Posts Tagged ‘Arabic’

African History in Maps

July 5, 2020

Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980).

This is another book which I though might be useful for those with an interest in African history and archaeology. Colin McEvedy wrote a series of similar books, showing the progress of history through maps. They were on ancient, medieval and modern history, as well as an Atlas of World Population, with Richard Jones. This does the same for Africa, using maps of the continent from geological times through to 1978. The earliest is of the planet 175 million years ago, when Africa was part of a single supercontinent, Gondwanaland. Subsequent maps show how this had split into the modern continents by about 50 million years ago. This is followed by a map showing the development of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. The book then goes on with maps showing the early pre-human and human sites, the emergence of the different racial populations and language groups, and the various African peoples and the great states and civilizations, beginning with Nubia, Egypt, and Carthage. It shows the great migration and movements of peoples and their dispersion across the continent, and its population at various points in history. The maps also show Africa with southern Europe and the near east to illustrate how the empires from these areas expanded into Africa, such as Rome, Persia and the Arabs. Sometimes the movement of conquest was in the other direction, such as Carthage, whose territory included part of modern Spain, and the Almoravids, who rule Islamic Spain and part of northwest Africa. Some maps are of the continent as it was known to the ancient and medieval geographers in 1350, as well as the travels of Ibn Battuta, the Portuguese voyages of 1482-8, Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India of 1497-8, population and trade routes c. 1600, the foundation of European enclaves and trading forts, the population in 1800 and the European geographer’s view of the continent the same year and then in 1856, the European exploration of the east African lakes, and their invasion and conquest of the continent. The emergence of the newly independent African states is shown in a series of maps from 1960 onwards. The last map is of the African population as it was expected to be in 2000.

The blurb for the book runs

This is a succinct account of civilisation in the continent that gave birth to the human species.

It is a fragmented and turbulent history in which the movements of peoples contrast with the creation of permanent states – Egypt, the earliest organized kingdom in the world; Carthage, the trading city that built an empire to rival Rome; Nubia; Abyssinia; Mali, the land of gold; Benin and Zimbabwe. Seamen probe its coast, traders cross its deserts and gradually the exploiters move in; and then, in the twentieth century, Africa finds the leaders it needs to re-establish its independence and create the nation-states of today.

Using the formula successfully established in his previous historical atlases, Colin McEvedy outlines this progress with the aid of fifty-nine maps and a clear, concise trext. Though his synthesis will be especially useful to those involved in the teaching of African history, its broad perspectives will undoubtedly appeal also to the general reader.

This is obviously a dated book, and I’m not sure if some of the anthropological language used to describe some of the African races would be acceptable today. For example, the book distinguishes between Negroes, Pygmies and Bushmen. Obviously much of the book is very much as Africa was seen by outsiders, such as Arab travellers like Ibn Battuta, and the European explorers and conquerors. This is doubtless partly because many African cultures did not possess a written language before the appearance of Europeans. They did possess their own oral histories, and the Islamic empires of north Africa and Christian Abyssinia/Ethiopia were literate. In the case of the Islamic states, this was in Arabic, which served as the official language in the same way Latin did in medieval western Europe.

Despite its limitations, I still think this might be useful for people with an interest in African history. The texts accompanying each map are short, often no more than two pages, so the book should be accessible to ordinary people and not just university students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Books on African Languages

June 19, 2020

Teach Yourself Swahili: A Complete Course for Beginners, Joan Russell, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1996).

Teach yourself Swahili Dictionary, D.V. Perrott, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1965).

Teach Yourself Yoruba, E.C. Rowlands (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1969).

I’ve an interest in languages, and two that I considered learning are the African languages Swahili and Yoruba. I tried teaching myself a bit of Swahili when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol in the 1990s and very early couple of years of this century.  I didn’t get very far with either of them, and haven’t really done anything more with the Yoruba book than look at it since I bought it. However, I thought some people out there might be interesting in knowing about them, especially now that the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an interest in African culture and civilisation.

Kenneth Katzner in his book, Languages of the World (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1977) has this section on Swahili:

Swahili, more correctly called Kiswahili, is the most important language of east Africa. It is the official language of both Tanzania and Kenya, and is also spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire. (In Zaire a separate dialect is spoken, known as Kingwana.) Swahili is the mother tongue of perhaps only a million people, but at least ten million more speak it fluently as a second language, and many millions more at least understand it to some degree.

Swahili is one of the Bantu languages, which form a branch of the Niger-Congo family. Its vocabulary is basically Bantu but with many words borrowed from Arabic. The name Swahili is derived from an Arabic word meaning “coastal”, having developed among Arabic-speaking settlers of the African coast beginning about the 7th century. During the 19th century it was carried inland by Arab tradesmen, and was later adopted by the Germans as the language of administration in Tanganyika. In modern Tanzania it is the national language, and in 1970 it was proclaimed the official language of Kenya.

The Swahili alphabet lacks the letters c, q, and x, but contains a number of its own. The dh is pronounced like the th of “this” (e.g., dhoruba-hurricane), gh like the German ch (ghali-expensive), and ng’ like the ng in “thing” but not as in “finger” (ng’ombe-cow). Whereas English grammatical inflections occur at the end of the word, in Swahili everything is done at the beginning. Kitabu is the Swahili word for “book” but the word for “books” is vitabu. This word falls into the so-called Ki Vi class, one of eight in the Swahili language. Others are the M Mi class (e.g., mkono-hand, mikono-hands; mji-town, miji-towns), and the M Wa class, used mainly for people (mtu-man, watu-men; mjinga-fool, wajinga-fools). Furthermore, these prefixes are carried over verbs of which the noun is the subject, as well as to numerals and modifying adjectives. Thus “one big book” in Swahili is kitabu kikbubwa kimoja (“book-big-one”), but “two big books” is vitabu vikubwa viwili.

Katzner gives as a example of a text in the language the poem, The Name, by Shaaban Robert. This runs

Mtego wanaotega, ninaswe nianguke,

Sife yangu kuvuruga, jina liaibike,

Mungu mwema mfuga, nilinde lisittendeke,

Na wawekao kaga, kudhuru watakasike.

 

Kwa wingi natangaziwa, maovu nisiyotenda,

Na habari nasikia, kila ninapokwenda,

Lakini Allah mwelewa, stalifanya kuwanda,

Jina wanalochukia, badala y kukonda.

 

Badala ya kukonda, jina litaneenepa,

Ugenini litakwenda, lisipopendeza hapa,

Kutafuta kinbanda, ambako halitatupwa,

Huko wataolipenda, fadhili litawalipa.

 

A trap they set, for me to get caught,

My reputation they blemish, to spoil my name.

Oh, Lord the Keeper, save me from the plight,

And those who promise me harm, remove their aim.

 

Many slanderous charges are published against me,

And these I hear, wherever I go.

But God who understands, my name will clear,

The name they hate, He will surely emancipate.

 

Rather than wither, my name will thrive,

Abroad it will succeed, if here they will not heed,

Shelter it will find, where it will not be remiss,

Where those who care, it will reward and recompense.

 

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili runs

This is a complete course in spoken and written Swahili. If you have never learnt Swahili before, or if your Swahili needs brushing up, Teach Yourself Swahili is for you.

Joan Russell has created a practical course that is both fun and easy to work through.She explains everything clearly along the way and gives you plenty of opportunities to practise what you have learnt. The course structure means that you can work at your own pace, arranging your learning to suit your needs.

Based on the Council of Europe’s Threshold guide lines on language learning, the course contains:

  • Eighteen graded units of dialogues, culture notes, grammar and exercises
  • A guide to Swahili pronunciation
  • Swahili-English and English-Swahili vocabularies

By the end of the course you’ll be able to cope with a whole range of situations and participate confidently in life in Tanzania, Kenya and other Swahili-speaking areas.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili Dictionary simply says that it is

A concise working dictionary that contains all the Swahili words you are likely to hear or read. The Swahili-English and English-Swahili sections of the dictionary provide clear definitions for a range of words and phrases, including words that are particularly appropriate to life in East Africa. A useful Swahili grammar and practical hints on pronunciation are also included at the beginning of the dictionary.

Katzner says of the Yoruba language that

Yoruba, with the stress on the first syllable, is one of the major languages of Nigeria. It is spoken in the southwestern part of the country, in the region whose principal city is Ibadan. There are about 12 million speakers. 

He also notes that it is a member of the Kwa languages, which are a subgroup of the Niger-Congo family. It’s written with grave and acute stresses over letters, which indicate the rise and fall of the voice.

The example he gives of a text in the language is a passage from A King’s Election in Yoruba Land. Here it is, but I’ve been unable to include the tone accents.

Ajo igbimo ti awon agbagba ni ima yan oba larin awon eniti nwon ni itan pataki kan ninu eje. Ilana kan ti o se ajeil ana saju iyan ti oba. Awon olori ama dan agbara ti iroju re ati ise akoso ara re wo. li ojo ti a yan fun dide e li ade, awon olori ama lo si afin oba, nwon a mu u dani pelu agbara, nwon a si na a pelu pasan. Bi oba ba farada aje n lai sun ara ki, nigbana nwon yio de e li ade, bi beko, nwon yio yan oba miran.

The king is chose by a council of elders from among those who have a certain blood descent. A curious ceremony precedes a king’s election. His powers of endurance and self-restraint are tested by the chiefs, who, on the day appointed for the coronation, go to the king’s palace, get hold of him forcibly, and flog him with a whip. If the ordeal is suffered without flinching, then the king is crowned; if not, another king is chosen.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Yoruba runs

This book provides a complete introductory course in Yoruba, the mother tongue of over 10 million people living in Western Nigeria, in parts of Northern Nigeria and Benin.

The book is concerned with the generally accepted “standard” Yoruba which is widely understood even where regional dialects exist. The course assumes no previous knowledge of the language and every stage is illustrated with examples and exercises. Pronunciation, grammar and syntax are comprehensively covered and the book will equip you with a basic, everyday vocabulary.

I’ve no doubt that other books are available on these languages, and that these may well be a little dated after all this time. Reading about them, it’s clear that they’re very different, and therefore very difficult for speakers of European languages like English. Nevertheless, I thought that people interested in Africa and its languages might like to know about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Multiple Language Dictionary for Archaeologists

March 26, 2020

Anna Kieburg, The Archaeological Excavation Dictionary (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Archaeology 2016).

This was another book I got from the bargain book mail order company, Postscript. It’s a dictionary of archaeological words, with over 2,000 entries, in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and Arabic. The Arabic and Greek words are also given in those languages’ alphabets as well as in an English transliteration.

I’m putting this up as archaeology truly is an international discipline. Both professionals, students and volunteers travel across the world to work on digs. There is a guide book, published annually, for volunteers wishing to work on various digs right across the globe, in Europe, America and elsewhere. Also, I’ve noticed that some of the books published by the archaeological publishers, like Oxbow, are also in foreign languages. In the case of Oxbow, it’s mostly French or German.

Archaeology is a truly international subject, with professionals, students and volunteers travelling to digs right across the world. There’s a guide, published annually, for people to wishing to work on them, listing sites in the Americas, Europe and so on, and what they need to take with them. I’m putting the book up on this blog as I thought it might be useful for other archaeologists, or ordinary people interested in archaeology, once the world’s recovered from the Coronavirus and everything’s started up again.

But thinking about archaeology and languages, I wonder if anyone’s ever published such a dictionary for the Celtic languages in the UK? I know the vast majority of people in Britain can speak English, and I doubt if anyone on a site has ever been asked if they could explain what they’ve found in Welsh, Gaelic or Erse, but still, there might be a demand by local people in areas where those languages are spoken for someone to say something about them in them, if only as a source of local pride and individuality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counterpunch Article on Israel’s Fear of Arab Jews

June 30, 2016

Earlier this evening I put up a piece about John Newsinger’s article on Labour and the anti-Semitism allegation in Lobster. Newsinger quotes a Jewish historian of the Holocaust, a passionate Zionist, to show that Livingstone was correct about the Zionists’ cooperation with the Nazis to encourage European Jews to emigrate to Israel to escape Nazi persecution. Newsinger also goes beyond this, to show how several of the great Zionist founders, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben Gurion, had nothing but contempt for the many incredibly courageous German Jews, who were determined not to give in to Hitler and his hordes. These included patriots, who had fought for their country in the carnage of the First World War, who formed the Reichsbund judischer Frontsoldaten. (Literally, ‘Imperial League of Jewish Soldiers of the Front’. These ex-servicemen were particularly awkward for Adolf’s goons, as in no way could they be reasonably accused of being ‘unpatriotic’.

A few days ago, the American radical Left magazine and website, Counterpunch, put up a piece by Jonathan Cook about Israel’s distrust of the Mizrahim. These are Jews from the surrounding Arab nations. Initially, the Israelis didn’t want to encourage them to immigrate, as they were afraid they would dilute the culturally superior Western element and so retard the country’s progress and acceptance as an equal by the Western nations. They were only allowed in because the Holocaust meant that there was a shortage of Ashkenazi and Western Jews to provide the new country with labour. One of the ways the Mizrahim were recruited to Israel was through false flag attacks on their homes in the Arab countries, for which their gentile compatriots were blamed. Inside Israel, they were segregated, and forced to attend separate schools. Like the British schools in Wales and Scotland, which penalised pupils for speaking the indigenous languages of Welsh and Gaelic, the Mizrahi pupils were forbidden to speak Arabic. And once again, David Ben Gurion showed that he was disgustingly bigoted and racist towards them, too, as well as those Jews, who wanted to continue to be Europeans. He called the Mizrahim ‘human dust’ and ‘rabble’. Cook notes that these Israelis have internalised the hatred of Western Jews towards them, and are as bitterly anti-Arab as they are. Indeed, they often provide solid support for Likud and the parties of the Israeli religious Right.

These issues came to the fore as Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, banned Mohammad Madani, an official close to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, from entering Israel, accusing him of terrorism and other offences. Madani had been trying to establish contact with Israeli Jews, but had made the cardinal sin of contacting the Mizrahim, rather than the ruling Ashkenazim. For Cook, Madani’s ‘crimes, as defined by Lieberman, are worth pondering. They suggest that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is rooted less in security issues and more in European colonialism.’

See:http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/06/23/israels-fear-of-the-arab-jews-in-its-midst/

This is the reason behind liberal anti-Zionism. Left-wing critics of Israel don’t criticise it and document its misdeeds and atrocities from an animosity towards the Jews, but because they view it as a European-American settler state. And this affair certainly shows that there is much to this analysis. It seems to show the fear and distrust of a European ruling elite to the indigenous peoples of the region, even if they are other Jews.

Democracy Now! On the Failings of Media ‘Terrorism’ Pundits

May 9, 2016

This is a very relevant and serious piece from Democracy Now! In it, the two anchors talk to Glenn Greenwald and Lisa Stampnitzky, a social studies professor at Harvard and author of the book, Disciplining Terror, about how those, who appear on Fox News and the rest of the media claiming to be experts on terrorism actually aren’t. Greenwald and Stampnitzky point out that there is considerable academic disagreement about what constitutes ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’, and that often the people credited with being experts are only called such because other media pundits have so called them.

They talk about some of the ludicrous statements made about Muslim terrorists, such as by Emerson, the Fox News pundit, who appeared on the Janine Pirro show talking about how Europe was riddled with Muslim no-go zones. He became notorious, and just about universally ridiculed over this side of the Pond as he claimed that Birmingham was one such Muslim state-within-a-state, and that non-Muslims didn’t go in there. To make this guy’s humiliation complete, they also play the section of the interview he gave on the Beeb, in which he had to admit he didn’t know what he was talking about, and that the interviewer asked him if he knew that David Cameron had called him ‘an idiot’.

There’s another, similar incident, where an American news anchor, talking to the director, Kohlmann, about his movie, The Al-Qaeda Plan, asks him if, after he talks about how al-Qaeda isn’t really understood, because it emerged in a part of the world with which most Americans are not familiar, and whose language they don’t speak, he’s now going to go to some of the places that he’s featured in his movie and learn Arabic. Kohlmann’s reply is to state that he has a degree in Islam, and speaks some Arabic, though he’s not fluent. He also says that it’s very, very difficult now to get into Pakistan.

Greenwald also points out that throughout history there’s been much debate over what constitutes ‘terrorism’. He cites the work of a French academic, who pointed out that the term really only came into widespread use in the late 60s and 70s, when it was used by the Israelis to universalise Arab attacks on them. They used to term to present their anti-terror campaign as part of a wider defence of the West against the threat of Islam. Greenwald also states that there has also been many, many attempts by the Western military and politicians to define terrorism in such a way, that they can use it to delegitimise the use of violence by their enemies, without having it applied to their own violence, or that of their allies. These definitions have also failed. He states controversially that at the moment, ‘terrorism’ simply means any act of violence committed by a Muslim.

The Democracy Now! anchors and Greenwald also discuss how the term really is only applied to Muslims, and that when terrorist acts are committed by White Christians, they are described in other terms – the perpetrators are insane, or loners, or whatever. An example of this was Timothy McVeigh’s terrible attack on the federal building in Oklahoma in the 1990s. Before it was discovered precisely who did it, it was briefly described as a ‘terrorist’ attack. Two of the suspects had Arab names, though it turned out these were just taxi drivers, who had gone there to have their licences renewed. When it was discovered that McVeigh, a White Christian, had committed the atrocity, the ‘terrorism’ label was dropped.

Similarly, Louis Stark, an extreme right-wing anti-tax nut also flew a plane into a government building. Again, when it was believed that this might be the work of Muslims, the attack was described as ‘terrorism’. When it was again found out that it was a White, Christian American, who was responsible, it again stopped being described as terrorism.

Here’s the video:

In Britain, the use of the term ‘terrorism’ is rather broader. It was used, for instance, to describe the atrocities committed by the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. I also think it’s been used to describe the violence committed by the Basque separatist group, ETA, and in the 1970s to describe bombings and other attacks by Leftist extremist groups, like the French Action Direct and the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany. But nevertheless, the central point – that it’s only terrorism if it’s been committed by a Muslim – has been made by others as well as Democracy Now! I think the liberals over at The Young Turks have also discussed this issue.

Now, the violent attacks by al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Islamist groups, like Boko Haram in Nigeria, are horrendous and truly deserve to be described as terrorism. But the term can also be applied to attacks by the West and its allies in the Middle East. The Young Turks have commented many times on the illegality of Obama’s drone strikes, and pointed out that they would be greeted with howls of outrage if a Muslim or foreign government carried them out against, say the KKK on American soil. Similarly, the Saudis’ targeting of Shi’a civilians in their attacks on supposed ‘terrorists’ in Yemen are another example of a type of terrorism, that isn’t described as such. And the Democracy Now! programme points out how the term terrorism was not used to describe the Contras and the other South American death squads supported by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Terrorism, as they point out, is a highly emotive, value-laden term, and the people appearing as experts on it on the news by and large, according to the programme, just recycle American government propaganda. The lesson is that you have to be careful, not just about how trustworthy the experts are, but also about the way the term ‘terrorism’ is being deliberately used in a way to stigmatize America’s enemies, while avoiding what’s committed by America, and its allies, including us in Britain.

The Language of Ancient Sheba in Yemen

January 14, 2016

Sheba Solomon Islam

Persian painting of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, from the poems of Farid al-Din Attar, 1472.

Yemen is the location of the ancient kingdom of Sheba, whose Queen is mentioned in both the Bible and the Qu’ran as having visited King Solomon. In the Bible, he tested her with hard questions, which some commenters believe were riddles. In Islam, Solomon wished to know whether she and her people worshipped God – Allah – or the sun. The kingdom of Sheba itself was located at Marib. Archaeologists have excavated a pre-Islamic religious sanctuary, the Mahram Bilqis, which is named after her. Bilqis is the name given to her in Muslim legend, though she is not named in the Qu’ran. The sanctuary, mahram, has been associated with her since the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD.

In addition to the remains of its buildings, and great feats of architectural engineering, such as a magnificent dam intended to provide the country with much needed water, archaeologists have also uncovered a number of inscriptions, and have been able to reconstruct this ancient civilisation’s language. It’s
Semitic, and so is related to Hebrew and Arabic, and was part of a family of languages spoken in the five or so different kingdoms that existed in south Arabia before the rise of Islam. As a South Arabian language, it is one of the ancestors of Ge’ez, the ancient literary and religious language of Ethiopia, which was colonised by settlers from that part of Arabia. In Ethiopian legend, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba married, and the Queen later travelled to Ethiopia, where she became the founder of the Abyssinian monarchy, according to their national epic, the Kebra Nagast, or ‘Glory of Kings’.

The linguistic remains have been so complete, that a dictionary of the Sabaic language, by A.F.L. Beeston, W.W. Muller, M.A. Ghul and J.Ryckmans, was published by the University of Sanaa in Yemen in 1982.

Sabaic Dictionary Front

Sabaic Dictionary Arabic

Here’s a short list of some words from that ancient tongue. As a Semitic language, like ancient Hebrew and Arabic, on the consonants were written, so the actual pronunciation is unclear.

Affair, matter, undertaking, ‘kln
Blood, Dm
Body, person, grbt
Camel, ‘bl
Cattle, Bqr
Cultivated field, Dbr
Famine, ‘wfy-n
Father, ancestor, ‘bw
Folk, people, community, ‘hl
Garden, orchard, gnt
To give, to grant, ‘dw
Goats, ‘nz
God, ‘l
Goddess, ‘lht
Grain crops, corn, meal, ‘kl
Grandchild, Hfd
Health, prosperity, Bry
Land, territory,
country, cultivated Ground, ‘rd
Man, male, ‘ns
Mother, ‘mm
Place, occasion, Brt
Sea, coast, plain, Bhr
Servant, serf, ‘bd
Sheep, D’n
Son, daughter, child,
descendant, family member, Bnw
To take, to seize, to capture, ‘hd
Woman, female, wife, ‘nt
World, ‘lm.

My fear is that the war in Syria will lead to the destruction of Yemen’s ancient monuments and its invaluable archaeological remains, either through ordinary military action, or a deliberate act of destruction by ISIS. Daesh have done their best to destroy the ancient pre-Islamic heritage of the other nations they’ve taken over, in part of Iraq and Syria, as well as the religious shrines, monuments and mosques of Muslims they judge to be of the ‘wrong’ faith, like the Shi’a and ordinary, moderate Muslims. Quite apart from the horrors and death inflicted on the Yemeni people themselves in this conflict. Remember, the civilian casualties in the Saudi drone strikes, aided by America, are 50% +. The Yemeni people have a brilliant, fascinating past, and like its people, it needs to be protected.

Happy New Year in Different European Languages

January 2, 2016

I found this map showing the greeting ‘Happy New Year’ in different European languages, including Turkish and Arabic over at 1000 Natural Shocks (over 18s only). And so I’ve reblogged it, to wish everyone in the world the same wherever they are.

Happy New Year Map

Dan Cruikshank on ISIS’ Attack on Ancient Monuments

June 24, 2015

Next Tuesday the Beeb is showing a programme by Dan Cruikshank on the threat posed to the great antiquities and priceless monuments of Middle East by ISIS. It’s entitled Dan Cruikshank’s Civilisation under Attack. The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Islamic State have declared war on some of the planet’s most important architectural sites, with jihadi fighters seemingly set on destroying the wonders of the ancient world. Dan Cruikshank charts the likely course of the militant group’s advance, investigating why it is happening. (p. 86)

and

Watching the videos here of Islamic State fighters taking sledgehammers and drills to Assyrian reliefs in Nimrud – then blowing up the whole site – is hard. Similar attacks in Mosul, Nineveh and Hatra have brought global condemnation, and now the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra lies under IS control.

Dan Cruikshank talks to Islamic scholars about the claimed rationale behind the IS actions and what, if anything, can be done to challenge it. ‘Are we prepared to use armed force to protect the cultural heritage of all humanity?’ demands one expert. But it turns out to be not nearly that simple, in a programme that can offer few answers. (p. 83.)

The programme’s on BBC 4 at 9.00 pm, if you can bear to watch the footage of this gratuitous vandalism.

Cruikshank is an architectural historian with a deep appreciation of the glories of the world’s architectural heritage, not just that of Britain. A few years ago he presented a series, in which he toured the globe’s great buildings and monuments, including those of Iraq and Afghanistan. These included either Babylon or Nineveh, where he was horrified to find how botched and tawdry the ‘restoration’ performed by Saddam Hussein had been. The monument had been partly restored using modern brick stamped with the late dictator’s own name. I’ve got a feeling this was slightly before the West’s invasion of Iraq, as he stated his own, real fears about the threat a war in the country posed to the survival of these precious antiquities. He also talked to one of the leaders of the Christian community in Iraq about the deterioration in relationships between them and their Muslim compatriots. The interview was quite strained, with ominous pauses where the bishop appeared to be thinking very carefully indeed about how to explain his people’s embattled situation. He explained that relations between Christians and Muslims had previously been quite harmonious. Tensions had increased, with members of the Christian church physically assaulted, with the threat of invasion from the West.

Alas, Cruikshank’s fears have been borne out. Christian communities throughout Iraq and the Middle East have been attacked and expelled by ISIS as part of their radical Islamisation of the territories they capture. And it’s not just been Christians that have suffered. They’ve also attacked, brutalised and enslaved the Yezidis, and have killed Muslims, whose religious views differ from and are opposed to their own. I’ve blogged before about how many Islamic clergy have been murdered and mosques demolished by ISIS, simply because they dared to have a different conception of Islam.

And in addition to destroying churches, and ancient Assyrian monuments, they’ve also destroyed historic Islamic shrines, again because they are ‘un-Islamic’, according to their twisted ideology.

All this is a deliberate attack on an ancient heritage that belongs to the world and specifically to the peoples of the countries ISIS have conquered and brutalised. These monuments are a threat, as they show just how ancient the history and culture of these peoples are. Archaeologists and historians of the ancient Near East, such as Georges Roux in his Ancient Iraq have noted, for example, that the style of housing used by the ancient Babylonians is very much the same as that traditionally used in Iraq. The forensic scientist and Egyptologist, Dr Jo-Anne Fletcher, made the same point about the type of houses built and used by modern Egyptians. This is also very similar to those built by their ancient predecessors thousands of years previously.

In language, too, there is considerable similarity and some remarkable survivals from the ancient cultures. Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian Empire, was, like Arabic and Hebrew, a Semitic language. And there are still words in modern Arabic, which are clearly derived from, if not exactly the same, as those uttered by the Assyrians. Certain customs and cultural practices have also survived down the centuries from the ancient past. In the programme about Palmyra, Cruikshank pointed to a relief, which showed a group of veiled women riding camels or mules. This, he pointed out, showed how ancient the veiling of women was in the Middle East. It certainly does. Respectable married women were required by law in ancient Assyria to veil themselves in public.

ISIS’ destruction of these monuments is a deliberate attempt to erase the history and cultural identity of Iraq and Syria. It’s the same totalitarian strategy pursued by Hitler and Stalin, in their brutal campaigns to remodel Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union, so that no trace of their former cultures could survive to challenge the regime. And the cultural vandalism didn’t stop there, but was also imposed on the nations they conquered. Hitler, for example, had the Paris metro destroyed, as he had claimed that Berlin was the only city in the world that had such an underground railway system. This was clearly belied by the existence of the French system, and so it had to be destroyed. And as Orwell stated in 1984, that classic SF dystopia, if you want to control the future, you have to control the past. Hence the Ministry of Truth, which existed to rewrite history in order to satisfy the ideological and propaganda needs of Big Brother’s tyranny.

Orwell based his book on Stalin’s Russia. Since then, Communism has fallen, although Putin seems determined to revive some of Stalin’s reputation and his brutal methods. And ISIS have now succeeded the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as destroyers of culture and history in the pursuit of totalitarian power.

They haven’t always been able to get their own way, however. There has been the odd case where the local people have protested so strongly against their attempts to destroy one of their country’s monuments, that ISIS have been forced to retreat. One of these cases was when the locals gathered round to protect an historic minaret.

Their actions stand in stark contrast to far more enlightened approach of the early caliphs. What made medieval Islam such a powerful cultural and scientific force in global society, was its willingness to seek out, absorb, and assimilate the learning of the peoples they had conquered. This was then synthesized and built on, with the result that Muslim scholars made astonishing advances in astronomy, medicine, physics, mathematics, philosophy, chemistry, historiography – the philosophy of history – and even in areas ISIS utterly detest, such as musical theory.

ISIS, by contrast, are destroyers, and their deliberate and calculated attack on these ancient monuments has left the culture of the world and the Muslim and Arab peoples themselves badly impoverished.

Gulzabeen Afsar, UKIP and Nazi Anti-Semitism

April 26, 2015

Earlier today I reblogged Tom Pride’s piece, reporting a tweet from the Tory councillor Gulzabeen Afsar that she would never support ‘al Yahud’ Miliband. Al-Yahud is Arabic for ‘the Jew’. It’s a blatant statement of anti-Semitism.

Her statement is somewhat ironic, as Ed Miliband has been criticised by some British Jews for not being as pro-Israel as they feel he should. Moreover, there are initiatives by the Jewish and Islamic communities in Britain to overcome prejudice and extremism and establish good relations between them. There was a section about this on the Beeb’s One Show a few weeks ago.

And it hasn’t just been in Britain. In Norway about a month ago Muslims formed a protective shield around a local synagogue against attack by Fascists during a neo-Nazi demonstration.

Afsar’s anti-Semitism seems to come from the bizarre conspiracy theories that were deliberately imported into the Islamic world by the Nazis in their attempt to find allies in the Middle East and North Africa during the Second World War. Before then, the Islamic world was much less anti-Semitic than Europe.

And anti-Semitism is hardly confined to parts of the Tories, or sections of the British Muslim community. A very high percentage of Kippers stated that they did not want a Jewish prime minister. And the meme below is directed against one Kipper politico, who has made statements showing he believes all the anti-Semitic conspiracy bilge claiming that the Second World War was deliberately created by the Jews. He also denied the Holocaust.

Kipper Holocaust Denial

The Kippers are, of course, horrendously Islamophobic. There’s hardly a week goes by with some Kipper, somewhere, saying something monstrous about Muslims. Both Afsar’s and this joker’s views ultimately come from the Nazis. And they have absolutely no place in 21st century Britain, regardless of the colour or faith of the person saying them.

ISIS’ Destruction of Muslim Cultural Treasures in Timbuktu

March 17, 2015

Yesterday I put up a number of pieces on ISIS’ destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures, seen in the smashing of ancient Assyrian artefacts in a museum in Mosul and the destruction of an Islamic shrine of Adam’s son Seth, revered in Islam as the prophet Sheth. The Islamist terror group hasn’t confined its destruction of items and monuments of immense cultural heritage to Iraq.

This is a report from Euronews from 29th January 2013, reporting how, when they were expelled from Timbuktu, they smashed one of the important local graves, and set fire to the local library, in the hope of destroying the priceless books and manuscripts within.

ISIS’ Attack on the Graves of the Sufi Saints

This was a calculated attempted to destroy Mali’s peculiar Islamic culture, and its rich intellectual heritage that is only just beginning to be discovered and truly appreciated by Western scholars. And it shows clearly what ISIS would like to do to other Muslim nations and their cultures, including those in the West, simply for not following what they consider to be the correct interpretation of Islam.

The desecration of the ancient grave looks to me like an attempt to destroy an aspect of Sufi worship, which is strongly rejected in Wahhabi Islam. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism, in which the practitioner attempts to achieve union with the Almighty through a series of spiritual exercises. These can include singing and dancing. There are a number of different Sufi orders, some of whom may differ widely from orthodox Islam. The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey are one Sufi order. These orders are under the guidance of a sheikh, the term given to their spiritual head. The orders’ founders are revered as saints, their graves are frequently the sites of veneration and special ceremonies.

I was taught at College that most Muslims in fact belong to a Sufi order. Sufi mysticism was practised not only in the Near East, but also amongst European Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire. Many of these communities were converted to Islam through their preaching, and in particular that of the Bektashi order, who served as the chaplains to the Ottoman forces. Unfortunately, this aspect of the traditional Islamic heritage of the Balkan nations has been under attack, not only from Non-Muslim nationalists, but also from Islamic fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. I can remember reading years ago in the Independent how graves in Muslim cemeteries in some of the Balkan countries had been destroyed as part of a fundamentalist attack on monuments and practices they considered non-Muslim.

There are British Muslims, who perform religious rites to venerate the graves of religious leaders in this country. If ISIS had their way, the worshippers and mystics at these shrines, who follow the traditions of their orders, would find their beliefs and practices banned and suppressed. Just as ISIS would kill and maim their non-Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Timbuktu’s Ancient Heritage of Learning

As for the destruction of the library, Timbuktu was one of the richest towns in West Africa during the Middle Ages because of its position on the major gold trading route. So rich was the country, that when the ruler of Mali went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in the 12th century, he took so much gold with him that it sent Egypt into recession.

Mali was not only rich, but cultured. Timbuktu was a university town, where the Islamic texts and doctrines were studied and copied. Not only that, but its scholars were also interest in the secular sciences that were pursued by Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages. One of the books shown to the Beeb’s Aminatta Forna in her programme on Timbuktu’s lost library was a scientific text arguing for a heliocentric model of the solar system. That’s the same model as proposed independently in Europe by Copernicus, in which the Earth goes round the Sun, rather than the usual medieval notion of the Sun and the planets going round the Earth.

Forna’s programme was a fascinating documentary on the sheer wealth of the city’s and Mali’s medieval culture and learning. It’s also on Youtube. Here it is below. It’s nearly an hour, so not short, but well worth watching.

The modern Arabic word for literature is adabiyyat, which I understand is derived from adab, meaning manners, but also ‘culture’. ISIS in their destruction of the world’s cultural heritage and learning have shown themselves to be its enemies, both those of Muslims and non-Muslims. And if they continue, the world will be a much poorer place.