Posts Tagged ‘Babylon’

The Ancient Near East’s Influence on Roman and Ancient Greek Law

June 3, 2017

I’ve written several pieces about the possible origins of western democracy, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the ancient Near East. Early civilisations like Sumeria and Mari had popular assemblies and councils of elders, which voted on issues, while the karem, or chamber of commerce, also influenced royal decisions. Apart from being of interest in itself, the existence of these institutions in the political systems of the ancient Middle East, is something of a challenge to people like Boris Johnson. Johnson’s a public schoolboy, and so is steeped in the Classics. As shown in his TV series a few years ago about the splendour of the Roman Empire, he seems to believe that everything great and noble in the world came about through ancient Rome and its predecessor, Greece.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found this entry for Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, HB £38.50). This says

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact and the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Demare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

As I said before, perhaps if there was great appreciation of the achievements of the ancient Near Eastern world, and the debt that the modern West owes to its civilisations, there would be greater reluctance amongst the political and military class to invading and destroying these countries.

The Iraq invasion created the chaos that spawned ISIS, which, along with al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa, have destroyed millennia of culture and history, as well as butchering those regions’ people.

But the Americans and British have also done their share of cultural vandalism. Nicholas Wood and Annabelle Pellens in their book The Case Against Blair, describe how the Americans levelled the ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as military base.

Now imagine the sheer outrage from Classicists like BoJo if the same thing was done to the ruins of Athens. Not that Greece isn’t seeing it’s ancient heritage destroyed by Neoliberalism, as museums are closed, archaeological sites looted and antiquities sold off due to the EU’s austerity programme. And for all his avowed enthusiasm for the Classical world, I haven’t heard BoJo speak out against that, either.

It’s long past time that a halt was called to imperialism, neoliberalism, and the destruction of the world’s cultures, and the massacre and exploitation of its peoples.

The Ancient Near East as the Birthplace of Democracy

May 15, 2017

This is a bit of a rejoinder to Boris ‘Mugwump’ Johnson. Johnson, as a public schoolboy steeped in the Classics, believes that everything great and good began with ancient Greece and Rome. But a few years ago I put up a blog post about a book, The Origins of the Democracy in the Ancient Near East, which argued that the roots of democracy went further back, and further east, than ancient Greece. It began instead in the popular assemblies, which governed ancient mesopotamian civilisations such as the city state of Mari.

I found this passage about the democratic nature of ancient near eastern civilisation in the entry ‘Law (Mesopotamian)’ in Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (London: Pickering and Inglis Ltd 1966), 356-359. This states

The pattern of society in early Mesopotamia has been described as “primitive democracy”. There was an assembly (Sumerian ukkin, Akkadian puhrum) of the elders and young men with whom they chieftain or leader (antecedant of the later king) must consult. All major decisions were put to a vote. In addition, the cheiftain was obliged to give to his tutelary deity an annual account of his conduct of authority during the previous year. No doubt here also, as in the case of Egypt, there was drastic modification in practice especially in later years when, for example, such strong men as Sargon of Akkad, Hammurabi of Babylon or Sennacherib of Assyria ruled. But the principle remained in daily life as a unique characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization and spread into Syria and Anatolia as well. 356.

I don’t doubt that in the half century since the book was published, this view of ancient near eastern society as democratic has been revised. I think the book that came out about it a few years ago said that these states weren’t democratic. However, popular assemblies did exist.

Mesopotamia was the old name for the area that is now Iraq, and I wonder how much of its ancient history and precious archaeology has survived the western invasion by Bush and Blair, sectarian conflict and the destructive fury of ISIS. Nicholas Wood in his book, The Case Against Blair, describes how the Americans trashed Babylon when they chose to make it into one of the bases. And the barbarians of ISIS released a vide of them levelling Nineveh and destroying priceless antiquities in one of Iraq’s museums.

And their fury against anything they judge to be un-Islamic isn’t confined to the ancient past. They’ve also desecrated and destroyed Christian churches and the country’s Muslim shrines and mosques. And this is besides the horrific carnage and destruction which the war and its aftermatch have unleashed on the region and its people.

Iraq was one of the major centres of world civilisation, and the destruction of its ancient monuments and artefacts is a massive loss. And all because Bush, Blair and the Saudis wanted to steal the country’s oil and other state-owned industries for American big business.

Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party and the Rise of Militant Zionism in America: Part 1

May 11, 2017

One of the points made by Jewish supporters of the Palestinians is that there at more Christian than Jewish Zionists in America. Indeed, Prof. Norman Finkelstein has pointed out that support for Israel amongst Jewish Americans was marginal until the late 1960s, when Conservative activists worked hard to engineer support for the country after its victories against the surrounding Arab nations. Mike made a similar point in his defence of himself and his commenter, Paul Mabbo, against the accusations of anti-Semitism flung by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Not everyone making the accusations was necessarily Jewish.

In fact there has been an alliance between right-wing American Christian groups and militant Zionists since before the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980s. Reagan’s election was partly due to his support from these right-wing Christian groups, brought about by the fundraisers and PR men Richard Viguerie, Terry Dolan, Howard Phillips and Ed McAteer. These men founded, led or advised a slew of conservative Christian organisations such as Conservative Caucus, Religious Roundtable, National Conservative Political Action Committee, Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, Christian Voice, Young Americans for Freedom and the Moral Majority. The term ‘Moral Majority’ was coined by either Weyrich or Phillips when McAteer arranged for them to meet Jerry Falwell. McAteer was then the head of the Christian Freedom Foundation, which was funded by money from the Pew and DeVos families, who owned Sunoco and AmWay respectively. It isn’t surprising that Betsy DeVos has now popped up as Trump’s Education Secretary, with a militant right-wing plan to privatise all American public schools into Charter Schools with an explicitly right-wing Christian curriculum. Weyrich was also a member of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which was financed by money from the Coors and Richard Scaiffe. As well as being a member of Young Americans for Freedom, Phillips had also been a minor member of Nixon’s administration. They chose Falwell because he had helped Anita Bryant defeat the Dade County Gays Rights Bill in 1977.

Falwell was one of the most notorious of the right-wing televangelists of the 1980s. He was actually the least popular of them, became the most influential through his contacts with Ronald Reagan. He first came to public attention for his 1965 speech denouncing Martin Luther King. However, it was the series of rallies he conducted in 1976 and ’77 which brought him to the attention of the leaders of the American Christian right. In 1983 Reagan allowed Fallwell to attend National Security briefings on the possibility of nuclear war with Russia, and discussed theology and nuclear war with him in his presidential limousine. Fallwell was also active establishing links with the Israeli leadership to the point where he became the most influential gentile lobbyist for Israel and Israeli expansionism.

As part of this, Falwell began arranging tours to the Holy Land. One of these was attended by a journalist, Grace Halsell, in 1983. She noted the prominent role apocalypticism played in the tours, with many of her fellow tourists believing that Christ’s return, and the end of the world were imminent. These tours also had an explicit agenda in drumming up support for Israel. The Israeli guide referred to Palestinians as Arabs, following the official Israeli line set by Golda Meir that there were no Palestinians. He then went on to state that the ‘Arabs’ preferred to live in poverty, had repeatedly refused Israeli friendship and bluntly stated that ‘all Muslims were terrorists’. When the tour bus stopped at Nazareth, it was only to use the toilets there. Halsell suspected that they were being prevented from speaking to any Palestinians or Christians living in Israel. This is not unlikely. One of the ministers at our church said that if you go to Israel, you will be kept from meeting Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians. The tour finally met Falwell at a hotel in Jerusalem, where they were treated to a speech by the Israeli defence minister, Moshe Arens, boast about Israeli victories in the invasion of Lebanon.

Falwell was richly rewarded by the Israelis for his services to them. A forest was named after him, he was showered with free trips to the country, and was also given a private jet by the Israeli government. He became the only gentile to receive the Jabotinsky medal, named after the Zionist leader, who advocated waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians in order to set up an Israeli empire that straddled both sides of the Jordan. It was Falwell who turned Jesse Helms, another prominent Reaganite, from a militant anti-Zionist into an enthusiastic supporter of Israel.

Falwell also visited the West Bank, where he had his photo taken with a Jewish American family, who had recently immigrated there. He set up a convention in Annapolis in 1983 to organise support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This was attended by James Watt and Richard Allen, two members of Reagan’s administration; Yehuda Hellman and other Jewish leaders; Viguerie, Phillips and Weyrich; and former presidential sleazebag Richard M. Nixon. Falwell also told a Texan newspaper that same year that Israel had a divine mandate, through the covenant between the Lord and the patriarch Abraham, to parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan, and that the whole of Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait should also belong to Israel. This would have to be achieved through force. Falwell stated that ‘good intentions are acts of stupidity’.

Extremist American Christian groups have also given support to Jewish terrorists, such as Gush Emunim, who have attempted to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem in order to restore Solomon’s Temple, whose site they believe the mosque occupies. In 1984 18 members of the terrorist group were convicted of trying to blow up the mosque, with the covert support of the Shin Bet and other members of the Israeli army and police. The group also attacked three Palestinian mayor, wounding them.

The terrorists were received as popular heroes in Israel, including by the judge who sentenced them. There were pleas for mercy from Yitzhak Shamir, and American right-wing Christians and Jews began sending money to finance their defence. Wealth American Jews also fund Gush Emunim and Meir Kahane’s extreme right-wing Kach party. Gush Emunim is also funded by Marcus Katz, a Mexican arms salesman, who made immense profits from selling guns and other armaments to Iran and various South American countries. Ruben Mattus, the head of the ice cream firm Haagen-Dazs, is one of the major backers of Kahane’s Kach party in Israel and his Jewish Defence League in the US.

The foremost Christian supporter of Israeli terrorism, at least in the 1980s, was the Jerusalem Temple Foundation, headed by the self-declared new Nehemiah, Terry Reisenhoover. Reisenhoover’s an Oklahoma speculator in oil and land, and styles himself after the Biblical Nehemiah, who was the first governor of Jerusalem after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. The land Reisenhoover has speculated on, along with his Israeli partner, Shony Braun, includes land taken from Palestinians on the West Bank. Reisenhoover appointed as secretary Stanley Goldfoot, once implicated in the Stern gang’s 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Temple Foundation aimed to raise $100 million annually to rebuild the Temple and establish a yeshiva to teach the future priests the correct way to sacrifice animals there. They also supplied funds to Gush Emunim’s defence lawyers after the 1983 attack.

Another right-wing Christian group funding Israeli terrorism is the International Christian Embassy, who lobbied their governments to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This group were also financed by South Africa.

The Case for Prosecuting Blair as War Criminal for Iraq Invasion

April 8, 2017

War Crime or Just War? The Iraq War 2003-2005: The Case against Blair, by Nicholas Wood, edited by Anabella Pellens (London: South Hill Press 2005).

This is another book I’ve picked up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. It’s an angry and impassioned book, whose author is deeply outraged by Blair’s unprovoked and illegal invasion, the consequent carnage and looting and the massive human rights abuses committed by us and the Americans. William Blum in one of his books states that following the Iraq War there was an attempt by Greek, British and Canadian human rights lawyers to have Bush, Blair and other senior politicians and official brought to the international war crimes court in the Hague for prosecution for their crimes against humanity. This books presents a convincing case for such a prosecution, citing the relevant human rights and war crimes legislation, and presenting a history of Iraq and its despoliation by us, the British, from Henry Layard seizing the archaeological remains at Nineveh in 1845 to the Iraq War and the brutalisation of its citizens.

The blurb on the back cover reads:

After conversations with Rob Murthwaite, human rights law lecturer, the author presents a claim for investigation by The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Maanweg 174, 2516 AB The Hague, The Netherlands, that there have been breaches of the ICC Statute by members of the UK Government and Military in the run up to and conduct of the war with Iraq. That there is also prima facie evidence that the Hague and Geneva conventions, the Nuremberg and the United Nations Charters have been breached, and that this evidence may allow members of the UK and US Governments, without state immunity or statute of limitations, to be extradited to account for themselves. The use of hoods, cable ties, torture, mercenaries, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, aggressive patrols and dogs, is examined. Questions are raised over the religious nature of the war, the seizure of the oil fields, Britain’s continuous use of the RAF to bomb Iraq in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1990s archaeologists acting as spies, the destruction of Fallujah, the burning and looting of libraries, museums and historic monuments; and the contempt shown towards Iraqis living, dead and injured.

In his preface Wood states that the conversation he had with Rob Murthwaite out of which the book grew, was when they were composing a letter for the Stop the War Coalition, which they were going to send to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Wood himself is an archaeologist, and states that he is particularly shocked at the imposition of American culture in Saudi Arabia. The book’s editor, Anabella Pellens, is Argentinian and so ‘knows what imprisonment and disappearance mean’.

In his introduction Wood argues that there were four reasons for the invasion of Iraq. The first was to introduce democracy to the country. Here he points out that to Americans, democracy also means free markets and privatisation for American commercial interests. The second was to seized its oil supplies and break OPEC’s power. The third was Israel. The United States and Israel for several years before the War had been considering various projects for a water pipeline from the Euphrates to Israel. The Israelis also favoured setting up a Kurdish state, which would be friendly to them. They were also concerned about Hussein supplying money to the Palestinians and the Scuds launched against Israel during the 1992 Gulf War. And then there are the plans of the extreme Zionists, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere, to expand Israel eastwards into Iraq itself. The fourth motive is the establishment of American military power. Here Wood argues that in the aftermath of 9/11 it was not enough simply to invade Afghanistan: another country had to be invaded and destroyed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the American military machine.

Chapter 1 is a brief history of Iraq and its oil, with a commentary on the tragedy of the country, discussing the Gulf War and the Iraq invasion in the context of British imperialism, with another section on British imperialism and Kuwait.

Chapter 2 is a summary of the laws and customs of war, which also includes the relevant clauses from the regulations it cites. This includes

Habeas Corpus in the Magna Carta of 1215

The establishment of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross

The Hague Convention of 1907: Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land
This includes a summary of the main clauses, and states the contents of the regulations.

The United Nations Charter of 1945

The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1945
This sections shows how the judgements are relevant to the British invasion and occupation of Iraq. It also gives a summary of the judgments passed at the Nuremberg trials, beginning with the indictment, and the individual verdicts against Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Frick, Streicher, Rosenberg, Frank, Funk, Schacht, Doenitz, Raeder, Von Schirack, Sauckel, Jodl, Von Papen, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, Von Neurath, Fritzsche, and Borman.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Protocols, containing extracts from
Convention 1 – For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces in the Field; Convention III – Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; IV – Relative to the Protection of Civilian persons in Times of War.

There are also extracts from

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, 1954;

Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1977.

Protocols to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious Or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva 1980.

The 1997 Ottawa Convention and the treaty banning mines.

A summary of the rules of engagement for the 1991 Gulf War, which was issued as a pocket card to be carried by US soldiers.

The 1993 Hague Convention.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2002.

The International Criminal Court Act of 2001 and the incorporation of the Rome Statute into British law. This gives both the aims of the act and a summary of the act itself.

Lastly there are a few paragraphs on the Pinochet case of 1998, and extradition as a method of bringing justice.

Chapter 3 is on allies in war as partners in war crimes committed.

Chapter 4 is on the deception and conspiracy by Bush and Blair, which resulted in their invasion. This begins by discussing the American plans in the 1970s for an invasion of the Middle East to seize their oil supplies during the oil crisis provoked by the Six Day War. In this chapter Wood reproduces some of the relevant correspondence cited in the debates in this period, including a letter by Clare short.

Chapter 5 describes how Clare Short’s own experience of the Prime Minister’s recklessness, where it was shown he hadn’t a clue what to do once the country was conquered, led her to resign from the cabinet. Wood states very clearly in his title to this chapter how it violates one of the fundamental lessons of the great Prussian militarist, Clausewitz, that you must always know what to do with a conquered nation or territory.

Chapter 6: A Ruthless Government describes the vicious persecution of the government’s critics and their removal from office. Among Blair’s victims were the weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, who killed himself after questioning by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and MOD and an intense attempt by Blair and his cabinet to discredit him; the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, Gavin Davies, the Beeb’s chairman, and the reporter, Andrew Gilligan. Others target for attack and vilification included Katherine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, the head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Dr Brian Jones, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a Deputy Legal Advisor to Foreign Office, George Galloway, Paul Bigley, the brother of the kidnap victim Ken Bigley, and Clare Short. Bigley’s apartment in Belgium was ransacked by MI6 and the RFBI and his computer removed because he blamed Blair for his brother’s kidnap and beheading by an Iraqi military faction. There is a subsection in this chapter on the case of Craig Murray. Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who got the boot because he told the government that the president was an evil dictator, who had boiled someone alive. This was most definitely not something Blair wanted to hear.

Chapter 7 is a series of cases studies. Each case has its own section, which includes the relevant Human Rights and war crimes legislation.

7A is on the breakdown of the country’s civil administration and political persecution. The two are linked, as Blair and Bush had all members of the Baath party dismissed from their posts. However, membership of the party was a requirement for employment in public posts across a wide range of fields. Wood points out that you could not even be a junior university lecturer without being a member of the party. As a result, the country was immediately plunged into chaos as the people who ran it were removed from their positions without anyone to take over. In this chapter Wood also discusses the unemployment caused by the war, and the disastrous effect the invasion had on the position of women.

7B is on the destruction of services infrastructure.

7C is on damage to hospitals and attacks on medical facilities.

7D is on the destruction and looting of museums, libraries and archaeological sites. Remember the outrage when ISIS levelled Nineveh and destroyed priceless antiquities in Mosul? The US and Britain are hardly innocent of similar crimes against this most ancient of nation’s heritage. The Americans caused considerable damage to Babylon when they decided to make it their base. This included breaking up the city’s very bricks, stamped with the names of ancient kings, for use as sand for their barricades around it. Remind me who the barbarians are again, please?

7E – Seizing the Assets is on the American and British corporate looting of the country through the privatisation and seizure of state-owned industries, particularly oil. This is very much in contravention of international law.

7F – Stealing their plants. This was covered in Private Eye at the time, though I’m not sure if it was mentioned anywhere else. Iraq has some of the oldest varieties of food crops in the world, among other biological treasures. These are varieties of plants that haven’t change since humans first settled down to farm 7-8 thousand years ago. Monsanto and the other GM firms desperately wanted to get their mitts on them. So they patented them, thus making the traditional crops Iraqi farmers had grown since time immemorial theirs, for which the farmers had to pay.

7G describes how the Christian religious element in the war gave it the nature of a Crusade, and religious persecution. The aggressive patrols and tactics used to humiliate and break suspects involve the violation of their religious beliefs. For example, dogs are unclean animals to Muslims, and would never be allowed inside a house. So dogs are used to inspect suspect’s houses, even the bedrooms, by the aggressive patrols. Muslims have their religious items confiscated, in contravention of their rules of war. One man was also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which is was against his religion as a Muslim. The message by some of the army ministers and preachers that Islam is an evil religion means that Iraqis, as Muslims, are demonised and that instead of being viewed as people to be liberated they are cast as enemies.

There are several sections on the restraint of suspects. These include the use of cable ties, hoods, which have resulted in the death of at least two people, setting dogs on people, standing for hours and other tortures, which includes a list of the types of torture permitted by Donald Rumsfeld, aggressive patrolling, killing and wounding treacherously – which means, amongst other things, pretending to surrender and then shooting the victims after they have let their guard down, marking the bodies of victims in order to humiliate them, the deliberate targeting of the house owned by the Hamoodi family of Chemical Ali, the mass shooting from aircraft of a wedding party in the Iraqi desert by the Americans, but supported by the British; another incident in which people gathered in a street in Haifa around a burning US vehicle were shot and massacred; cluster bombs, including evidence that these were used at Hilla; the use of depleted uranium. Thanks to the use of this material to increase the penetrating power of shells, the incidence of leukaemia and other cancers and birth defects has rocketed in parts of Iraq. Children have been born without heads or limbs. One doctor has said that women are afraid to get pregnant because of the widespread incidence of such deformities; the use of mercenaries. Private military contractors have been used extensively by the occupying armies. Counterpunch has attacked their use along with other magazines, like Private Eye, because of their lawlessness. As they’re not actually part of the army, their casualties also don’t feature among the figures for allied casualties, thus making it seem that there are fewer of them than there actually is. They also have the advantage in that such mercenaries are not covered by the Geneva and other conventions. Revenge killings by British forces in the attacks on Fallujah. 7W discusses the way the Blair regime refused to provide figures for the real number of people killed by the war, and criticised the respected British medical journal, the Lancet, when it said it could have been as many as 100,000.

In the conclusion Wood discusses the occupation of Iraq and the political motivations for it and its connection to other historical abuses by the British and Americans, such as the genocide of the Indians in North America. He describes the horrific experiences of some Iraqi civilians, including a little girl, who saw her sisters and thirteen year old brother killed by British soldiers. He states that he hopes the book will stimulate debate, and provides a scenario in which Blair goes to Jordan on holiday, only to be arrested and extradited to be tried as a war criminal for a prosecution brought by the farmers of Hilla province. The book has a stop press, listing further developments up to 2005, and a timeline of the war from 2003-5.

The book appears to me, admittedly a layman, to build a very strong case for the prosecution of Tony Blair for his part in the invasion of Iraq. Wood shows that the war and the policies adopted by the occupying powers were illegal and unjust, and documents the horrific brutality and atrocities committed by British and US troops.

Unfortunately, as Bloom has discussed on his website and in his books, Bush, Blair and the other monsters were not prosecuted, as there was political pressure put on the ICC prosecutor and chief justice. Nevertheless, the breaches of international law were so clear, that in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld was forced to cancel a proposed holiday in Germany. German law provided that he could indeed be arrested for his part in these war crimes, and extradited to face trial. To which I can only salute the new Germany and its people for their commitment to democracy and peace!

While there’s little chance that Blair will face judgement for his crimes, the book is still useful, along with other books on the Iraq invasion like Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the works of William Bloom, in showing why this mass murderer should not be given any support whatsoever, and his attempt to return to politics, supposedly to lead a revival of the political centre ground, is grotesque and disgusting.

The book notes that millions of ordinary Brits opposed the war and marched against it. Between 100 and 150 MPs also voted against it. One of those who didn’t, was Iain Duncan Smith, who shouted ‘Saddam must go!’ Somehow, given Smith’s subsequent term in the DWP overseeing the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of benefit claims after their benefits were stopped, this didn’t surprise. He is clearly a militarist, despite his own manifest unfitness for any form of leadership, military or civil.

A Treasury of Ancient Mathematical Texts

February 4, 2017

Henrietta Midonick, The Treasure of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1968)

ancient-mathematics-cover

I realise that the history of mathematics is an arcane subject, that few people will have much interest in, having struggled enough with the subject at school. But with Black History Month, there is immense interest amongst scholars of Black and Asian history about restoring Black and Asian scientists and mathematicians to their rightful place in history.

I picked up this book in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham about a year or so ago. It’s a collection of ancient and medieval mathematical texts from Ancient Egypt, Babylon, China, India, Islam, the Jews and, of course, the ancient Greeks. The blurb for it runs

Mathematics is the only true international language. men can communicate more directly, precisely and logically in pure mathematics than in any other tongue. Moreover we have much to learn from the achievements of past civilizations in this field: even modern computers have not fathomed all the intricacies of Stonehenge. In this fascinating collection of original sources (many of them published in a popular edition for the first time) Henrietta Midonick shows individual mathematicians grappling with varied problems – some practical, such as architecture, money valuation, mechanics, astronomy and calendar calculation; others verging on philosophy, such as the existence of zero and the concept of infinity. Her arrangement also demonstrates the growth of key ideas in geometry, arithmetic, logic and calculus.

Volume 1 documents the growth of mathematical science in the civilizations of Babylon, Ancient Egypt, the Mayas, India and China, and assesses the revolutionary discoveries of Plato, Archimedes and Euclid in classical antiquity.

Among the various extracts are pieces on Babylonian mathematics; four geometrical problems from the Moscow Papyrus, which dates from Ancient Egypt, c. 1850 BC; the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, again from Egypt, c. 1650 BC; the Bakhshali Manuscript, from 4th century AD India; the Mayas – discussing their system of numbers, the calendar, arithmetic and chronology, and the Quipu, the method of keeping statistical records using knots, used by the ancient Incas in South America.

Chinese mathematicians include Wan Wang, from the 12th century BC, Chou Kung, c. 1100 BC; Chang Tsang, died 152; Liu Hui, 3rd century AD; Sun-Tsu, from the same century; Hsia-Hou Yang, 6th century AD; Wang Hs’iao-T’ung, 7th century AD, Li Yeh, c. AD 1178-1265; Ch’in Chiu-Shao, c. AD 1250; Yang Hui, c. AD 1275; Chu Chi-Chieh, c. AD 1300.

The Indian scholars collected include Aryabhata the Elder, c. AD. 476; Brahmagupta, AD 598; and Bhascara Acharya, AD 1114-c. 1185.

It also includes the Algebra of Mohammed ben Musa al-Khowarismi, who founded much of modern algebra, including giving it its modern name.

The two Jewish mathematicians collected include the Mishnat ha-Middot of Rabbi Nehemiah, from c. AD 150; and the Method of Division of Immanuel Ben Jacob Bonfils, c. AD 1350.

The ancient Greeks include Hippocrates of Chios, 5th century BC; an extract from Plato’s Dialogues; the Elements of Euclid of Alexandria, c. 300 BC; Apollonius of Perga’s Conic Sections, from the same period; Archimedes’ On Spirals, Mechanical Problems, and Quadrature of the Parabola, Pappus, c. AD 300, and Proclus, AD 410-485.

babylonian-multipilication-table

Ancient Babylonian Multiplication Table for X 10.

For the non-mathematician like myself these texts aren’t easy reading. There are diagrams to help, but many of them, as the pioneering works of their time, are trying to express difficult mathematical ideas without the modern language of Maths, and so it can be difficult understanding what they are trying to describe. Nevertheless, this is an important collection of some of the classic texts of ancient mathematics on which the structure of modern maths has been built.

Tariq Nasheed Corrects Alt-Right Fascist Lies about Black Civilisations

November 24, 2016

Yesterday I posted several pieces about Richard Spencer’s Nazi speech at the weekend, in which he celebrated Whites as a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors’ whose civilisation and achievements keep improving. Spencer’s one of the founders and leaders of the Fascist Alt-Right, the Nazi nature of which was made chillingly explicit with the cries of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ with which he opened his vile little rant.

Spencer and his Nazi storm troopers, including another racist polemicist, Jared Tailor, claim that Blacks are inferior. Tariq Nasheed is a black blogger, who is clearly active attacking racism and pernicious claims against people of colour. In this video, he refutes Jared Taylor’s claims that Black people have invented nothing, and have a lower IQ than Whites. Taylor makes the claim that Blacks didn’t invent the wheel, and didn’t invent agriculture or domesticate animals. He also claims that Africans didn’t even have a calendar. This means that they are less intelligent than Whites. The White supremacists of the Alt-Right also maintain that Whites do not exploit Blacks and other ethnic minorities, and that they have benefited from contact with superior White civilisation.

Nasheed comprehensively trashes Taylor’s and his fellow Nazis’ claims that Blacks had no proper civilisation or achievements. He refuses to talk about the ancient Egyptian civilisation, which he feels strongly was Black, as this would be too easy. Instead, he talks about the lesser-known civilisations of West Africa. He mentions the work of Clyde Winters in documenting indigenous writing systems in the peoples of that part of Africa. Black people also very definitely had the wheel. Nasheed points to the rock pictures in the Sahara desert, which show Blacks driving chariots. The Black cultures in Africa also had agriculture and domesticated animals. They kept oxen, and their kings even had pet lions. As for buildings, they had houses and other structures that were two to three storeys tall. The Songhay empire had castles, and he rightly mentions, and ridicules, how the great fortress of Zimbabwe was so impressive, that its colonial discoverers tried to explain it as the work of space aliens. He also talks about the great university at Timbuktu, which was a centre of learning before Europe had universities. As for Black Africans lacking a calendar, he talks about how there is one monumental such device in Namibia.

He states that he’s offered to debate Taylor many times, but has never received an answer. His worry, however, is that now the Nazi Alt-Right have Donald Trump’s ear, Taylor, or an ignorant bigot like him, will get in charge of the educational system, and try to stop Black people learning about the achievements of their people in Africa.

Nasheed is also very much aware that many Whites also despise the Alt Right Fascists. He’s seen a group of White guys beat one of ’em up, and gives a shout out to Whites combating the Alt-Right.

I don’t condone unprovoked violence against the Nazis. They should have the same right not to be attacked as anybody else. But I’m well aware that they themselves are extremely violent, and have beaten and murdered people. I’m very aware that some people may have had to defend themselves, just as I’m also aware that their grotesque, vile opinions and racial insults may provoke others into violence against them, especially Blacks, Jews and others, who have been on the receiving end of their race hate and physical assault.

Nasheed is absolutely right about what he says, though I have some qualifications and additions to make. Black people certainly had the wheel. The rock paintings he mentioned are, I think, at Tassili N’Ajjer in the Sahara. They were painted when that part of the desert was green, many thousands of years ago. They show Whites from North Africa and Blacks from the south crossing and crisscrossing the desert, including people driving chariots. That said, convention historians believe that the wheel was probably invented somewhere in central Asia. So, not invented by Blacks, but arguably not invented by Whites either, or at least, not by Europeans. And yes, many Black nations and cultures certainly possessed agriculture, though again, the conventional explanation is that it spread to sub-Saharan Africa from ancient Egypt. As for the ancient Egyptians being a Black civilisation, they portrayed themselves as being lighter skinned than the peoples to their south, such as the Nubians, who are portrayed in ancient Egyptian papyri as being definitely Black. However, they were darker than their Greek and Roman conquerors. A few years ago New Scientist carried an article, which suggested that the seeds of ancient Egyptian civilisation was in a Black people from the south, whose religion centred around the worship of the cow. This was the ancestral version of Hathor, the Egyptian cow-goddess. These Black race migrated north, to what is now Egypt, as the Saharan desert dried out at the end of the last Ice Age, where they encountered and intermarried with White peoples.

The Songhay and Malinka peoples, who founded the great Muslim empire of Mali, were rich and powerful, and the university of Timbuktu was one of the major centres of Islamic learning and civilisation in West Africa. There have been documentaries exploring the priceless intellectual heritage preserved in the books from its library. Unfortunately, this has been threatened by Islamism. You may recall that a few years ago, Islamist barbarians allied to Daesh tried to set the university on fire in order to destroy its vast repository of the area’s indigenous Muslim culture. The Songhay did indeed have castles. They also had cavalry troops, who have been described in European textbooks as ‘knights of the Sahara’. And yes, in this part of Africa there are multi-storey buildings and extensive palaces. These are of mud brick, but then, so were ziggurats of ancient Babylon. The great Swahili civilisation of East Africa, however, built cities made from coral, which were coated with a lime wash made from burning the same substance. Their cities are as impressive and as richly carved as any others in Islam. The great fortress of Zimbabwe, which is also in east Africa, is also spectacular. It seemed such a contrast to the architecture of the indigenous peoples, who now live in wooden huts, that the Europeans who discovered it tried to explain it as the work of the Chinese, Arabs, or indeed, anyone other than indigenous Africans, including space aliens. In actual fact, its method of construction is very much the same type of building techniques as the mud huts of the local peoples. It seems it was built by the Razwe people, but then during some disruption in the 19th century, it was abandoned.

As for his statement that Black Africans didn’t have the calendar, he is most definitely, monumentally wrong. They definitely had the calendar, and from a very early period. There’s a piece of notched bone, found in a cave in South Africa by archaeologists, which appears to have been a counting device of some kind. The bone dates from 70,000 years ago, and it has been suggested that it may have been a portable calendar. This is about 40,000 years before modern men, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, moved out of Africa to colonise Europe. If it is true that this is a calendar, then clearly Taylor in this regard couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

Regarding Nasheed’s fears of the intellectual damage Alt-Right Fascism could do to the American educational system, I think Taylor and his squadristi will have severe problems if they true to impose a White supremacist curriculum at the universities. I think the liberal traditions of many American universities are simply too strong. No reputable historian, anthropologist or archaeologist specialising in researching African culture and heritage is going to stand for the denigration of African civilisation or the attack on their academic disciplines. I also anticipate considerable resistance from Black Studies professors and their students. And this is quite apart from professors, intellectuals and students, who wish to defend American academia as seats of genuine learning and liberal culture.

However, I recognise that there is a real danger that the Nazis will try to undermine this aspect of the American education system, either by depriving it of funding, or demanding that other courses be introduced to ‘balance’ it.

In my opinion, the real danger is much lower down the educational system, at school level. A little while ago one of the left-wing news shows I watch on YouTube reported that the state educational authority in Arizona decided that the existing school curriculum and its textbooks were too left-wing. I think they objected to them, because they didn’t just present American civilisation as absolutely wonderful, with no defects or shameful episodes. It taught students about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, institutional racism and civil rights, as well as the other, better aspects of American history. So the right-wingers in power got rid of it.

What did they insist school students learn instead of the complexities, shame and achievements of American history? Ronald Reagan’s speeches.

I kid you not. Ronald Reagan’s speeches. Which weren’t even written by him. I think this should count as a crime against education. Mind you, I think the Tories over here would like to inflict something equally stupid and sinister on our youngsters. Remember when Michael Gove was ranting about children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the Great War in history? He and his fellow Tories would like to do the same, presenting a sanitised version of British history consonant with turning our children into earnest Thatcherites. In fact, I’m surprised they aren’t demanding that school pupils aren’t learning her speeches, like the poor souls in Arizona’s classrooms.

The Alt-Right are a threat to Blacks and other people of colour, and a threat to genuine history and learning. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power, or the young minds they want to poison and keep in ignorance.

Richard Spencer’s Nazi Solar Cult

November 23, 2016

Yesterday I put up clips of an Alt-Right meeting at the weekend at which the movement’s founder and self-declared ‘father’, Richard Spencer, delivered a speech. It’s very chilling footage, as Spencer talks in openly Nazi terms, beginning with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ He’s now issued a statement today that all this was supposedly ‘ironic’.

Yeah. Right.

The Young Turks have pointed out that it would be ironic if the Green Party did it, or some other left-wing group. As it is, it isn’t ironic at all. It’s just Nazi.

Spencer also went on to eulogise the White race, stating that we were a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors, who went up and up’. Well, so did any number of other civilisations, from whom we learned, and adopted and adapted their achievements. Like the great civilisations of the Ancient Near East, Babylon, Phoenicia, India, Ancient China, the Arabs and so on.

But Spencer also described Whites in another manner, which has distinct Nazi connotations, which no-one else so far appears to have picked up. He described Whites as ‘the children of the sun’. It’s a bizarre comment, as for most people, Whites are the children of the temperate or cold climates. ‘Children of the sun’ seems a description more appropriate to the indigenous peoples of the tropics, like Black Africa, south and south-east Asia, South and Central America and Australia.

The phrase looks to me like it comes from Nazi pagan sun worship. The swastika is believed to be a representation of the sun’s movement across the sky during the day. The Germanic neo-pagan cults, which partly influenced the Nazi party, were themselves strongly influenced by late 19th century Monistic philosophy, which viewed the planets, and the life that subsequently developed on them, as created from the primordial sun. This produced in its turn a volkisch cult of the sun. In the late 19th century, for example, one of the Austrian neo-pagan groups buried a series of bottles laid out in the shape of the swastika as part of a ceremony designed to adore the sun as the visible body of the ancient Norse God, Baldur.

Donald Trump has today issued a statement renouncing the support of the Alt-Right, assuring people that he believes in racial equality and wishes to be a president for all Americans. Unfortunately, he still has Steven Bannon, a Breitbart executive known for his anti-Semitic and White supremacist ‘Alt-Right’ beliefs. If Trump wishes to reassure Americans that he is not a White supremacist or Nazi, he should sack him and anyone connected with the racist Right.

But this is also an issue that confronts the Christian religious right. Much of the polemics made by right-wing religious and political pundits, like Glen Beck, has involved denunciations of Nazism for its explicitly pagan, anti-Christian nature. I know that this view of Nazism is challenged and rejected by many atheists, who point to Hitler’s statement in Mein Kampf that he was doing God’s will, and the disgraceful and odious support given to Hitler’s regime by the churches. The support Hitler received from the churches is indeed an outrageous scandal. Hitler himself wasn’t a Christian, however. Academic historians instead believe that he was a pantheist, who believed in an impersonal God as the forces of nature. He wasn’t a Christian, but he wasn’t quite an atheist either. Rather, he had views similar to the Monists mentioned above. There were pagan cultists within Nazism, mostly in the SS, whose leader, Heinrich Himmler, invented pagan ceremonies for them, and in certain sections of the Reich, such as the borders with occupied Poland, the gauleiters embarked on a deliberate policy of anti-Christian persecution.

Glen Beck and the other leaders of the Republican religious right see Nazism as synonymous with ‘socialism’ and state interference. But Spencer and his stormtroopers claim to defend private industry – which, incidentally, Hitler also did. But they’ve also made their Nazi beliefs very evident, including a revealing reference to their paganism. If the Christian religious right does not denounce them for their Nazism and paganism, but continues to support them because they supposedly defend and protect laissez-faire capitalism and anti-welfare policies, then it shows that they are nothing but hypocrites, who have no compunction against supporting a murderous political ideology and the pagan cultists, who wish to implement it, purely because they like their economic views.

I realise that not all pagans by far are Nazis. The impression I’ve got from meeting them and reading about their beliefs is that many have absolutely normal political views, and a large number are left-wing, peaceful hippy types. I’m not try to demonise them, or pantheists. My point here is to expose the hypocrisy of the Christian religious right, who make much noise about standing up for Christianity and Jews against pagan and Nazi persecution, but look like doing absolutely nothing about it in practice at this very moment.

Secular Talk: Candidate for Trump’s Secretary of State Wants War with Iran

November 19, 2016

Unfortunately, the Neocons demanding war with Iran, along with just about every other opposing, or simply independent country, in the Middle East didn’t die with Killary’s campaign for the presidency.

In this piece from Secular Talk, host Kyle Kulinski talks about how John Bolton, one of the potential candidates for Trump’s secretary of state, has made a speech demanding ‘regime change in Tehran’. Bolton blames the Iranians for destabilising the Middle East. Kulinski points out how ludicrous and hypocritical Bolton’s views are. He begins with the point America and the West are now at war with seven countries in the Middle East, including boots on the ground. Bolton was one of the worst of the warmongers. Unlike many others, he still supports the Iraq invasion. Kulinski states ironically that Bolton never met a war he didn’t like. Kulinski goes on to explain how we, America and the West, have destabilised the Middle East. As for Iran, it’s a Shi’a theocracy, but Kulinski accurately states that it is far more liberal and progressive than Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t like the horrific Islamic theocracy in Iran, but also explains that the majority of the population is much younger, under thirty, and more secular than the dinosaurs that rule over them. Again, true.

Kulinski also explains how the Shi’a are a tiny minority in the Middle East, and are under attack everywhere. They have the Israelis on one side of them, and the Saudis on the other. And what about countering their destabilisation of the region? Israel, for example, invaded Lebanon in order to expand its influence, and continues to build illegal settlements to push out the Palestinians. The Saudis have invaded Yemen to attack the Shi’a there. And Qatar and the other Sunni states are funding al-Qaeda, so that they will overthrow Assad in Syria. But no, according to Bolton, it’s the Iranians, not these, who are primarily responsible for the chaos and carnage in the region.

Kulinski also describes how Bolton has blithely made this demand for war with Iran, without even thinking about whether the American people themselves want another war. Usually governments need to build up a propaganda campaign to prepare the public’s mood for war. But no, not this time. Bolton and his friends simply aren’t bothered about that. They’ll just steal Americans’ money through taxation to fund yet another war that no-one except them wants.

Kulinski concludes by stating that if Bolton is picked by Trump as his secretary of state, or even remains in Trump’s circle of advisors, it means that Trump wasn’t serious about keeping America out of further conflicts. Of course, there’s a chance that Trump may keep him as an advisor, but not listen to him. Similarly, if Trump doesn’t pick him, or anyone like him, to be secretary of state, then perhaps there is a chance for America to avoid going into another war.

This is another stupid, horrendous pronouncement by yet another Republican fossil. Again, it ultimately seems to go back to the Neocon plans under Bush, to overthrow a series of regimes in the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Somalia. The result has been an unmitigated disaster. Iraq is now a warzone. As we saw this week, ISIS is determined to smash as much of the regimes precious heritage as it can. After destroying immeasurably valuable antiquities from the dawn of civilisation in Syria and Iraq, it carried out another assault on the Iraqi people’s ancient civilisation by levelling one of the country’s ziggurats. These barbarians have been funded by Saudi Arabia, in its campaign to spread its extremely repressive, intolerant brand of Islam across the world. The Iraqis weren’t responsible for 9/11: it was Saudi Arabia. But the Neocons and Likud wanted Iraq invaded. The Likudniks despised Saddam Hussein because he supplied the Palestinians with guns, while the Saudis and Neocons just wanted to the loot the country of its oil industry and other potentially valuable state assets.

Now, apparently, they want to do this to Iran. The mullahs are unpleasant. They’re extremely corrupt, intolerant and repressive. But they aren’t as corrupt and intolerant as the Saudis. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the Iranian theocracy does include a democratic element. Every so many years, the Iranian people vote for a president. I got the impression that in many respects, it’s pretty much Hobson’s choice, in that there’s little ideological difference permitted between the candidates. Nevertheless, the Iranian people enjoy a measure of popular sovereignty that is denied the peoples of the Sunni absolute monarchies in the Gulf.

I also need hardly say that Iran is also an ancient land with an immensely rich cultural and artistic heritage. This was demonstrated a few years ago when the British Museum lent the Cyrus cylinder for exhibition in Iran. The cylinder records the conquests of the great Persian emperor, Cyrus, over the Babylonians. It’s valuable because it documents how he freed the Israelites from their exile, and allowed them to return to Israel and Judea. This heritage would also be seriously threatened if the Americans decide to invade, just like the heritage of Iraq.

One of the causes for the present chaos in Iraq is the fact that the country is an artificial creation of the imperial powers, in this case, Britain during the Mandate in the 1920s. It does not have a uniform population, but is composed of different tribal groups and sects, including Kurds, Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, Christians and the Mandaeans, a small Gnostic sect that reveres John the Baptist as the true messiah. Iran similarly is composed of a multitude of different peoples. Just over half – 52 per cent – speak Farsi, the language derived from ancient Persia. There are also a number of other different tribes, speaking languages related to Turkish, Arabs in Khuzistan in the West, and Kurds, Lurs and Bakhtiars in their homelands. Three per cent of the population are Armenian Christians, and there are also Parsees, the followers of the ancient religion of the Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism, a monotheist faith centred around the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster. The Kurds have been fighting a war for their independence since the 1970s, just as they have in Iraq and Turkey. Iran was also the birthplace of the Baha’i faith, which claims that Baha’ullah, an Iranian religious of the 1920s, was a prophet. Baha’ullah and his followers were exiled to Haifa, in what is now Israel, when it was still part of the Turkish empire. Because of this, the Baha’i’s are under considerable pressure and suspicion as agents of Israel, intent on destroying Islam and Iran. It’s nonsense, but it has been strongly promoted by the authorities, with the result that there have been terrible pogroms and persecution against them.

There is also a massive underground Christian church in Iran. Although its comparable to the underground Christian churches in China, you’ve probably never heard of it. This is made up of Iranians, who have secretly converted from Islam. They too are under immense persecution as apostates. I’ve heard that the situation has go to the point, where the government is posting guards at the Armenian Christian churches to try and keep the Iranians away. If America invades, it will result in the same ethnic conflict and civil war that has turned neighbouring Iraq into a bloodbath. And just as the Christian populations of the Middle East are being massacred and cleansed from the regions by the Islamists, along with other, non-Muslim religions like the Yezidis and moderate Muslims, who want tolerance and peaceful coexistence, so my fear is that if the West attacks Iran, it will intensify the brutal persecution of Christians there.

Apart from this, Iran is a modern, relatively developed and sophisticated country. It was the most developed economy in the Middle East during the Shah’s reign. He tried to industrialise the country. One of his aims was for Iran to equal France as a producer of cars. The Iranians had their own car, the Payhan, and he very nearly pulled this off. Even now Iran is significantly involved in scientific research. I was surprised looking at some of the videos on YouTube on robotics to find that, alongside Britain, America, Japan and China, the Iranians have also developed a humanoid machine. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. The Middle East was the homeland of the Banu Musa brothers, who in the 11th century created a hundred or more automata and other ‘ingenious desires’. The country is also far more tolerant artistically than Saudi Arabia. More than a decade and a half ago, about the turn of the century, the Iranian government staged an exhibition of the works of the YBAs, including Damian Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Just as the invasion of Iraq wasn’t about liberating the Iraqi people and giving them democracy, this isn’t about bringing peace and freedom to the beleaguered people of Iran. This is just another, cynical excuse for us to grab their oil. We did it before. In the 1950s Mossadeq, the last democratically elected Iranian prime minister, nationalised the country’s oil industry, which had previously been in the hands of foreigners, principally us, the British. BP used to be Anglo-Persian Oil, and was set up to exploit the Iranian oil fields. And we did exploit them and the Iranian workers. They were paid less than British workers, and worked in appalling conditions. After Mossadeq nationalised the oil companies, America organised a coup, which we also backed, to overthrow him. I think Mossadeq was a Baha’i, and this was used to mobilise suspicion against him. His removal from power resulted in the Shah assuming total, autocratic control, complete with a secret police, SAVAK, who were brutal thugs. This in turn created rising discontent, which eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The regime renationalise the oil industry, the date of which is now an official state holiday.

Bush and his fellow Neocons deluded themselves that they would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. They weren’t. Corinne de Souza, one of Lobster’s contributors, whose father was Iraqi, made the point that one of the consequences of the invasion was that there were fewer Iraqis willing to cooperate with the British intelligence services. This was for a simple reason: they were like everyone else, and loved their country. They were prepared to help us, as they believed that we would liberate them from Saddam Hussein. But they did not want to collaborate with an occupying force. I’ve no doubt that the same will be true of the Iranians, if Trump goes ahead and appoints this idiot as head of state.

A few years ago, before Obama’s election, Bush and his circle of mass-murderers were indeed considering invading Iran. Shirin Ebadi’s book, Iran on the Brink, which describes rising discontent in Iran against the mullahs, strongly argued against her country’s invasion. Protest groups were also being formed. There was one organising meetings in Clifton in Bristol, as I recall. For a few years, that threat seemed to pass. Now it is come back.

There are now so many wars being fought by America and its allies in the Middle East, that one of the ghastly monsters from Bush’s cabinet actually lost count when he was asked that very question in an interview on American television. And the disgusting so-and-so even had the gall to laugh it off and chuckle about it, as if the murder of whole nations was some kind of joke.

And this comes just as NATO is moving more troops and missiles into Estonia, just in case Putin invades. Killary looked all set to start a war with Russia by stoking tensions there up to levels where some feared we were at the same point the great powers were just before the First World War. I think that threat receded slightly when Trump became president. Trump is a disgusting monster, but he does seem to be friends with Putin, and I’m sure that has helped defuse some of the tensions.

Now we have this despicable moron demanding more carnage. I do wonder where it will all end. How many countries have to be invaded, how many millions murdered, how many people forced out of their homes, to live in camps as refugees? How many of our brave young men and women have be sacrificed to the greed of the oil companies before this all stops? Is there really no end to these politicos’ lust for others’ blood?

This is a situation that will have to be watched very carefully. And I’ll keep an eye out also for any groups being formed to stop war with Iran.

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.

ISIS Destruction of Antiquities and Respect for Archaeology in Iran

April 12, 2015

Nimrud Map

Map of Nimrud drawn in 1856 by Felix Jones

The Independent reported today that ISIS had released a video of themselves destroying the ancient Babylonian city of Nimrud. Its destruction was reported back in March, but this is the first time footage has been shown of it. The video shows the terrorists attacking the city and its antiquities with pneumatic drills, anglegrinders and sledgehammers. They then laid explosives, and blew the site up.

Irinia Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, the section of the UN that oversees the world’s cultural heritage, denounced the destruction, saying that the “deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime”.

I couldn’t agree more.

The Indie’s article can be read at: http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/isis-video-shows-complete-destruction-of-ancient-city-of-nimrud-in-iraq/ar-AAaTuAG?ocid=OIE9HP

I’ve already blogged about ISIS’ destruction of Nimrud, and the other cultural treasures of Mosul, and the Christian and Muslim shrines to the patriarch Seth, revered by Moslems as the prophet Sheth, St. George and others. ISIS have claimed that they are destroying these antiquities because they are somehow blasphemous or un-Islamic. In fact, they are attacking them purely because these monuments don’t conform to their own, extremely narrow religious views. They’re a deliberate, calculated assault on the cultural heritage and identity of Iraq’s people. ISIS fear them because they present an alternative, secular national and religious pluralist identity to the absolute conformity ISIS wish to foist on them.

It’s also been suggested that more worldly, venal motives were involved in Nimrud’s destruction. ISIS may have been looting the site to raise money to buy more arms by selling the antiquities illegally. They levelled the city to disguise what they’d done. So their claim that they were destroying the city for religious reasons may have been just a load of lies to disguise what they really are: a bunch of thieves and grave robbers.

Archaeology in Iran

ISIS’ contempt for the region’s heritage contrasts with Iran, where, with some qualifications, archaeology is still valued. John Simpson in one of his books described the way an angry mob was ready to destroy the depictions of the Persian shahs at Naqsh-i-Rustem in the 1979 revolution, but were prevented from doing so by the carvings’ guard. He stopped them by telling them that they were instead depictions of Hassan and Hussein, the two sons of the Imam Ali, the founder of Shi’ism.

In the 1990s there was a minimal Western archaeological presence in Iran, though I believe it has been expanded since then. I once bumped into one of the lecturers in the archaeological department at Uni nearly ten years ago, who had just returned from excavating an early Islamic city in Iran.

And a few years ago the British Museum loaned the Cyrus Cylinder, shown below, to the Islamic Republic.

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder records the conquest of Babylonia by the great Persian king Cyrus, or Kourash, as he is known in Persian. After the conquest, he issued an edict permitting the peoples exiled in Babylon to return to their homelands, returned their gods, and assisted in the reconstruction of their temples. These included the Jews, who returned to Israel, for which the Persians are praised in the Bible.

I was taught at College that Islam similarly regarded Zoroastrians as ‘Peoples of the Book’, who, like Jews and Christians, worshipped the one God, and whose worship was therefore protected.

British Museum’s loan of the Cylinder to Iran was of major diplomatic and cultural significance. Firstly, it was party of a general thaw in relations between Britain and the Islamic Republic. Secondly, it also showed the confidence that the Museum in the Cylinder’s safety. The repatriation of cultural artefacts looted by Western scholars from the other cultures around the world is a major issue in archaeology and the heritage sector. Many nations and ethnic groups are rightly angered at the appropriation of valuable or important religious items from their cultures, including human remains. A few years ago, for example, BBC 2 screened a series looking behind the scenes at the British Museum. Amongst the Museum’s other work, it showed the delicate negotiations surrounding the repatriation of the remains of Aboriginal Tasmanians to their descendants.

Other items remain, and their retention is immensely controversial. The Elgin Marbles is a case in point.

The Museum has, however, a policy of not returning antiquities to countries where their safety can’t be guaranteed. The looting and destruction of ancient monuments and archaeological finds is a real problem, particularly in the developing world. And it isn’t unknown here either. There have been digs in Britain, that have been wrecked and the finds looted by Nighthawks. There have also been a number of curators and museum directors, who have been caught illegally selling off objects from the very collections they were supposed to be maintaining.

The loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, by contrast, showed that the British authorities had every confidence that their fellows in Iran would respect and value it, and that Britain and Iran could have good relations in the exploration of that nation’s ancient past and its treasures.

This is another excellent reason why the Repugs are stupid to want another war with Iran. Apart from destabilising yet another nation and brutalising its people, purely for the profit of the oil and arms industries, it could result in the same destruction of antiquities as in Iraq.

And as in Iraq, the world would again be much the poorer.