The Closing of the Muslim Mind – Robert R. Reilly

11083880_1616007045297664_6701187592594040451_n

Synopsis:

In his somewhat polemical book on early Islamic history Robert Reilly analyzes the dichotomous relationship between the Sunni theological schools of Mu’tazila and Ash’ari Islam. Mu’tazila held early primacy, and centered on rationalism as well as a sort of Monophysite understanding of the Godhead. By comparison, the Ash’arite school favored orthodoxy and dogmatism. Ultimately, Ash’arism triumphed, and historical counterfactuals abound relative to how Sunni Islam may have evolved had the Mu’tazila school prevailed.

Excerpts:

“In 750, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads, along with their doctrine of predestination. The Abbasids had cause to embrace the Mu’tazilites, who succeeded to the Qadariyya position. The Mu’tazilites agreed with the Qadariyya that, without man’s freedom, God’s justice is unintelligible. To be held justly accountable for his acts, man must be free. The political implications of this position favored the Abbasid attempt to rein in the power of the ulema (Islamic jurisprudential scholars), whose monopoly on the interpretation of the Qur’an gave them great influence.

“The freedom to interpret revelation was based upon the Mu’tazilite teaching, shocking to the traditionalists, that the Qur’an was created in time. The standard orthodox belief was that the Qu’ran is uncreated and exists coeternally with Allah.

“The Mu’tazilites held that man’s freedom is a matter of God’s justice, as is reason’s ability to apprehend an objective moral order.

“How does reason lead man to the conclusion of God’s existence? It is through his observation of the ordered universe that man first comes to know that God exists, says ‘Abd al-Jabbar. As he sees that nothing in the world is its own cause, but is caused by something else, man arrives at the contingent nature of creation. From there, man reasons to the necessity of a Creator, an uncaused cause; otherwise one is caught in an infinite regress of contingent things, a logical impossibility. (This was a familiar argument from both Greek philosophy and Christian apologetics.) It is through the observation of nature – the ways in which the world seems to move according to certain laws – that man comes to know God. God’s laws are the laws of nature (tab’), which are also manifested in divine law, the shari’a.

“The Ash’arites were particularly offended by the Mu’tazilite claim that unaided reason could discern good and evil. They vehemently denied this, and said that the Mu’tazilites were undermining the need for scripture by saying all men had access to this knowledge. If this were so, what would be the need for the Qu’ran (even though the Mu’tazilites held that revelation was necessary for God to make His way clear to man)?

*All excerpts have been taken from The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, ISI Books.

The Points Which the General Must Consider – Maurice Tiberius

Synopsis:

The Byzantines were the strategic culture par excellence of Western civilization for much of their more than thousand year history. The Strategikon was written during the reign of the Emperor Mauricius as a military and diplomatic guidebook for the Byzantine high command. It is a combined arms treatise which synthesizes components of cultural anthropology, psychological operations, tactical dispositions, human intelligence collection, military maxims, reconnaissance techniques, and lessons learned from the era of the Later Roman Empire. The Strategikon – when it was followed – acted as a combat multiplier for the often outnumbered Byzantine military, and even when defeated their opponents usually only won after a close-run contest.

Excerpts:

“For it is not true, as some inexperienced people believe, that wars are decided by courage and numbers of troops, but – along with God’s favor – by tactics and generalship, and our concern should be with these rather than wasting our time in mobilizing large numbers of men. The former provide security and advantage to men who know how to use them well, whereas the other brings trouble and financial ruin.

“Warfare is like hunting. Wild animals are taken by scouting, by nets, by lying in wait, by stalking, by circling around, and by other such stratagems rather than by sheer force. In waging war we should proceed in the same way, whether the enemy be many or few.

“Before any fighting the first and the safest thing to do is to choose a few experienced and lightly armed soldiers and have them very secretly carry out attacks against some detachments of the enemy. If they succeed in killing or capturing some of them, then most of our soldiers will take this as evidence of our own superiority. They will get over their nervousness, their morale will pick up, and they will gradually become used to fighting against them.

“Unless it is absolutely necessary, for a few days after a defeat in battle no attempt should be made to line up again and resume the offensive. It is better to rely on stratagems, deception, carefully timed surprise moves, and the so-called fighting while fleeing, until the troops come to forget their discouragement, and their morale picks up once more.

“There can be no rest until the enemy is completely destroyed. If they seek refuge behind fortifications, apply pressure by direct force or by preventing them from getting more supplies for men and horses until they are annihilated or else agree to a treaty to our advantage. One should not slacken after driving them back just a short distance, nor, after so much hard work and the dangers of war, should one jeopardize the success of the whole campaign because of lack of persistence. In war, as in hunting, a near-miss is still a complete miss.

*All excerpts have been taken from Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, University of Pennsylvania Press.

The Byzantine Art of War: Strategy and Tactics – Michael J. Decker

11392914_1643105282587840_1680882248293219721_n

Synopsis:

Chapter five of Michael J. Decker’s book on the Byzantine art-of-war recounts the strategy and tactics used by the Byzantine Empire throughout its long history. Decker discusses the stratagems, imperial ideology, and organization of the Byzantine state apparatus centered in its capital city of Constantinople. Following the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 this apparatus was irrevocably destroyed by the Latin West, and even after the reconquest of the city by the Greeks it was never again on the same order of magnitude or effectiveness as before.

Excerpts:

“…All wars were defensive. Even offensive campaigns were considered defensive, in that they aimed to recover land that had been seized from the empire and rightfully belonged to it, and this notion of the ‘forward defense’ or ‘active defense’ was something that the Romans probably imparted to Muslim jihad theorists.

“Experience taught the emperors that any period of peace was fleeting; never did this come into such sharp clarity more than in the events of the late 620s and 630s, when Heraclius found himself at the top of the wheel of fortune with his victories over the Persians, symbolized by his triumphant entry into Jerusalem in a spirit of millennial jubilation. The wheel turned, however, and within a decade Arab forces seized the whole of the Levant.

“Since the reign of Constantine I, the Romans had understood that the universe was ordered according to the principles of Christianity and the world was a reflection of the unseen cosmos:one God, one faith, one emperor, one empire.

“Subterfuge, bribery, and disinformation were prized bloodless means to undermine or dissolve enemies and were always preferred to open battle. The military manuals instruct, whenever possible, to bribe enemy commanders. Before campaigns on the frontiers, the general Nikephoros Ouranos (ca. 950-1011) ordered that gifts be sent to the emirs along the border in order for the bearers to collect intelligence and possibly induce the enemy to the Byzantine side or at least inaction in the coming conflict.

“The handbooks stress the need to surprise the enemy. Strategic surprise could be achieved by avoiding enemy agents, by disinformation, and by unexpected marches. The Strategikon warns that to avoid enemy spies armies should take little-used routes and march through uninhabited areas that were less likely to be under surveillance.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Byzantine Art of War, Westholme Publishing.

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire – Edward Luttwak

k

Synopsis:

Military historian and strategist Edward Luttwak traverses late Roman history as well as Byzantine history in order to examine the overarching schema, notions, and prevailing strategic outlook that maintained the Byzantine Empire for nearly a thousand years following the demise of the Western Roman Empire. Surrounded on all sides by enemies, and not having the manpower dominance of Republican Rome, the Byzantines were adept at remaining powerful by other means.

Excerpts:

“The Huns and all their successors inevitably used their tribute gold to buy necessities and baubles from the empire – special arrangements were negotiated for border markets – hence the gold exported to the Huns returned to circulate within the empire rather quickly, except for the minute fraction retained for jewelry.

“Much of what they did was calculated to preserve and enhance the prestige of the imperial court even as it was being exploited to impress, overawe, recruit, even seduce. Unlike troops or gold, prestige is not consumed when it is used, and that was a very great virtue for the Byzantines, who were always looking for economical sources of power.

“It might be said, therefore, that the loss of Syria and Egypt, unlike Latin speaking and Chalcedonian North Africa, was a mixed curse for the empire: it brought the blessing of religious harmony, and increased cultural unity.

“It is by that same logic in dynamic action and reaction that the victories of an advancing army can bring defeat once they exceed the culminating point of success, indeed victory becomes defeat by the prosaic workings of overextension.

“It starts with the simple, static contradiction of
sivis pacem para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war) and proceeds to dynamic contradictions: if you defend every foot of a perimeter, you are not defending the perimeter; if you win too completely, destroying the enemy, you make way for another; and so on.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, Edward Luttwak, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.