Last week, CBS's Sixty Minutes II program
showed footage of American
soldiers creating "human
pyramids" from detained Iraqis. However, it should be remembered
that Iraqis, and indeed Muslims in general, are no strangers to "human pyramids."
The last time that such pyramids were built in the region was in the 13th century
when the hordes of Hulagu Khan, grandson
of Genghis Khan, sacked Iraq. After massacring entire towns and villages, they
would assemble huge pyramids of human skulls
as a reminder and warning that the Mongols were passing through. One can presume
that similar sentiments – a need to send a "message" to would-be "insurgents"
– underpin American atrocities in the region today.
In one of Karl Marx's more lucid statements, he is reported to have said,
"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." The American occupation
of Iraq would be a farcical re-run of history were it not that the almost certain
effects of that occupation will be catastrophic for both Iraqis and Americans.
The Mongol invasion began like the American invasion: with a disgruntled Shi'ite
upstart aspiring to greatness. The Ahmad Chalabi
of the 13th century was a character called Ibn
al-'Alqami. Al-'Alqami was a minister in the court of the Caliph
al-Musta'sim. Like Chalabi, al-'Alqami had desires of leadership of the land
and, like Chalabi, he was not above soliciting the assistance of foreign powers
to help – even if that assistance would come at great cost to his people or
his nation. America was not a superpower in al-Alqami's time so he turned his
attentions to the Mongols.
Al-'Alqami wrote a number of letters to the leader of the Mongols, Hulagu Khan,
inviting him to invade the land, promising' his support and offering "intelligence"
on the Caliph's armies, their strengths and weaknesses, and the overall lay
of the land. It would, he assured the Mongols, be a cakewalk and
within a short space of time the Mongol Empire could be extended into the previously
impervious core of the Muslim Caliphate. At the same time, Al-'Alqami used his
position to influence the Caliph to reduce the size of the army thus ensuring
that the Mongol invasion would be guaranteed little resistance.
Hulagu accepted al-'Alqami's generous invitation to attack, pillage, and massacre.
As per Mongol custom, he first issued a written threat to the Caliph: "When
I lead my army against Baghdad in anger, whether you hide in heaven or in earth,
I will bring you down from the spinning spheres; I will toss you in the air
like a lion. I will leave no one alive in your realm; I will burn your city,
your land, your self. If you wish to spare yourself and your venerable family,
give heed to my advice with the ear of intelligence. If you do not, you will
see what God has willed. Demonstrating what many conservatives might lament
as the overall cultural decline since the 13th century, America sends
her message to Iraqi insurgents by blasting
AC/DC's "Hell's Bells"
"If you're into evil you're a friend of mine,
See my white light flashing as I split the night,
'cause if God's on the left, then I'm stickin' to the right,
I won't take no prisoners, won't spare no lives,
Nobody's puttin' up a fight,
I got my bell, I'm gonna take you to hell,
I'm gonna get you, Satan get you.
Hell's Bells, Satan's comin' to you.
Hell's Bells, he's ringing them now.
Hell's Bells, the temperature's high.
Hell's Bells, across the sky.
Hell's Bells, they're takin' you down.
Hell's Bells, they're draggin' you around.
Hell's Bells, gonna split the night.
Hell's Bells, there's no way to fight, yeah."
The Caliph wasn't going to be intimidated. He refused the Mongol offer
to surrender and decided to defend his city against their onslaught. While the
Muslim armies put up a good fight, the reduced size of the army (due to the
machinations of al-'Alqami) meant that they were no match militarily for the
Mongols. Hulagu's armies killed everyone they found – the elderly, the infirm,
the women, and the children. Nobody was spared their sword. Ibn Kathir, one of the scholars
of Islamic History noted in his magnum opus, Bidaaya wa Nihaya, that
the Mongols killed so many people that blood would be running down the street
like rainwater. By some estimates, the number of dead exceeded 1 million.
After taking Baghdad the decision had to be made as to what would be done with
the Caliph. The Mongols had a superstition which prevented them from spilling
the blood of kings onto the earth. Al-'Alqami had no such qualms and suggested
that rather than kill his leader with a sword, they should roll him and his
family in carpet and then kick them to death. Al- Alqami volunteered for the
task and proceeded to kick his former employer till he died. The Mongol Coalition
of the Willing became strained at this brazen rejection of Mongol International
Law. Berek Khan, a Mongol leader who had converted to Islam some years
prior, pulled his men out of Baghdad in protest.
The death of the Caliph ushered in a new era of Mongol-imposed brutality on
the majority Sunni population (back then, the Shi'a were still a minority in
Iraq). However for all their cruelty, viciousness and relatively barbaric rules
of engagement, the Mongols were pragmatic. They realized that men like al-'Alqami
that would sell their people and nation to a foreign invader couldn't be trusted.
If a man holds no loyalty to his own people, then how can he be trusted to hold
loyalty to an invader and occupier? Al-'Alqami had hoped to be the Mongol's
vicegerent in the region, but instead he became their slave. The sidelining
of Chalabi would suggest that America has come to a similarly informed conclusion
about the long-term usefulness of traitors, quislings and fifth columnists.
The Mongols understood what America is now learning: that the principle source
of resistance to occupation of Muslim lands will always be religiously inspired.
Therefore, any effort to dilute or subvert the practice of Islam in the lands
under occupation was seen by the Mongols as a pre-requisite to maintaining the
occupation. They therefore imposed a law over their subjects, which – like the
law being conjured up by the US-led occupation – was essentially non-Islamic
but couched into vague references and pseudo-Islamic terminology. The Mongols
called their law al-Yasiq.
It is against this backdrop of occupation and foreign laws imposed on the population
that one of the most influential and important figures in Islamic history would
emerge. His name would be familiar to many people who follow the War on Terror,
given that he is widely (though somewhat inaccurately) credited with having
laid the ideological foundation for the so-called Wahabi movement. His
name was Ibn Taymeeyah, or Sheikh-ul-Islam (The Scholar of Islam) as
he has been affectionately known throughout the ages. When faced with the imposition
of the Mongol's foreign systems of government and laws on the Muslim population,
he rallied against the Mongols and those who had supported them, declaring that
whoever implemented such laws was a disbeliever in Islam: "Whoever does this
is an infidel who must be fought until he returns to the rule of Allah and His
messenger. So no one other than He should rule neither minorly or majorly."
This was the first time that a foreign system of belief had been forced on the
heartland of the Muslim world, and Ibn Taymeeyah's lengthy fatwa provides
the theological underpinning for Muslim resistance to man-made laws in every
country in the Muslim world. He concluded by stating that defending the
Muslim lands and expelling the occupying army is the second most important obligation
of a Muslim after believing in Allah.
The reluctance of the Muslims to be satisfied with Mongol law presented a dilemma
to their Mongol rulers. As long as the population was denied that right
of self-determination, including determination of the laws by which they are
governed, the Mongols could not subdue the population completely. At the same
time, if the Muslims were ever granted this right then it would mean the instant
end to Mongol hegemony in the region. Indeed, it was this desire to re-establish
an Islamic state that drove every instance of Sunni resistance to Mongol rule
from the moment they entered Baghdad. Today, it is this same desire that lies
at the heart of the political instability in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia,
Algeria, and most every country in the Arab world that has chosen secularism
as its political path. The inescapable fact is that a Muslim cannot
accept secularism without leaving his religion. As a complete way of
life, Islam has no concept of "rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto
God what is God's." For this reason, the Bush Administration's attempt
to force the round pegs of secular democracy into the square holes of Middle
Eastern society is certain to fail and draw the same violent resistance as would
the forcible imposition of shariah law on the United States.
By subduing Iraq, the Mongols also came to learn that the Islamic world isn't
divided on the basis of nation-state or geographic region. The Prophet Muhammad
described the Muslim world as a single unit
and likened it to the human body in that if one part feels pain then all feels
the pain. For this reason, when the Mongols sacked Baghdad and built human pyramids
with the remains of the city's scholars and poets, it was as though that brutality
had been meted out on the entire Muslim world. When Muslims in Jakarta, Sarajevo,
Riyadh or Tunis see the scenes of American brutality in Iraq, it is as though
it is being done to them. When they see photographs of Iraqi men being forced
oral sex alongside grinning American servicemen and women, the rage
they feel is as if that act was carried out on their own brother or their own
father. Occupations cannot be maintained without subduing the population – whether
physically, economically or psychologically – so the more that America continues
its occupation, the more it will be forced to engage in brutality and the more
that this brutality reaches the eyes of the Muslim world, the less secure that
the world becomes for Americans and, indeed, Westerners in general. It
doesn't matter how many times President Bush appears on Arab television offering
apologies and assurances that the sexual humiliation meted out to the
Iraqis, the brutality, and the sadism is not representative of America.
The fact is that Arabs and Muslims like most people will judge President Bush
and America not on what they say, but on what they do.
The turning point for the Mongol occupation came in September, 1260 when they
had moved into Palestine. The Mamluks, a Muslim nation based in Egypt, had sent
an army to confront them. Led by a general named Quduz, the army met the Mongols
at a place called Ayn Jalut
(Eye of Goliath) in Palestine. They would number 20,000 on each side, but the
Mamluks would defeat the Mongols impressively, inflicting heavy losses on them
and sending shockwaves throughout their empire. It was a turning point for the
Muslims and broke the spell of Mongol invincibility. After the captured
leader of the Mongol armies was brought to Quduz, he told him:
"Despicable man, you have shed so much blood wrongfully, ended the lives
of champions and dignitaries with false assurances, and overthrown ancient dynasties
with broken promises. Now you have finally fallen into a snare yourself."
The despicable men of the Bush Administration, so infatuated with their own
messianic vision for the democratic revolution, so intoxicated with the hubris
of empire, and so enslaved to the neo-Jacobin vision of "creative destruction"
have fallen into the snare of thinking that they can do what no other society
has been able to do: violently impose a foreign ideology on the Muslim world.
The Administration seems to be clumsily treading a path well worn by the Mongols
– from the "human pyramids" to the modern-day Yasiq to the rise of religious
fundamentalism in response to occupation excesses. It took two years between
the fall of the Caliphate in Baghdad to the defeat of the Mongols in Ayn Jalut.
America has yet to meet her Ayn Jalut, but as the Muslim world continues to
seethe and violence in Iraq escalates, that day may be fast approaching.