On March 25th of 2016 I was invited to do an early morning live interview for WJXT Channel 4 in Jacksonville. The topic, as usual, was a sobering one, as we were to discuss the terrorist attack that had taken place in Brussels a few days earlier on March 22nd. Three coordinated bombings by a ISIS affiliated terror cell had resulted in 35 deaths and over 300 wounded in Brussels, and the attackers had connections with the same cell that had carried out attacks in Paris four months earlier, which had resulted in 130 killed and 368 wounded. As I headed in to do the interview, I learned that I would not be doing it alone, as was usually the case, but this time the station had lined up another guest I had never met before, Dr. Ellen Glasser. As we did the joint interview, I did not really know anything about Ellen, as we had only briefly introduced ourselves beforehand, but I was very impressed with her commentary and felt considerably out of my league when I learned more fully of her background. Continue reading
It was recently announced that, for the second time in the last twelve months, that significant numbers of U.S. Marines have been deployed in the fight against the Islamic State. The first time was in March of 2016, when around 100 Marines were deployed to an artillery position in northern Iraq to support U.S. backed Iraqi forces in their assault on the city of Mosul, resulting in the first U.S. combat death in Iraq since 2011. This month we have word of a second, apparently much larger, deployment of U.S. Marines to Syria. They include members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unity (MEU) who have established an artillery base to provide support for U.S. backed local forces that have recently intensified their focus on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital city.
The Marines are not the only U.S. forces operating in Syria, as they are part of an estimated 400 additional U.S. troops being sent to the country to prepare for the fight to take Raqqa, which could represent one of the most significant and bloody battles of the war to date. Continue reading
Above Image: Cover of issue 4 of the Islamic State’s glossy English language propaganda magazine. Many of its issues contain references to the crusades or explicit crusading rhetoric.
In 2015 I had the pleasure of co-editing (w/Alfred J. Andrea) the book Seven Myths of the Crusades (Hackett, 2015). It includes seven essays by prominent crusade historians dealing with various popular modern “myths” related to the medieval crusading movement. While recently preparing for an upcoming talk at Georgia Southern University, titled “The Modern Politics of Medieval Crusading,” I was carefully rereading the various chapters of Seven Myths, and thought it worthwhile to briefly highlight one of them here.
One of the historians who agreed to contribute to our project was the distinguished American medievalist Edward Peters, the former Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania (now Professor Emeritus). Over the course of his career, his work on medieval inquisitions has been highly influential and his translations of crusade texts have been used in college or university classrooms for nearly two decades. Consequently, when Ed agreed to contribute a chapter to Seven Myths, co-authored with his talented former doctoral student Mona Hammad (Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Jordan), Al and I were elated. The combination of the two authors was ideal in light of the topic they considered in their essay, titled “Islam and the Crusades: A Nine Hundred-Year-Long Grievance?”
The subject of their essay is a potentially controversial one, particularly as it argues that much of the Islamic world’s modern memory of the medieval crusades, a memory which frames the crusades as a largely unprovoked Christian attack on the Muslim world, serving as a constant source of division and mistrust today, was only developed in the 19th and 20th centuries during an age of western imperialism that influenced its construction. Moreover, Ed and Mona’s essay emphasizes that it was essentially the modern imperialist west that taught the modern Muslim world to hate the crusades, as there had been relatively little concern about them expressed in texts by Muslim authors in the centuries prior.
Having a well known and highly respected medievalist like Ed, as well as Mona, who is fluent in Arabic and lives and works in Jordan, seemed like (and proved to be) an ideal pairing for the chapter. Anyone seriously interested in the topic should, of course, consult their work, but here I want to highlight only a few key parts of their otherwise much lengthier and more engaging essay. Continue reading
As anyone paying attention will know, the election of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. Presidency has roused the political left to an extraordinary degree. The most recent hot-button issue, at least until Trump announces his pick for the Supreme Court this evening, has been his executive order to ban travelers to the United States from Syria and pause (for 120 days) travelers from six other majority Muslim countries, including Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen. The order seems to target travelers from those countries seen as most problematic from the perspective of the U.S. government (e.g. civil wars, high levels of terrorism or Islamic extremism, Iran’s quarrels with the U.S., etc…).
Regardless of what partisans say on either side of the political isle, it’s a complex issue that needs serious consideration. Indeed, many are still debating the meaning and extent of the order.
I only have a few thoughts that I would like to lay out here, and realize this is by no means exhaustive analysis as far more has been written about the topic by others. Continue reading
In the summer of 2016, during an academic exchange trip that took me to the West Bank and Israel, I traveled with a small group of other academics affiliated with various universities. All of them had impressive backgrounds in their various disciplines and some of them were well traveled in the Middle East.
One of them was Dr. Jacek Lubecki, currently Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for International Studies at Georgia Southern University, and former Coordinator of International and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (2005 to 2012). During the course of our travels I became friends with Jacek, who obviously has a wealth of experiences due to extensive international travels. Because of his education, background, sense of humor, and warm personality, Jacek is also a great conversationalist, particularly during long trips from one region to another in the back of a cramped shuttle bus or (as I was fortunate to learn first hand) when sipping a beer in a smoke filled bar in Ramallah in the West Bank.
While Jacek has a lot of experience traveling and meeting with political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere, I came to find out that the primary focus of his research is actually Eastern Europe, with an emphasis on Poland where he was born and raised, and its relationship to Russia, which obviously has had considerable influence in the region and is often a source of concern for Eastern European states. Continue reading
For a long time, perhaps since shortly after World War II, it has become relatively common to label ones ideological or political opponents as “Hitler.” In U.S. political discourse in the 21st century, such a tactic has become particularly pronounced. All U.S. Presidents during this period, for example, have been called or compared to Hitler. Continue reading
Much news has been made recently about recently released statistics by the Chicago Police Department, which shows that the United States’ third largest city had 762 homicides in 2016. The numbers are stunning, but even more so for one who had been actively following U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have consumed much of the nation’s focus for the last 15 years (since September 11, 2001).
I could not help but think of how homicide rates in Chicago might compare with U.S. combat related deaths in the nation’s two major recent (and seemingly ongoing) wars.