Where to Begin?

For the last two weeks I’ve been struggling, figuring out where to start with the Military History of Religion. I’ve written several posts, none seem quite adequate. A Red Thread appears in one topic then gets lost in the tangle.

In the meantime, just for added distraction, Qasem Suleimani died in a US drone strike. Iran counterstriked with its own missiles at US-Iraqi airbases. That has the Military History of Religion written all over it. But its still too soon. The real tragedy is that Ukrainian Passager plane shot down.

And if you been paying attention (beyond WWIII internet searches), you may have noticed Israel provided the intelligence for the US drone strike.

In my poking around I found the above map from a book published way back in 1905: ‘Ventures among the Arabs in Desert, Tent, and Town, by Archibald Forder. You can find a reprint on Amazon. Or you can download the free version from Archive.org. (Great Stelios, now you have yet another book to read…). Let’s talk about that map.

Initial observations:

  • The Ottoman Empire isn’t mentioned by name, despite ruling most of this region. Instead there’s a thin dotted line stretching from what’s labeled Yemen up through Mesopotmania and down to the Persian Gulf. Near the Red Sea its labeled Turkish Territory.
  • Persia is Persia, not Iran. The name Iran (Land of the Aryans) would come in the 1930s after some serious government reforms under Reza Shah Pahlavi.
  • And no Israel. Theodore Herzl, considered the father of Zionism, had made overtures to the Ottomans considering a new Jewish homeland, but had died in 1904.
  • There is no Saudi Arabia. Well… not exactly…

The problem with maps is that they are static. A snapshot. And they don’t take into account cultural, political, and religous changes of the time. As of 1905, in the area marked Independent Government, Ibn Saud had begun his conquests, continuing his family’s struggles against the Ottoman Empire, since the founding of Wahhabism in the 18th Century.

The history of Wahhabism is a complicated one. The term itself was created by the Ottomans and passed into Western nomenclature. But those who practice it dislike the term, prefering names like True Islam or Followers of the Hadith. And yes, its has been the cause of religous violence in the Middle East, having opposed (and been opposed by) Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.

In 1905, a Constitutional Revolution had broken out in Persia, over religion, politics, and resistance to British and Russian Imperialism.

Meanwhile, similiar movements appeared in Egypt to oppose the British and Ottomans, who had laid claim to country, through a Khedive (a type of viceroy) which balanced his country’s allegience to both sides and remained semi-autonomous until World War I broke out and British took direct control.

The Ottoman Empire would soon strain from internal pressures. In 1908, The Young Turk Revolution would rid the absolute monarchy and restore the Ottoman Constitution, and blend Western ideas of government with traditional Islamic Sharia law. The results were haphazard at best, and destablized the empire further, leading to losses in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and World War I. Long term results: Turkification and the Armenian Genocide.

History doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it does have patterns.

And the pattern here has been duplicated before going back to the time of Roman occupation Palestine (first through its client King Herod, then direct control): An occidental influence enters a region bringing with it technological improvements (roads, etc.), some of the leaders adapt by paying tribute, but there’s always a minority which refuses, and this becomes the basis of a religious-nationalist movement to excise the foreign influence.

If the religious-nationalist movement gains enough power, it can field a military to oppose the foreign rule (or influence). Another theory: such a movement might be seen as progressive, revolutionary, yet actually its regressive, looking to the past to restore former glories.

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