gold sovereigns and half sovereigns during the war, substituting paper money (which had never existed in a denomination lower than £5). They were hoarded in Bank of England vaults and never seen again. But the Allies and the Central Powers were vying to hire Albanian and Arab mercenaries, who insisted on continuing to be paid in advance in gold (and were in reality more interested in fighting each other),

not because they foresaw a coming catastrophic depreciation of paper money with a prescience denied to the wily financiers of  Lombard Street and Wall Street, but for the simpler reason that [they weren’t used to notes]. [...] During the antecedent hostilities, while Colonel Lawrence had been having the fun of carrying bags of “sovereigns” on camel-back and dispensing them to the Hijāzī allies of His Britannic Majesty’s Government, the Treasury official had been saddled with the vexatious task of trying in vain to induce these Arab recipients of “sovereigns” to part with them again in exchange for Indian piece goods [textiles], which he had dangled, like carrots, before a knowingly irresponsive donkey’s nose. The Arabs had found a better use for British sovereigns than that. So long as the gold remained in the form of minted coin, it might (they felt) slip through their fingers; so they had converted it into dagger handles, which were not only more beautiful but more secure, since they could be carried more snugly on the person and were riveted to an automatic caretaker in the shape of a formidable steel blade.

The manner of the story’s lugubrious retelling in Acquaintances, OUP, 1967 (not quoted here) suggests that he found the version here patronising to the Arabs.

Toynbee and Young Indiana Jones, post here about Toynbee and Lawrence at Versailles

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

East and West

May 27 2011

Though, in all persecutions, there are, no doubt, always many weaker vessels who [...] fail to stand the ordeal, the followers of the higher religions have been conspicuous, on the whole, for their steadfastness and courage when put to the test.

The Christian Church was put to this test by the Roman Empire; the Mahāyāna by the Chinese Empire in its avatar in the age of the T’ang Dynasty. Both churches responded by producing martyrs; but the Christians in the Roman Empire seem to have been more steadfast than the Mahayanian Buddhists in China in standing a more severe ordeal; and this apparent preeminence of the Christians in a common heroism is, indeed, what was to be expected. We should expect both the Mahāyāna and Christianity to shine in facing persecution, since the distinguishing mark of the higher religions is, as we have seen, their voluntary acceptance of Suffering as an opportunity for active service. At the same time we should expect the persecution itself to be sharper, and the endurance of it more heroic, in the western than in the eastern half of the Old World because the temper of life in South-West Asia and in the Graeco-Roman Society was more tragic and more intransigent than the temper in either India or China. In appraising both the comparative mildness of the T’ang imperial government and the comparative softness of its Buddhist victims, we must make the allowance for this general difference in psychological climate. It would be unwarrantable to assume that the T’ang régime was more virtuous than the Roman régime was, or that the Buddhist martyrs were less heroic than the Christian martyrs were.

The same difference in temper between the two halves of the Old World comes out in other historical parallels as well. For example, Christianity and Buddhism were, each, expelled from its homeland by a rival younger religion which had derived its inspiration from the older religion that it was opposing and evicting. Christianity was expelled from South-West Asia by Islam; Buddhism was expelled from India by a post-Buddhaic Hinduism whose philosophy bears indelible marks of its Buddhist origin. But the advance of Hinduism at Buddhism’s expense in India in the age of the Gupta Dynasty was accomplished as peacefully as the previous advance of Buddhism at the expense of a pre-Buddhist Indian paganism in the age of the Maurya Emperor Açoka. By contrast with this Indian record, the supplanting of Christianity by Islam in South-West Asia and Egypt in the age of the Arab Caliphate was a story of pressure and penalization – though, by contrast with the treatment of subject Jews and Muslims in Christendom, the treatment of subject “People of the Book” in Dār-al-Islām has been honourably distinguished by its comparative tolerance.

The Chinese nurse

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Greater Syria

May 18 2011

The succession of concentric waves in which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam spread over the face of the World, one after another, from an identical centre of dispersion in a “Greater Syria” embracing Palestine and the Hijāz [...].

Faisal, a man of the Hijaz, aspired to unite the whole of this Greater Syria after 1918.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The Arab Kingdom of Syria

May 14 2011

After 1918, in accordance with the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement signed between Britain and France in 1916, the British took control of most of Ottoman Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and the southern part of Ottoman Syria (Palestine and Jordan), while the French took the rest of Ottoman Syria (modern Syria, Lebanon, part of southeastern Turkey).

The Sykes-Picot Agreement was a betrayal of the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence of 1915-16, in which the British promised an Arab Kingdom in return for an Arab uprising against the Ottomans. Sir Henry McMahon was the British High Commissioner in Egypt. Hussein was the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca or Sharif of the Hejaz, an office which had existed since the late Abbasid era.

Hussein proclaimed himself King of the Hejaz in 1917. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate in March 1924, he declared himself Caliph. In the same year, in the face of attacks by Ibn Saud, he abdicated his secular titles to his eldest son, Ali, who became the last Sharif. At the end of 1925, Ibn Saud conquered the Hejaz and expelled the Hashemites. The House of Saud has ruled the holy cities since then.

The British granted control over Transjordan and Iraq to Hussein’s other sons Abdullah and Faisal. The Emirate of Transjordan (1921-46) was part of the British Mandate of Palestine (1923-48). In 1946 it became a kingdom, which survived after the mandate was ended. The Kingdom of Iraq (1921-58, Faisal I, Ghazi, Faisal II) continued after the British Mandate of Mesopotamia (1920-32) had ended, until the revolution of 1958. The Baathists came to power ten years later and survived until the American invasion of 2003.

But in October 1918, before he was posted to Iraq, and with the permission of Allenby, Faisal established an Arab government in Damascus. It would be an Arab kingdom based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion. The administration formed local governments in the major Syrian cities, and the Pan-Arab flag was raised all over Syria. The Arabs still hoped in 1918, with faith in British promises, that the Arab state would include all the Arab lands stretching from Aleppo in northern Syria to Aden in southern Yemen.

The French demanded full implementation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the placement of Syria under their influence. At the Paris Peace Conference the European powers decided to ignore the Arab demands.

Agreements in Europe that would turn the planned Arab Kingdom of Syria into a French mandate also stimulated Syrian nationalist societies such as al-Fatat (the Young Arab Society) to make preparations for a national congress. These societies advocated complete independence for an Arab Kingdom uniting the Arab world under Faisal. A hasty election was called, summoning representatives from all over the Arab lands, including Palestine and Lebanon, though French officials prevented many of them from arriving. The first official session of the Syrian Congress was held on June 3 1919. On July 2 it passed a number of resolutions pertaining to the formation of Syria as a completely independent constitutional monarchy with Faisal as king, and asking for assistance from the United States and the refusal of any rights claimed by the French.

The hope of Faisal that either the British or the Americans would come to his aid and intervene against the French quickly faded. On November 26 1919, the British withdrew from Damascus, leaving the Arab government face to face with the French. In January 1920 Faisal was forced into negotiations with Clemenceau. The French would uphold the existence of the Syrian (not pan-Arab) state and would not station troops in Syria as long as the French government remained the only government supplying advisers and technical experts. News of this compromise did not go down well with Faisal’s vehemently anti-French and independence-minded supporters, who persuaded him to reverse his commitment. There were violent attacks against French forces and the Syrian Congress assembled in March 1920 to declare Faisal king of Syria.

The British and French repudiated this action and the League of Nations called the San Remo Conference in April 1920 to establish an explicit mandate of the French over Syria. This was in turn repudiated by Faisal and his supporters. The commander of the French forces General Henri Gouraud gave an ultimatum to King Faisal on July 14 1920.

Faisal surrendered, but his defence minister, ignoring him, led an army to Maysalun to defend Syria from the French advance. The Battle of Maysalun resulted in a crushing Syrian defeat and the capture of Damascus on July 24. The French mandate of Syria was put into effect thereafter (1923-43). The official name was the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon.

The failure of the brief, tumultuous Arab Kingdom was a bitter disappointment to the Arabs, but it became a inspiration to other Arab liberation movements. One can’t fully understand Arab psychology after the establishment of Israel without knowing about it. It would become the often-repeated story of an Arab people breaking out from their colonial bonds only to be castigated for their revolutionary fervour. The fall of the Kingdom of Syria led to a deep mistrust of European powers, who were seen as liars and oppressors, and serves as a reminder of the overwhelming military might that can be imposed on a regime that does not serve the interests of a major power.

Extracted from Syria since the Ottomans.

Nothing is at it seems

May 9 2011

This politically-debilitating belief-tendency is almost universal in the Gulf and Levant. Revisionism starts early there.

Most people (if you look at whole populations) think that forces are at work which are hidden from them. The question, most of the time, is only how incredible the conclusions are. The Princess of Wales was murdered. 9/11 was not conducted by Al Qaeda. Mubarak was not an ally of the US. The US is behind the disturbances in Syria. Osama bin Laden isn’t dead.

Egyptians are rather more realistic.

Greeks on the Indian Ocean

May 8 2011

The maritime [trade route to India] was commanded by South Arabian middlemen until the first through-voyage from Egypt to India was made by Eudoxus of Cyzicus circa 120 B.C. [Cyzicus is in Mysia.] Eudoxus’s Greek successors gradually shortened the voyage – ­which in Eudoxus’s day was still made coastwise all the way – by cutting more and more adventurously across the open sea with the aid of the monsoons; and this process of shortening, which began circa 100-80 B.C., was completed circa A.D. 40-50  (i. e. on the eve of the precipitation of the story of Jesus in the Gospels) [the passage is about religious connections between Greece and India], when the Greek navigators of the Indian Ocean ventured at last to sail straight across the open sea from the Somali coast to the southern tip of India, without approaching Arabia at all. As a result of this Greek conquest of the Indian Ocean, pepper was obtainable in abundance at Athens in 88 B.C., and a Buddhist gravestone, erected before the end of the Ptolemaic Age, has been discovered by Sir Flinders Petrie at Alexandria (Tarn, op. cit., [ie Tarn, W. W.: The Greeks in Bactria and India (Cambridge 1938, University Press)], pp. 367-75, superseding eundem: Hellenistic Civilization (London 1927, Arnold), pp. 196-9).

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Emotional problem

April 26 2011

Robin Yassin-Kassab:

“Curing sectarianism by dictatorship is like solving emotional problems with hasheesh – it might temporarily avert a crisis but only by numbing the patient and freezing his neurosis in place. In the long term, failure to address the problem feeds it. The talking cure is the best solution – for sectarianism as for emotional problems (and sectarianism is an emotional problem).”

What it is like to be Shiite

March 19 2011

Hamid Dabashi, Shi’ism: A Religion of Protest.

Recommended at Marginal Revolution.

Pearl Square 2

March 19 2011

What the protestors in Bahrain want, articulated in Arabic by a journalist, Hani Al-Fardan, at manamavoice.com and given in translation in this blog.

___

“We want a genuine political life in which the people alone are the source of powers and legislation.

We want a constitution drawn up by the people, and agreed upon, which is the arbitrator and judge in the relationship of the ruler to the ruled.

We want genuine and fair elections based on fair foundations and the distribution of constituencies in which the vote of every individual Bahraini is equal.

We want genuine representation, without the accusation of treason whenever we go out to demand our rights.

We want a Council of Representatives that reflects the composition of the Bahraini people, without the majority being a minority and the minority a majority.

We want a government that is elected, based on people’s competencies rather than ‘loyalties’.

We want to fight corruption and stop the plundering of resources, and achieve a fair distribution of wealth.

We want to stop nepotism, and to prevent recruitment according to affiliation, and to open all sectors, especially the military, to all people.

We want an end to indiscriminate political naturalisation, which has increased the burden on services and oppressed people.

We want true freedom, without a law against ‘terrorism’ and ‘gatherings’.

We want true media freedom, and the door to be opened for everyone to express their opinions freely and without fear.

We want security in villages and towns, and the release of political prisoners and the reform of prisons, and the end of oppression, torture and intimidation.

We want genuine solutions to the problems of unemployment, housing, education, and health.

We want the police to ‘serve the people’, and we want the army to be of the people.

This is truly what we want; we do not want to overthrow the regime, as many imagine, and we do not want to gain control of the government, we do not want chairs and seats here or there. We want to be a people living with dignity and rights.”

___

The US will spend $110 billion this year supporting the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pearl Square

Tahrir Square, Sanaa

March 19 2011

This post on Britain in Yemen gave some elementary background on the country, and bare facts about the Shiite north and Sunni south, up to unification in 1990.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose removal and trial are now being demanded, has been in power since 1990.

Sanaa is the post-1990 capital. Tahrir means Liberation. I presume that liberation here refers to the overthrow of the Imams in 1962. Other Tahrir Squares are in Alexandria and Baghdad and, of course, Cairo.

Tahrir Square, Sanaa, February 11, from detenteinternational.org; there have been similar demonstrations in Aden and Taiz