Sunday, February 11, 2007

Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! Chapter 13 (Muhammad, his Ummah and Islamic Empire; Arabs,Turks and Mongols)


When Byzantine Emperor Justinian dispatched to Persia the army that had devastated Italy, he set more waves in motion than he probably intended to.

The besieged Persian ruler Nushiravan, "The Immortal," was the strongman most responsible for suppressing and massacring the peasants and Manicheans who had risen against Persia's nobility. Unablte to count on the loyalty of the recently repressed Persian peasants, the Immortal sent recruiters to Arabia and confronted the Byzantines with an army of camel nomads.

The nomads fought well, and both Leviathans sent recruiters to Arabia. Then both tried to establish permanent garrisons on the peninsula.

Byzantines allied with Christian Abyssinians occupied Yemen and destroyed a Jewish kingdom in which Christians had been persecuted. The year Muhammad was born, the Persian army occupied Yemen and ousted the Christians.

Muhammad and his companions are not ignorant of the powers and ways of Leviathans.

By Muhammad's generation there are probably very few people in Eurasia and much of Africa who are unfamiliar with Leviathans. Even the large islands beyond land's eastern end have been shackled by an Emperor, and a successor to the first Japanese Emperor has already learned or rinvented the stratagem of wearing his robe "by the grace of Buddha."

The Arabs have been closer than the Japanese to the main centers of Leviathanic activity. They have, in fact, been closer than most peoples, and for a very long time.

The Akkadians who became the heirs of the first Leviathan were very close kin of Arabs, as were the Canaanites and the Arameans; some of the Arabs' Abyssinian cousins across a narrow waterway were Pharaohs of another Leviathan.

Much of the trade between India and the Mediterranean has been passing through Arabia for generations. Arab camel caravans have served as the carriers of much of this trade. And Arabs have become mercenaries and victims of the two warring Leviathans on their borders. So they know just about all there is to know about Leviathans, and they've been careful not to shackle themselves with one of their own.

* * *

The man called Muhammad conducts caravans from Mecca to Damascus for a woman called Khadijah. He is familiar with Byzantines as well as Persians, with Christians as well as Jews.

He has met men who served as mercenaries for one or the other army. Many of these men return proud, not of their qualities, but of the qualities of their paymasters. They think the immortal Shah or the autocratic Emperor is a god, and they think Ctesiphon or Constantinople is Paradise. Some of these men would like to turn all Arabia into such a Paradise.

Muhammad is familiar with rich men, like the Quraysh in Mecca, who thank their own qualities for their wealth, thank their wealth for their wellbeing, and share neither with others. He's familiar with some who thank a stone for both.

Muhammad knows from his own experience that he is able to lead his caravans safely to Damascus only because of the numerous oases, the fine weather, the strength hof the camels, the food available along the way. He knows that neither wealth nor the Emperor of Rome nor the Shah of Persia nor a stone protect hima long the route. He knows that these are not gods. In fact, hirelings of the rich, Byzantine and Persian mercenaries and stones are among the obstacles along the route. He expresses this knowledge as the Jews express it: "There is no god but god."

He is baffled by Jews who insist that the god is more violent and jealous than the Shah and the Emperor combine. In this man's experience the god is generous beyond measure and infinitely merciful. If this were not so, very few caravans from Mecca would ever reach Damascus. In this he is closer to Christians, who consider the god's son merciful and loving. But the Christians, instead of expressing their gratitude to the merciful god, spend their time philosophizing about whether the god is one or three.

Persian armies overrun Syria, chase Roman soldiers and the True Cross out of Jerusalem, and advance as far as Egypt.

Numerous Quraysh become even wealtheir by dispatching caravans with supplies to the Persian invaders.

Former Byzantine mercenaries conspire with agents of the ousted army, expecting yet greater wealth from the return of the Romans.

Arabia becomes increasingly Leviathanized.

For untold ages Arabia has been encircled by abominable places where the rich gouge the poor, where kin and friends cheat each other, where permanent overmen lord it over hereditary underlings. And now there are Arabs who consider such places Paradise and want to turn Arabia into such a place.

The camel driver and his friends are saddened, perhaps incensed by this. They know that the Roman and Persian worlds are not the merciful god's Paradise but the devil's. The visionary Muhammad knows that Paradise is like the place the Jews call Eden, a real place located somewhere in Yemen or in Abyssinia before the days of big armies and gouging merchants. He knows that Arabia is no longer Paradise, but it is not yet its opposite. People still treat their kin as kin. Few neglect the poor, the widows and the orphans. Some are indecently rich, but even they don't lord it over anyone, for they know their good fortune may not last.

Muhammad and his friends cannot do anything about the Romans and the Persians. But they can raid the caravans of the Quraysh and distribute the supplies among the poor.

The Quraysh, not surprisingly, attack the caravan looters.

The visionary and his friends flee to Medina and proceed to defend and organize themselves a little more seiously. They welcome to their ranks all people who understand that there is no god but god and who demonstrate their understanding by showing their gratitude to the merciful god.

Even some Jews join the organization. But other Jewish camel nomads are repelled by the ostentatious demonstrations of gratitude to the arbitrary and violent Almighty, and they become hostile to the organization and then to the looting. The hostile Jews are ousted from Medina.

At this point the camel driver and his followers have become an "Ummah." THis owrd translates into English as "community," and refers in this case to a "community of believers." But this Ummah is no longer a loose circle of friends or a community of kin. The basis for admission is not kinship but acknowledgement that there is no god but god. The Greeks would have called the Ummah a Polity; I would call it an Organization. It is not yet a Leviathan and Muhammad is not yet a king. But he is already a Hakim, a Judge, and this is something quite different from a family elder.

While the armies of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius run the Persians out of the Levant and inland toward the very walls of Ctesiphon, Muhammad and his Median allies confront bands of Quraysh in two battles, and although the odds are against them, they defeat the Quraysh both times. The victors conclude that the merciful god is on their side. They are emboldened to no end.

None say it publicly, since the prophet doesn't say it, but m,any suspect the prostrations to the merciful god ar not only good in themselves but also contribute to victories against superior odds. The god is obviously a relative of the Christians' Optimus Maximus, and may even be the same entity.

* * *

The prophet dies and his faithful son-in-law Ali expects to succeed to the prophet's post, but the prophet's father-in-law Abu Bakr is elected Caliph, "Successor." Abu Bakr lives only two more years, but during these years the Ummah becomes an Arabian Leviathan, and the Successor becomes something very similar to a Lugal, a Shah, a King.

The basis for membership in the Ummah narrows somewhat; it is now necessary to admit that there is no god but god, and that Muhammad is his prophet. But there are no requirements beyond this, and many well-trained soldiers are attracted to the obviously successful armies of the Ummah.

In two years all of Arabia is unified by armies dispatched from Mecca or Medina. No opposition can hold its own against them. And the merciful god rewards the victorious soldiers with untold loot.

But something is being forgotten, namely the fact that Arabia has never before been overrun by armies, that it has never before been unified under a military command. This is not altogether forgotten. There are uprisings and rebellions in every part of Arabia. Entire armies defect from Abu Kakr's command. The rebels are probably as incensed as the prophet himself was early in his life; they do not think Arabia is being turned into Paradise.

Umar, a man well versed in military matters and Leviathanic ways, is the Successor to Abu Bakr as well as to the insurgency in every part of Arabia. This man deflects the anger by leading his armies out of Arabia, toward a foreign conquest. He chooses his generals from among the insurgents and from among the hate Quraysh.

The Caliph's armies overrun the Levant, capture Heliopolis, Emesa, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Antioch and Caesaera, sweep away forty generations of Roman Civilization, enrich themselves with loot beyond anyone's wildest dreams. If any soldiers thought the merciful god was not on their side, they have no such thoughts now. Clearly the god is fighting alongside the "Muslims," Submitters, and the loot is the god's reward for "Islam," Submission.

The Muslim warriors grossly underestimate the help they get from Christian peasants and urban zeks who have been dreaming of throwing off their yokes for generations. Most of these Christians welcome the Muslims and immediately submit to the merciful god, who at last delivers them.

But to the few who resist the armies of Islam, the invading god has all the attributes of Lugalzaggizi and Optimus Maximus.

Under Umar and his successor Uthman, Muslim armies are welcomed as liberators in most of the Roman Empire's remaining provinces and in all of Persia, where peasants have not forgotten their suppressed revolution.

The Persian rulers and their Zarathustrian priests find refuge in the Chinese capital Ch'ang An, where they join Nestorian Christians hounded out of Byzantium by the heresy police, and where they will soon be joined by Huns ousted from the imperial palace of Bactria by Muslim armies. And then Byzantine ambassadors arrive in Ch'ang An to ask for the Chinese Emperor's help against the armies of Islam.

* * *

The rampaging new Leviathan runs into trouble right at the start. The intentions of the founders cannot be so unceremoniously cas aside, at least not all the intentions.

The third Caliph, Uthman, is the prophet's son-in-law, but he is also a descendant of the Quraysh and Umayyah families who warred against the prophet. Right after his accession he replaces generals and governors chosen by Abu Bakr and Umar with members of his own family. These men grow fat with spoils. They bury whatever egalitarianism is still left in the Ummah, and on top of all this, Uthman proclaims that his version of the prophet's message is the only valid Quran, and has all other versions destroyed.

Angry Muslims storm Uthman's house in Medina and assassinate the Caliph.

After a civil war between the two factions, Ali, husband of the prophet's first daughter Fatimah, at last accedes to the post of Caliph.

But the circumstances of Ali's accession as well as the material interests of the Umayyads conspire against him, and he, too is murdered. His son Hassan gives way to an Umayyad, and four generations of Umayyad Caliphs and their armies spread Islam as far westward as Africa's Atlantic coast and as far eastward as the wall of China.

But the breach between the two factions will not be healed.

The defenders of Uthman try to reconcile the amenities of Leviathanic life with the sayings of the prophet.

The defenders of Ali, called Shi'ites, will never reconcile themselves to the power the hate Quraysh wield in the prophet's own camp, but only some of them view their cause as a commitment to the egalitarian ways of Arabian camel nomads like the prophet; others view the struggle in purely genealogical terms.

Still others, Kharijis, reject Uthman as well as Ali, and some of their initial formulations reject the Leviathan as well. They say righteous Muslims elect a mere teacher, an Imam, and not a ruler. They say the greedy power-seekers in the guarded palaces are not Muslims at all, but infidels.

Egalitarian rebels in every province of the vast Islamic Empire, especially Shi'ites, overthrow the Umayyads, who will go on ruling only in Spain.

But the Abbasid Caliphs who now come to power, first as allies and then as repressors of the egalitarians, do not restore either the form or the spirit of the Ummah of the prophet's day. On the contrary, they restore the aristocratic Leviathan swept out of Persia by the initial Muslim invasion.

Under the second Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur, the Sassanid Persian court and even the etiquette are restored-everything except the Zarathustrian priesthood. Tax gatherers gouge peasants to support wars, ostentation, art, architecture, as in bygone days.

Leviathan, that unintended excrescene that grows out of human communities and then liquidates them, once again wears the mantle of yet another liquidated community.

The Abbasid Caliphate is the heir of Sumer-Akkad, Phoenicia, Babylonia and Persia. Its connection with the prophet is similar to the Byzantine Empire's connection with the apostles. Instead of ruling by the grace of Ahura Mazda, the Caliph and his grandees rule by the grace of the merciful god. The persecution of people who celebrate nature, Mother Earth, in any form whatever, is carried on as thoroughly as in Byzantium, and the Manicheans are hunted down just as mercilessly.

Unlike their reduced Byzantine neighbors, the Muslims do not persecute ways that have become religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism, because their realize that religions are ways that have come to terms with Leviathan.

* * *

Abbasid islam is the heir of some of the world's main landworms, but also of the Phoenician octopus.

It is the first time since the debacle of Periclean Athens that the two forms of Leviathan have been combined for very long in the same body. This makes the Muslims whose capital is Baghdad much more Greek than the Christians whos capital is Byzantium.

The Byzantine Christians are heirs to Rome's congenital antipathy toward any type of octopus, an antipathy reinforced by early Christians' rejection of all types of Leviathan, the clawed as well as the tentacled. By the grace of Lugalzaggizi-Maximus, the Christians' Roman origins do not predispose them to embrace loose tentacles.

Islam, on the contrary, comes into the world with loose tentacles. The tentacles have not come to Islam from the occupied former Canaanite centers on the Levant, for these lost virtually all of their Phoenician traits during the long Roman occupation.

Islam's tentacles come from the Arabian Peninsula; they arrived with this Leviathan's founders.

Commodity caravans traversed the Arabian peninsula already before the heyday of the Phoenician commercial empire, and continued to traverse Arabia ever after.

The first Muslims as well as their prophet were caravan drivers, and they put the ambience, the precepts as well as the experience of caravan drivers into the Book that serves as pretext and guide for the whole Islamic Empire, the Quran.

The Abbasid Caliphs and their network of governors and armies are only a part of the Islamic Leviathan. This part consists of a landowning oligarchy with all the Sassanid Persian traditions except the official language (and even the language reverts to Persian in certain regions). The monarch is an absolute autocrat who rules through a vizier, a police, spies and armies. The entire establishment is supported by traditional methods of plunder and extortion, imposed externally on foreigners who are expropriated and enslaved, internally on women who are enslaved and on peasants who are reduced to agricultural zeks.

In all this, the Islamic Leviathan does not differ from Assyria.

But this is not the part of Islam that spreads the Quran as far south as central Africa and as far east as Indonesia. The initial fervor of armies of egalitarians embarking on holy wars against oligarchic monsters disappears when the armies are led by oligarchs. The size of this Leviathan would be small if the agents of it spread were viziers and generals.

After the initial military success, Islam spread by its other part, a part that consists of the heirs of the Arabian camel nomads. It is the caravan drivers, not the viziers, who cherish the Quran; it is they who are the Imams (teachers) and Ulama (learned men); it is they who carry Islam to realms not reached by the Caliph's armies. And it is they who persecute and liquidate nature-lovers, Manicheans and all other "idolaters and heretics" who refuse to be reduced to dependent factors in a network of circulating commodities.

The octopus functions inside the worm almost as if it were independent, in a situation of minimal contact. The merchants, who consider themselves and undoubtedly are, the prophet's true heirs, are not linked to the military hierarchy by any form of mediation. They have neither State-appointed priests nor a State-supported Temple.

In this the Muslims resemble Jews-not the ancient Jews who had a State, a king, a State-supported Temple and priests, but the Jews of the diaspora who congregate around a rabbi, a teacher. This is understandable, since the first Muslims, who made much of Old Testament traditions, were familiar only with Jews of the diaspora, to whom priests and a State-supported Temple were exotic and barely-remembered relics of a vanished past.

The Muslim merchants acknowledge the military authorities out of prudence, not conviction. As M. Hodgson will observe, Muslims consider individuals responsible to Allah, not to the vizier, and the only restictions they accept, at least in principle, are those imposed by the merciful god, not those imposed by a military official. Since they reject the Jewish concept of a "chosen people" or nation, they insist on the unrestricted freedom of movement of all caravan drivers who demonstrate the understanding of the fact that there is no god but god and Muhammad is his prohpet. They extend these rights to other merchants as well, but not without reservations.

Consequently, even if they grudgingly pay border taxes extorted from them by military strongmen, they recognize no national boundaries. Every province of the realm is a fit region for commerical plunder, but always within the limits of decency imposed by the Quran.

The records suggest that the precepts of the Quran are applied only to trade carried on with other Muslims. No limits of decency are imposed on trade with foreigners considered unclean, idolatrous or demonic. Trade with outsiders takes the form of piracy, plunder and expropriation and the merchants do not hesitate to reduce even human beings to commodities.

Thus the Islamic Leviathan does not exclusively or even primarily consist of fangs and claws. It is a vast network of tentacles that move by land as well as sea. These tentacles are merchant caravans which transport commodities on dromedaries, horses, camels, or in the holds of ships.

The plunder of the Biosphere by means of sophisticated technological devices progresses by leaps and bounds. Large silver mines are gouged in Central Asia. The silver is refined, carried to China and traded for silks and porcelains. In India it is traded for spices and ivory. The merchants' records no longer have to be kept on clay tablets or on Egyptian payrus. Paper and later papermaking are carried from China to every Islamic commercial center. Water mills are used in Mesopotamian agricultural production. Technological improvements are made in all vehicles of land as well as sea transportation. Human ingenuity flows into devices and containers which hold and preserve the precious and the perishable.

(I can't resist mentioning once again the moronic theory that depicts productive forces "ripening" until they "give rise to" or "make possible" the "transition to a new social form." Such "productive forces" do not exist apart from the "social form." The artifices are integral parts of the artificial worm, they are nothing but its attributes. The technologies are the claws and fangs of the Leviathan. Silver mines and later water wheels do not give rise to the Islamic Leviathan; It gives rise to them. The types of technologies developed by a Leviathan depend primarily on the type of Leviathan in question, not on the "state of developmednt of global productive forces" cited by artifice fetishists. The Phoenicians developed, near the very dawn of Civilization, a maritime technology that would be unmatched until the appearance of a Leviathan with similarly extended tentacles.)

The Islamic mercantile caravans are the first extensive network of far-reaching tentacles isnce the demise of the Greek octopus at the hands of the Macedonians. The Muslims, not the Byzantines, are the successors of the ancient Greeks. And they know it. They translate the main works of Greek philosophy, literature and natural science into Arabic and Persian. Western Christians will later discover what they call their Greek heritage not in Greece but in Muslim Spain, and they will have to learn Arabic to recover that heritage.

The Muslim merchants, like the Greeks, reduce women to household slaves. They congregate in the marketplace. They discuss everything from Ptolemaic astronomy to Aristotelian philosophy. They are aware of the conflict between the calculating rationalism demanded by their commercial dealings and the piety demanded by their gods (singular in the case of Islam.) The Greeks moved their speculative activities out of the Temple and into the marketplace; the Muslims never had such a Temple. The Greeks reduced their shrines to ornaments which covered their commercial tentacles; the Muslims cover their tentacles borrowed from Romans, Persians and Indians who acquired them from Greeks.

* * *

The two forms of Leviathan coexist in Islam but not comfortably, and both give rise to the types of forces that decomposed and eventually brought down earlier Leviathans.

Merchants who are not too scrupulous about the sources of their profits regard courtiers as fit objects of plunder and often drive them into debt and ruin. And of course the militaristic courtiers retaliate by overtaxing and sometimes plundering merchants.

And both the military and the mercantile establishments continually exploit what Toynbee will call internal as well as external proletariats, namely overworked laborers and peasants as well as foreigners who are subjected plunder, expropriation and enslavement.

The Abbasid Caliphate, and the unified caliphate itself, are destroyed by a combination of internal as well as external agents similar to those we've seen before.

Peasants in the Empire's central province rise up against the landlords, successfully defeat the Caliph's armies, redistribute the land, restore some measure of equality, and hold on to their gains for an entire generation.

To subdue the peasants, the Caliph does what his Sassanid predecessor did: he recruits his army abroad, this time among the iron-armed Turks. The Turkish mercenaries defeat the peasant uprising, known as Babak's revolt, and are retained as the Caliph's personal guard, something like Praetorians.

Revolts continue. Slaves rise in lower Mesopotamia and, together with egalitarian Kharijis, try to restore a classless community to a region which has been without such a community longer than any other part of the world. They too are suppressed by the Caliph and his Turkish troops, but India, Persia, Egypt and North Africa defect from the Empire, and soon Arabia falls out.

The Turks are converted and the realm of Islam actually grows larger, but the empires of the increasingly numerous independent potentates become quite small, and gradually the former Turkish guard and the mercenary troops trained in suppressing rebellions seize the palaces of the potentates.

The Turkish rulers reinforce themselves with troops of Turkish pastoral nomads, and these nomads destroy the wealth of the landed oligarchy by killing peasants and turning farm lands into pastures. The nomads have no use for farm lands or towns or administrators, and they destroy many of the productive forces that "ripened" before their arrival.

The Turkish rulers who conscript nomadic tribes are themselves overthrown by their own troops, and new Turkish strongmen are able to put the available productive forces to use only by first breaking the spirit of the nomadic tribes. Fatimid rulers of Egypt and North Africa run into similar problems with nomadic Berber troops.

The Turkish rulers, although converts to Islam, tend to have less respect than their predecessors for the commercial houses and caravans, taxing and often plundering merchants to support military ventures. They tend to turn various Islamic Leviathans into worms.

Consequently Islamic commercial ventures thrive at the fringes of Islam and even outside the empire of believers. Islamic merchants control the overseas trade of China, and their land caravans transport Chinese silks and porcelains along all overland routes west of China. These caravans regularly pass through lands inhabited by mounted iron-wielding Mongols.

The behavior of the caravan drivers toward people they consider idolaters may be what enrages the Mongols against the Civilized, if the Mongols are not already enraged by the continual attacks of Chinese border guards and mercenaries.

During one and the same generation, demented killers known to Muslims as Western Franks and enraged mounted Mongols from the borders of China pounce on the central provinces of Islam with a determination to destroy every trace of Civilization.

The central Mesopotamian and Levantine provinces never recover from these assaults, although Islam as a world embracing Leviathan does recover, largely by the Chinese method of absorbing the invaders. Eight or nine generations later, Islam will confront an even greater challenge, this one in the form of carriers on the Western Spirit who arrives as merchants and claim to be heirs of Romans and Greeks.

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