The main idea of this book is presented in introduction as an attempt to provide western reader with a narrative of Islam both as religion and as civilization from point of view of a Muslim born and raised in Afghanistan, who is well versed in traditions and history of this civilization, but, nevertheless, spent most if his adult live as teacher in American university becoming well familiar with people and ideas of the West. The point is made that Islam as so big and rich culturally, religiously, and historically it deserves to be taken seriously.
Chapter 1 – The Middle World: THE MIDDLE WORLD BEFORE ISLAM
Here author reviews somewhat unusual look at geographical and cultural history of humanity as parallel history of Mediterranean world of Greece and Romans that produced Western civilization based on sea going trade and Middle world of landmass to the East based on caravan roads that produced Islamic world. This chapter deals with pre-Islam history that occurred on this landmass.
Chapter 2 – The Hijra
This is history of Muhammad and his creation of Islam religion that proved to be capable unify Arab tribes, stop internecine warfare, and create highly effective military-ideological entity capable to conquer not only weaker tribes nearby, but also incorporate massive remnants of the empires of the past. The beginning of this entity is considered startup year or Hijra (0 AH) – the year when Muhammad ran away from Mecca to Medina to avoid suppression by local tribes and find the place to consolidate his military-religious community designed to bring the world into submission. The expansion started with return back to Mecca in AH6 and its complete conquest in 8 AH.
Chapter 3 – Birth of the Khalifate
THE FIRST KHALIFA (12 – 14 AH)
This chapter is about history after Muhammad’s death. It begins with fight over inheritance between Abu Bakr, older and richer member of community, Omar more militaristic leader, and Ali, Muhammad’s adapted son and son in law. Abu Bakr was given preference over Ali due to his age and overall respect that he enjoyed in community. The key however was not selection of Abu Bakr, but his attempt to establish unity of Islam as social project inseparable from religion complete unification of religious and secular roles of top leader – Khalifa. This was enforced by strict ban on leaving Islam with death being the punishment for apostasy.
THE SECOND KHALIFA: 14 – 24 AH
Just two years after Muhammad Abu Bakr died with Omar taking over new Islamic entity and initiating successful war of conquest over nearby Byzantine and Sassanid Empires that were so existed by fights between themselves that they were not capable to resist newcomer with huge religious zeal and attractive ideology that elevated burden of taxes and pretty much left people alone in their believes, however creating significant enticements for conversion to Islam. By the time of Omar’s death Islamic community – Umma was in possession of significant and growing territory.
Chapter 4 – Schism
THE THIRD KHALIFA (22-34 AH, 642-656 CE)
This one – Othman was another relative of Muhammad, the rich man who became austere after conversion. Once again Ali was passed over. Othman lift ban for Muslims on buying land in conquered countries and appointed his cousin Mua’wiya who start typical regime of exploitation, all of this resulting in riot, killing of Othman and installment of Ali as fourth Khalifa.
THE FOURTH KHALIFA (35-41 AH, 656 – 661 CE)
This resulted in civil war in which Ali lost and was eventually assassinated with Mua’wiya coming to power as 4th Khalifa after settling with Ali’s son Hassan with monetary bailout. This pretty much ended religious period and started Umayyads Empire.
Chapter 5 – Empire of the Umayyads (40-120 AH)
Despite Hassan’s settlement, his brother Hussein and his supporters considered him true Khalifa so eventually civil war continues until Hussein and his supporters were massacred at Karbala. This initiated Islam division into Shi’a and Sunni with majority Sunnis considering Muhammad just a messenger so his bloodline was irrelevant for selection of leader. The only important thing in addition to message he delivered (Koran) was example of living (Sunna recorded in Hadith), while for Shi’a there is always one and only Imam who carries mystical substance passed from Allah to Muhammad and then to each current Imam. For Sunnis their own live is the only thing that counts in achieving the bliss, for Shi’a own effort is not enough, the road to bliss goes through submission to leadership of current Imam. Umayyads took in Islam as ideological / religious foundation and build empire with normal state of perpetual war.
Chapter 6 – The Abbasid Age (120 – 350 AH)
At 120 AH new revolution and civil war swept away Umayyads and clan Banu Hashim established the new dynasty that started with Khalifa Abbas – Abbasid. They build Bagdad as the new trade, cultural, and administrative center. Abbasids were very supportive to trade and tolerant to diversity of people so they achieved relative long-term prosperity.
Chapter 7 – Scholars, Philosophers, and Sufis
This chapter is about ideological development of Islam with its 3 directions that fight between themselves for supremacy with Scholars or more precise Clerics winning and consequently stopping development of Islam into religion consistent with contemporary civilization. This unfortunate development pretty much cut off possibility of coexistence with religions and ideologies of other people, leave alone space for existence of individual believes within Islam dominated countries.
These are community of religious specialists (Ulama) who are self selected through diligent study of texts and acceptance by other clerics. As one would expect they are fully dedicated to sanctity of the text and reject reality if it contradicts texts. Moreover they happily use force against anybody who they consider out of compliance with the text.
This somewhat parallel to Western enlightenment attempt to open way for science, which unlike its western counterpart was completely defeated by clerics around 200 AH.
This is mainly mystical movement within Islam in search of happiness through unity with god. Probably the most outstanding thinker in this movement was Ghazali who managed accommodate Sufism with ulama and then in alliance with ulama was able to completely defeat philosophers.
Chapter 8 – Enter the Turks
This chapter is about Turkish invasion. Turks came from Central Asia and took over Islamic world severely weakened by continuing struggle between Fatimid Khalifate in Cairo and Abbasid Khalifate in Baghdad. Seljuk empire established by Turks by the end of millennium was covering significant parts of Islamic population, but universal community of Islam was divided into Shia, Sunni, and all kinds of other sects with some quite weird such as Assassins who pursued political goals via murder as a standard method. Then came catastrophic evens of invasions.
Chapter 9 – Havoc
ASSAULT FROM THE WEST
Author defines crusades as a relatively small catastrophe that limited geographically and was really not that significant for Islamic world.
ASSAULT FROM THE EAST
Much more significant was Mongol invasion when Chengez Khan sacked Baghdad and practically took over all areas with Muslim population suppressing resistance with extreme cruelty. However, similarly to China and other areas of Mongol conquest, they were susceptible to accepting religions and norms of conquered societies so starting in 1257 CE they slowly converted to Islam.
Chapter 10 – Rebirth
The Mongolian onslaught caused difficult theological questions since Allah should guarantee victory to members of one and only true religion, but he let them fail. Syrian lawyer Ibn Taymiyah founder of Salafism provided the answer: Muslims deviated from strict Islamic traditions, accepted too many innovations, and failed to wage jihad against infidels with sufficient zealotry. The correct way for the future is to go back to 7 century, Koran, Sharia, and perpetual war against non-Muslims. Another response came from Sufism with its brotherhoods and mysticism.
THE OTTOMANS (ABOUT 700 TO 1341 AH)
Here author provides brief history of Ottomans with their struggle against Byzantine and attacks against Europe. Eventually they took Constantinople ending 1000 years of Roman Empire, but failed to conquer Christian Europe beyond this. Correspondingly Safavids stopped their eastern expansion.
THE SAFAVIDS (906-1138 AH)
Safavids were continuation of Persian Empire ideologically based on Shi’a Islam.
THE MOGHULS (ROUGHLY 900 TO 1273 AH)
Even further to the east in India was Moghuls Empire that was inherently weak because it had significant share of population Hindu not easily convertible to Islam. However at high point around 1600 CE it achieved status of one of the biggest empires in the world.
Chapter 11 – Meanwhile in Europe (689-1008 AH or 1291 – 1600 CE)
While Islamic world rejected innovation and development, Christian Europe embraced it and here author looks at history of Reformation, discovery of new world, expansion of maritime trade, and initial steps of industrial and scientific revolutions.
Chapter 12 – West Comes East (905-1266 AH or 1500 – 1850 CE)
This is about colonial expansion of European countries throughout the world crashing or forcing to comply local populations with demand for resources, colonies, and control over trade.
Chapter 13 – The Reform Movements (1737-1918 CE)
Here author discusses parallel with Christianity or more precisely lack thereof since Islam never had anything like Reformation. He believes that it is because reformation was a rebellion against the Church, while Islam does not have such institution. Islam, however has its own movements, but they are completely different than Western. If Christians rebelled against priests and their bureaucracy to go ahead to more freedom and industrial revolution, Muslims rebel against leadership formal or informal like ulama that led to weakness.
Here author looks at Wahhabi movement that could be characterized as “Back to Muhammad, Jihad, and conquest ideas. Supported by alliance with Saudis they quietly maintained their continuing presence.
THE ALIGARH MOVEMENT: SECULAR MODERNISM
This movement linked with Sayyid Ahmad and was mainly directed at accommodating Islam and civilized world with stress on becoming civilized.
This movement was the most popular and linked with Sayyid Jamaluddin. This movement was directed more at modernization rather than civilization with insistence on primacy of Islam.
Chapter 14 – Industry, Constitutions, and Nationalism (1750-1918)
This chapter is about developments preceding WWI when Islamic world picked up ideas of nationalism, progress, and constitution. It eventually led to Arab revolt and dissolution of remnants Ottoman during WWI
Chapter 15 – Rise of the Secular Modernists (1918-1939)
The first ¾ of XX century were time of secular modernists who pretty much took over Islamic world installing diverse secular systems from Ataturk in Turkey to Shah in Iran, and later Nasser in Egypt or Saddam in Iraq. All of them had common feature of accepting at least partially European ideas of National Socialism and promising to build prosperity and power on this bases.
Chapter 16 – The Crisis of Modernity (1939-1966)
However all these secular rulers clearly failed to bring either prosperity or power comparable to the West so they lost any allure for masses. The most damaging was probably repetitive failure of combined Arab forces to massacre Jews in Palestine and even worse establishment of Israel. This conveyed complete impotence of Islamic modernism to assert superiority of Islam and led to massive rejection of modernism in the name of Islam.
Chapter 17 – The Tide Turns (1950-2001)
The latest part of XX century was characterized by increasing substitution of secular regimes with Islamic starting with Iranian mullahs and all the way to current recreation of Caliphate. All this was fed by terrorism as main tool of Islamic reassertion in the world.
Afterword (After 2001)
Author believes that review of this period is too early for history, so it belongs to journalism. However author points out that Western attempt to transplant democracy to Islamic world plainly failed because it implies individualization of society that completely contradicts communal nature of Islam. As communal society Islam combined religion, way of live, and political structures of society. It requires submission and would not tolerate dissent, while western society left religious uniformity behind and celebrates individualism and freedom. These two approaches are not compatible. As example author poses question: how one can reconcile believe that society should be absolutely divided into male and female area, with believe that men and women are individual and independent actors who define for themselves areas and types of activities.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I agree that Islam and its history are not separate, but integral part of human history and that its communal nature is completely incompatible with western individualistic view of the world. This leaves us with little options because while western nature has no problem with toleration of different society, Islam does not allow for toleration, only submission. That means inevitable war the severity of which is completely defined by weakness of Islamic societies. As long as they are weak they will see temporary accommodation or at least non-aggression as necessity and behave relatively peacefully, but as soon as they feel strong enough, their aggression will be inevitable. In my opinion, since preemptive aggression and resolute suppression is inconsistent with western humanitarian values, while submitting to Islam is not possible without civilizational, moral, and intellectual self-destruction, the West has little choice but to deal with it by establishing borders around Islamic world impenetrable for military or any other potentially dangerous technology and leave opening exclusively for people who are willing to leave original Islam behind and join decadent, humanitarian, and individualistic western world. Obviously any attack should be retaliated in such way that attackers and their supporters, either material or inspirational, lost any conceivable ability attack or inspire somebody else to attack again.
The main idea of this book is to review XX century warfare from its initial pattern of multimillion armies clashing on wide fronts in WWI to total war between alliance of Democracy and Soviet Totalitarism against German and Japanese totalitarism with Cold war and late XX century Islamist insurgency at the end of the century. The main inference is that war between developed countries become impossible due to the nuclear weapons, while suppression of insurgencies is very tricky and could be done either through high cruelty of suppression or expensive high level of population accommodation. The significant point is that XX century warfare is of little use in XXI century where armed conflict occurs between population of developed world and barbaric Islamic fundamentalists that are not even at the gates, but rather inside of our cities and could win if we fail to wake up.
This book is about war in XXI century as the product of military developments and wars of XX century. It is poses the question why contemporary armies of highly developed western countries like USA while being capable win on the battlefield incredibly quick and with minimal loses seems to be fail when it comes to contain terrorism and let poorly organized and widely distributed forces of insurgents overrun whole countries and even entire continents.
Chapter 1: Prelude, 1900-14: 1.1 States, Armies and Navies; 1.2 Visions of War; 1.3 Resisters and Enthusiasts; 1.4 The Balance of Power; 1.5.War Plans; 1.6 Facts and Counter facts.
This chapter is look at initial period of military history of XX century with its multimillion conscript armies, huge industrial machinery, and high reliance on rigid railroad transportation system. The key to understanding of pre WWI period and consequently path to the war is understanding of industrial character of war and believe common for leaders of all countries that concentration of people and material would provide for overwhelming advantage and consequently victory. This caused all of them to put effort into planning of mobilization and transportation forces to frontline and created situation in which any delay of initiating this activity would lead to loss, while once initiated it would be impossible to stop. Another key feature of prewar situation was mass enthusiasm among population of all countries that were raised on stories of glorious past in very peaceful period with no knowledge of cruel reality of war. The final consideration is balance of power between countries and their forces that remained fluid to the very brink of hostilities causing leaders to rush ahead any time when they believed they have temporary advantage.
Chapter 2: World War I, 1914-18: 2.1 Opening Moves; 2.2 From Movement to Attrition; 2.3. The War at Sea; 2.4 A Continent in Flames; Technology Takes Over; 2.6 The Beginning and the End
Here author retells the story of WWI mainly as progressive movement from enthusiasm and active maneuvering to stalemate in unchanging positions with constant annihilation of people on the large scale due to technological superiority of defense over offence practically in all areas. Eventually the outcome of war was decided by economic superiority of Allies when USA joined them. Nevertheless the search for exit from stalemate brought in new technologies like tanks and aviation that would become foundation of mobile wars in the middle of century.
Chapter 3: The Twenty Years’ Truce: 3.1 Powers, Aspirations, and Attitudes; 3.2 The Military Thinkers; 3.3 Innovation: From Theory to Practice; 3.4 Civilized Wars; 3.5 Uncivilized Wars; 3.6 The Unraveling of Peace
Here author reviews interwar period with its dramatic technological developments and not less dramatic psychological developments. On technological side mechanized forces and aviation expansion opened possibility of wide maneuverability of troops and their deep penetration into enemy territory, encirclement, and destruction of less mobile opponent. Author looks at doctrines of Douhet for massive air war, Fuller for massive movement of tanks and mechanized forces, and, most important, Ludendorff for total war with complete subordination of economy and all country resources to military purpose as the only way to victory. Author also looks at concept of civilized war when fighting going according to the rules including sparing non-combatants, humane treatment of POW, restrictions on some types of weapons versus uncivilized war when everything allowed and no limitations apply. Author briefly points, but not explore that much psychological condition, when German population never accepted their loss because fighting never really got to German territory causing people to believe the idea of “knife in the back” and eager to revenge, while France and Britain, which got nothing valuable from their victory after much losses and suffering, went pacific and start pursuing disarmament and appeasement with highly predictable results. At the end of chapter author looks at actual political developments that eventually led to hostilities.
Chapter 4: World War II, 1939-45: 4.1 The Blitzkrieg Era; 4.2 Global War; 4.3 Total War; 4.4 Esoteric War; 4.5 Closing the Ring; 4.6 The Road to Hiroshima;
The chapter on WWII is concentrating on implementation of blitzkrieg war in 1939-1941 as real live implementation of military ideas developed in 1920s and 30s. However despite initial success this type of war failed to achieve victory at the end when huge resources on the global scale get involved. The total war with al resources of combatants including their civil population get involved the fast movement of forces on wide terrain with objective to break will of enemy was just not enough for victory because fighting would not stop until majority of active population killed or captured. Another interesting characteristic of the war stressed in this chapter is its esoteric character when much depended on technological, managerial, and operational skill of millions of participants from top leader to lowery repair technicians without which tanks would not move and plains would not fly. Author assigns quite a bit of attention to complexities of coalition warfare that demanded effective diplomatic skills to coordinate efforts multimillion groups of people of various cultures around the world. The final point here is made about qualitative difference between European theater where combatants clearly understood their cultural, religious, and historical commonality versus Pacific theater where enemy had different race, religion, culture, and just about everything else, leading to much more cruel and hateful attitudes on all levels.
Chapter 5: In the Shadow of the Bomb: 5.1 Looking Backward; 5.2 From War Fighting to Deterrence; 5.3 From Proliferation to Stalemate; 5.4 The Conduct of Conventional War; 5.5 Evolution, Revolution, and Failure; 5.6 Think-Tank War;
Eventual conclusion of the WWII with use of nuclear weapon instantly made obsolete all previous strategic thinking rendering war between top-level technologically proficient countries practically suicidal proposition leading to new type of warfare – Cold War. This chapter reviews brief history of Cold War with special attention to limited use of conventional hot war in some theaters. One interesting subchapter here is dedicated to analysis of think- tanks activities mainly at the West that is identified as war of ideas both strategic and tactical.
Chapter 6: The New World Disorder 1991 to the Present: 6.1 On Nazis, Terrorism, and Counterterrorism; 6.2 The Record of Failure; 6.3. Case I: The British in Northern Ireland; 6.4 Case II: Assad in Hama; Case III: The Americans in Iraq; 6.6 Barbarians at the Gate
The period after 1991 reviewed here with its civil wars and terrorism discusses difficulties of dealing with it and presents somewhat unusual point of view that pure force and cruelty does not work in these situations using as example inability of Germany completely suppress resistance in all occupied territories. Author supports this idea with reference to American failure in Vietnam and Soviet failure in Afghanistan. Generally author views counter insurgency conflicts around the world as failure, but nevertheless he reviews two conflicts when suppression of rebellion was successful. The first one was Britain in Northern Ireland when success was achieved by accommodating local population as much as possible and the second was Assad senior in Hama where success was achieved mainly by unlimited use of brute force. Author reviews two conflicts that were practically ended in stalemate: Arab-Palestinian conflict and Americans in Iraq.
Chapter 7: The First and the Last.
This is the brief restatement of previous chapters, retracing transformation from war as national effort with multimillion armies at the first half of XX century into small, however global skirmishes of war against contemporary terrorism when enemy is very week and very annoying resulting in achieving some objective for terrorist side that would not be possible otherwise.
Here author discusses our current war not as just war against terrorism, but rather war that radical Islamist wage against Western values and culture with frontline coming through every European city posing real threat to the West, while money go to developing more and more sophisticated weapons that just not usable in this war. At the end author calls developed world to wake up and fight this war with alternative to failure to destroy terrorist would be terrorists destroying us.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice brief history of military history of XX century, but I think that a couple things are not correct. First of all author seems to believe that insurgency could not be suppressed and time would support increase and maybe even eventual victory of insurgents. I think that author is missing a little known but significant history of resistance movements in Baltic States and Western Ukraine that lasted up to 8-10 years after WWII. Both insurgencies were defeated through combination of cruelty, isolation from external world, and some, albeit very limited steps to allow improvements of living conditions for population. This demonstrates that impossibility to defeat popular movement if highly exaggerated. Correspondingly all defeats of Americans in Vietnam of Soviets in Afghanistan resulted in huge flow of support from supplies to psychological support to nuclear cover if needed provided by Soviets to North Vietnam and by Americans to Afghanistan. Without this support both insurgencies would be defeated within 5-7 years. The second point that Islamic fundamentalism represents existential threat and has already advanced inside our cities is true, but only due to weakness of western elite that refuses to wage war in defense of its civilization. Eventually, quite possible after nuclear explosion in some big western cities such as New York or Paris, this elite would be obliterated as treasonous and substituted by another leadership that would wage war against Islamic forces by taking away their resources such as oils, forcing them convert to some form of peaceful Islam or any other religion and, most important, to tolerate all other religions in their midst or eliminating them all together from the face of the earth. The severity of this war, level of tragic consequences, and number of victims would heavily depend on timing. The earlier it starts and more decidedly it would be conducted, the less people will suffer.