Archive for the ‘Muslim world’ Category

Turkey (1923- ) is what remains of the Ottoman Empire, which once ruled the Middle East. It lies in Anatolia, the land between the Black and Mediterranean seas.

It is not the only country with Turks. To the east there are others: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. But Turkey is by far the largest and richest of these.

Turkey stands between two worlds: Muslim and Western.

It is a Muslim country yet its people wear Western clothes, write with Roman letters and take part in parliamentary elections. Religion is kept out of government and even the women are not allowed to cover their heads in public like they do in other Muslim countries.

Turkey belongs to NATO, the Western military alliance. This means the second largest army in NATO is Muslim.

But Turkey is not part of the European Union (EU). It is not for want of trying. For years it was kept out because it had a bad record on human rights and its army had too much power in government.

Now that Turkey is changing its ways, the EU has begun talks for it to join, maybe in 2013. But the talks are going badly and Sarkozy, the president of France, is finding excuses to slow them down.

Even though Europe is no longer strongly Christian, many seem to be against Turkey joining the EU simply because it is Muslim. Turkey may seem Western on the outside but it is still Muslim on the inside.

Although Turkey has long been a friend of America, the two do not agree on Iraq: partly because Turkey is becoming more of a democracy and the people are against what America is doing in Iraq; but also because America turns a blind eye to Kurdish fighters crossing into Turkey from Iraq.

Turkey killed more than a half million Armenians in the early 1900s and later fought against Kurds in eastern Turkey. It was trying to make everyone in Turkey into Turks.

Anatolia was once a Christian land full of Greek towns and farms. It was the heart of the Byzantine empire. Between 1000 and 1500 the Turks uprooted and destroyed all of that. They marched on Constantinople and overthrew it, giving it a new name, Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire was born.

When the empire reached its height in the late 1600s it ruled the Arab world, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Armenia and other nearby countries. Its armies got as far as the gates of Vienna. Two hundred years later the empire began to fall apart. In the early 1900s the First World War delivered the death blow.

After the war in the 1920s Ataturk made Turkey more Western.

Turkey stayed out of the Second World War. It still had one of the largest and best armies in the world, but it did not have the tanks and fighter planes it took to fight a war. But it did join America against Russia in the Cold War that followed.

– Abagond, 2007.

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Java is an island that lies in the tropics far to the south of China. Most people in Indonesia live there.

Java is a crowded place as the world goes: it has as many people as Japan yet it is only one-third the size. It has half the land of Britain but twice as many people.

Even though it has so many people, Java has only a few large cities, Jakarta being the largest. Most of the island is filled with rice fields, small towns and low blue mountains (some of them volcanoes). The people are poor, but not shockingly so. Every bit of land that can be turned to good use has been.

It has few dogs.

Indonesia is in effect a Javanese empire: Java provides most of the country’s leaders, it sends its people out to settle the other islands and it even has had a practice of Javanization – making other people in Indonesia more like those in Java. It seems the Javanese have simply taken the place of the Dutch, who once ruled the islands.

The Javanese are Muslim Malays, making them similar to the people of Malaysia to the north.

The Javanese language is related not just to those of Malaysia and the nearby islands, but also to those in the Philippines, Madagascar and the islands of the Pacific. It is even related to Maori.

History: Java has been ruled in turn by three different civilizations. In round numbers:

  1. 500-1500: Hindu: Hindu kingdoms began to appear in the 500s. In its early history Java was influenced more by India than by China. In the 800s the great Buddhist and Hindu temples of Borobudur and Prambanan were built. In the 1300s and 1400s Java became the heart of Majapahit, a Hindu empire that ruled most of the islands. When the empire fell its top people fled to neighbouring Bali, which is still Hindu to this day.
  2. 1500-1800: Islamic: After 1500 Muslim traders came from the sea and converted Java to Islam. The old temples were abandoned.
  3. 1800- : Western: In the 1800s and early 1900s Java was ruled by the Dutch and took on some of the ways of the West. It fell briefly under British rule in the 1810s and Japanese rule in the 1940s. Since independence from the Netherlands, it has become part of the American Empire, aka the “Free World”. The Javanese now write with Roman letters.

The Dutch ruled from the city of Batavia in the north-west. Now known as Jakarta, it is still the seat of government. But in the old days the Hindu kings ruled from Yogyakarta and Surakarta in the heart of the island.

What has made Java important in history: it is a large fertile area near a point through which all trade between India and China must pass.

Java has been known in the West as far back as Roman times.

A common dish, especially in the morning, is to eat rice with eggs and maybe chicken.

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[Palestinian flag]

Palestine is the land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean that lies between the Jordan river and the sea, between Egypt and Syria. In the middle is the city of Jerusalem. It is a land divided between Arabs and Jews, a land of endless killing and blood.

The Romans kicked the Jews out of Palestine nearly 2000 years ago. In the 1800s the Jews began returning in large numbers. In 1947, after Hitler had killed six million Jews, they were given Palestine as a country of their own. They named it Israel.

But Israel did not fall from the sky: it was created by pushing Arabs off their land, land they had lived on for over a thousand years. Those Arabs are now called Palestinians. They want their land back.

The Jews say that God had promised them the land. It says so in the Bible.

Because the Arabs are mostly Muslim and the Jews are Western, the dispute is not an ordinary one, but has become important the world over. It is always in the newspapers. So much so that many assume that this has been going on for thousands of years and not just 60.

Most Palestinians went to live in other Arab countries. Many went to live in Jordan, the neighbouring country to the east. Those with education live quite well, but many live in wretched settlements called refugee camps. The tents are long gone, but the people are still there.

In 1967 Israel took over a part of Jordan called the West Bank, and parts of Egypt called the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Israel gave back the Sinai in 1980 to make peace with Egypt. The West Bank and Gaza are still under the thumb of its military.

Israel sent Jews to settle the West Bank and Gaza. Some hoped that one day they would become part of Israel proper. But in 2005 Israel pulled out of Gaza. Both the Israeli army and the Jewish settlers have left, but the army still attacks Gaza from time to time.

In the early 1990s Israel half-promised that the West Bank and Gaza might some day become an independent country. There was some solid movement in that direction and in 2000 peace was almost made between Israel and the Palestinians, but then it all fell apart. There has been an on-and-off low-level war going on ever since, not just between Arabs and Jews, but even among the Arabs themselves.

While Arafat was alive to lead the Palestinians, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), especially the Fatah part of it, was the only political party that mattered, as corrupt as it was. Arafat died in 2004 and the years since has seen the rise of Hamas. Now both parties fight for power, both at elections and in the street.

In January 2006 Hamas won elections in Gaza. In June 2007 they took over Gaza by force. Hamas is backed by Iran, Fatah by the West.

Israel is now building a wall between itself and the Palestinians. Along the way the wall is taking in choice bits of the West Bank. It has yet to reach Jerusalem. The Jews seem to have given up on making peace.

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320px-Flag_of_Pakistan.svgPakistan (1947- ) is the country just to the west of India. Under the near-absolute rule of army general Musharraf it is playing a deadly double game of trying to be friends with both America, whose money and goodwill it needs, and the Islamists, who would destroy America in a holy war.

The Islamists include not only Osama bin Laden, believed to live somewhere in the lawless mountains of the north, but also the Taliban and many home-grown Islamists.

If Musharraf does not somehow keep both sides happy he will fall. If the Islamists take over Pakistan they will have the bomb. It is unlikely that America would sit by and let that happen.

So what happens in Pakistan holds a key to the future.

When British rule ended in 1947, the British divided India into Muslim and Hindu halves. The Muslim part became known as Pakistan. Even so, religious violence still followed and millions died. Millions more fled to either India or Pakistan according to their religion. Musharraf was one of them. Most Pakistanis who speak Urdu come from India.

India was once ruled by the Muslims under the Mogul princes. They are the ones who built the Taj Mahal. Like Pakistan, they had a green flag with a moon on it. Even under British rule Muslims made up most of the army.

Pakistan once included East Pakistan, which is now known as Bangladesh. It is the eastern, Muslim part of Bengal which stands at the mouth of the Ganges. It broke away in 1971 in a war in which millions died.

Pakistan and India are enemies and both have the bomb. Their chief dispute is over Kashmir. It is a beautiful land in the far north where both Hindus and Muslims live. Consequently, both countries say it is theirs. It has led to war and could do so again.

Pakistan and America are sometime friends. When Pakistan started to develop the bomb, America cut it off. Pakistan seemed headed for ruin, but then came 9/11. America suddenly needed its friendship again.

In the 1990s before Musharraf took over, Pakistan was a democracy. It was led by corrupt landowners. Land is still power in Pakistan.

The name “Pakistan” was invented in 1934 out of the provinces that would make it up:

  • Punjab
  • Afghan Province (= North West Frontier Province)
  • Kashmir
  • Sindh
  • Baluchistan

The name also means “Land of the pure”.

Languages: Out of every 100 Pakistanis, 48 speak Punjabi, 12 Sindhi, 10 Siraiki, 10 English, 8 Pashto, 8 Urdu and 3 Baluchi. Punjabi is spoken in the north-east, Sindhi in the south-east, Baluchi in the south-west and Pashto in the north-west. English is spoken by those at the top.

The people in the west – the Pashtuns, who speak Pashto, and Baluchis – are not Indians but Persians. About two-thirds of all Pashtuns live in Pakistan; the rest live in Afghanistan.

Religion: Most Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims; one in five is Shia Muslim.

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Sudan (1956- ) is the country south of Egypt. It is the cruellest place on earth. Unlike, say, Rwanda and Cambodia, the violence never seems to stop. It goes on and on. Just when the long war in the south was coming to an end – a war in which millions were killed or made into slaves – war broke out in Darfur in the west.

The north and the south are like two different countries:

  • The north is Arab in language and Muslim by religion, like neighbouring Egypt, but few are Arab by blood.
  • In the south English and Christianity are more common, as in neighbouring Uganda. Few are Muslim, some are Christians, most worship spirits. This is the beginning of black Africa.

Even though you barely heard about it in the West, Sudan is where the greatest jihad of our time has been fought. It ended in a draw in 2005.

Just as that war was winding down, another broke out in Darfur in 2003. The people in Darfur are Muslims but are black, not Arab. Feeling the government had not been fair to them, they took up arms. This led to war which continues to this day In 2006 it spread to neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic.

Unlike the war against the south, Darfur has become a fashionable cause in America and Britain.

Two of the men responsible for the blood of Darfur will likely be brought up on charges before the ICC, the World Court. Sudan says it will not turn them over. The United Nations in turn threatens to cut off trade to Sudan.

The African Union has a force in Darfur, but it is too small to do any good. The United Nations talks of sending a much larger force, but so far it is just talk.

Not only the people, but the land also changes from north to south:

  • The north is like Egypt: mostly dry land with towns and farms along the Nile. At Khartoum, the seat of government, the Nile divides into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.
  • In the middle of the country, the dry land turns to grassland.
  • In the south the grass gives way to trees, to woodland and wetland. Everyone is black. Now you are in the tropics.

Sudan has bad roads and few schools. Most are farmers or herders.

Sudan has oil, most of it in the south. France, India, Malaysia and especially China have sunk money into oil wells in Sudan. China needs the oil badly.

Some of the oil money pays for Russian arms, some goes into putting up tall, glass buildings in Khartoum. Little of it goes to the south, where most children do not even go to school.

As part of the 2005 peace deal, the south will vote in 2011 on whether to become independent. With so much oil there, it is seems unlikely the north will let it go without a fight.

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By Persian I mean anyone who speaks one of the Persian languages: Farsi, Pashto, Kurdish, Dari, Tajik and so on.

The Persians live south of the Turks and Russians, west of India and north and east of the Arab world. Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, western Pakistan and the Kurds are Persian.

In this sense, what we know of as Iran is, in fact, only western Persia! And not all Iranians are themselves Persians: one in four are Azeris, the Turks who live in the north-west and once ruled Iran.

The Persians are famous for their great poets. Because they were more advanced than the Arabs in the early days of Islam, the Persians have profoundly affected the Muslim world. The Turks and the Muslims in Pakistan and India in particular followed the Persians as their model.

Here is the family tree. It has all the living languages with at least a million speakers. Those without numbers are dead but notable.

  • North-eastern
    • Scythian
    • Sarmatian
    • Alanian
    • Khwarezmian
    • Bactrian
    • Avestan – language of Zoroastrian holy books
    • Sogdian – from the 700s to the 900s this was the main language of Samarkand and the Silk Road
    • Ossetian (0.7) – Caucasus
  • South-eastern
    • Pashto (50) – eastern Afghanistan, western Pakistan
  • South-western
    • Farsi (110) – main language in Iran
    • Dari (18 ) – main language in Afghanistan
    • Tajik (5) – main language in Tajikistan
    • Hazaragi (2) – middle of Afghanistan
    • Tat (4) – west of Caspian
    • Luri (2) – western Iran
  • North-western
    • Parthian – ruled Persia in late Roman times
    • Median
    • Kurdish (40) – Turkey, Iraq, Iran
    • Zazaki (2) – in Turkey
    • South of the Caspian:
      • Mazandarani (12)
      • Gileki (4)
      • Talysh (2)
    • Baluchi (8 ) – southern Pakistan

No doubt some speakers are counted twice here, but clearly there are at least 200 million Persians. As a people that makes them comparable to the Turks (150), Russians (150) and Arabs (200).

Half the Pashtuns (those who speak Pashto, also called Pushtuns or Pathans) live in Afghanistan, half in Pakistan. This is no accident: the British split their country in half to make them less of a threat back when the British ruled India.

Before the coming of Islam, the Persians gave the world two religions: Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. Most Persians used to be Zoroastrians, though some were Buddhists or even Christians. Now most are Muslims.

There are still about 100,000 Zoroastrian Persians: they live mainly in India and are called Parsis. Although their holy scriptures are in ancient Persian (Avestan), these days they speak Gujarati and English. That is why they are not on the list above.

Shia Islam did not become widespread among Persians till 500 years ago under the Safavid kings. Most Persians in the west are now Shiites, most in the east are Sunni.

Only the Ossetians are Christians. There are some Jews as well.

The Persians came down from Central Asia about 2000 BC. The north-eastern branch – the Scythians, Sarmatians and others – remained in Central Asia till the coming of the Turks. All that is left of them are the Ossetians.

There are three natural Persian countries:

  • Kurdistan – south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq
  • Iran – without the Azeri north-west or the Arab south-west
  • Khorasan – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, western Pakistan

Kurdistan and Khorasan are Sunni, Iran is Shia.

The Ossetians are too few to count as a separate country.

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A Guide to Turks

A Turk, in the common sense of the word, is someone from Turkey. Here I use it in its more general sense: anyone who speaks Turkish or any of its sister languages. So not only are the Turkish Turks but so are the Azeris, Turkmens, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Uighurs, Tatars and others.

Although you would not know it now, for a thousand years, from about 900 to 1900, they ruled the greater part of the Muslim world. For a time they ruled parts of Hindu India and Christian Europe as well. Only in the 1200s in Mongol times and in the last hundred years in Western times did they fall from power. The Ottomans, Seljuks, Mamluks, Timurids, Moguls, the Tartars of the Golden Horde and so on were all Turks. They were long the great enemy of the West.

Religion: Nearly all Turks are Sunni Muslims. Those who are not: the Azeris are Shia Muslim, the Chuvash and some Bashkirs are Christians and the Yakuts still worship spirits.

Countries: They live mainly in Turkey and the countries to the east: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, East Turkestan (what their Chinese rulers call Xinjiang) and in northern Siberia in Yakutia. The rest live here and there in the sea of Russians and Eastern Europeans that they once ruled.

Here is a family tree showing all the Turkish languages that have at least a million speakers and some others. Following each is the millions of speakers each has.

  • Western Turk
    • Bolgar
      • Chuvash (2)
    • Oghuz (South-western)
      • Azeri (30)
      • Turkmen (6)
        • Turkish (75): Seljuk, Ottoman, Turkey
      • Qashqai (1.5)
      • Khorasani (0.4)
      • Pecheneg (0)
    • Kipchak (North-western)
      • Kipchak (0): Golden Horde, Mamluks
      • Tatar (8): Golden Horde, Cossacks
      • Bashkir (1)
      • Krymchak (0.0001)
      • Kazakh (12)
      • Karakalpak (0.4)
      • Kyrgyz (3)
    • Chagatay (South-eastern)
      • Chagatay (0): Timurids, Moguls
      • Uighur (10)
        • Uzbek (22)
  • Eastern Turk
    • North-eastern
      • Yakut (0.4): Sakha
      • Tuvani (0.2)

The difference between some of these languages is less than that found within Arabic.

Despite where they live, the Tajiks are not Turks but cousins of the Persians, like the Afghans to the south.

The first Cossacks were Tartars. The word “Cossack” and “Kazakh” come from the same Turkish word for “free man”.

Homeland and history: It seems their ancient homeland was just north of Mongolia. They raised horses, sheep, goats and cows and followed shamans. They lived in round tents made of felt. The Yakuts went north and the rest moved south-west to live in Central Asia. There they became Muslims.

Many moved on into the heart of the Muslim world, becoming its soldiers and later its rulers, taking on Persian ways.

They could not stand up to the Mongols, their distant cousins who came in the 1200s, but in the 1300s, when the Mongol empire broke up, they took over the pieces that remained. The Mongols outside of Mongolia became Turks. Tamerlane is an example.

The greatest of the many Turkish empires was the last, the Ottoman empire, which found itself on the losing side of the First World War in the early 1900s and was broken up soon after.

There are three natural Turkish countries:

  • Turkey – without Kurdistan
  • Azerbaijan – with the Azeri part of Iran
  • Turkestan – Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang

Yakutia is too small to be a true country.

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Tamerlane (1336-1405) was the last of the great Mongol conquerors. When he died at the height of his power in 1405 he ruled the lands between the Mediterranean and Tibet. The seat of his power was his beloved Samarkand, where his body now rests.

The Persians called him Timur the Lame behind his back. In English this became Tamerlane or Tamburlaine.

Tamerlane was a Mongol by blood, a Turk in manner and speech and a Muslim by faith. He was of low birth but somehow married a princess of the house of Genghis Khan, one of his proudest achievements. He saw himself as a latter-day Genghis Khan, perfecting the Mongol art of war.

His army of mounted archers was part Mongol, part Turk. He often laid waste to cities killing tens of thousands, as he did in Delhi and Baghdad. And yet he was a lover of the arts and helped to build up Samarkand making it into a beautiful city of blue and gold buildings.

Starting with next to nothing, he managed to take over Transoxania (roughly present day Uzbekistan) by 1366. By 1380 he had Khwarezm to the south-west (roughly Turkmenistan) as well.

In the 1380s he took present day Iran and Afghanistan. In those days it was divided into little kingdoms, which made it easy work for Tamerlane. In the 1390s he moved on to take what is now Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Pakistan, north-west India and Iraq.

In 1401 he took Damascus and broke the back of Mamluk power in Egypt, from which it never fully recovered.

In 1402 he crushed the Ottoman Turks at the battle of Ankara and took their sultan, Bayezid, prisoner. Bayezid remained Tamerlane’s prisoner and killed himself in the end. His two sons fought over what was left of the Ottoman empire.

Tamerlane twice sent his army to Moscow and twice defeated the khan of the Golden Horde. At his death he was preparing to march on China.

On his deathbed he had the lands of present day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, western Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, north-west India, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Syria and eastern Turkey.

Body count: 14 million.

By defeating the Persians, the Ottomans and the Arabs, Tamerlane came very close to making Samarkand the centre of the Muslim world and making it over in his image.

After Tamerlane died, the western lands of the empire were soon lost. The east held. Its three great cities were Samarkand, Bukhara and Herat. During the hundred years after his death it saw a golden age of art, architecture, science and letters for both Persians and Turks.

After a hundred years the east broke apart into pieces from in-fighting. One of these pieces, ruled by Babur, Tamerlane’s great-great-great grandson, grew into the Mogul empire.

– Abagond, 2006.

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The Arab world

dark green = most speak Arabic; light green = Arabic-speaking minority

The Arab world is made up of those countries where Arabic is the main language. Most belong to the Arab League. The Arab world we know grew out of the Arab Empire a thousand years ago.

The Arab world currently has about 200 million people, two-thirds the size of America. Yet it has at least half of the world’s oil.

The Arab world is not the same as the Muslim world. Only one Muslim in six is Arab. Islam spread far beyond the Arab world long ago.

Also, not all Arabs are Muslim. Some are Christians, like some in Lebanon and Palestine. Most Arabs who come to live in America are Christians.

The glory days were from the 600s to the 900s, back in the days of the Arab Empire. Baghdad was at the centre of it all and had some of the greatest minds ever.

The empire came out of nowhere, as many do: in a hundred years the Arabs went from being a desert people always fighting among themselves to rulers of an empire that stretched from Persia to Spain.

For hundreds of years the Arab world was far in advance of the West: it gave the West paper, coffee, its numbers, Aristotle and Greek learning, cotton, courtly love and much else. Not that Arabs necessarily invented all these things: they got paper from China and their system of numbers from India.

In time the empire fell. The Arab world was ruled by Turks, then Mongols, then Turks again. Even the West ruled a bit of it in the time of the Crusades. A hundred years ago the Ottoman Turks ruled it all.

When the Ottoman Empire fell the Arab world was cut into pieces like a birthday cake between Britain and France. Britain got control of Palestine on September 11th 1922.

The French and British empires are now only in history books, but two new Western powers have taken their place:

  1. Israel: a Jewish state founded on Arab land. It rules half of Palestine outright and half by force as a foreign army.
  2. America: picks up where the British left off. It supports Israel. Blindly. It supports bad government throughout the region, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In Iraq it overthrew one of these bad leaders and is now trying to set up a working democracy. But Iraq is a complete mess. So when America says it wants to bring peace and democracy to the Arab world it is not believed.

America has three interests in the Arab world:

  1. Oil
  2. Peace so that the region is no longer a threat.
  3. Israel

America cannot live without the oil that comes from the Arab world. Nor can it live in constant fear of those who would kill Americans in the name of a holy war, as took place on September 11th 2001.

Israel is less important, but there are enough Jews in America in high position that its protection seems assured.

Osama bin Laden wants to overthrow the rulers that America supports and bring back the glory days of the empire.

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