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Saturday, February 14, 2015




                                  Introductory Comments:

         Islamic Domination And Armed Expansion

          For 1100 Years and Then Endless Decline

The Start of Militarized Imperialism

Islamic conquests of non-Muslim countries started in just a year or two after Muhammad's death in 632, with Arab militaries --- on fast-moving ponies and in slower infantry --- going on a religious rampage in the Levant (held by the formidable Byzantine Empire) and in the vast Persian Empire.  The efforts to conquer "heathen" countries and, where encountered, to destroy their military resistance and set up Muslim rule over  the subject peoples went on for 11 centuries, expanding Islam in immense areas of the world 1100 years.  In those 1100 years, the dominant Muslim colonialists varied in ethnicity.  Sometimes the leaders were Arabs and Berbers. Sometimes it was Ottoman Turks, or Tatar Mongolians in Russia, or new Turkish-Moguls in India, and a combination (as with later European colonizers) of clerics, soldiers, traders, and bureaucrats that expanded Islam throughout Central and Southeast Asia. 

In the process, Muslims ruled over Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and pagans galore.  The invasions and conquests started, to repeat, in the early 7th century and went on until the end of the 17th century. 

What Then? 

Well, from 1700 onward, Islam in whichever power-laden guise it still assumed --- the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Turkish-Moguls in India (in power as the rulers from 1528 to the mid-18th century, followed by British rule) --- fell farther and farther behind Europe on every important measure of creativity, power, and influence  . . . whether in economic growth, in science and technology (civilian or military), in literacy and education, in medicine, and what have you. Not to forget the entire industrial revolution, created in Britain first from the mid-18th century on. 

The result of this growing backwardness?  In the early 19th century, European colonialism quickly overran Islam almost everywhere --- even as the last Muslim Empire (the Ottomans) lost all of their European possessions in the Balkans, North Africa, and, eventually, in  the Arabian Peninsula by the end of WWI.  Not to forget Zionist immigrants who created the new state of Israel in 1948, followed in May of that year by Arab armies --- far outnumbering the Israelis --- going to war in 1948, 1967, and 1973 and always being vanquished.  What could be more humiliating than that?  Jews regarded as dhimmi cowards in Muslim countries for more than 14 centuries, right down to 1948  and with no powerful foreign countries to try rescuing them the way Christian dhimmis could count on from European Christian militaries.

    Sidebar Clarification of Dhimmitude: Dhimmis were protected minorities captured when Arabs and later other Muslim Empires conquered non-Muslim countries in jihad wars.  On this count, Muslims did better in allowing Jewish and Christian subordinate minorities to remain in their home-countries than Christian countries did in extending control over Jews and Muslims in Europe  . . . at any rate until the 17th and 18th centuries.  Remember though: when Islamic rule was established over the conquered non-Muslim populations, its system of government controlled not just political, legal, and military matters, but all social, ethnic, religious, economic, cultural, and family life as well . . . family life covering the entire treatment of women by men. That was the aim of Sharia-law.  It encompassed all the various ways of life, no exceptions. 

And though there were variations in imposing sharia law across different regions of Islam, its advantage  was the creation of one common civilization --- or, to be more accurate, an advantage but also a similarly rigid brake on the ability of dozens of various Muslim countries to experiment with distinct ways to overcome Islam's steady downfall and backwardness and modernize to catch up with Western civilizations after 1700.

Anything else?  Yes: conquered peoples had three choices when Islam overran it.  1) They could convert to Islam; 2) Stay in the country as second- and often third-class submissive minorities --- as long as they paid the yearly jizya tax --- that could be as high as 80% of the revenue earned by the dhimmis or 3) Emigrate without taking any assets out of the Muslim ruled countries.  Actually there was a fourth alternative: death, but it didn't seem to have much appeal. 

And now on to a deeper look at Islam's 1100 years of conquest and expansion around much of the globe (save in the Americas and the rest of the "New World"), followed by its non-stop decline and multiple setbacks in contending with Western civilization's rapid modernization after 1700.



                                                          632 C.E. -- 1700 C.E.


The Initial Targets were the Byzantine and Persian Empires

The first Muslim conquests were carried out by Arabs first starting in the 630's C.E. and lasting for about 6 centuries.  The first areas to be invaded and ruled over were significant parts of the Byzantine Empire in the Holy Land and the rest of the Levant, plus, not long afterwards, parts of southern Russia and all of Egypt and North Africa.  Almost simultaneously as these conquest occurred on Byzantine territory was the total conquest of the massive Persian Empire.  (Note that the Levant refers to these modern day countries: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel, but not the Arabian desert areas from which the Arabs hailed, nor Turkey.)

 .....Sidebar Clarification: The Byzantine Empire, Greek-speaking --- though with Latin the official language until the 7th century --- was created by the Roman Emperor Diocletian around 300 C.E.  He split the Empire into two parts because the increasing wars with Germanic and other Tribal Warriors along the vast porous frontiers of the gigantic Empire clearly indicated to him that it was too unwieldy for one Emperor and his chief advisers to rule effectively . The Byzantine Empire itself existed a good thousand years after the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 5thcentury.  In 634, Arab militaries invaded the Byzantine territory, destroyed its rule in the Levant (more on this later), and continued their wars with the Byzantines for three centuries more.  In their initial invasion of the Greco-Roman Empire, the Arabs conquered, fairly swiftly, almost all the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa (it too under Byzantine rule.

As for the Persian Empire, it was ruled from 224 C.E. to 633 C.E. by the Sassanid dynasty.  633 C.E. was the year when the Arab jihadi military first showed on Imperial soil.  Until then, the Persian Empire had been considered the equal in power, span, and influence of both the Western and Easter Roman Empires. The Sassanid dynasty was only the third ruling family regime in the long history of the Persian Empire, during which, among its numerous foes, it fought repeated wars with the Roman and Byzantine Empires.  How big actually was the Persian Empire? 

By 632 C.E. the Sassanids had expanded their rule to the Empire's  greatest immensity ever.  in square miles, to be more specific, the Persian Empire spanned over 2.5 million square miles. Currently, to grasp this mammoth size, consider that the USA 48 Continental states add up to around 3.0 million square miles.  Persian dominance included much of the Arabian Peninsula, parts originally of the Byzantine Empire, and northward on the other side of the Black Sea, much of the Caucasus . . .the source today, needless to say, of  a limited war between Russia and Ukraine.

How did the Arabs overrun two powerful empires so quickly? 

The chief reason: the Romans and later the Byzantines and the Persians had been fighting for centuries, and more to the point, by 633 C.E. they had been slugging away in a new war lasting off and on for several decades.  The predictable result: when the Arab militaries marched into their lands that year, the two empires’ armies were exhausted and noticeably weakened.  Worse yet, both the Persians and Byzantines dismissed the invading Arabs as contemptible backward desert peoples with little fighting spirit and even less knowledge of tactical military doctrine for fighting and winning battles. 

Yikes!  Never a good idea for any military to underestimate an enemy's long-term strategy and, even worse, its tactical preparation for battles.  The Byzantine and Persian dismissal of the Arab forces invading their territories  --- with fast-moving cavalry and infantries --- proved calamitous.

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 Arab Conquests of Much of the Byzantine Empire

The exhaustion and failure of Byzantine and Persian militaries were compounded by a blundering inability by both of them to grasp the strength and jihadi fervor of their Arab invaders, with what outcomes we now know: sustained, often fast-moving Arab victories in both Empires.  By 637 C.E., Arab cavalry and infantry defeated the Byzantines everywhere in the Levant --- a geographical area that today encompasses Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel.  Not that the entire Byzantine Empire itself was destroyed.  It wasn't.  Thanks to the formidable Taurus mountains that separate Turkey proper from most of the Levant, the Arab onslaught was stopped, and repeatedly so . . . in a series of, it seemed, endless wars between the two Empires right through much of the 11th century.  Near the end of that century, the Arabs and the Byzantines faced new enemies: Seljuk Turks (integrated over time into Persian life and its culture), Mongols, and eventually Ottoman Turks. 

       Sidebar: See the appendix tin the 3rd post in this series hat explains who these ambitious, ever encroaching militant nomads out of Central and East Asia were, and how they, the Seljuk Turks, eventually dominated Persia eventually.  Also, in the appendix section, how the Ottomans destroyed the Byzantine Empire in 1454, and how Russia came under control of the Tatar-Mongols  who ruled that country for 250 years until 1480. 

Observe that all three of these originally nomadic warrior peoples out of Central and Eastern Asia, you need to remember, had already converted to Islam before they finished their conquests).

The New Arab Conquerors Didn't Just Overrun the Byzantine Middle East or the Persian Empire in Asia  Minor

The Byzantines had succeeded the fall of the western Roman Empire in taking control of North Africa, another vast area ripe for invasion in the 640's C.E. by victorious Arab armies.  After a year or two destroying Byzantine forces in Christian (Coptic) Egypt, the Arabs moved quickly across Libya, only to encounter not just small Byzantine armies, but --- more significantly --- fierce Berber tribal warriors who hated Byzantines and Arabs alike.  The outcome?  It took another 30 years before the Arabs managed to conquer all the coastal areas of North Africa. 

As for the shrunken Greco-Roman Byzantine Empire --- still powerful in Turkey and Southeastern Europe after it lost the Middle East and North Africa --- it survived the Arab and other Muslim onslaught for another 700 years.  During those long centuries, their wars were largely with the Arabs and Muslim Persians until the 11th century (plus invading nomad tribes out of Central Asia).  From the start of that century, they encountered a new, even more powerful foe in the aggressive Ottoman Turks. who, by then, had converted to Sunni Islam.  What followed?  Badly battered in these armed conflicts with the Ottomans, the Byzantines, by the end of the 13th century --- despite surviving another 150 years or so --- had lost so much territory to the conquering Ottomans that, for all intents and purposes, their Empire was now reduced to becoming an Ottoman vassal.


     Sidebar:  In 1204, to compound the growing weakness of their once great Empire, the Byzantines were attacked by Roman Catholic Crusaders who overran and savagely sacked Constantinople and rampaged through other parts of Anatolia and even parts of what would be eastern Turkey today


 Total Arab Conquest of Persia

 Arab militaries also began their conquest of Persia in the early 630s, remember.  Parts of the Persian Empire's military and ruling dynasty retreated eastward in that vast country and continued the war against the Muslim invaders for almost twenty years.  Even so, by 651 C.E. all of the Empire was fully under Arab rule, even as the Arabs continued their invasions eastward into Afghanistan and parts of India (especially what is now Pakistan).   The conquered Persian population --- while not forced to become Muslim ---sooner or later converted to Muslim in order to enjoy a higher status and more economic opportunities.  For all that, the age-old dominant Zoroaster religion was widely practiced sotto-voce for hundreds of years after the Arab conquest. 

Keep in mind --- something we'll deal with later here --- that the rulers of Muslim Persia converted the country to Shiite Islam in the early 16th century, and for a variety of reasons discussed later too.  But not least, far from it, to consolidate the various ethnic groups that the Persian kings ruled over.

      Sidebar Comments:  The status and fate of Iranian Zoroastrians and Iranian Jews from the Arab conquests to the Islamist Revolution of 1979

 Zoroastrians, believe it or not, were openly active in the Iranian Shah's semi-secular regime when, in the late 1970s, the Islamist Revolution led by the fanatical Ayatollah Khomeini erupted and overthrew his reign.  Khomeini was a radical jihadi-dogmatist, full of fervor to destroy all western influences in the country while simultaneously imposing on its 40 million population in 1979 ---nowadays double that number --- a rigid Sharia legal system with Big-Brother like controls over them.  

What followed for the Zoroastrians?  Considered pagans, they were persecuted, killed, or pressured to convert to Islam if they wanted to survive.  So much for the wonders of rule by a frenzied religious Shia dictatorship.  In 2012, Iranian census found a little more than 28,000 people admitting that they were still practicing their religion.  More likely, the Muslim-converts in Iran since the 1979 Revolution continue in fairly large numbers to adhere to their original religion.  

And Iranian Jews?  

Fortunately, all but a handful of Iran's 60,000 Jews quickly scattered out of the country in the late 1970s.  About 40,000 ended up in the USA, most of them well educated and quickly assimilating to American life.  Another 20,000 went to Israel.  A thousand or so Jews remain in Iran today, unable to emigrate . . . though the government continues to lie about the numbers of happy-go-lucky Jews still living there. 

  NOTE:  An appendix, to appear in part 3 of this (with other appendixes), sets out the status of Jewish and Palestinian   refugees as a result of the 1947-48 civil war and later war between Israel and 5 invading Arab states.