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Radical Islam


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This was sent to me as an email by AD Author Pertinax Carrus who is a well known historian in academic circles. I'm presenting it here as it is one of the best overviews of the subject of radical Islam I have ever read. It is posted here with his consent.

"Okay, so I am restless. When I am restless, I think of all kinds of things. It helps sort out my thoughts.

And so, I have been thinking of the movement called radical Islam. Let me say at the outset, I am no authority on Islam. However, I have more knowledge than the average person, simply because I have had to deal with Islam as an historian. So, what I say here is probably not definitive, but also not mere spouting off.

Islam is the religion founded by Mohammed. And I do not apologize for using the traditional English spellings. Mohammed died in 632 A.D. The Moslem calendar begins in 622 A.D. with the Hejira, or Mohammed's flight from Mecca to Medina, and the beginning of the spread of his ideas. After a period of consolidation in Medina, Mohammed returned in triumph to Mecca, and suppressed the small Christian and Jewish communities there, as well as the dominant paganism. He went on to conquer most of the Arabian peninsula.

After the death of Mohammed, the leaders of his movement were the so-called orthodox califs. from 632 to 661. Only three years after the death of Mohammed, a period devoted to consolidating control over most of Arabia, these califs began an unprecedented expansion. In 635 the Moslems invaded the Syrian province of the Byzantine Empire, and soon conquered the entire eastern shore of the Mediterranean. In 640 they invaded Egypt, and, turning east, in 644 they invaded the Persian Empire. Under the second group of califs, the Omayyad dynasty (661-750), this conquest continued, although not without some setbacks. By about 700, all North Africa had been conquered, and in 711 the Moslems began the conquest of Spain. To the East, after Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Persia (Iran), they conquered Bactria (Turkistan), bringing their empire up into the great plains of central Asia, and had cross the Himalays into India.

Checks were administered by the defeats at the first attempt on Constantinople in 717, and the invasion of the Frankish Kingdom at Tours in 732. But, by one century after the death of the Prophet, his followers had created the greatest empire the world had seen. Only the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century was larger, and it broke up almost immediately after the death of Genghis Khan, its creator. The British Empire in the later 19th century and early twentieth was also larger, but of a different kind.

Within this new empire, the Moslem rulers created a new civilization, quite different from anything else. Islam, the religion of Mohammed, is the key and cement holding this civilization together. It also draws on the Classical civilization of the Greeks and Romans, and the civilization of Persia, as well some later influences from India. What we call Arabic numerals originated in India. This civilization reached a high point around 800 A.D., during the time of the calif Harun al Rashid, the calif of the 1001 Nights and Sheherazade. There was a flowering of philosophy and science, especially in mathematics and medicine. Algebra was invented by the Moslems, to the eternal disgust of high schoolers. Taking the pulse as a sign of health is a Moslem contribution. The thinker known in the West as Avicenna was extremely influential in the development of Scholasticism in Western Europe. There was the characteristic Moslem architecture, and such literary giants as Omar Kayyam.

But this Moslem Civilization was not stable. It was based on the dominance by Moslems of a majority of non-Moslems. As late as the twelfth century, the majority of the population of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt were Christian. But only Moslems could have any legal position in the society created by Islam. The holy book of Islam, the Koran, teaches in several places that no unbeliever is to be given any rights by victorious Moslems. The true believer is to continuously fight the unbeliever. The conquered unbeliever is to be given the option of conversion, submission, or death. If he converts, then he is a brother. If he submits, accepting a subordinate position under the rule of Moslems, he is allowed to live. If he refuses to submit, he is to be killed. This can be seen in many passages such as 8:38-39. In actual fact, the victorious Moslems could not kill all the unbelievers, but they did reduce them to a subordinate condition. Non-Moslems could not own landed property. Non-Moslems could not hold public office. Non-Moslems had to pay a special tax in return for being allowed to live.

[As a sideline, this is why Pakistan exists today. When the British decided to withdraw from India after World War II, the Moslems demanded that conditions which prevailed prior to the British conquest be restored, including these restrictions on the majority non-Moslem population. When the British refused to accept this, the Moslem refused to live as equals in a multi-religious India, and so the predominantly Moslems sectors where cut off and formed into Pakistan.]

An example of Moslem rule can be found in the history of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This church was originally built by St. Helen, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century. After the Moslem conquest in the seventh century, as Christians could not own landed property, it became the property of the Moslem ruler. After the days of Harun al-Rashid, the Moslem empire began to fragment, and Palestine was under the rule of the Sultan of Egypt. At the beginning of the eleventh century, the Sultan of Egypt was al-Hakim, who carried out a severe persecution of Christians in Egypt and Palestine. Thinking there were entirely too many unbelievers coming into his lands from the West to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, he ordered it destroyed in 1009. After his death, a successor granted some leeway, but nothing serious was done until after the conquest of Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099. The present church is largely the work of the Crusaders.

There were several other manifestations of this instability in the Moslem world. Just as in the Christian West, there seemed to be a conflict between the teachings of religion and the developments in philosophy and science. In the West, this apparent conflict was overcome by the teachings of such figures as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. No such reconciliation happened in the Moslem world. The Spanish Moslem philosopher called in the West Averroes tried by teaching that there were levels of truth, and one statement could be true on one level and false on another. That was no acceptable. And so, by the late twelfth century, Moslem religious leaders had effectively stamped out Moslem philosophy. What had been achieved remained, but there were no new advances.

In the tenth century, the Moslem world was invaded by the Turks from Central Asia. This was another element of instability. They played a role parallel to that of the Germans in the Roman world. They adopted the religion and culture of the people they conquered, but at the same time made it more violent and destructive, even less tolerant. It was the Turks who inflicted on the Byzantine Empire a major defeat at Manziket in 1071, resulting in the beginning of Turkish settlement in what is now Turkey. An attempt to recover these lost lands led the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos to ask for military help from the West a quarter of a century later, leading to the First Crusade.

In a few places in sub-Sarahan Africa and Indonesia, Islam spread independently of military conquest, but I know of no other examples. On the whole, those portions of the globe which are Moslem today are so because Islam was imposed by military might.

Under President Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), we fought what are called the Barbary pirates. Essentially the Moslems of North Africa -- Libya, Tunisia, Algeria today -- for centuries had made a living preying on Mediterranean commerce. Many European countries dealt with this by paying these lands not to attack their vessels. As a new nation, the flag of the United States was not recognized by the Barbary pirates, and so American commerce in the Mediterranean was subjected to these attacks. Jefferson tried to negociate with a Barbary representative in Landon. His agent was told simply that the followers of the prophet had a God given right to seize anything in the hands of unbelievers. The result was our first foreign conflict, not a declared war, but a 'police action', like Vietnam, or Afghanistan today. From this conflict, the US Marines sing about going "from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli."

After the mid nineteenth century, the economic and technological superiority of the West was such that many Moslem lands were brought under Western control, such as the French in Algeria and Tunisia and the British in Egypt. The low point of Moslem rule came with the break-up of the Turkish Empire following World War I. But from the time of World War II, a Moslem resurgence has taken place, not only in achieving political independence, but in developing a more specifically Moslem, and anti-Western, consciousness. This was seen in Saudi Arabia first, and spread to other lands.

And so, as they came less and less to depend on the West, the Moslem lands came more and more to resume old attitudes and outlooks. And this includes the concept that there is no possibility of a lasting peace with the non-believer. The most one could expect was a truce.

So, I conclude that the so-called radical Islamists are more in keeping with their traditions than those who say they want to get along with the West, and many of those say they want to get along only as a temporary measure, until the West also becomes Moslem.

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​Thanks Mike, Pertinax has given us a wonderful short course in Islam with this document. I'm not sure many of us would endure the long course since it not only involves the religion but the cultures of various Muslim nations.

My own knowledge was gleaned from the series of historical books written by Will and Ariel Durant which I started to read in high school. Published in the late 1960's, their Story of Civilization comprised a dozen books that left me breathless and overwhelmed with facts that covered just about every historical subject you can imagine.

Islam creeps onto the scene in about Book 4, aptly titled The Age of Faith, and after their discourse on the Romans and Christ. This is where I discovered the origins of Islam was rooted in the tribal culture of Saudi Arabia. The book was filled with facts about the lives of the various rulers and religious figures. Especially interesting were the descriptions of the bloody battles between the caliphates, at least to a high school boy.

The one thing that stands out in my mind is something Pertinax stated about the intellectual roots of much of our mathematics and science which originated in the Muslim world, and then they destroyed it. The reasoning behind such a foolish endeavor is rooted in the religion and it doesn't take a great leap of learning to see that Christianity did much the same until the Reformation.

The Durant series still sits on the library shelf near my little office...always at hand to research a topic or check a fact. I know, I know...there is Wikipedia, but do you know how absurd that sounds? To my mind the internet disguises the pleasure of reading words in books, and good authors will always reveal more than the distillation of thought found on the internet.

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Thanks to both the author and the poster for this excellent summary. It is an extraordinary short course in Islam which cuts to the core of its cultural and historical upbringing.

It is not difficult to identify some parallels with other civilizations throughout history and to draw some less-than-happy conclusions therefrom. Just as the Christian era had a serious meltdown some 15 centuries in - the Thirty Years War fought among various Christian "sects" - it can be seen that Islam is having its own internal strife today. (Frighteningly it must be remembered that the technology available in the 15th century was far less sophisticated and deadly.) It would be interesting to review other regional cultures to see if Asia, Africa, and the pre-Columbian Americas have experienced similar socio-cultural timelines.

But the timeline putting our societies in their teen-aged centuries is similar and, in the absence of adult supervision, every bit as proportionately devastating as the Sharks and the Jets.

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There is a disconnect to me why, with the upsurge in religion in an area, war always seems to follow. Most religions preach peace, and then resort of violence, the abolishment of personal rights and war. Why should reverence of God, if that's the purpose of the religion, result in, 'you believe like I do or I'll kill you?'


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There is a disconnect to me why, with the upsurge in religion in an area, war always seems to follow. Most religions preach peace, and then resort of violence, the abolishment of personal rights and war. Why should reverence of God, if that's the purpose of the religion, result in, 'you believe like I do or I'll kill you?'


For a believer in a monotheistic religion it is a requirement of that religion that all other gods must be false. Any belief in another god threatens your belief in your god, therefore, it must be destroyed.

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I must be missing something. I don't see the truth in that statement. Why would someone else's believe in another god have anything to do with my belief in my god?

Applying logic to religion is as futile as applying it to politics.

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While I did find this summary both informative and intriguing, I am curious as to why one specific significant event which greatly impacted the Muslim world was left out of Pertinax Carrus' summary, and I hope he will see this and perhaps expound on this point.

During the time of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan), the Mongolians conquered Central Asia, which at the time was under Muslim rule. Chinggis, who cared little for the cities he conquered, made a point of riding into Bukhara in order to demonstrate that he had conquered such a pivotal Muslim capital. He completely absorbed the remnants of ancient Persia into his empire during his reign.

Then, during the reign on Mongke Khan, the grandson of Chinggis (I believe this happened roughly twenty-five years after the death of Chinggis, but I don't have my sources near me to verify that for sure), started a campaign which took his armies into Iraq and Syria. Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad (Or rather allowed the Christians he liberated to sack and destroy everything Muslim in the city), and then pushed on to the Mediterranean. While HUlagu was in the MIddle East, Mongke Khan died and the Mongolian empire truly began to fall apart, but it didn't disintegrate, it broke into four large nations who all continued to maintain reasonably diplomatic ties with each other. One of these was the Ilkhanate, which controlled much of the Arabian Middle East for nearly 80 years.

Considering how young Islam still is, eighty years of Mongolian rule must have impacted them to some degree, and one would wonder how this time period also affected their outlook, traditions, and politics.

I also note that the Mongolian empire famously moved personnel across the entire empire to where they were needed. Many Arabian and Persian scholars found themselves on the opposite side of Asia performing clerical duties for the Khan and his court. Did not this internationalism thrust upon them by the Mongols impact them as well?

I believe the trends of "getting along with the West" began in this period of international trade and the true melting pot of cultures that was the Mongolian Empire, and that one could argue that at this point those trends are just as traditional as the radical ideas many Muslims have endorsed in the past and continue to endorse now. Perhaps the expansion by military might was the beginning, but I still want to believe that people inherently wish for peace, rather than the sword, and hope that peace will win out in the end.

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I have grave difficulty with the concept of "Moslem rule". Of "radical Islam" or "Moslem Civilization". These are sweeping generalizations of the worst sort and somehow imply that there was a single guiding force that directed the course of events during the expansion of the Moslem world. This was simply not the case in the Islamic World and it was not the case in Christendom. The initial expansion of the Moslem world was one of buccaneering opportunism perpetrated by an assortment of characters, some of whom considered themselves to be caliphs, some were Sultans, and some were simply chieftains or good old fashioned war lords. It was not until the Turks created the Ottoman Empire that there was a single caliphate and from the death of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire began to slowly lose its grip.

The Barbary pirates, it should be remembered, were technically vassals (to use a European term) of the Ottoman Empire and were not independent countries in the European sense.

One example of this chaos can be found around the Crusades. Having conquered Jerusalem and founding a Christian kingdom there, along with an assortment of outlying fiefdoms (with various names and occasionally conflicted loyalty), there was immediate friction with the Moslem powers. Slowly, the Islamic powers in the area began to move to dislodge the Crusader kingdom. Salah al Din did some very deft political and diplomatic maneuvering while he gathered the military strength which he finally used to reconquer Jerusalem. Having accomplished this feat, he removed himself and his family to Egypt where he established a successful dynasty of his own. The point here, is that neither Christian nor Moslem were unified politically or spiritually then, or for that matter, now.

Are their violent radical Islamicists? Of course. Every religion has them. Informed students of these matters understand that Christendom has never been unified. Neither has Islam. To name only three Christian divisions, we have the Orthodox, the Catholic, and the Protestant; to name only three Islamic divisions there are the Sunni, the Shia, and the Sufi. It does not take a great deal of research into either faith to discover many other divisions. That is sort of the nature of humankind when it comes to these sorts of matters.

Interestingly, I enjoyed algebra, and I believe that admiral is also an Arabic word. Two vastly differed disciplines.

We are going to be locked in conflict with religious terrorists for a long time to come. But we need to focus coolly on the real problem and not go off half cocked as we are capable of doing.

There, some sweeping generalizations of my own.

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We are going to be locked in conflict with religious terrorists for a long time to come. But we need to focus coolly on the real problem and not go off half cocked as we are capable of doing.

What do you consider to be "the real problem" in this situation?

You point out three divisions within Islam and they are as busy fighting one another as they are the rest of the world. For the most part the non-Muslim countries are working together (excepting differences for who's pro or anti Kurds and the Syrian situation). Or would you agree, as I've heard some commentators suggest, that much of the intra-Islamic conflict is a smokescreen to get as many Muslim refugees into Europe as possible? What's our problem in this?

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Well I would certainly not agree that there is some secret agency, somewhere, directing Moslem immigrants to flock into the West for some reason other than health, safety, and prosperity. That people would attempt to unseat al-Assad and that he and his followers would react violently should be no surprise as it is not an unusual scenario in the Moslem world. Also, and in the normal course of events, these upheavals produce floods of immigrants who strive to find something perceived as security. This action-reaction is not limited to the Moslem world. As you doubtless know, when the Inquisition in Spain set about to convert Jews to Catholicism, many fled to Moslem lands where they were welcomed and permitted to live in peace and prosperity. Yes, as unbelievers, they had certain restrictions applied, but they were "people of the book" and there was no Inquisition coming for them. And in fairness to Spain, it should be pointed out that there were horrific actions taken against local Jewish populations in other European countries from time to time culminating in the monstrous abomination of the Nazis.

One of the great centers of Rabbinic study and learning was in Palestine under the Turks.

Our problem is radical religion. I have two illustrations of birds that were once pages in a book. They are beautifully done and the text appeared to me to be Arabic. So I took them to a friend of mine who happened to be Moslem and asked if he could shed any light on them. He told me the language appeared to him to be Farsi (Persian); he felt, from the little that he could make out, that the text was religious, and that it was almost assuredly from the pen of a Shia Moslem. I learned a little from this gentleman who was a naturalized American, a Sunni Moslem, and a hard working businessman.

Here in the US, our problem with radical religion tend to be smaller, and are usually a matter for the police. An Amish couple recently sold their daughter to an Englishman (Amish usage). Perfectly legal in the old testament. The Amish couple and the English buyer are standing before the magistrate and the daughter is a ward of the state. Or, an abortion opponent, went into a church one Sunday and shot and killed a doctor for the crime of performing abortions.

In the Middle East, the problem with radical religion is larger. ISIL is a problem that requires the application of military force to destroy its base and infrastructure. However, President Obama is quite correct when he points out that the follow through to this destruction must be done by the people who live there. When Kitchener crushed the Mahdist revolt at Omdurman it was then possible for the British to withdraw leaving the Egyptian administration and the Sudanese natives, to reassemble the pieces in relative peace. ISIL must be similarly crushed.

If the Middle East can be stabilized, as it inevitably will be, then we will still face the problem of individual bits and pieces of radical religious terrorism, but they can be handled by anti-terrorist specialists within in the police.

Our problem is that we appear to desire to play a major role in world affairs, and by extension, Middle Eastern affairs, this being the case, we are both a target and a hammer. We need to keep calm, identify specific targets, as we did with Osama bin Laden and other lesser players, and carry on. Or, of course, put down the hammer and withdraw.

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Joe -

Well stated. Your military citation of Omdurman is interesting. Just as The Light Brigade in Crimea and Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg proved the stupidity of massed charges against fixed artillery, Omdurman, with its 200:1 kill ratio, definitively demonstrated the pure idiocy of attacking the new wonder weapon, the machine gun. All three lessons were fully ignored in the trenches of the First World War. Similarly, Bomber Harris and Douhet had their city-buster theories refuted as World War II continued. And the Japanese high command refused to see futility even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and would have continued the war had the Emperor not intervened.

Yet each of these situations shared one common factor absent from today's Middle East environment: unity of command. When there are dozens of disparate groups fighting, who can call for, offer, and accept the surrender of the other side? It's bad enough how fragmented the Islamic players are - dozens of little groups whose alliances flip flop on a daily basis. But lately the "outside players" have been shredded. At this point it's tough to figure whose side Turkey is on, the US and Russians are squabbling over who killed off one of the senior ISIS leaders, the Arab states are all claiming a piece of the action by flying a handful of missions a month... The comedy/tragedy goes on and on.

And sadly, I see neither Cynus's Chinggis or your Egyptian reconstruction crew (or fill in any other such team) coming in to resolve things in any timely matter. There's a great deal in me that screams "We've done our damage here" and wash our hands of the place.

The wonderfullest thing of all is knowing that American leadership and diplomacy is about to be placed in the hands of a guy whose diplomatic style was learned at the Don Rickles School of International Relations or a woman who doesn't know the difference between a classified document and an alphabet. Where's an asteroid when you really need one?

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You're quite right, of course, the military frequently have difficulty with what appears, admittedly in retrospect, to be blindlingly obvious. If the Russian infantry at Balaclava had been equipped with rifled muskets, rather than smoothbores, the Light Brigade would almost assuredly have been completely destroyed, as opposed to merely being reduced to military impotence.

I've often wondered about Pickett's Charge. A very short time before, the great Lee had witnessed the appalling efficiency of the rifled musket as wave after wave of Burnside's infantry was stopped by sustained fire from Marye's Heights. Then a short time later, he sends Pickett on a charge of commensurate stupidity and with the same result.

I do not think that the resolution of the problem of radical Islam can be solely a military one, though the obliteration of ISIL is a necessary first step that is largely military. It's the follow through that's going to be tricky.

On a positive note, I would point to the Nizari Ismail sect of Shia Moslems. This sect once produced suicidal assassins who struck at both Moslem and Christian players with terrifying effectiveness. But their castle was ultimately taken and, in any event, the domestic world was overtaking them and they now had wives and children, herds and farms, and were loosing interest in suicide missions. And today, well, the Aga Khan is welcome at Ascot.

Needless to say, I think we want this transition to happen rather more quickly than with the Assassins. But it has to happen.

Of course, anything remotely resembling unity among the Moslems in the area spells great danger for Israel and the odds are that the modern state of Israel, the single stupidest act of colonial ego, will go the way of the Kingdoms of Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem.

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