Saturday, September 13, 2014

For Millennia


For John, BLUFConflict in the Middle East is not new.  Nothing to see here; just move along.



Over at The Instapundit is this excerpt from a Bloomberg OpEd by Yale Law Professor Stephen L Carter.  The article is "Islamic State's Centuries-Old Strategy".
What the debate is lacking is a sense of history.  And the historical antecedents do supply an early analogy to Islamic State — a warrior people who came out of nowhere, defeated mightier forces in battle, accumulated wealth and, in their bloody ferocity, terrified every civilization with which they came into contact.

I refer to the steppe nomads.

The steppe nomads were fearsome horsemen of varying ethnicity who first encountered the great empires of antiquity around 700 B.C., and reappeared with regularity well into the Middle Ages.  They lacked the sophisticated technology, wealth and professional bureaucracy of the great powers like Rome and China.  Instead they had horses.  Cavalry was something new, and the traditional empires had difficulty adjusting to the tactics of the unanticipated invaders, who although loosely organized slowly conquered vast swaths of territory.

Like Islamic State. As a matter of fact, back in the seventh century B.C., a group of steppe warriors, the Scythians, actually ruled a region roughly contiguous with the territory now controlled by Islamic State.

Ironies abound. For example, CNN has reported that the black robes and turban worn by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi intentionally “harken back” — one assumes the writer meant “hark back” — “to Arab rulers from 1,500 years ago.”  But if we go back that millennium and a half, to the era al-Baghdadi’s attire is meant to evoke, we find ourselves very close to the time when steppe warriors led by Attila the Hun came swarming into the remains of the Roman Empire, finally sacking the walled cities that had defied earlier invaders, because they had mastered the Roman technology.  The Huns used battering rams and scaling ladders to take the fortified cities, and Attila spent his plunder wisely, hiring the finest engineers (many of them Romans) to figure out how to outwit the defensive technologies of the supposedly more advanced cultures of the West.

Underlying the impact of Islam in the Middle East is a more ancient history.  We need to think about all of it.

Hat tip to the Instapundit.

Regards  —  Cliff

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