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Post Is WAIS Fiddling While Rome Burns?
Created by John Eipper on 02/08/14 4:10 AM

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Is WAIS Fiddling While Rome Burns? (Vincent Littrell, USA, 02/08/14 4:10 am)

I am most pleased we see Nigel Jones writing here in WAIS. As usual I thoroughly enjoy his direct (and dare I say "sharp") writing style. Nigel's comments on Trotsky (most recently, 7 February) resonate with me, and it is most refreshing to see such forthright condemnation of that figure's murderous behavior. On the issue of Trotsky and other "fathers" of the Soviet Union, I have noted what seems to be a penchant towards glorification of these monstrous figures of history here in WAIS. Like Nigel, I have wondered at it.

It seems to me knowledge of the founders of odious governments fit for the trash heap of history are still useful to discuss from a perspective of "never again." That is why I think it so important to discuss the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, their ilk and their prominent associates.

I've been observing WAIS for some time without comment lately, primarily because I've been too busy to contribute to the writings. I notice however a dearth of discussion on serious issues plaguing us today. For example, it is utterly clear that increasing, even ferocious, tension in key localities between Sunnis and Shi'a of the Muslim world is very much a widely publicized reality, yet nary a mention here in WAIS. I confess to some sadness regarding this reality, as my own flag-waving for interfaith dialogue and strategic push for inter-Islamic ecumenism is ignored by policy makers, to the cost of many lives. I was at a conference with a focus on sectarianism last year with some prominent Muslim world and Middle-East scholars, professors and think-tank analysts, and very little of religion was actually discussed, as opposed to state-centric politics, analysis of Islamic extremist terrorist groups and maybe some discussion of the theological background of extremism in Islam. But, I was the only person in all the presentations and working groups (as far as I know) to mention inter-Islamic ecumenical dialogue as a path towards finding common ground. Before I could get more than a few sentences out, at least 10 people raised hands or arose to dispute me, and I was forced to silence, as person after person criticized my position. Some even said that what I was saying "needed to be said" but was just not workable. It was most interesting to me to see the absolute resistance to this, and it confirmed in me the importance of giving this idea greater credence and push. It so happens that organizations like the Royal Ahl-al-Bayt Society of Jordan and the King Abdullah Interfaith Dialogue Center of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, do look to inter-Islamic ecumenism, but their efforts are drowned in the media storm of ratings-generating strife.

Anyway, the savageries of conflict in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Yemen, Christian/Muslim mutual brutality in Central Africa and Nigeria continue on, and only rarely a mention in WAIS, and as far as I can tell little of it of a problem-solving nature.

I would be interested in Cameron Sawyer's views on the Russian positions at the Geneva II talks for resolution of the Syria problem (if I've missed something in this regard, my apologies), as well as his views on the current posture of the UN Security Council on the civil war in Syria.

Is WAIS fiddling while Rome burns?

JE comments: Excellent point.  I'm pleased that Vincent Littrell has emerged from WAIS hibernation to remind us that Tedious Literary Icons (or California champagne) are not the meaningful issues of our times. WAIS has always been an eclectic cocktail of the weighty and the whimsical; I would argue that we have room for both. And to address Vince's concern, we have dedicated some attention recently to Turkey (Yusuf Kanli) and Saudi Arabia (Massoud Malek, Robert Whealey, Miles Seeley).

One gaping omission in recent months has been the ongoing civil war in Syria.  Nor has anything been said about the escalating violence in the most largest Arab country, Egypt.

So fiddle no more, WAISers!  Or at least put the fiddle down from time to time to contemplate the flames.  (Did they ever recover the stolen Wisconsin Stradivarius, by the way?)

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  • Who Funded Trotsky? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/09/14 4:03 AM)
    With reference to the excellent post of Vincent Littrell (8 February), where he writes about the founders of the Bolshevik Revolution as "monstrous figures," I would like to add few considerations.

    As it is well known that very little can be done without a huge amount of money, it seems that Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin could have not succeeded without receiving money from somewhere.

    The money was supplied by the democratic, capitalist bankers not only, initially, from Germany but then from New York.

    A syndicate was formed of banks in the American International Corporation controlled by the most important families of the establishment--Rothschild, Gunzburg, Warburg, Schiff, Kahn, Rockefeller, Du Pont de Nemours, Harriman, and Bush--also with the Federal Reserve.

    Trotsky traveled from New York to Russia with a US passport and U$10,000 supplied by the Rockefellers. In his memoirs Trotsky writes about loans received by Alexander Gruzenburg, lawyer of the Chase National Bank. It is reported that the Rockefellers in 1917 supplied the Bolsheviks through Kuhn, Loeb & Co. $50 million, some $1.5 billion today, another $20 million was supplied by Elihu Root, lawyer of the same Kuhn Loeb & Co., and US Secretary of State.

    In the 1918 the help came from the American League for Help and Cooperation with USSR.

    The supply of money continued through the 1920s and '30s of last century, and of course none of these bankers noticed any wrongdoings or gulags.

    See the studies of Toni Liazza, Historica n° 21 (2013), and Oscar Sanguinetti Cristianità n° 1 (1985).

    Vincent Littrell is absolutely right about the problems between Sunnis and Shi'a, but for the last 1300 years whenever they are independent they seem unable to resist killing each other. The only right thing that the Westerners can do is not to stir troubles, as they have done so often and still are doing in Syria.

    JE comments:  I'd like to know more about the Rockefellers et al. supplying the Bolsheviks with cash.  On the surface this makes no sense.  Has the topic been addressed in detail by academic historians?

    Regarding Eugenio Battaglia's last paragraph, I had always understood that after the initial upheaval of the Sunni-Shi'a schism, the two peoples lived together more or less peacefully for centuries--at least until the demise of the Ottoman Empire, and possibly until the last decades of the 20th century.

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    • Sunnis and Shi'as (Vincent Littrell, USA 02/10/14 3:56 AM)
      Eugenio Battaglia on 9 February wrote on the subject of Sunni-Shi'a Muslim conflict: "For the last 1300 years whenever they are independent they seem unable to resist killing each other." He added, "The only right thing that the Westerners can do is not to stir troubles, as they have done so often and still are doing in Syria."

      The issue of Sunni-Shi'a relations since the slaying of Husayn at Karbala is a most interesting and complex arena of historical analytic endeavor. One title of Husayn (Imam Husayn in Shi'a theology) is "The Prince of Martyrs." During my early years in WAIS I stated quite often, supported by the writings of academic luminaries like the late William Madelung of Oxford University, that the conditions surrounding the accession to the caliphate of Abu Bakr should be a factor looked at by Western policy makers and prominent high thinkers outside of the specialized realm of Islamic historical study. How the sacralization of key narratives associated with the rise of Abu Bakr and the setting aside of Ali (the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad) needs deep dialogue by key leaders of the major branches of Islam. Even if it is only to come to an agreement to disagree, and to mutually respect the sacralization of those narratives by millions from both branches of Islam.

      Professor Bernard Lewis once commented (and I paraphrase from memory, so this may not be the exact quote) that "Yazid and Husayn are as relevant today as they were a thousand years ago." Yazid and Husayn of course represent the Sunni and Shi'a sides respectively at Karbala. Notwithstanding my annoyances with some aspects of Lewis's writings on Islam, on this point I believe he is basically correct, despite naysayer views that current Sunni-Shi'a conflict is essentially non-religious in nature, only political.

      During my early years as a WAISer, I tried to shed some light on the history of Sunni-Shi'a conflict as I had come to understand it. This history is replete with acts of violence, excoriation, and mutual cursing from the pulpits of Islam, as well as mutual tolerance and respect to the point of intermarrying and acceptance (depending on the locale). The relationship of politics to theology, of secular pragmatics and tribal influences to spirituality and one's relationship to the divine, are important factors missed or intentionally ignored by more than a few scholars and policy analysts.

      I'm beating my old drum now, but I'm sticking to my past contention that as long as the world's policy makers continue to ignore the underlying foundations to Sunni-Shi'a division and mutual antipathy, without also seeking to get the leaders of those branches of Islam to emphasize in sermons and public fora the high spiritual universalistic principles shared by both branches of Islam, human-caused disaster is likely approaching. From another perspective, a friend of mine sent me a note yesterday that she was so saddened by the media mention of Christians and Muslims killing each other in Central Africa when that butchery had nothing to do with either religion, yet the media by their mention of it imply that it does. Maybe the same can be said of Sunni and Shi'a Islam.

      Regarding Eugenio's comment on the West not stirring up troubles in Syria, I'll have to respectfully disagree. Just today I read the 27 January 2014 UN report, "Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic." What a horrific read. The raping and killing of children by many if not all sides in the conflict, the exploitation of children, the loss of innocence of millions of Syrian children, the disgusting abuse of so many of these beautiful children--one could go on and on. See http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47077#.UvfEOWJdWa8 for a synopsis of the report.

      Intervention by powers that can stop this is absolutely necessary, yet the world watches and ignorantly justifies its watching. It is an insanity driven in part by that horrific toxicity that finds foundations even here, when some WAISers praise Machiavellian thought and political "realism." And don't think a terrific price won't be paid for the developed world's sidelining of the Syrian tragedy (and the possible human conflagration building in the arc from Lebanon to India, for that matter). The Syrians that make it through this will have long memories. Arab cultural realities invite long historical memory to be acted on in time, even if such is distorted by Western critical methodological standards. Peoples of Arab and Persian culture can be patient in their long memories.

      Quite clearly the UN Security Council is ineffective on this issue. The structures of decision making in that critical institution must change for the betterment of humanity.

      JE comments:  Vincent Littrell is possibly the most outspoken political idealist in the WAIS ranks, and I'm glad he's now participating more actively in our conversations.  The harsh reality as I understand it is that nobody knows how to stop the horrors going on in Syria, and what's more--no one in the "West" has the stomach to try.  As for memory, the realists would retort that nothing generates antipathy more than an intervention, even one with the most humanitarian intentions.  Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

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      • Sunnis and Shi'as (Massoud Malek, USA 02/11/14 7:14 AM)
        On 9 February, Eugenio Battaglia wrote:

        "Vincent Littrell is absolutely right about the problems between Sunnis and Shi'a, but for the last 1300 years whenever they are independent they seem unable to resist killing each other."

        The Arabs invaded Persia not only for its reputed wealth, but to bring into the faith new converts and to impose Islam as the new state religion. When the Arab commander (Saad ibn-e Abi Vaghas) faced the huge library of Ctesiphon, he wrote to the second Caliph, Omar: what should be done about the books? Omar wrote back, "If the books contradict the Koran, they are blasphemous and on the other hand if they are in agreement with the text of Koran, then they are not needed, as for us the Koran only is sufficient." Thus, the huge library was destroyed and the books or the product of the generations of Persian scientists and scholars were burned or thrown into the Euphrates. Those who were literate were massacred and their books burned, so that after one generation the people were illiterate.

        The world's oldest university (Jondi Shapour) was built by Shapour I of the Sassanid dynasty (1700 years ago). It included a medical school and a large hospital. It was a center for training scientists for centuries to come. Persian, Greek, Indian, and Roman scientists conducted studies and scientific research there. Einstein noted that when the ancestors of Europeans were eating each other in the forests of Europe, Persians built universities. After the Arab invasion, the university declined and was eventually abandoned, and its library and books vanished.

        Besides burning books, the Arab invaders resorted to many inhumane actions, including beheading, mass enslavement of men, women and children, and the imposition of heavy taxes on those who did not convert. Persians were not allowed to speak Farsi in public for over 200 years.

        During the two centuries of Arab occupation, a total of 130 Iranian uprisings were recorded. All were brutally put down. The first voice of protest against the Arab oppression came from Firooz, a Persian artisan and prisoner of war who assassinated Omar.

        The history of Zoroastrians of Iran after the Arab conquest and during their occupation can be summarized in three words: oppression, misery, and massacre.


        Worshiping Omar and Osman (the third Caliph) who destroyed their lands and their national identity, was out of the question for newly converted Zoroastrians. They chose to worship Ali, the fourth Caliph, whose son Hussein Married the daughter of the last Sassanid king.

        Iranians never hated Sunnis, they just hated the Arab invaders. Some of the greatest Persian poets, philosophers, and scientists, like Omar Khayyam, Saadi, and Avicenna, were Sunni. Although Iran was invaded by Turks several times, there was no hatred between them. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iranians hated all Iraqis, not only Sunni Iraqis.

        Genghis Khan raised pyramids of severed heads of the entire population of Samarkand as the symbol of Mongol victory. At the request of Genghis Khan's daughter whose husband was killed by a Nishapuran, her brother Tolui undertook the gruesome task of murdering all women, children, infants, dogs, and cats. Worried that some of the inhabitants were wounded but still alive, Khan's daughter allegedly asked that each Nishapuran be beheaded, their skulls piled in pyramids. Ten days later, the pyramids were completed.

        Unlike Arabs, Mongols never tried to convert the occupied population or destroy their heritage; they just murdered them. Actually, Genghis Khan's own mother converted to Nestorian Christianity.

        The hatred between Sunnis and Shiites in the Arab countries really started after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Ninety-nine percent of Iranians have no idea who the Alawites are. You don't see any video of Iranian Shiites beheading Iranian Sunnis. More Syrian Christians were and are killed by the so-called Sunni freedom fighters than by Alawites. These freedom fighters of Syria use children as young as four years old to unseat Basha-Al Assad. Should the West intervene and move children from Syria to nursery school?

        Please see the video on the following site, and then make up your mind about how to resolve the Syrian conflict.


        JE comments: The video shows a toddler squeezing off shots from an AK-47. The child appears clueless about what he is doing, which suggests he is not an actual combatant. I suspect the clip was made merely to intimidate, and it succeeds.

        Very interesting history from Massoud Malek, by the way. So the Persians embraced Shi'a merely as a nose-thumbing at their Arab conquerors?  As for Massoud's claim that the Sunni-Shi'a divide in Arab countries began only in 2003, does he specifically mean within individual Arab countries, such as Iraq and Syria?  The 1980s Iran-Iraq war certainly had a Sunni-Shi'a element.

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