Ottoman Counterinsurgency

From adjunct professor Tim Furnish on Voices from the Hill:

American Grand Strategy seems to be going back to the future — a 19th-century one of “Great Power Competition,” that is.

This process began under Obama, ramped up under Trump, and is continuing, albeit in a less bellicose way, under Biden. There are those who would not deem it wise—especially if it were to “elevate competition itself to the guiding paradigm of U.S. foreign policy.” But the assumption, if not the geopolitical reality, is here to stay for the foreseeable future; and the former may to some extent engender the latter.

That being so, the global tussle for power among the U.S., China and Russia will likely prove particularly problematic for the already troubled Middle East, where terrorism and insurgencies simmer, and often boil over. If the U.S. is going to pursue effective polices in the region vis-à-vis those Great Power competitors, it would behoove us to learn from the experience of the last Great Power to rule the region, the Ottoman Empire.

Sixteen nations in North Africa and the Middle East were once part of the Ottoman state. Ten of those now face active insurgencies: Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Israel/Palestine and Turkey. The Ottomans confronted seven major insurrections during their 500-year reign, as I examine in my latest book “The COIN of the Islamic Realm: Insurgencies and the Ottoman Empire, 1416-1916.” Sufi groups, Celalis and Kadizadelis posed a problem in Anatolia (modern Turkey). The Druzes of Syria gave the Sultans headaches. Yemen’s Zaydis were a multigenerational mutiny against the imperial center. The Wahhabis sought to oust the Ottomans from Arabia, and ultimately succeeded. And the eschatological Mahdists did the same for Sudan. Not all of these anti-Ottoman groups have analogs in the modern Middle East. But the Kadizadelis, Zaydis and Sudanese Mahdists certainly do. Before drawing lessons from these conflicts, some background is in order.

Read the whole thing.

The Only Remaining Stylite Tower

The Greek word stylos means “column” or “pillar,” and a Stylite was a saint who lived atop a pillar as a form of asceticism, in the same way that an anchorite might be permanently immured in a cell or a hermit dwell in the woods far from civilization. Stylites were a feature of the Late Antique east, and were widely admired, although not widely emulated – such a life was not for everyone! Food would be passed up to them, and they might poop over the edge, producing relics for the faithful to take away. 

Wikipedia.

From John Sanidopoulos, a blog post about the last remaining Stylite tower (hat tip: Tim Furnish):

While there is much written evidence about the Stylites, there is little that is left physically these days. But one of the only Stylite Towers that remains in the world is in Jordan, at a site called Um er-Rasas. In fact there are two, but only the base remains of the second tower. The ancient Jordanian town of Um er-Rasas is home to 16 historic churches, some with well-preserved mosaic floors. The most astonishing remnant of Um er-Rasas might be the Stylite Tower, one mile north of the city walls. Narrow, square, and tall, the tower offered a literal isolation from the world – a separate place where monks and ascetics endured mortification of the flesh wile entirely dedicated to fasting, prayer, and contemplation – sometimes for years on end. These towers were widespread in the early medieval pored; the 43 foot-high tower of Um er-Rasas, which can only be climbed by ladder, is the last of its kind in the Middle East. Ornamented with carved Christian symbols on all four sides, the square pillar endures in the distance as evidence of the once flourishing community established in the Roman/Byzantine era as a center for spiritual enlightenment.

More photos at the link. I should point out that Wikipedia claims that the tower “has been interpreted” as a Stylite tower, which suggests that there might be some question about its true function. 

John Sanidopoulos.

Here is an image of Daniel the Stylite (409-493), who lived for thirty-three years atop his pillar to the north of Constantinople. 

Shakedown 1979

From Commentary:

The Year the Sky Fell

Review of Black Wave by Kim Ghattas

In the Greater Middle East, the year 1979 felt like the end of the world. Americans know it as the ominous date of the Iranian Revolution, the hostage crisis, and the rise of the grim-faced, murderous Ayatollah Khomeini. But those weren’t the only pivotal events that unfolded back then. The scarcely known siege of Mecca occurred at the same time, and it was equally dreadful—and fateful. In an effort to appease an armed insurrection, the Saudi government sharply reversed what precious little social progress had been made and, in a revolution from above, transformed the country into an even more regressive and repressive place than it already was. The Saudi and Iranian governments, once grudging allies, became sworn, bitter enemies determined to export their own revolutions to the whole Muslim world, across the Middle East and beyond, including to Afghanistan, which coincidentally had just been invaded by the Soviet Union.

Nearly all the worst disasters that have swept across the Muslim world in the past four decades can be traced at least in part back to that year. That’s the thesis of the masterful book Black Wave, by Beirut-born, Emmy Award–winning journalist Kim Ghattas. She traveled from Egypt and Iraq to Iran and Pakistan, and no matter where she went, the people with whom she spoke let loose a tsunami of emotion when she asked how that year had devastated them and their countries. She felt as if she were “conducting national or regional therapy.…Everyone had a story about how 1979 had wrecked their lives, their marriage, their education, including those born after that year.”

More at the link.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Thomas MacMaster writes, in reference to a recent death in Syria:

Am I the only one startled to see the lack of discussion over the death of a world famous scholar of the medieval world (BA, MA, & PhD as well as numerous publications) who probably did more to weaponize medieval studies in the past decade than anyone else?

We should also acknowledge his leadership of one of the largest medieval re-enactment groups (with a serious commitment to using the digital humanities for outreach).

He makes a good point…

Mad Dog Mattis

My colleague Judi Irvine alerts me to an interview this morning on NPR with Gen. Jim Mattis, former Secretary of Defense, whose book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead has just been published. Whatever one might think of the Iraq war, or about American policy in the Middle East in general, one should find Mattis’s use of history to be sound.

***

NPR: The general describes his own detailed planning in bring troops into Iraq. In 2003, he read thousands of years of history, Alexander the Great and others, who invaded that region before him. What could a multi-thousand year old battle teach you that would be relevant in the twenty-first century?

JM: Well there’s enduring aspects of leadership, plus geography doesn’t change. So when you read about the challenges they faced it gets you thinking about your own. I knew we were going to be operating very deep inside the Middle East and I had to decide what was the right manner in which I wanted the troops to go in. So I used words from antiquity, from a Roman general I used, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” We were going in to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam. We were not going in to dominate them, I didn’t want triumphalism. I wanted to go with a sense of “first do no harm.”

NPR: So you read thousands of pages and then try to boil it down to a few phrases or in some cases even a word that you could pass on to thousands of people?

JM: Well that’s a leader’s job, to clearly set the vision…

JM: I think we need to have a more rigorous establishment of strategy, a more clearly enunciated policy, something we can sustain from Republicans to Democrats, like in the Cold War. I think that the biggest challenge we face in all the western democracies, not just America, is that we don’t study history in a way that we can apply it, and we’re not rigorously applying ourselves to strategy. There’s too much of a short-term view.

Coptic Martyrs

From the Facebook page of Our Lady of the Mountains of Jasper, Georgia, an interesting icon:

An article on The Stream indicates that this icon was made in 2015 by Serbian artist Nikola Sarić. It references the kidnapping and beheading of 21 Christians in Libya by agents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which had taken place earlier in 2015. Twenty of the men were Egyptian Copts, and one was Ghanaian, whose darker face is shown on the top right; they were in Libya as construction workers in the city of Sirte when ISIL nabbed them.

The executions took place on the Mediterranean beach on February 15, 2015, with ISIL agents dressed in black and their victims in orange jumpsuits, referencing the outfits worn by al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Painting, Tomb of Rameses VI. Pinterest.

I like how there is something Egyptian about this icon, both from the way the figures stand and how they are arranged, and yet it is not so stylized that that horrific event isn’t instantly recognizable. I also like how icon-making is a living tradition and for actual martyrs for the faith, not just revered but non-religious figures like Harvey Milk, Steve Biko, or Mother Jones.

In a Stable, ‘Tis a Fable

From Psephizo (hat tip: Cory Schantz):

*****

Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable

December 3, 2018 by Ian Paul

I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up—though perhaps it is better to do this now than the week before Christmas, when everything has been carefully prepared. But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.

So where has the idea come from? I would track the source to three things: traditional elaboration; issues of grammar and meaning; and ignorance of first-century Palestinian culture.

The elaboration has come about from reading the story through a ‘messianic’ understanding of Is 1.3:

The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The mention of a ‘manger’ in Luke’s nativity story, suggesting animals, led mediaeval illustrators to depict the ox and the ass recognising the baby Jesus, so the natural setting was a stable—after all, isn’t that where animals are kept? (Answer: not necessarily!)

The second issue, and perhaps the heart of the matter, is the meaning of the Greek word kataluma in Luke 2.7. Older versions translate this as ‘inn’:

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (AV).

There is some reason for doing this; the word is used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, LXX) to translate a term for a public place of hospitality (eg in Ex 4.24 and 1 Samuel 9.22). And the etymology of the word is quite general. It comes from kataluo meaning to unloose or untie, that is, to unsaddle one’s horses and untie one’s pack. But some fairly decisive evidence in the opposite direction comes from its use elsewhere. It is the term for the private ‘upper’ room where Jesus and the disciples eat the ‘last supper’ (Mark 14.14 and Luke 22.11; Matthew does not mention the room). This is clearly a reception room in a private home. And when Luke does mention an ‘inn’, in the parable of the man who fell among thieves (Luke 10.34), he uses the more general term pandocheion, meaning a place in which all (travellers) are received, a caravanserai.

The difference is made clear in this pair of definitions:

Kataluma (Gr.) – “the spare or upper room in a private house or in a village […] where travelers received hospitality and where no payment was expected” (ISBE 2004). A private lodging which is distinct from that in a public inn, i.e. caravanserai, or khan.

Pandocheionpandokeionpandokian (Gr.) – (i) In 5th C. BC Greece an inn used for the shelter of strangers (pandokian=’all receiving’). The pandokeion had a common refectory and dormitory, with no separate rooms allotted to individual travelers (Firebaugh 1928).

The third issue relates to our understanding of (you guessed it) the historical and social context of the story. In the first place, it would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives. Kenneth Bailey, who is renowned for his studies of first-century Palestinian culture, comments:

Even if he has never been there before he can appear suddenly at the home of a distant cousin, recite his genealogy, and he is among friends. Joseph had only to say, “I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar, the son of Eliud,” and the immediate response must have been, “You are welcome. What can we do for you?” If Joseph did have some member of the extended family resident in the village, he was honor-bound to seek them out. Furthermore, if he did not have family or friends in the village, as a member of the famous house of David, for the “sake of David,” he would still be welcomed into almost any village home.

Moreover, the actual design of Palestinian homes (even to the present day) makes sense of the whole story. As Bailey explores in his Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes, most families would live in a single-room house, with a lower compartment for animals to be brought in at night, and either a room at the back for visitors, or space on the roof. The family living area would usually have hollows in the ground, filled with hay, in the living area, where the animals would feed.

This kind of one-room living with animals in the house at night is evident in a couple of places in the gospels. In Matt 5.15, Jesus comments:

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

This makes no sense unless everyone lives in the one room! And in Luke’s account of Jesus healing a woman on the sabbath (Luke 13.10–17), Jesus comments:

Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the manger [same word as Luke 2.7] and lead it out to give it water?

Interestingly, none of Jesus’ critics respond, ‘No I don’t touch animals on the Sabbath’ because they all would have had to lead their animals from the house. In fact, one late manuscript variant reads ‘lead it out from the house and give it water.’

*****

More at the link.

Bernard Lewis, 1916-2018

From the Jerusalem Post (via Tim Furnish):

Bernard Lewis, scholar and the “West’s leading interpreter of the Middle East,” died Sunday at the age of 101.

Lewis was a leading scholar on Oriental and Middle Eastern studies. His study of antisemitism, Semites and Anti-Semites, was a cry against Soviet and Arab attempts to delegitimize Israel. In other works, he argued Arab rage against Israel was disproportionate to other tragedies or injustices in the Muslim world.

Though a champion for Israel, Lewis was an often controversial figure, on this subject and others. He was accused of being a “genocide denier” for his views on the Armenian genocide. His support of the Iraq War has also brought criticism.

Born to Jewish parents in London, UK, Lewis was educated in the University of London, primarily at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), as well as studying at the University of Paris. Lewis’s Ph.D. was in the History of Islam.

In a teaching career spanning nearly 50 years, Lewis was first appointed as an assistant lecturer in Islamic History at SOAS in 1938. During the Second World War, from 1940-1941, he served in the British Army’s Royal Armored Corps and Intelligence Corps. He returned to SOAS in 1949.

After a long career in academia, Lewis retired from Princeton in 1986 after 12 years as a teacher, and taught at Cornell University until 1990.

Neo-Ottomanism

I have no idea whether the title of this post is a real thing, but it seems to describe Erdogan’s schtick, at least as revealed in a recent speech (from The Conversation, via Instapundit):

On our third trip to Istanbul, my wife and I visited the 19th century Dolmabahce Palace, once the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. As we toured the 285-room palace my wife was struck with not just how well preserved it was, but that it was one of at least five palaces from the Ottoman era in Turkey that are now museums open to the public.

This is telling, because it is not something found across the rest of the Middle East and Arab world, where such palaces are still very much in use as palaces – for example, the nine palaces in Jordan. Turkey is a modern republic created from the heart of the former Ottoman empire, established since the 14th century. Few of the other former regions of the empire across the Middle East and North Africa can boast of such a long political history, with countries such as Jordan not yet even 100 years old.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is well aware of this fact, and does not distinguish between glorious empire and modern republic. “The Republic of Turkey is also a continuation of the Ottomans,” he declared in a recent speech. The empire is more than a memory. It is a symbol of political clout, and the prospect of once again leading the Muslim world. This symbolic power is captured by the presidential palace at Ankara, a towering structure that puts the mansions of modern-day monarchs to shame. At a cost of over US$500m, Aksaray or “white palace” is bigger than Trump’s White House or Putin’s Kremlin, and has led critics to say the president is acting “like a sultan”.

Erdoğan seeks a return to Islam’s golden age. Increased public finance has been made available for Islamic schools – Erdoğan attended an Islamic school, one that has since been named after him and enjoyed an US$11m upgrade. “The joint goal of all education and our teaching system is to bring up good people with respect for their history, culture and values,” Erdoğan emphasised at a ceremony to reopen his childhood school. These values include an understanding of Ottoman achievements over Western ideas.

More at the link, although as a commenter at Instapundit said, “so he’ll be seeking out the most direct blood-descendant of Mehmet the Sixth to re-establish the House of Osman and sit on the renewed palatial throne? They are still present, scattered around Europe but it is known who they are.

“Because there can be no ‘Ottoman Empire’ without them.”

Quite right! I remember thinking along these lines when I visited China back in 2005. “Tibet has always been a part of China,” our hosts helpfully explained to us. “China has not always been ruled by the CCP,” I was too polite to counter. “Where is the Son of Heaven these days?”

It’s always amazing how we remember what we want to remember, how we cherry-pick what we want from the past and turn it into a moral example, while ignoring everything else as “just something they did.”

Troy and Gallipoli

Wikipedia.

The Hellespont, also known as the Dardanelles, connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara; the Bosporus connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. These Turkish Straits are the only maritime route from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Our notions of geography lead us to designate one side of this route as as “European” and the other as “Asian,” but of course, since both sides are nowadays ruled by Turkey, there is culturally nothing distinguishing one side from the other. The passages themselves remain of vital strategic interest. Maritime transit through them is governed by the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits (1936), which gives Turkey ultimate control but guarantees free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime. Warships are another matter, and post-WWII Soviet obstreperousness on the issue was one of the reasons why Turkey joined NATO in 1952. (With Turkey threatening to leave this alliance, will the Russians finally realize their dream of controlling the route?)

Google maps.

The shortest distance across the Hellespont appears to be from the vibrant city of Çanakkale on the Asian side to a small town called Kilitbahir on the European.

Kilitbahir from Çanakkale harbor.

I had fun imagining that this is where Xerxes built his pontoon bridge (Herodotus, The Histories, Book 7), although it was probably built elsewhere, and regular ferry service now obviates the need for such an expedience.

In the late Bronze Age, of course, entrance to the Hellespont was guarded by the city of Troy, on the Asian side (the “Troad”). One iteration of Troy was besieged and ultimately destroyed by Mycenaean Greeks around 1250 BC, although the city was soon rebuilt. The story of this Trojan War is one of the great themes of Western literature, and Troy itself became one of the great sites of nineteenth-century archaeology.

Walls of Troy VII (late Bronze Age), commonly seen as the Troy of the Trojan War.

I enjoyed walking around the site, which was more extensive than I was expecting, although it’s a bit of a hodgepodge. Troy kept getting destroyed and rebuilt from the early Bronze Age until the Byzantine era, when any status it had as the guardian of the Straits was superseded by Constantinople (and enervated by a retreating coastline). This means that there are any number of layers to the site, but they are all mixed together – or at least that is how they now appear after a century and a half of archaeology, and you really have to use your imagination to perceive how each successive settlement may have appeared in its day. But I would say this activity is preferable to getting your photo taken at the reconstructed Trojan Horse near the entrance.

As my friend Mark Skoczylas pointed out, “You’d think the stairway would have tipped them off.”

Actual artifacts from the site (i.e., what Schliemann allowed the Turks to keep) are on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. (You’ll have to go to Moscow to see the rest of this horde.)

On the other side of the Hellespont is the Gallipoli Peninsula, a name that has become synonymous with a military campaign that took place there over three thousand years later. During the First World War, the Ottomans had allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary against France, Britain, and Russia. Britain (specifically, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty) thought it would be a good idea to land troops at Gallipoli, march on Constantinople, and secure the Bosphorus for Russia. We’re used to thinking of the Ottoman Empire as the sick man of Europe, but they were competent enough in 1915 to repel the allies’ naval attack, and pin their troops on the beach for ten months, despite repeated attempts at breaking through. The whole thing has gone down as another futile campaign in a futile war.

Diorama, Gallipoli Battle Museum, Eceabat.

However, even the futility has become meaningful. The sacrifices made by Australian and New Zealand (“Anzac”) troops at Gallipoli are solemnly commemorated in those countries every April 25, the day when Anzac troops first landed. The location of the battle, and its ineffective progress, have also drawn specific comparisons to the Iliad, the chief literary representation of the Trojan War, which does not dwell on the ultimate Greek victory but the endless and apparently pointless killing that had to transpire first. The ostensible reenactment of this at Gallipoli “served as a military origin myth” for Australia, and could “contextualize the nation and its people within the continuous mythical and historical narrative of Western Civilization.”

A silver lining of sorts.

Ari Burnu Cemetery, Anzac Cove, Eceabat.

On the Turkish side, of course this campaign launched the career of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was a great morale boost during the war, and set the stage for the Turkish War of Independence. It wouldn’t surprise me if it also contributed to the contemporaneous Armenian Genocide, although the Turks would never admit to that. (Wikipedia is blocked in Turkey on account of the article on the Armenian Genocide, which has been protected from Turkey’s manic insistence that the atrocity never happened, or that it wasn’t as great a crime as claimed, or that it was never their intention to kill so many people, etc., etc. Why the Turks feel they have to do this has always baffled me. Quite apart from the blatant pigheadedness of denying reality, why bother, when it was the Ottomans who carried it out, not the Nationalists?)

Akbaş Şehitliği (Akbaş Martyr’s Memorial), Eceabat.