We hear much talk by the mainstream media and especially the leftist editorialists about how the deprived victims the Arab populations of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) who were subjugated beneath the imperial European (and presumably American) colonizers. Exactly who were these colonizers and for how long had they exploited the citizens of MENA’s lands? Well, according to the liberal and mainstream media story line as they infer, though never quite say outright, were England, France, Italy and Spain. Further, there will be implications of over a century to potentially many centuries these colonial powers ruled over most of the MENA nations with many remaining under colonial control after World War I and even after World War II with the old dynasties lasting through 1970 or even 1979, and the most brash might even claim that there is a colonial power still ruling in the Middle East to this very day, though this last claim is as big a lie as they come. Perhaps a closer look is in order to get an honest picture.
Let’s begin with when the nations in MENA first came under imperial control and were placed under the presumed onus of foreign rule. Colonial rule came to the MENA nations in an early period which many of us first heard referenced when we studied the Bible. Perhaps some of the earliest colonial powers are not exactly what many of us would ever consider to be colonial powers yet as these were rulers who conquered other nations and subjugated them, these were the original colonialists. Terms can be applied to situations which most of us never would have considered applicable but when you are weaving a lie it is easy to go overboard in your definitions and apply modern terms to ancient events. The Egyptians would have been the first of the colonial powers many of us knew about despite there were others close to the same age such as the Hittites, Minoans, Mesopotamian, Persian and even Israel under Kings David and Solomon. All of these predated the better known Greek and Roman Empires and dates back to the ancient beginnings of China and Mayan cultures. A handy little timeline can be seen below. For the purpose of choosing a start date, why not begin around the year five-hundred which is after the fall of Rome and the Western Roman Empire while the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire was limping into the future feebly.
All the most ancient empires have fallen and for the most part there was peace with each city moving forward loosely attached to Constantinople across the entirety of MENA though the farther west one went across northern Africa, which had less the ties to the Byzantine rule. This left this area ripe for the pickings and a harvester was about to enter the scene. Shortly before the year seven-hundred a new force emerged under the banner of Islam and began its spread heading initially into the heart of the former lands of Babylon, Persia and into Egypt. There was little resistance as the Byzantine Empire was crumbling and unable to field a credible defense. Jerusalem fell in April 637 to the forces of the Rashidun Caliphate. The conditions for the surrender were understood to be the conquering Islamic rulers would give guarantees of civil and religious freedoms for the Christians under the rule from Jerusalem in exchange for Jizya, a tax on non-Muslims given in exchange for their protections which also included the Christians acceptance of Dhimmitude, a form of subservient lower class citizenship which was to be protected and tolerated and condoned. The spread of Islam took place largely in three stages, the first during the life of Mohammad, Next under the first four Caliphs, and finally under Umayyad Rule which was the basis for the Caliphate (see map below).
After the spread of the Caliphate which continued what was technically an empire which implied colonization over territories beyond the initial founding under Mohammad which was centered around Medina, the beginnings of Mohammad’s power, and included the Mecca region which Mohammad took partially as it was the closes power base, the Meccan rulers denied Mohammad’s claim to rightful ruler and had chased the early Mohammad from their territories as they rejected his preaching and teachings and determined he was a corrupting influence. The Caliphate had followed particular lines of succession which had split early after Mohammad’s death which formed the duality which still splits Islam into competing camps of Sunnis and Shiites. For the largest part the Sunni Muslims outnumbered and were the stronger camp though never quite capable, or more likely never made an effort to unify belief as beliefs can be near impossible to be completely defeated thus any effort would eventually prove fruitless and not worth the efforts expended. Instead the Sunni simply kept expanding their empire and largely tolerated the Shiites unless attacked and given no choice. When the two sects did engage each other the Sunni proved superior defeating and often killing the Shiites and their rulers in battle. The Caliphate continued to rule their lands after and expanding conquering Spain and headed into Frankish territory, early France, where the Caliphate reached is furthest advance. After taking Granada they advanced to the next major city, Tours, where a decisive battle turned the tides in the year 732 CE finally having a definitive defeat of the Caliphate forces. The battle victory is credited to Charles Martellus (the Hammer) Martel, who lost a mere thousand to fifteen-hundred of his forces, would later in history be granted the title of savior of Christianity. The vanquished was Abd Ar-Rahman Al Ghafiqi who was slain during the battle along with an estimated twelve-thousand of his warriors.
Beginning at the beginning of the fourteenth century the Ottoman Empire began to make its presence felt which would eventually lead to their conquering the entirety of the Caliphate at their most powerful. Until this point the Caliphate ruled over the near entirety of MENA and had spread into Spain and southeastern Europe. The map below shows the advances and periods of the Ottoman Empire conquering the Caliphate, bringing an end to the successions of Caliphs and temporarily ending the violence between Shiite and Sunni camps. The Ottoman succession follows the lineage of Ottoman Beylik who initiated the spread and domain of his family tribe in the year 1300 as his aim was likely like everybody before them, to conquer the known world. The expansions continued from his death in 1359 through 1451 when the next ruler of the Ottomans who expanded the borders notably during his rule through 1481 was Medmed II. He was followed by Selim I (1512-1520) and Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566). There was expansion beyond this period where the Ottoman Empire reached its apex before its fortunes began to wane.
The Ottoman Empire caught the Caliphate as it was in retreat after having lost Spain (Andalusia) during the Christian Reconquista which was part of the campaign to rid Spain of its Moorish Muslims as well as the Jews and any other group which was not Catholic and sworn fealty to the crown. This period of the Christian Reconquista was a logical following from the victory at Tours by Charles (the Hammer) Martel and spanned an area of time stretching from its earliest uprisings in the north and northwest in the Battle of Covadonga in the summer of 722, a full decade before the battle of Tours, but this revolt was the very beginning of the end of Islamic rule in Spain (Andalusia). The battles continued until finally the signing of the Treaty of Granada on November 25, 1491. This was the end of the fighting with the turning over of the city of the final southern coastal towns of Granada. It was during the final push that King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile that the infamous Spanish Inquisition was initiated. The Spanish Inquisition lasted from November 1, 1478 through to July 15, 1834. The Inquisition was the attempt, a rather thorough and successful attempt, to convert, drive out or otherwise deal with any residual Moorish or Islamic followers remaining in Spain along with ridding Spain of its Jews who either fled with the Muslims or were chased eventually across all of Europe ending up in Russia and Poland for a while until the Czar’s pogroms drove them into Poland and Germany which set the stage for the Shoah, the Holocaust.
There were other adventures which came from Europe somewhat as a response to Islamic Caliphate advances leading up to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. These were known as the Crusades which were an attempt to retake the Holy Land after the initial fall of Jerusalem in April 637. There were four separate crusades which took separate routes reaching the Holy Lands and gathered the troops from various countries, kingdoms and City-States they passed through and could find willing, or sometimes less than willing, forces to join in their ‘holy’ missions. The Crusader routes and periods of duration (shown below on map) began in 1095 with the First Crusade which continued until 1099. The Second Crusade began in 1147 and lasted until 1149. The Third Crusade was initiated in 1189 going into 1192. The Fourth Crusade began in 1202 and terminated in 1204. They had limited success and resulted in making some groups and individuals very wealthy, so much so that they remained in the Middle East despite having to live under Islamic rule. As far as having a definitive effect on the course of history, it is doubtful and at best might be credited with a residual effect of engaging forces which otherwise could have assisted with the attacks on Constantinople but not on events thereafter.
The Ottoman Empire final began to weaken while the European powers were feeling the results of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and soon the industrial revolution. While these events were transforming Europe the Ottoman Empire mostly rested on their laurels and stagnated which would cost them as they began to be surpassed by Western technology and discoveries and inventions which led to superior weapons of war. There were three stages of decline for the Ottoman Empire as indicated on the map below. Parts of the Ottoman Empire were held by them for just over a half century, and were under Islamic Caliphate before that for another seven-hundred to almost a thousand years. The final areas of the Ottoman Empire finally fell during World War I and became the Mandate lands from which Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan (currently Jordan), Syria and Israel were formed. The European colonialists held lands which were formerly under either Ottoman or Caliphate colonial rule for well over a century while the Europeans held these lands for periods of merely a decade or less to the longest being at most a century and those are the exceptions.
The next map depicts the lands as they were held by European nations after World War I had established their claims in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The area outlined in red depicts the mandate lands decided by the San Remo Conference in 1922. These demarcations were proposed initially by the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Russia. The United States observed the negotiations but was not a direct signatory as the United States desires no holdings, colonial states, mandate responsibilities and was hopeful that they could have assisted in ending this horrific war and had already made their feelings known concerning the restructuring of Europe and the redrawing of boundaries, founding independent states out of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Eventually the United States was coerced into adding their approval of the Mandate System which many viewed as the most tenuous of the treaties despite the signature of King Faisal signing as the representative for the Arab League.
The final map below depicts the independent states and their dates when their current governments or their freedom from European colonial rule came about. These dates are meaningful as it puts to a lie the claims you will likely hear about how these nations were under colonial rule and only recently gained their independence. There will be other lies which will be half-truths or misinformation by giving one impressions knowing the reality is totally different.
The actual history which needs to be remembered is that many of these nations have been ruled by outside forces since the very early ages of civilizations while others were once inhabited by a nation which either was destroyed in history or faced a natural disaster which placed their population, that which survived, within another culture where they assimilated and disappeared from history though they often brought skills with them which benefited their host nation which likely made them more welcome. One example of the last occurrence was the Minoan civilization which resided on the Isle of Santorini in the Mediterranean Sea. Everything was going along really great as they had their religion and held their sacrifices, one of which is of interest if you know your Hebrew Bible. The Minoans had a spring ritual which was intended to bring fertility to their crops, their herds, their people and to benefit all parts of their society. In this sacrifice they had to prepare a feast using newly born calf boiled and then roasted and brushed with a preparation made from the calf’s mother’s milk. Anyway, the Minoans were happily fishing and enjoying the wonderful Mediterranean weather until the ground rumbled and the caldera erupted all but destroying the entire Island which has slowly resurfaced in the ensuing years. Santorini is located between the Greek mainland and Cyprus in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea (see picture with map insert below). Santorini is still a dangerous place and potentially threatened with another eruption. Like most volcanoes, it is not a matter of if but of when the next devastating eruption pours forth and erases all traces of human development or existence as the Island may be blown completely apart only to rise from the Mediterranean depths with a whole new look and geography just as it has done throughout all of history. The homes and island is beautiful and a jewel glittering in the Mediterranean Sea and we can only hope it continues to glitter from the lights on the porches of the homes and not from lava belching forth from out of the sea.
When we look at the history of MENA nations one need remember that much of the area was also the cradle of civilization and as such had a distressing habit of spawning great civilizations which came, expanded as far as they could reach, overreached or had a number of bad years or the next great civilization either defeated and overran their empire or the two had a merger of sorts as exampled by the Greeks being subsumed by the Roman Empire which did not exactly destroy the four Greek sub-Empires as much as they incorporated as the Greeks saw an advantage of being the center of education and philosophy while the Romans knew of the Greek intellect and their ability to fashion weapons. That is not to say there were not conflicts, but somehow both civilizations influenced each other for the better. But even before Rome, before the Greeks, before the Persians there were the Babylonians, the Israelite Kingdom, the Hittite, the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian Empires. Each ruled and the areas of MENA can be said to have survived as best the individual tribes, city-states, empires, nations and peoples could be expected. There were the Ancient Empires which lasted from prehistory through the Greeks of Alexander. Alexander the Great was the last of the ancient empire builders and his would be the first of the new age empires, the actual colonialists of history. From here many empires claimed to be setting out to conquer the world but they also knew that dream could not be realized in one’s lifetime. Even here the states of MENA faced the Greeks followed by the Romans then the Byzantines as Rome broke into two Empires, the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine; and the western Roman or what became the Holy Roman Empire. Even European nations became colonized as there were the intra-European empires such as the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Charlemagne, Napoleon and eventually the Nazis. After the Byzantine Empire collapsed there was the Caliphate followed by the Ottoman Empire, the two main Islamic Empires. During their time in power there were still the Mongols who came to conquer the world and instead converted to Islam by in large. China and India had their effect on the nations of the Middle East and also set up that area for who could take control of the trade routes. It was because of lack of access to these very trade routes which launched the European age of colonization which is the final or modern stage. Where the age of European conquest began in the late fifteenth century with Columbus and the other explorers heading to lay claim to the new lands in the Americas, then started an age of conquest as the natives were not as advanced when it came to warfare. The one advantage of living in the most contested lands in the world is you build up some formidable weaponry and tactics which the native tribes of the Americas were of no match.
The lands which form MENA were already colonized by the Ottomans who had a number of other cultures which also fought with their colonizers as all had a common bond which was Islam. This made these lands too much of a threat plus the Europeans had learned to have a healthy respect for the Ottomans and the followers of Islam through the Crusades and the wars which were barely able to constrain the Ottomans from sweeping across Europe. Much of that was due to the King of Poland and Lithuania John III Sobieski who came and relieved the city of Vienna from the Ottoman siege and brought that offensive to a conclusive end. Still, there was little attempt until into the nineteenth century before any assaults were waged on a by then weakened and almost backward sclerotic empire. Taking fair stock on the years of actual colonialization we see that the MENA nations, of which Syria is no exception except like Israel there was an Assyrian Empire which did not extend to anywhere near as vast an area as the more well-known colonizing empires, otherwise Syria has been a colony of somebody for a very long time. The ancient Empires spanned a good three-thousand years or more depending on sources. The middle empires which include the Roman, Byzantine, the Caliphate and the Ottoman Empires lasted almost two-thousand years. The final age was the European age of colonization of the MENA area which lasted less than two hundred years and when we speak of the Middle East itself it is even shorter barely making a century with Syria being far less and Iran almost untouched by the European colonizers. So, when the news reports tell of how these poor nations have been colonies for near an inestimable time and have not tasted freedom until only the most recent of times and even then most were brutal dictatorships, there is some truth. The problem is for the vast majority we were talking of Biblical era and pre Biblical times all the way through the Greeks and to the Roman Empire after the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire these lands were ruled by Muslims for the majority of the modern ages.
The Europeans only poured in at the end of the Ottoman Empire as it fell with the final areas which included Syria not falling until World War I thus not becoming a colony of the Europeans until around 1920 and with the areas of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel they were not colonies as much as protectorates being held secure from invasions by the British and the French starting in 1922 with the enactment of the San Remo Conference. The above map shows the League of Nations proposed British and French Mandates with the demarcations for Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Transjordan and Israel. This mandate was carved from the remains of the Ottoman Empire where the nation of Turkey was what would remain as the originator of the entire Ottoman Empire while these areas above plus Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Oman were brought into being and Saudi Arabia gained complete and uncontested control over Mecca and Medina. These maps and dates should arm those wishing to have the truth behind their arguments readily available to speak to what exactly Europe owes the refugees and victims of colonial rule when in reality it is the Arabian Peninsula, the originator of the Caliphate, and Turkey as the original source for the Ottoman Turks who founded the Ottoman Empire. The Europeans as far as Syria is concerned were a brief caretaker that lasted barely twenty-six years, exactly the same as it did for Israel and Israel has only had to take in over one million Jewish refugees from across the lands that make up MENA as many of them drove their Jews from their lands during the late 1940s and through the 1950s with some from Ethiopia and Russia coming even later and still taking in the Bnei Menashe from India and Israel will continue to take in Jewish refugees from the world over and has also taken in other refugees including but not limited to the Vietnamese boat people and Christians seeking refuge from persecutions. It makes one wonder how many refugees have been taken in by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait (who after the Gulf War which freed them from Saddam Hussein thanked the Palestinian workers for the support which Yasser Arafat lauded on Saddam Hussein and flew every last one back to the Palestinian Occupied areas of Judea and Samaria), Qatar (whose Al-Jazeera news service so gallantly praised and supported the uprisings in the hopes of placing the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of as many nations as possible and almost won Egypt and really urged on the war in Syria until it turned so very ugly) or Bahrain. One might expect these wealthy nations to assist their Arab brothers and sisters but nary a word from them except to demand that Europe do their part because the Europeans had colonies in the area for an average of fifty years compared to the one thousand year rule of Islam as the Caliphate and the Ottoman Empires. Europe should offer to take in refugees one for every twenty that the nations of the Arabian Peninsula give refuge to, that would be fair and proportional but don’t hold your breath.
Beyond the Cusp