DAY 167: The Muqaddimah

May 6th, 2016 § 0 comments


People are constantly coming up to me in the street, or in the pub, or more occasionally in the park, and saying ‘What do you make of all this business in Syria, eh?’ (or words to that effect), In a situation where a beautiful and cultured country descends for no good reason into a maelstrom of brutality with Americans, Brits, Russians and of course Daesh, not to mention Bashir Assad and his forces competing to kill as many Syrians as possible (you would think), and in the case of Daesh destroy thousand-year-old monuments as well, your credentials as an explainer of the historical process are naturally strained. I don’t speak of the refugees; for months I’ve spoken of little else, and you can take it for granted that they are the central element in my concern.

I fall back, naturally, on ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah (1377 CE), Ibn_Khaldun_Economy-2_4and his theory of the rise and fall of dynasties. Coming out of the desert (you will recall) as happened in the case of the Almoravids and the Almohads, they sweep all before them, adopt a puritanical form of Islam, rule with a rod of iron; and then in a generation go soft amid the luxury of court life only to give way to a new dynasty. (I oversimplify as usual.) My 56 or so friends at SOAS, all in the grip of exams, will recognize the argument and probably have encountered the critique in Messier’s ‘Re-Thinking the Almoravids, Re-Thinking Ibn Khaldun’ ( Journal of North African Studies, 6:1, 59-80.) [In case you’re interested, and why wouldn’t you be? Messier’s excavation-driven new reading has led to important new interpretations: the impact of the Almoravids on the urban development of Sijilmasa, the importance of their role in the African gold trade, their alleged intellectual repressiveness, their initial success in winning the support of the masses but their ultimate failure to hold it.  Can we apply this theory to Daesh? If we’re lucky. To Putin and the global neoliberal alliance? I think not. Ibn Khaldun was dealing with societies more rationally organized than today’s blind marketized hegemonies. Oh dear, I’ve started to rant.

Farida, one of my friends from an-Najah, asked me what the British thought of Syria. I gave a mediocre answer, based on the fact that most of my British friends got their facts from Syrians in any case; and asked the much more interesting question what did Palestinians think? She replied:

‘As someone who lived in Palestine for nearly eight months only, I think that the palestinian’s view of what’s happening in Syria is differ between one to other. What I hear from the people here -students, especially -as I spend most of my time in the university-, some still supports “Bashar al-Assad” and “Hezbollah” in Lebanon and believe that they are right and that everyone is conspiring against them! And justify their support for the fact that “Hezbollah” is against Israel, with the Palestinians, and so on! But those are few. Others say that what is happening in Syria is a plot of the dominant forces globally -You know, perhaps assuming the plot is easy for everyone! -. There are also many who follow what is going on, with some sort of sympathy with the Syrian people, certainly, with all these refugees. I personally see that what is going on with them is like the Palestinian nakbaNakba! But I think that it really is complicated somewhat in Syria and the region in general. So interferes everyone really there! But I think that it is really complicated in Syria and the region in general. So interferes everyone really there! You can see now many people changed their facebook personal image to the red color13100842_10209072577157311_5391242241426252430_n, in sympathy with what is happening in Aleppo. This may not exactly help the Syrian issue, but -as they say that’s what we can do. What do you think? What can the normal person do to what is happening in Syria?’

I leave you with those lines which show that the thoughtful Palestinian is no clearer than the thoughtful Brit. The parallel with the Nakba is interesting, though I don’t see how it would work. In the Nakba you had the dispossession of a people, forced off their land by another people who were determined to stay. There’s no easy way of undoing that. In Syria, you can imagine a way in which war would end, everybody would stop interfering, and Syrians could return home.

Stratford Corner

My friend Kate Bradley has taken the occasion of Shakespeare’s death anniversary to have a swipe at the antique playwright; We keep doing it, but he’s pretty resilient. And here is his recently notorious plea for refugees, from Sir Thomas More:

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity. 



Slightly changing the subject: Gazan hip-hop, or rather hip-hop  about Gaza is today’s music: “Hip-hop is the land of the people that don’t have a land,” Chilean hip-hop artist and musician Ana Tijoux recently told the news program Democracy Now! Here she is:

‘Somos Sur’


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