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Saturday, February 14, 2015


Part Two 


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

Please be sure to read part one first on Islam's conquests and sweeping Muslim Rule for 1100 years over wide swaths of the earth. Part one dealt with rapid Arab conquests of all of the huge Persian Empire in the early 7th century and large parts of the even bigger Byzantine Empire's Empire in the Middle East and North Africa in the 7th into the 8th centuries. What follows are the no less remarkable invasions and conquests by Arabs in Europe,  Seljuk Turks ruling a large Peresian Empire, Ottoman Turks destroying the Byzantine Empire and moving swiftly into in much of Europe and elsewhere, Tatar Mongols rule over much of Russia for 250 years, and Turkish-Mongolian dominant control of most of India for 300 years until 1803.


In the early  8th century, not long after their conquest of the Levant and North Africa, triumphant Arab militaries crossed the Mediterranean Sea and invaded Spain and soon afterwards much of France.  Later, in the 10th century, Arabs conquered Sicily and parts of mainland Italy in the south.  They held onto it for 200 years, after which feared Viking invaders forced them out of all of Italy.  These invasions represented the greatest incursion into Western Europe ever made by Muslims. 

 Not so for Islam in South and parts of Central Europe.  This time, starting with formidable Ottoman Turkish conquests in the 14th century, much of the Balkans and as far north as Hungary came under their rule.   Amazingly, despite the Ottoman Empire's steady, non-stop slide into backwardness from 1700 on --- scientifically, technologically, economically, and militarily --- the Ottoman Empires still ruled over Greece, Bulgaria, and other parts of the Balkans until way into the 19th century.  

 And now back to the initial Muslim conquests in Europe and its failures to dominate most of it.


France  Invaded and the Defeat of Arab Conquerors at the Battle of Tours 

More specifically, the rapid Muslim conquests of West European territory in the early 8th century continued until 732. (Europeans called the Muslim Arabs and Berbers who invaded them "Moors."  That year, for the first time, the hitherto undefeated Arab cavalry and infantry encountered a powerful European army of Frankish and Burgundian soldiers that wasn’t overstretched or exhausted by long decades of war (as had been the fate of the conquered Byzantines and Persians a century earlier).  Neither had they been obliged to battle well trained Knights in armor who road on large horses that towered above the agile, but much smaller Arabian ponies.  Plus, quickly note, the Knights led a well prepared infantry, both seasoned and battle-hardened, many of whom also wore armor.  It was largely the Frankish-Burgundian infantry that did most of the fighting.  The Arabs relied mainly on horse attacks.  Only once, at the start of the battle, did the Arab cavalry actually manage to break the ranks of some of the European infantry. 

Clarification: Both the Franks and Burgundians were originally Germanic warrior tribal-nomads ---along with Goths, Vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths,  Anglo-Saxons,  and others ---  all of them out of the Russian Steppes that ran all the way to Manchuria, Mongolia, and China who continually moved westward for reasons that scholars still dispute. 

Almost everyone agrees, though, that fleeing the feared Attila the Hun and his fierce warriors, who loved to kill everyone in sight was a major reason for the Germanic tribes to keep moving west in front of them.  The Huns, to clarify quickly, were a mix of different nomadic tribes, out of Central Asia and the Russian Steppes, and with a mix of horse-warrior nomads of Germanic origins as well, possibly, of Chinese or Turkish tribes and possibly other nomadic tribes.  Of these nomadic warrior tribes, the most feared by indigenous peoples and the other invading Germanic tribes was the Huns --- led by Attila-the-Hun.  He and his followers managed in the mid-5th century to invade the Balkans and much of central Europe, parts of France, and eventually much of Italy, all the while fighting both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires with success. For all that, the resulting vast Hun Empire in Europe collapsed a just year after Attila's death in 453 C.E --- largely because the Huns never managed to create an effective tax-system and governmental bureaucracy to keep the Empire together. It simply fell apart into warring parts. The Huns who survived Attila soon dispersed and were absorbed more or less swiftly into other nomadic warrior-tribes in Europe.

Attila himself was called the "Scourge of God".  He bragged that nothing was more fun than slaughtering whole communities, with a special stress on killing women and children . . . the former (along with fathers before they were massacred) often forced to kill their own children.  He also bragged that where he and his men rode, the grass itself would be so trampled that it would never grow again.  In fact, if he didn't understand or like something, he had it destroyed.  

Back to the European-Muslim Battle at Tours in 732

 The fierce fighting lasted one day, no longer, near the city of Tours --- just 80 or so miles south of Paris.  The hitherto successful Arab military was stopped and badly damaged by the  European military it encountered.  Nobody knows the exact size of the Arab forces, but all scholars agree it was much larger than the Frankish-Burgundian military.  No matter.  Until then, the conquering Arabs had never fought against a powerful, ready-for-battle army, and their leaders were astounded by the carnage that occurred in their cavalry and infantry charges.  They were astounded so much that no sooner did nightfall occur than the remaining Arab forces quietly sneaked away southward.  Some of the remaining Arab military immediately crossed the Pyrenees and returned to conquered Spain.  Most of the Arab forces stayed on in the south of France near the Pyrenees until, a few decades later, constant Frankish attacks forced them to retreat back to Spain as well. 

There, in the large Iberian Peninsula, the triumphant Arab conquerors were now fighting advances into their conquered kingdoms by fiercely determined Spanish conquistadors.  The wars with these stubborn Christian forces ---  who themselves splintered into various competing kingdoms exactly as the Arabs were doing --- continued for 7 more centuries until the last Muslim stronghold in Granada fell in 1492.

Something else to remember: Berber Muslims, indigenous peoples out of the desert and coastline areas of North Africa -- no, they weren't Arab-speaking --- had invaded Spain with the initial Arab militaries, but tensions between the two ethnic groups added to the number of divided Muslim kingdoms.  Almost all of the Berbers returned to North Africa in the 9th century, only --- in far greater numbers --- for two large waves of Berber invasions in the in the 11th and 13th centuries to dominate the Arab kingdoms and also to help in the Muslim struggle against the endlessly encroaching Spanish recapture of the country.

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Collapses of Rival Muslim Caliphates and the End of Islam's Golden Age

 Until the new Berber invasions, generally the Arab Muslim kingdoms had treated their Christian and Jewish populations they ruled over (and not just in Spain) with relatively limited persecutions: in particular, as long as the dhimmi subjects, subordinate and semi-humiliated, paid their annual protection-money --- the jizya, which could run anywhere from 20% to 80% of the income dhimmis earned yearly --- and obeyed the strict laws and restrictions placed on them as impure, base minorities compared to their Muslim Kings, Princes, bureaucrats, and all other members of Islam.   

 The result?  More and more, the Spanish Caliphate set up by the Spanish Muslims --- called Moors by the Christians --- that once competed with the Baghdad Caliphate for influence in all of Islam eroded beyond repair, and the once impressive cultures that the Arabs had instituted in Iberia steadily eroded too.  Exactly, you should understand, as happened in the Arab-dominated Middle East and Egypt once the Baghdad Caliphate was destroyed by Mongol forces in 1258. 

Very quickly, in the upshot, the Golden Age of  Islam Vanished Too

No longer did the once impressive Arab scholars' investigations and transfer of Greek, Persian, and Indian cultures to their conquered areas --- such as Greek philosophy (especially Aristotle) and Persian art and architecture and Indian creation of our current numerical system, along with their own investigations into science, biology, and medicine ---  than a kind of Dark Ages emerge in all of Islam by the end of the 13th century.  The imposition of rigorous Sharia law in Arab lands and in Persia and other parts of Asia led to Islam falling farther and farther behind European advances in all these disciplines from the 13th century onward.  Even the vast Ottoman empire that ruled over them did little to reignite Muslim creativity except, for that Empire, military advances.  (Even then, the Ottoman capture and destruction of East Orthodox Constantinople in 1453 was in no small part owed to Greek-fire on enemy ships that the Ottomans learned to plus, plus huge canon for knocking down the city's formidable multi-wall protection that a Hungarian had created.) 

 And so: Islam fell farther and farther behind the big breakthroughs into the modern world created by the Europeans and later Americans --- and briefly in China in the Middle Ages --- ever since the 15th  Renaissance. Eventually, with the crack-up of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, European colonialism ruled over every Islamic country --- yes, even in Indonesia (Dutch rule).  The insularity and sheer ignorance of how to match the Western countries' non-stop creativity has led to the growing anger, resentments, envy, and blame-shifting onto Jews and Israel and alleged Jewish dominance of proxy great powers like the USA throughout the Islamic world today.


And What Happened After the Battle of Tours in Christian and Pagan Europe:The Rise of the Holy Roman Empire

Thanks to these Germanic tribal conquests like those of the Francs, the Roman Pope decided in 800 to recognize the Frankish King Charlemagne as the new Emperor of a concocted Holy Roman Empire.  He was the first European to be called an Emperor since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century.  By that date, Charlemagne already ruled over Germany, Italy, and Austria as well as France and Belgium and Netherlands  --- which meant that there were no other rivals for the Pope to choose. 

The key point to remember here: It was largely the Arab invasions that brought the various tribal groups, however old or recent in their European conquests, to some sort of new unity on much of the Continent --- that unity and cooperation, quickly understand, always tenuous from the start. 

 No less significant, new security in much of that Europe --- the first since Rome’s long collapse --- meant that the kings, princes, and top-dog aristocrats worried less about Arab invasions and more about domestic development (still pretty limited until the whole Feudal system of mutual responsibility between the big-wigs  --- including hereditary Knights and local Dukes, Earls and what have you: all of whom had special privileges owing  to their social class and status --- and commoners and peasant-serfs for the first group to provide security to the masses and in turn for the masses to deliver payments in money or agriculture (or other non-monetary services) in return.   



 How the Vast Byzantine Empire Collapsed Under Ottoman Conquest

With the fall of Constantinople in 1454 to the Ottoman Turks, the last vestige of the once great Byzantine Empire was totally destroyed and disappeared into history. 

 By then, the Empire had already been largely overrun for a good two centuries by the Turkish, Muslim-converted Ottomans.  By 1453, to be more specific, the Byzantine capital city was reduced to 6000 Greek-speaking soldiers pitted against 200,000 Ottomans and their vassal militaries. That was the final collapse of the remnants of what was once the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  People speak of the Roman Empire's collapse in the 5th century.  Not so.  For about 1100 years, the Eastern Empire survived --- often down, often revitalized, but a survivor in the tiny area around the imposing city of Constantinople . . . hitherto unconquerable.  

 The deathof the Byzantines was also a big blow to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  But not so to Roman Catholicism.  In fact, the Crusaders had sacked much of Constantinople in 1214 (the Fourth Crusade against Islam in the Levant).  Then, too, the thriving Italian city-states had a vigorous trade with the Ottomans for centuries . . . including a Genoa-enclave, left untouched by the Ottoman conquerors, on the opposite side of the Bosporus Straits. 

 Ottoman Rule in the Next Few Centuries: The New Center of Global Sunni Islam


 From the 13th century on, with the destruction and pillage of the Baghdad caliphate by the ultra-aggressive Mongols in 1258, the most powerful Muslim Empire that remained in the Middle East and elsewhere was the Ottoman.  By the mid- 13th century, theOttomans --- a Turkish warrior nomad people out of the Steppes of Eastern Russia --- had reduced the once mighty Greco-Roman Byzantine Empire to a weak and largely isolated area in what would be parts of modern Turkey.  That Empire shrunk steadily over the next two centuries as little more than a vassal Ottoman state until it was reduced to the city of Constantinople and nothing else.

Once the Ottoman Turks controlled Constantinople --- along with its vast conquests of all the Arab countries on the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa and many of the Balkan countries (and later in the 16th century a huge chunk of Hungary) --- it’s mighty Empire grew and grew for more than two centuries over far more peoples and lands than the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire ever did.  That growth included more and more European countries: Greece, much of the rest of the Balkans, Hungary, and parts of Austria.  It was only in the 1680s that the Ottoman militaries were turned back at the gates of Vienna, Austria and forced out of it by Hapsburg Imperial militaries and other European armies. 

By the start of the 18th century, the Ottomans lost all of Hungary and were forced out of their European vassals except in the Balkans.  Worse was to come.  More and more as time passed, the Ottoman Empire failed behind the rest of Europe, especially its western countries, in science, economic development, technology, engineering, medicine, and so on . . . not least, though, in military weaponry and power.

 Something else no less significant: the first Ottoman Emperor in Constantinople immediately grabbed the title of Caliph, the highest position in world Islam.  That meant that the Ottoman-Caliphate was now the center of all Islam (at any rate, in principle).  The  Caliphate and its military-imperial rule survived for almost 500 years over all Sunni Arabs --- not so over Shia Persia (with which it fought numerous wars).  And finally, in the 1920s --- after losing all of its European, Arab, and North African vassal states --- the remnants of that once powerful  Empire had shrunken to the home Turkey-base when a reforming, modernity-oriented quasi-Dictator and elected President named Ataturk abolished the Caliphates. 

 Will it ever be restored --- one dominant religious-military center of Islam again?  Ask the vicious jihadi ISIS leaders that question.  They seem to think so 


 Russia Overrun

 In Russia, not fully organized under a central King until the end of the 9th century --- composed mainly of Eastern Slavic and Finno-Ugric people, and increasingly by the end of that century, composed increasingly of Viking invaders who setteled permanently --- began to expand with Moscow at its center.  By the end of the 10th century, its people converted to Orthodox Christianity. Soon afterward, fierce Mongol raids into Russia began.  Later, at the start of the 13th century, Tatars and other Mongolian warriors overran most of Russian territory and ruled over the emerging Russian peoples for almost two centuries. 

By then, the Mongols themselves in the European areas had converted to Islam.  In many ways, despite being nomadic peoples, the Mongols created a large empire that reached from conquered China in east Asia across most of the rest of Asia north of the Himalayas and over most of Russia.  They also invaded parts of the weakened Byzantine Empire, destroyed the caliphate in Baghdad, left mass destruction too in Persia and much of the rest of the Arab Peninsula . . . only to retreat north to Russia and central Asia.  .

  For all that, the vast Mongol empire brought a lot of improvements to the conquered lands they found worth settling in and ruling over: good trade routes, the end of raiding attacks on traders, a long mail-system, united fiscal systems, and tolerance of diversity among the conquered people.  The same improvements occurred in Tatar-Mongol rule in Russia.  That rule collapsed at the end of sustained warfare with the increasing victories of the Russian military over them.  By 1480, nearly all the Mongol tribes and their Asian allies retreated eastward into Central and Eastern Asia, only to learn that the rule of their fellow Mongols in China and elsewhere had collapsed too. 

With the defeat of the Mongols, the Tsarist regime was able in a few decades to expand its hold over more and more of Russian territory.  In the middle of the 16th century, Ivan IV (Ivan-the-Terrible) consolidated all the powers of rule and created the autocratic Tsarist Russia that lived on until its collapse in the midst of WWI.  Autocracy was all Russian ever knew.  The Tsar, in principle, owned everything --- even the aristocrats' large land-holdings and merchants' businesses.  You could only hold your aristocratic title and land if you served the state in the military or by working directly with the projects that the Tsars and their confidents demands. 

Not only where there never any laws protecting private property, there was never anything like "contract serfdom" in much of Europe starting in the early-and-middle Ages.  There were only serfs who lived and toiled on the lands of the state --- even if the faithful aristocrats were the ones they paid in kind, and not the state directly.  By the 17th century, the autocratic state made it a serious crime for serfs to try to move elsewhere.  By contrast, the aristocrats who held onto their estates by not challenging the Tsarist system could in effect sell his serfs to another aristocrat.  Needless to say, neither the exploitative aristocracy and state tax-collectors nor the serfs had any incentive to improve the land and the tools for tilling it.  Just as the rest of Russia remained a technologically backward country for centuries, with a huge army and terrain that allowed the Tsarist regime to stay in power until its collapse in the midst of WWI.


The conquest of India by Mongols Muslims started in the late 7th century with Arab invasions that never were able to overcome Indian resistance, mainly by the Hindus and pagan tribes in the tropical areas.  By the 10th and 11th centuries, a variety of Turkish-Muslim tribes invaded the country from the north; much later, in the early 16th century, all of northern India and some of the tropical areas came under the rule of Timor and his Turko-Mongol warriors.  The Muslim invasions were among the most destructive of human lives in history.  Some scholars say as many as 50 to 90 million Hindus killed by the Muslims, others say somewhere around 20 to 30 million.  Lots anyway. 

Once the Muslims decided on a new ruler of India, they often continued their persecutions of the Hindus and others they considered pagans, treating them as inferior and submissive Dhimmis --- though, in fairness, over time they treated the Hindus better.  Asian Muslim rulers, you might recall. did not impose rigid Sharia law on the conquered peoples, generally speaking, the ways Arab rulers did.  The conquering Mongols also purveyed Persian culture and architecture in the areas they controlled. 

 What they didn't do --- like the Ottomans in decline later on --- was improve the dismal Indian economy anywhere (despite more trade with other civilizations) or copy western advances in the sciences and new technologies or encourage the emergence of creative universities. 

 Ultimately, of course --- to jump ahead for a second or two to post-WWII India --- the festering quarrels and animosities between Muslim rulers and Hindus (and other religious groups in India) led to Gandhi’s failure  ---- when the British rulers left India by mid-1947 --- to persuade the Muslims to join with Hindus to create an unified Indian state.  Instead, ferocious attacks by Muslim and Hindu militants led to a clear split of the Muslims into a new country, Pakistan --- itself split into two halves: one in the West and one in the East.  The internal nightmarish onslaughts between the two religions led to the death of probably 5 to 10 million of them before the final separation of the two peoples.

 Hindu India's War with Islamic Pakistan in 1971

 Once a Pakistani state emerged in 1947, it was divided geographically into two parts --- West and East Pakistan.  Both were filled overwhelmingly with Muslims, but the two parts were divided not just in geography but in ethnic antagonisms: those in East Pakistan Bengalis, a large population of one ethnicity that live half in India and half in Pakistani territory.  By 1971 disapproval of the East Pakistani government --- chosen by the Muslim central government in West Pakistan --- was widespread all over the Eastern areas, and a democratic movement emerged calling for democracy, followed by the democratic Awami League (victorious by far in an election) demanding full regional autonomy as a prelude to complete independence.  That demand was something the Pakistani military in the West wouldn't accept.  It reinforced the Pakistani army in the Eastern region and sought to destroy the Awami league and once and forever crush any more campaigns for regional independence.  Mass massacres of the Bengali Muslims ensued.

 As the ferocious atrocities ensued all over the Eastern region, the Indian army --- under pressure from Bengali Hindus and others --- moved into the region and defeated the Pakistani military.  Out of this defeat, the leaders of the rebellion and their mass supporters created an entirely independent state with the name of Bangladesh.  Though the new country has a parliamentary system and relatively free elections, it is very poor, full of poverty, full of corruption, and rife political violence.  In other words, it is a fairly typical Muslim country except for its semi-democratic government. 

Note that large numbers of Muslims have lived in certain areas of India once the vicious blood-shedding stopped.  Today they number almost 15% of the Indian population --- or, numerically, 174 million Muslims in the country.  .  That makes it the 2nd biggest Muslim population in one country in the world (Indonesia is 1st).