Tuesday, December 22

The early Christian insurgency in Islamic Spain and impact on today’s terrorists

I was having a chat about Arabic conquests with an Egyptian friend and said, well, you are an Arab. He got very upset about it and said he aint Arab, no way Jose. (He is..). Anyway, so we got talking about early Islamic history and we discussed how the edges of the Islamic Empire generally fought off the imperialistic shackles. Here’s an example of the geographic spread.

It's in the area of southern Europe and India where the resistance seems to be most ferocious and ultimately they did throw off the imperialistic yoke to “assume” their older civilisation. But Northern Africa, the Middle East, Iran and Central Asia became Muslim. I remembered reading an interesting paper on this topic, specially related to Spain and thought of giving a quick overview.

The loss of Spain and India seems to have seared the psyche somehow as you can still hear the fundos complain bitterly about the loss of these two territories and maintain that they will win them back again (see below). But while the story of India is well known, it's only the loss of the Spanish kingdom by the Moors that is known. Nobody knows much about what happened after the invincible armies of the Moors rolled over North Africa into Spain and then into southern France till they were stopped by Charles Martel. After the Islamic kingdom was created and formed in Spain, what then? What happened in the immediate aftermath? We know about the reconquista, but what about the intervening period? 


This paper sheds some more light on what happened. The first reason for the success of the resistance was the negation of the use of cavalry by the Muslim forces up in the mountainous region. Without the quick ability to move around the battlefield, the Muslim forces suffered serious casualties and were simply unable to push through to their ultimate conquest of the total peninsula. Also waging war in the mountains is a disaster for the attacking forces and all the advantages lie with the defenders.

The second problem was the inequitable distribution of booty and this caused severe fighting amongst the Muslim nobles. Booty and looting is an accepted part of the Islamic laws of warfare, but then those lovely laws cannot deal with the normal human greed. Time after time, whether in Spain or in the Ottoman Empire or in India, you find that the seeds for the disaster or downfall of the Islamic empire can be related to this factor. Also one has to remember that succession in most Muslim empires and kingdoms was a very bloody affair with siblings being slaughtered regularly. One can see this in the Moorish Kingdoms, in Ottoman times, in Egypt, in the Arab regimes or in the various assorted empires or kingdoms in South Asia. Not that the Christian kingdoms were not better with revolts, but they were less afflicted than the Muslims due to the steadily accepted primogeniture rule, which made the crucial difference.

It took 800 years or so before the Moors were pushed out, but push out they did. Time seems to have moved differently at that time. But then, this kind of time frame isn't surprising. Take Greece for example, the Ottomans went in by about the 13th century and were not chucked out till the 19th century. 

How about the Mughal Empire? It started around 1500 and frankly didn't end till 1857 or so. Mind you, I just read an article which claimed that the British were responsible for the demise of the Mughal Empire. Actually, the Mughal Empire was pretty much dead much before the East India Company had anything to do with it, not least because of Aurangzeb’s administration and activities. What was left by 1857 was a pimple on the rump of the grand empire which was soon pricked.

So it takes time. The Christian rebels in Spain also benefited from the proximity of other Christian kingdoms from where they got their sustenance and support as well. Also, the Spanish resistance maintained their northern Christian kingdoms which ultimately provided the bedrock and bedspring from which the reconquista started.

The other factor which is common in these countries such as Spain, Greece and India was the strength of their respective beliefs. In other words, the local populace didn't give in to the blandishments of the Muslim conquerors and retained their faith. It is this factor which allowed the native population to resist and ultimately overthrow the Imperialistic invaders unlike in Arab and other lands where they gave up. Quite an interesting paper which sheds light on the very early days of the reconquista. Without this period of resistance, one can well imagine that Spain could well have followed in the same footsteps of Algeria, Egypt, etc. who became Muslim countries (although that comment about Egyptians not being Arab is interesting, I might return to that argument sometime)

Which leads me to the second interesting paper. Why is Spain so important to the fuglies? The abstract quotes:

The purpose of this article is to look at the importance and treatment that Spain receives in jihadist propaganda. This study offers a series of empirical observations based on a content analysis of a sample of propaganda produced by jihadist groups between January 1994 and September 2008. The analysis of this material, the context in which it was spread, and a comparison with other Western countries leads to the conclusion that the role played by this country in jihadist propaganda can only be understood by taking into account “structural factors” that have little to do with a greater or lesser level of interference in “Islamic affairs.”

Out of the 2233 documents that the researchers studied, Spain appeared in 2.3% of them, USA in 67%, UK in 5%, Russia in 3%, France in 2.7% and Israel in 14.2%. In particular, the issue of Al Andalus seems to be seared into their psyche. I quote:

In this category have been grouped all the mentions made that refer to the period of Muslim occupation of the Iberian peninsula, understood as between the invasion begun from the north of Africa in 711 until the elimination of the last Islamic redoubt in Spain in 1492 with the taking of the Kingdom of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs. This is a period of history with a profound evocative power in the Muslim collective imaginary. To use the term “Al Andalus” implies speaking about a past of artistic, architectural, literary, and scientific brilliance, but also implies speaking of a period of greater Islamic political power. Said term forms part of the conceptual baggage for all of the world's Islamic population, independently of the degree of religious practice, political affiliation, or attitudes toward terrorist violence. This remembrance has a character of yearning, of lament and pain for the loss of a territory that symbolized the highest level of splendor of Muslim civilization.
This remembrance of a painful episode for Islam is present in jihadist discourse. It is significant that the first mention of Spain on the part of bin Laden was precisely in these terms: “Let the whole world know that we shall never accept that the tragedy of Al Andalus will be repeated in Palestine.”
However, for Al Qaeda these allusions, far from constituting a mere rhetorical resource, acquire the character of an aggressive claim. For jihadist terrorism, the Iberian Peninsula is “dar al islam,” a land pertaining to the ummah, an Islamic land, taken and occupied by infidels. Jihadist terrorism incorporates among its objectives the “return” to Muslims of any land that at some time was under the control of Islam; it is a fight that must lead to the restoration of the original borders of the medieval Caliphate. According to Ayman al-Zawahiri: “Jihad seeks the liberation of Palestine, the entire country of Palestine and to liberate every land that used to be a territory of Islam, from Spain to Iraq.” This defining of the original and immovable boundaries of Islam has become a true “mantra” for Al Qaeda. Although it is true that this objective is seen as a long-term goal, and that first it will be necessary to complete a series of prior objectives of great importance, its repetition is replete with meaning in the sense that it sets out an unrenounceable goal for the jihadist movement. In fact, the “obsession” of Al Qaeda to recover the “lost Al Andalus” now forms a part of the discourse of the rest of the networks that integrate the jihadist constellation. Thus, for example, in a communiqueacute from April 2007 produced by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb the following can be read: “By Allah, we will neither return our sword into its scabbard nor enjoy life until we liberate every Islamic land from [the hands of] the Crusaders, the apostates, and the collaborators, and until our ritually cleansed feet walk [once again] in the stolen [land of] Al Andalus and in desecrated Jerusalem.”…….
……Of equal importance is seeing how this aggressive demand has been incorporated into the ideology of groups geographically distant from Al Andalus, such as the Afghan Taliban. In June of that same year, the prominent Taliban leader Mansour Dadallah stated the following in an interview broadcast by Al-Jazeera: “Jihad will remain an individual duty incumbent upon us, until we regain Al Andalus and all the countries occupied by the infidels.” Regarding the Al Andalus category, it is an authentic exception among the “far enemy.” The jihadists make no territorial claims on any other Western nation, which leads to the amplification of the presence of Spain within the totality of communicative activity of jihadism.
The weight of history in the Muslim imaginary means that the mention of Al Andalus is full of implicit meaning. The targeted public understands perfectly not only to what is being referred to, but also what is the approach of the jihadist groups. Accordingly, the jihad against Spain is justified, not only for Spain's military presence in Afghanistan or its clear support for the U.S. enemy, but also as a legitimate struggle to liberate Islamic land from its Christian occupier. In this sense, the confrontation with Spain goes beyond Spain's policies toward the Muslim world and has a structural character, given that the nation is situated over a territory that by right belongs to Islam and its peoples.
The researchers note that it’s only in the case of Spain that they call it as Al Andalus, the rest of the benighted infidel countries are usually referred to in their current usage names like America, Israel, etc. etc. What really worried me was the ending of the paper and I quote:

In short, one can conclude through analysis of the presence of Spain in jihadist propaganda that independently of the degree of implication of this country in the Islamic world, Spain must endure a threat of structural character that converts it into a perennial target of jihadist terrorism.

While I do not have the data-set, looking at the fulminations that happen in Pakistan and the assorted beards in Pakistan, Kashmir and other unsavoury locations and the arguments made for Spain, there is a chance that India will face threats of a structural character of this ilk. The keyword is stolen. In other words, even if the Kashmir problem is resolved, the threat will only be diminished, not fully removed as long as Al Queda and its compatriots exist. See for example the explanation made for LET at the CFR site. As the BBC reports:

Lashkar's professed ideology went beyond merely challenging Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir. In a pamphlet entitled "Why Are We Waging Jihad?" the group defined its agenda as the restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India.

See the word “restoration”? this is what is the operative word. And if more corroboration is required, read this report by Husain Haqqani, the current Pakistani Ambassador to the the Court of Saint Obama.  This report talks about the ideologies of South Asian Jihadi Groups.

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