December 7, 2015
by Stanley A. Weiss
LONDON-It is a sign of the violent age we live in that there is a website in the United States devoted to updating daily deaths by gunfire. Last week, the Mass Shooting Tracker reported that in the first 334 days of this year, America had experienced 351 shootings in which four or more people were killed or injured — an average of more than one a day. And yet, aside from wondering what it will take for America to end its insane addiction to guns, few of these tragedies have garnered as much attention in the South Asian nation of Indonesia than last week’s horrific shooting in San Bernardino, California, where 14 were killed and 21 wounded at the hands of a young Muslim couple that were reportedly radicalized in Saudi Arabia.
For Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation – with more adherents of Islam than Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, and Palestine combined – the story of citizens returning home from the Middle East more extreme than when they left is an old one. But it is also a story generating fresh concern as a number of Indonesian Muslims are choosing to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for the jihadists of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).
October 27, 2014
by Stanley A. Weiss
“Your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help . . . the Turks and Arabs have attacked them. . . I, or rather the Lord, beseech you . . . to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends . . . Moreover, Christ commands it . . . All who die in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God.” — Pope Urban II’s “speech against the infidels,” at the Council of Clermont, France, November 27, 1095, according to the version of Fulcher of Chartres.
With those words spoken 919 years ago next month, Pope Urban II lit the fuse in a series of wars that would see the often violent deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of men, women, and children of the Muslim and Jewish faiths. While the First Crusade began as a campaign to take back the Holy Land from Muslim invaders, it would give way to six more major Christian crusades over the next two centuries. If it had been possible to conduct a global survey of non-Catholics between the years 1096 and 1291, the overwhelming majority of the earth’s population undoubtedly would have defined Christianity as a violent religion, whose holy book inspired zealots to brutally slaughter non-believers on the promise of eternal salvation. It also doesn’t take much to imagine how abhorrent Christianity would have appeared if the worst atrocities of the most zealous crusaders were played day after day on the World Wide Web.
June 23, 2014
by Stanley A. Weiss
GSTAAD–From my residence in Gstaad, Switzerland, you can see the Bernese Alps silhouetted against the sky. The range is home to one peak in particular — the 2,632-meter Gertrudspitze — named after Gertrude Bell, the greatest woman mountaineer of the 20th century, who once survived 53 hours clinging to a rope against the sheer face of an uncharted cliff during a freezing blizzard. But as spectacularly daring as her alpine exploits were, it was in the deserts of the Middle East where Bell left her biggest mark.
In addition to being a remarkable mountaineer, Bell was also an Oxford-educated historian, adventurer, archaeologist, British foreign officer, and spy — a female Lawrence of Arabia (and a friend and colleague of Lawrence himself). She traveled thousands of miles through Arabia by camelback, while insisting on eating off fine china. She was the daughter of England’s sixth-richest family, yet spoke Arabic, Persian and Turkish like a native. And she was so knowledgeable and respected that one Iraqi sheik, asked about his own tribes’ geographic boundaries, referred the question to Bell.
It was Bell, as an officer of Britain’s post-World War I Arab Bureau, who helped fix the region’s boundaries after France and Britain carved it up in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. (“I had a well-spent morning at the office making out the southern desert frontier of the Iraq,” she once wrote to her father.) And it is Bell — who not only defined the borders but also trained and installed the young King Faisal as its (foreign) ruler — who has been hailed as “the Mother of the Faithful” and called “the architect of an unstable Iraq in the middle of an unstable Middle East.”