Monday, July 4, 2011

The Warrior Monks

To research the Knights Templar proved a daunting undertaking. The voluminous quantity of written material devoted to the subject was intimidating; and we could not at first be sure how much of this material was reliable. If the Cathars had engendered a welter of spurious and romantic legend, the mystification surrounding the Templars was even greater.

On one level they were familiar enough to us the fanatically fierce warrior-monks, knightmystics clad in white mantle with splayed red cross, who played so crucial a role in the Crusades. Here, in some sense, were the archetypal crusaders the storm-troopers of the Holy Land, who fought and died heroically for Christ in their thousands. Yet many writers, even today, regarded them as a much more mysterious institution, an essentially secret order, intent on obscure intrigues, clandestine machinations, shadowy conspiracies and designs. And there remained one perplexing and inexplicable fact. At the end of their two-century-long career, these white garbed champions of Christ were accused of denying and repudiating Christ, of trampling and spitting on the cross.

In Scott’s Ivanhoe the Templars are depicted as haughty and arrogant bullies, greedy and hypocritical despots shamelessly abusing their power, cunning manipulators orchestrating the affairs of men and kingdoms. In other nineteenth-century writers they are depicted as vile satanists, devil-worshippers, practitioners of all manner of obscene, abominable and/or heretical rites. More recent historians have been inclined to view them as hapless victims, sacrificial pawns in the high-level political manoeuvrings of Church and state. And there are yet other writers, especially in the tradition of Freemasonry, who regard the Templars as mystical adepts and initiates, custodians of an arcane wisdom that transcends Christianity itself.

Whatever the particular bias or orientation of such writers, no one disputes the heroic zeal of the Templars or their contribution to history. Nor is there any question that their order is one of the most glamorous and enigmatic institutions in the annals of Western culture. No account of the Crusades or, for that matter, of Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries will neglect to mention the Templars. At their zenith they were the most powerful and influential organisation in the whole of Christendom, with the single possible exception of the papacy.

And yet certain haunting questions remain. Who and what were the Knights Templar? Were they merely what they appeared to be, or were they something else? Were they simple soldiers on to whom an aura of legend and mystification was subsequently grafted? If so, why? Alternatively was there a genuine mystery connected with them? Could there have been some foundation for the later embellishments of myth?

We first considered the accepted accounts of the Templars the accounts offered by respected and responsible historians. On virtually every point these accounts raised more questions than they answered. They not only collapsed under scrutiny, but suggested some sort of ‘cover-up’. We could not escape the suspicion that something had been deliberately concealed and a ‘cover story’ manufactured, which later historians had merely repeated.


Starvation returns to the Horn of Africa

Drought and war threaten millions with famine, as the refugee camps overflow

In the Horn of Africa, unseen as yet by the world's television cameras, a pitiful trek of the hungry is taking place. Tens of thousands of children are walking for weeks across a desiccated landscape to reach refugee camps that are now overflowing. They are being driven there by one of the worst droughts in the region for 60 years which, combined with the war in Somalia and soaring food prices, is threatening a famine that could affect between eight and 10 million people.

The malnourished children, some of whom become separated from their parents on the way, are now arriving at the camps in northern Kenya at a rate of 1,200 every day. At the largest, built for 90,000, there are now nearly 370,000. Many have covered hundreds of miles on feet that are bare and bleeding. Some reach their goal barely able to stand. Most are exhausted, and dehydrated. All are hungry. 

Aid agency after agency has told The Independent on Sunday in the past few days of the terrible plight of these families from Somalia and Ethiopia. Save the Children (SCF), like many charities so worried it has launched an emergency response to the crisis, said: "Some families have walked for over a month through sand and searing heat in search of food, water and shelter. Many discarded the few possessions they had along the way." The charity's Kenya programme director, Catherine Fitzgibbon, said: "Children have made long journeys in terrifying conditions, often losing their families along the way and arriving at the camps in desperate need of security, healthcare and a normal life." 

Neil Thorns, Cafod's director of advocacy, who led an emergency conference on food shortages in Nairobi last week, said: "There's no rain, no crops and the livestock are dying. There is nothing on the horizon that will make any of that better, and it's almost certain it will get much, much worse. People are migrating in their tens of thousands, but there is nowhere better for them to go. Governments need to wake up to the urgency of the situation and take the action that is needed immediately." 

Cafod said that one aid worker, Nelly Shonko, drove the 100-odd miles between Marsabit in northern Kenya and Moyale on the border with Ethiopia, "seeing hundreds of rural people moving the other way, carrying all their possessions in search of food for their livestock. She knew that the land they were walking towards was no better than where they'd come from." 

Journeys of more than 300 miles are typical: SCF spoke to one woman, called Fatuma, who had walked from her home in Somalia for a month and a half with her four children aged between three and 10 to reach a Kenyan camp. She said: "The weather was very harsh. It was so hot, and there was very little shelter. I left my husband in Somalia. I do not know if I will see him again. The war in Somalia is very bad for families. The drought as well is just too much. We cannot cope. We had 15 goats. But they died one by one because of the drought. We had a well in my village, but it dried up. Then the one in the next village dried up." 

Adan Kabelo, head of Oxfam's work in Somalia, said in a blog: "The situation here is truly shocking, and, as the local elders warned me, we are facing a terrible human catastrophe unless the world acts quickly."
This is a situation that has been brewing – and deteriorating – for a long time. Across much of Somalia and Ethiopia, the last two rains have failed – something which, says SCF's Andrew Wander, used to occur every 10 to 12 years, but now happens almost every other year. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) says: "In June, the famine early-warning systems network said it had compared rainfall data for Kenya and Ethiopia and concluded that 2010-11 was the driest or second driest year since 1950-51 in 11 of 15 analysed pastoral zones. This does not, however, mean that this is yet the worst drought in the Horn of Africa. The 2007-09 drought, for instance, peaked in September 2009 with 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance." 

Nevertheless, many of the people in the region are pastoralists, and in some places about 70 per cent of livestock have died. Even in a place like Dobley in Somalia, where there has been a little recent rain, the situation is desperate. Oxfam reports that animal carcasses litter the road to the borehole and "there are hundreds of people and about 15,000 emaciated cows, camels, sheep, and goats crowded around trying to get water to stay alive". Oxfam is frantically trying to keep this borehole flowing. If its engineers fail, the outlook is not good. The next water point is 80km away. 

Audrée Montpetit, senior humanitarian programme quality adviser at Care International, has recently visited the drought-affected region of Borena in Ethiopia. She said: "People are eating less, cutting trees to make charcoal and sell. Since there's no pasture, men are cutting trees to get leaves for their animals. Women, who are responsible for getting water, are having to travel six to 10 hours every day to get it. We've seen an increase in acute malnutrition but there's obviously a lot of water-borne disease too; that's been increasing. People accept that the worst is yet to come." 

And the famine looms at a time when food prices have been increasing sharply for some time – and still are. Since last May, the price of maize has more than doubled in parts of Ethiopia, and that of red sorghum has risen in Somalia by 240 per cent. Even in Kenya, white maize now costs 58 per cent more than it did a year ago. And then there is the conflict in Somalia, which drives people to the camps and which, in much of southern and central parts of the country, severely limits humanitarian access.
Aid workers are beginning to wonder for how much longer the camps can contain the need. Dadaab, in Kenya, originally built to accommodate 90,000, now has 367,855 refugees, making it the world's largest refugee camp. There were plans for an extension, but the Kenyan government scotched that, and thousands now squat hopefully outside the perimeter. 

And yet still people come. The numbers arriving at Dadaab's three camps are swelling at an alarming rate – 5,621 arrived in the last week of June compared with 1,866 in the first week of the month. According to the UN, more than half of the camps' refugees are children, and 153,525 of those are under the age of 11. There are also 12,328 people over the age of 60 in the camps, while 95 per cent of the total population are from Somalia, with the rest mainly from Ethiopia. 

The overcrowding produces problems beyond comfort, food rations and sanitation. On Thursday, two people were killed and dozens injured when a riot broke out. The UN refugee agency said the "serious disturbance" occurred when authorities tried to demolish illegal buildings at a food distribution point. 

Camps elsewhere are also reaching bursting point. Getinet Ameha, a WFP aid worker, visited two camps last week in Dolo Ado on the Somalia, Kenyan and Ethiopian border. Last week the government opened a third camp, Kobe, to deal with the 1,200 new arrivals each day. He said: "The majority of people in the camps are women and children, and it's very difficult because the camps were only built to hold 20,000 in each one and there's now almost 40,000 people living in each." Here, some 45 per cent of the new arrivals are malnourished – the threshold for declaring an emergency is 15 per cent. He added: "A lot of people are coming, 1,400 new people each day, but the WFP is providing food. There are problems with health. The people are having to live very close to each other. In one tent I witnessed a family of 12 together."
Aid agencies are doing all they can, but the "perfect storm" of drought, war and costly food is difficult to overcome when resources are so limited. SCF says it has less than half the money it needs for a proper response. And a statement from the WFP last week said bleakly: "The humanitarian response in Somalia and Ethiopia in particular is hampered by large funding shortfalls. New contributions are urgently needed or suffering will grow." 

It continued: "In Somalia, having started cutting ration sizes from February, WFP in May had only enough food left to feed 63 per cent of the almost one million people that WFP had planned to be feeding in May ... Because of a lack of funding, WFP in Ethiopia reduced food rations in certain areas of the country from March onwards." 

The international food security scale of one to five rates a few parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya as category two, "Stressed". Many areas are at three and four, "Crisis" and "Emergency", but none, as yet, is a five, "Catastrophe/Famine". Unless there is a rapid change in the weather, the war or the food supply, that day may not be long postponed.

Islamic and European slavery: a very brief comparison

The “European powers” (particularly Spain, Portugal, France and Britain) are rightly condemned for their past actions in respect of slavery, as is America.

There is no disputing the fact that in the course of the approx 350 years of European/American slavery some eleven million African slaves were transported across the Atlantic ocean in the most atrocious of conditions, which resulted in an average of 10% (more than a million) perishing on the journey.
That they were worked hard, sometimes literally to death, and that some of the women were used as sex-slaves is also indisputable. (The latter is provable on genetic grounds. Many African-Caribbean people have genes that could only possibly have come from Caucasians.)
That this was a dreadful crime against humanity is also beyond doubt.
In slight mitigation, it has to also be accepted that these same “Powers” and especially Britain were at the forefront of efforts to ban slavery worldwide, an objective that has not yet been totally achieved, though it has been achieved within the “West” and much of the world.
Many peoples throughout the World, including the Islamic world “point the finger” at the West in general, and Europeans and Americans in particular, over this issue.
Whilst this is morally justified, it has to be said that in the case of the Islamic world in particular the “finger of blame” should be pointed at themselves also.

Slavery in Islam is a scarcely mentioned matter, though books and resources are available, going right back to the records kept by Islamic Sultans, their advisers and other Muslim chroniclers.
At its zenith the Islamic Empire stretched from India through northern Africa and into Eastern Europe.
From its very inception Islam practiced slavery as a part of war and then as a tax- or tribute-measure.
A survey of sources concerning the numbers enslaved by the “Islamic powers”, according to their own records (which are incomplete and thus will under-estimate the figures) show the following:
Europeans enslaved: 400,000{1} (A secondary source{4} I have places this figure >1million.)
Indians enslaved: 6,000,000{2}
Africans enslaved: 12,000,000{3} (This figure neglects slaves for the Western trade – see below.)
Total enslaved: 18,400,000
Let me repeat: the figures shown above are, in each case, an under-estimate of the true figure. For example the Senegalese Author Tidiane N’Diaye in his book LE GENOCIDE VOILÉ, (Jan. 2008) says :  “17 million Africans who were brought to the Arab-Muslim world and transformed into eunuchs have disappeared … It was a programmed ‘ethnic extinction by castration.”. If this was the total number of male slaves, then the total number of Africans enslaved must have been much higher than that.

Even the most conservative figures show that the “Islamic powers” over their history (632 AD to present, approx 1380 years) have enslaved at the very least 66% more people than the Christian West over it’s history (approx 2000 years). 
Further it is also documented that the European slave trade was founded on the supply of slaves by muslim slave-traders who supplied about 80% of the slaves for the Atlantic slave-trade.
Thus, in total, muslims enslaved perhaps twenty-one million Africans – about nine million for the transatlantic trade and (as previously mentioned) a minimum of twelve million for the “internal” Islamic slave trade.
Furthermore, there are some aspects of Islamic slavery that are uniquely cruel. In the first place was the wide-spread Islamic practice of killing all the adult males captured in war or slave-raiding and only retaining the females, especially the children and fertile women. The latter were widely used as sex-slaves. (Harems containing many hundreds of sex-slaves are well documented in history.)
When the adult males were not killed they were frequently castrated. (Again the presence of numbers of eunuchs within the Islamic system is well documented.)
These two practices (slaughter and/or castration) had the consequence that the enslaved population had little or no chance to reproduce itself which meant that the surviving slave women could only have children fathered by their Muslim overlords. Since in Islam the child of a slave is a slave, the practice of castration was often carried out on subsequent generations also, thus the descendents of the slaves died out over time or, on occasion, were assimilated within the Muslim population.
(Sometimes Mussalmen married a slave – usually freeing her as her Mahr{10} – in order to aquire legitimate offspring.)
That the killing of the majority of the male population would have had a devastating effect on both the population of the peoples raided for slaves in particular and the population balance between muslims and non-muslims is self-evident and well documented in the case of India.{2}
Another source{5} claims that Jihad caused up to 270 million deaths. Given that jihad and slavery are inextricably linked in Islamic history, it is not beyond the bounds of reason that the upper limit for Islamic slave-taking is in the 100′s of millions range{6}.
Quoting N’Diaye again, he points out that “The slave trade of Negroes … was an invention of the Arab-Muslim world.  It was the Arabs, Berbers, Turks, and Persians, who originated this infamous practice long before the Europeans began the African slave trade. For one thousand years, they[Muslims] were trading in African people, from the 7th to the 16th centuries. They resumed the practice from the 19th to the 20th centuries, long after the Western nations had abolished this trade.” The only mistake here, due to the date of N’Diaye’s writing is that Islamic slaving continues into the 21st century also.
The modern situation{7}
In the West today, slavery of any sort is illegal. This should not be conflated with the criminal human-trafficking that still takes place within the West for the purposes of prostitution etc, that no (Western) Country sanctions.
The only slaves still found in the West are those that arrive as part of the entourage of (typically) diplomats who, due to their diplomatic immunity, are not prosecuted on the occasions when a slave escapes and goes to the Police.
Despite world-wide condemnation of slavery, it still exists today in the Islamic world, though on a reduced scale.
The abuse (both physical and sexual) of servants in Arab (esp. Saudi and Sudanese) households is well documented as well as the conditions under which they are kept prisoners within the “employers’” households. Whilst this could be considered as parallel to human-trafficking in the West, the comparison is false: whereas Western Countries try to rescue the victims and will prosecute those caught in this heinous activity when possible, no such redress – legal or civil – exists within parts of the Islamic world.
Children as young as 5 (yes five) years old from North African Countries such as Mauritania are sold as sex-slaves (under the guise of marriage to elderly men) into the Mid. East, especially Yemen, Saudi Arabia and UAE, from whence numbers have been rescued by Save the Children – rather than government agencies. Again this is not parallel to the general pattern of human-trafficking since these “child-brides” are knowingly sold for sexual purposes by their own families. (To be fair, from the Islamic perspective, there is nothing wrong with this child-marriage – except that the families get the bride-price or “Mahr” rather than the girl herself.)
In the Sudanese civil war, which cost two million (approx.) non-Muslims their lives, the Arab “Janjaweed” militia and the Islamic government forces made a practice of enslaving the young women when they razed villages and killed the men. Several charities bought these slaves back (thus freeing them) and helped them return home. Almost all had been multiply raped, many were pregnant by their rapists – which is pretty clear evidence of sexual slavery.
More recently (pre-2002) the Afghani Taliban and their allies (in particular “Mujahid”s from Pakistan) were in the habit of sex-slave raiding within Afghanistan itself. The Taliban and its allies were at war and in Islam war-booty has always included the women of a defeated enemy, thus when the Taliban et al “captured” a village (even if undefended), the women in it became the Talib’s property.
In Mauritania slaves and their off-spring are still handed down as chattels generation to generation.
Abduction, rape and forced conversion of non-Muslim girls and women in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and elsewhere is also reliably documented. In these last cases the situation is also more akin to that of claiming women as “war booty” rather than “conventional” slave-raiding, but in many respects the effects and the (lack of) response of the Authorities (Police, legal system) is similar. In any case, this is still the accepted and, apparently, Islamically acceptable abuse of non-Muslim women for sexual purposes.
Thus muslims still believe that the enslavement of others (in particular non-Muslims, especially women) is acceptable. Indeed the Muslim Sudanese claim that it is sanctioned by Islam itself, which whilst no more than the truth, is a bold claim to make in today’s World.

Taken together the evidence; religious, historical and contemporary; shows that:
  • Islamic slavery was pervasive, endemic and religiously sanctioned{8,9,11}.
  • That it continues to this day in the Islamic world where at best it is ignored and at worst actively and openly practiced and supported.
  • The evidence also “gives the lie” to the claim by those apologists for Islam who claim that “Islam abolished slavery”. This claim is, quite simply, a bare-faced lie; far from abolishing slavery, Islam regards the enslavement of women and non-Muslims as normative and regulates it legally within Sharia codes{8,9}
 References and notes
  1. White Slaves, African Masters, The University of Chicago Press 1999
  2. Islamic Jihad, M.A.Khan, iUniverse inc.
  3. Slavery in the Arab World, Murray Gordan, New Amsterdam Books, 1989, similar figure quoted by “”, a Muslim-authored site.
  4. Sharia Law for the non-Muslim, Bill Warner. CSPI. Available as pdf.
  5. The Submission of Women and Slaves, CSPI Publishing, p.181
  6. The scourge of slavery”, Christian action. This source suggests that ~140 million Africans were “victims” (either through being killed or enslaved) of the Muslim slave trade. However, I acknowledge that the source may be less than impartial.
  7. The evidence for my statements in this section are freely available on the web.
  8. Interestingly, the translators of the “Reliance of the Traveller” do not translate the entire “book” devoted to slavery on the grounds that “it is no longer relevant” (!) and they also assert that it is a fallacy to understand Islamic slavery in terms of Western slavery. Were the latter the case, they should have no qualms about presenting the translation!
  9. A quick “google” of “Sharia and slavery” shows an incredibly wide range of sources from all parts of the social-political spectrum (inc. Wikipedia and the BBC) all agreeing that Sharia regulates rather than abolishes slavery.
  10. Mahr or “bride-price” is a sum of money (or other valuables) paid to a women to “buy” use of her vagina and the right to get children on her as part of the “Nikah” (lit: “sexual intercourse”, usually translated “marriage”) contract. For a slave, the example of Mohammed is to free her (therefore not costing a penny) as this elevation in status was considered enough to buy her vagina.
  11. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (1292-1350 AD) who is one of the greatest scholars and chroniclers of Islam. In “Zad al-Ma’ad” (Part I, p. 160), commenting on the “holy” actions of Mohammed writes: “Muhammad had many male and female slaves. He used to buy and sell them, but he purchased more than he sold, especially after God empowered him by His message, as well as after his immigration from Mecca. … He was used to renting out and hiring many slaves, but he hired more slaves than he rented out.” 

        Source :