Aujourd’hui je commence en français. C’est ma forme de dire que l’Europe, enfin, toute société occidentale, est avec la France.

It’s been a few decades since I wrote in French, but I’m not worried about spelling or grammar—I’m worried about Europe.

The most important lessons we can learn from the Paris tragedy are historical—and my texts, and in good part my books, are supported by history.

History is to human civilization what biology is to living organisms, and physics to planetary creation—we reflect this understanding by using terms such as medical history, economic history, and political history.

And history, like biology, displays both convergent and divergent evolution—the classic biological examples are the eye of the human and the octopus, and the adaptive radiation of the pentadactyl limb to form hands, wings, claws, and fins.

Christianity and Islam converge in many ways—I read a good deal about both when I wrote The India Road, and then a good deal more about Islam to research Atmos Fear.

One of the common characteristics of the great religions is that they were created by people, not by gods. Initially I wrote five great religions, then reduced to four, then three, and then took out the number altogether. I’ll leave it to you to interpret my reasoning.

Islam started in the year 610, with the revelations of the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad—presumably this is the same Gabriel who shows up in the Torah and the Bible, and later lent his name to Vasco da Gama’s flagship.

Jesus also features in Islam as Isa ibn Maryam (son of Mary), as do Moses and Abraham, both of whom appear repeatedly in the Koran.

Islamic faith became a force for unity in the seventh century, and provided the context for a caliphate, an extended Muslim empire that spread west from Arabia to the Atlantic coast of Morocco, the Maghreb-el-Acsa.

When the Umayyad crossed the strait and invaded Spain, Iberia was a motley land of kingdoms that resembled the warlord fiefdoms of modern-day Afghanistan. There were Visigoths, Celts, Vandals, Alans, and Franks ensconced in their own territories—here too there are similarities with the tribal conflicts in North Africa, the difference being that these conflicts persist today.

With some exceptions (Egypt comes to mind) the ‘countries’ in the Arab world were artificially established by Western politicians, trying to impose the European model of social organization—Churchill, for instance, is responsible for the creation of Iraq after World War I.

Then as now, air power was preferred to Western boots on the ground.

Several times in the early 1920s, when various tribal groups in Iraq rose up in opposition to the British, the air force was put into action, bombing not only military targets but civilian areas as well. Killing and wounding women and children were considered a way of intimidating the population into submission. This included the use of mustard and other poison gases.

In 1919, Uncle Winston told the British cabinet that “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas . . . I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against the uncivilized tribes. Gas is a more merciful weapon than high explosives and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war. The moral effect is also very great. There can be no conceivable reason why it should not be resorted to.”

To Westerners, 1919 seems like many years ago, but to Arabs, it’s only five generations.

Time and tradition obviously matter: in 711 the Moors conquered Spain, and later extended their domain to the West. Iberia became Al-Andalus—and although the occupation of Portugal by the Mouros ended in 1249 with the conquest of Faro, Spain was only fully liberated from the Moros after the siege of Granada in 1492.

The Arab vision of Iberia is therefore radically different from the European one—to a supporter of a new caliphate, Islam ruled Iberia for seven centuries, and it has only belonged to the ‘crusaders’ for five since then.

Christians and Muslims diverge in how they view their personal context, a fact that is simply not understood in the West.  The Western paradigm of nation has endured and consolidated, gone are the Visigoths and Franks.

If you’re asked to rank yourself, setting down the five points that define you, typically the first is your nationality. I am a Frenchman, She is an Englishwoman. As an American, or a German, you bear the passport, respect the flag, and feel a common bond with your countrymen. At a second level, the American might inform you she is a Texan, or a New Yorker. Perhaps in third place that she is a Mormon.

This is the dilemma Western nations struggle with. For some Muslims, religion sits above nationality, and religious law supersedes national law. I find it impossible to accept the punditry that recurrently explains that ‘nowhere is it written in the Koran that…’ followed by some abominable crime.

If you live in the United States, it is American law that governs your actions—Exodus and Leviticus proclaim ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ but if you act on the recommendation of the old testament, you’ll be subject to the US penal code.

The men and women from Birmingham and Brussels who leave Europe to fight for the Islamic State are not English, nor are they Belgian—they’re united by their religious beliefs, not patriotism.

The Perfect Prince, the Catholic Kings of Spain, and Richard the Lionheart all understood they were fighting a common enemy—the Moors. There were no countries, no Morocco, Algeria, or Libya.

In the twenty-first century, it’s a grave mistake to deconstruct movements or aggregate tribes into nationalities, and to see this war through the conventional eyes of nations.

History knows why a Belgian of Moroccan descent might attack Paris in retaliation for Syria.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: