Americans are peculiar insofar as the majority lack any semblance of historical knowledge or frame of reference. At best, most U.S. citizens cannot tell you much about the world prior to World War II and, as often as not, what they can tell you is filtered or manufactured out of ill-digested bits of information, mostly morsels gleaned from social media out-lets or poor presentations sucked out of alternative media venues that offer stilted versions of events.
This dearth of information and often paltry levels of understanding is as prevalent on the political left as it is on the right. In an society wherein historical understanding and knowledge is limited to a 60 or 70 year time-frame it becomes possible to rewrite history as needed, to fit any agenda. Essentially, events are interpreted through a thin filter and consumed avariciously. It’s not like most will know the difference anyway.
Examples of this lack of historicity permeate our society and culture and the evidence manifests on a daily basis, including across all major media outlets. In a society wherein the populace knows next to nothing, all things are possible. Thus, revisionist histories are flung on a daily basis and are not contested in substantive manner. Recent examples would be such nonsensical assertions as the following;
- The U.S. Civil War had nothing to do with the institution of slavery
- That we should assess the Colonial era and its major figures through a contemporary set of values.
- That colonialism is a modern, Western European invention
- That the Republican Party of today has something in common with the Republican party of Lincoln.
- That the Mexican-American war occurred in response to Mexican aggression against Americans and was sparked by the reduction of the Alamo.
The list is long and growing daily. Even the most basic elements of historical understanding can not be taken for granted in dealing with the population of the United States. When you’re writing on a blank slate, you can write anything.
Endless Fight Between East and the West
In the rhetorical posturing and pronouncements bandied about freely over the last 30 years on all sides, there’s plenty of room for critical investigation. On the political left there’s a tendency to portray the conflict between East and West, between European powers and Islam as a western invention. In this historical set of viewpoints the prevalent line of thinking posits the genesis for conflict, seemingly, at the end of World War I with the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Running alongside of this is a very dim understanding of the Crusades (also viewed as unprovoked European aggression), shoddily interpreted views on colonialism which, of course, by some Herculean stretch, was invented by the West. Also present is the portrayal of ostensibly indigenous populations. Such views are thinly based and highly selective. No one attempts to draw lines in time upon which deeper understandings might be constructed. People erect their beliefs upon very thin foundations and, when those are challenged by the presentation of factual information, they scream in the most shrill of tones.
The conflict between East and West, between Islam and the European, Christian powers didn’t begin in the 18th or 19th centuries, nor did it begin in the 11th century with the First Crusade. If we look solely at the centuries-long and unending conflicts as a fight between major religions then the genesis may be found in the 7th century when the forces of Islam swept out of the Arabian Peninsula, across North Africa and the Middle East and into Europe, being halted in France at the Battle of Tours by Charles Martel in 732 and at the gates of Vienna during the latter part of the 17th century when the second Ottoman siege failed at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between those two events, the latter of which represented the apogee of expansion by Islam, more than nine centuries of unending warfare.
From the political right derive equally ill-founded sets of arguments and justifications. On this end of the spectrum positions tend to stem from manufactured presentations of history which are, more often than not, founded upon religious beliefs—in that conservative viewpoints are, in a substantive sense, very hard to distinguish from the adherents to Salafist fanatics on the other side. Ill-digested notions forwarded by Zionist interests most often underpin their arguments and positions. Specifically, that Eastern and Central European Jews have any real demonstrable link to the historical inhabitants of the pre-Christian Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Christian evangelical positioning, allied with rabid Zionism, are wont to affix and derive meanings from a series of scriptural writings which, in the 21st century, should not enter in to the realm of national policy.
All that aside, the conflicts between East and West long ante-dated the advent of Islam and, in fact, Christianity. The warfare between two fundamentally distinct agglomerations of societies has been going on since the dawn of recorded history. If anything one would conclude that by now, formulating policy based on religious belief alone is simply a bad idea, on all sides.
The Global War on Terror, Latest Iteration of a Limitless Conflict
With the advent of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) we once again have been accorded the opportunity to see where this formulation of policy on religious beliefs leads. On the one hand we have the State of Israel unduly influencing U.S. politics. Underlying this influence is the ostensible covenant between the God of Mosaic tradition which promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Aside from the fact that this tenuous connection between Jews in the 21st century and a semi-mythical figure who lived more than three thousand years ago, there are many other problems with the claim as reflected in the policy of the State of Israel.
Running alongside of this set of beliefs are those of evangelical Christians in the United States, filtered through quasi-religious works such as the Left Behind series, the Book of Zohar and a wide range of sources that really have next to nothing to do with early Christian tradition. Of equally dubious value, a wide range of Salafist, Wahabee beliefs similarly drawn from scriptural interpretation. Nationalism runs throughout all three broad paradigms and is mixed, to varying degrees, with stilted historical mish-mashes none of which hold up to much scrutiny.
Again, planning state policy on the beliefs of zealots who will not abide criticism of any form would seem a bad idea at the dawn of the 21st century.
Terrorism, Irregular Military Units: Remembering the Bashi-bazouks
The Global War on Terror has witnessed the use of a wide variety of irregular military units, mercenaries and purveyors of terror as a political tactic. None of this is anything new. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda didn’t invent terrorism nor were they the first irregular military units utilized by state agents. Also, such units are by no means limited to Islam. In the context of Israel, from a Roman perspective, the Maccabaeans were purveyors of terror…so were the Irgun and Hagganah in the eyes of the British authorities. Blackwater and other private military contractors used by Western interests in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are cut from the same cloth. Perspective is everything.
The Ottoman Empire provides an earlier illustration in the guise of the Bashi-bazouks (Turkish başıbozuk). The Bashi-bazouks were state-sponsored military units acting in the interests of Empire. Unpaid, they relied upon pillage and plunder as their means of support. Legendary for their brutality, they were frequently used by the State as frontier police and scouts. Also, their presence and reputation often would suffice to quell unrest.
The Balkan Uprisings of the 1870s and the Depredations of Irregular Soldiers
The Balkans had been conquered by the Turks over the course of centuries. In the 14th century, beginning in the year 1352, the Turks invaded and conquered Bulgaria. Between 1371 and 1389, the Serbian Kingdom fought a series of wars against the Turks before final defeat at the battle of Smederevo in 1459. In 1453, the Ottomans had surrounded and laid siege to Constantinople before it finally fell, thus reducing Greek power in Anatolia forever. The year 1463 saw the defeat of the Bosian Stjepan Tomasevic, at the battle of Jajce. In 1468, the Albanian Prince Skenderberg is defeated and within a decade Albania is subdued. Croatian forces were obliterated at the Battle of Krbava in Lika in 1493. The Ottoman push continued into Hungary where, in the year 1526, the Hungarian King and his forces were defeated at the famous battle of Mohacs.
Throughout these conquests, the irregular Bashi-bazouks were utilized and their brutality struck fear into conquered populations. In the 19th century, the long push to drive the Turks from the Balkans and Greece proceeded in phases. The Hellenic movement of the early portion of the century drew such famous combatants as Lord Byron.
In the 1870s, uprisings in Bulgaria spread rapidly across the region. The Herzegovina uprising of 1875-77 saw wide usage of the Bashi-bazouks as instruments of suppression used by the Ottomans. During what became known as the April uprising, they participated in the massacre of Batak in which 1,200 to 7.000 Bulgarians were slaughtered. A number of similar massacres perpetrated by the Bashi-bazouks occurred during the uprisings. In 1914, one of the last actions undertaken by these units occurred in the Greek city of Phocaea. Depending on the source, between 50 and 100 people were massacred. This formed part of a pattern of ethnic cleansing and genocidal practices sanctioned by the Ottoman State and perpetrated by irregular forces such as the Bashi-bazouks. These units were also utilized by the Turks during the Armenian genocide.
No State Actor is Blameless, Terror Nothing New, Religion Bad Basis for Policy
In the on-going conflicts between East and West we should, at the very least, be aware of histories like that of the Bashi-bazouks and their Ottoman overlords. Neither Israel, the United States or any Middle Eastern State or set of interests has an exclusive right to justify brutality, genocide and state oppression of minorities based on what they view as exclusive religious or cultural rights to a region or area. Truth be told, none of them are “indigenous” to any area.
In the 21st century one would hope that we have learned that the formulation of state policy based on religious beliefs which appeared in the Bronze Age is just not a good idea. But until we make some effort to understand our histories we will be forever doomed to repeat the same mistakes, over and over again.