Monday, September 05, 2011

The Arab Conquest -- Massacre, Enslavement, Population Transfer, and the like

Emet m'Tsiyon

Descriptions written nowadays of the Arab/Muslim conquest of the Fertile Crescent lands [633-642] often paint a benign, mild picture of the conquest, which supposedly did not cause major inconvenience or disruption in the daily lives of the inhabitants and made few changes. Even a respected historian like Bernard Lewis leaned towards this edulcorated or embellished view in his The Arabs in History. Carl Brockelmann, the German, does likewise, writing: Emperor Heraclius [of the Byzantine Empire]. . . In 632. . . installed Cyrus . . . both as patriarch of Alexandria and head of the civil administration at the same time. His ecclesiastical policy and his tax demands weighed so heavily on the Copts that they necessarily greeted the Arabs as emancipators, just as their Syrian fellow [monophysite] believers had done. . . In return for the promise of a fixed payment of tribute [jizyah] the Muslims bound themselves to leave the Christians in possession of their churches and not to interfere in the administration of their communal affairs. . . [C Brockelmann, History of the Islamic Peoples (New York: Capricorn 1960), pp 56-57]

In Egypt, as in the other provinces, the Muslims took over the substance of their predecessors' administrative system; they even left all their functionaries at their posts, which were generally administered by Copts later also. [This seems generous, but the Arabs, nearly all of them illiterate, were not fit for administration] [p 57]
. . . `Umar dispatched Khalid ibn-Thabit to conquer Jerusalem, which soon surrendered; `Umar himself approved the rather mild terms [p 55]
The cities and rural areas which had submitted to the Muslims without a struggle retained their freedom and their property. . . Localities which had had to be taken by force of arms fell to the victors as booty [p 61]

Brockelmann rightly points out that Muslims placed the conquered cities in two classes, those that had surrendered and those taken by force. However, despite what Brockelmann says, even those who surrendered might be dispossessed, as we shall see below.

In short, there is a common tendency to whitewash the Arab conquest. These mild portrayals of the Arab Conquest often serve the policy needs of 21st century empires, just as today's "neo-colonialism theory" and anti-Zionism often serve those same interests.

The edulcoration notwithstanding, documents from the early period of Arab rule often depict a brutal murderous conquest. Now, Milka Levy-Rubin, an Israeli historian has thoroughly examined Arabic and non-Arabic sources, as well as archeological findings, to show that whereas in some places --typically inland and hilly areas-- the conquest was relatively rather mild, along the coastal plain of the Levant, from Ashqelon to Antioch, there were population transfers, enslavement and massacres of recalcitrant cities and towns, flight by masses of inhabitants, especially Christians, but others as well, induced emigration of non-Arabs soon after the conquest, the takeover by Muslims of homes abandoned by the refugees, who had often hoped to return if the Byzantine Empire had succeeded in retaking their cities, confiscation of homes for the sake of Arab warriors, new populations replacing the old ones, etc. She cites one case where Jews were brought in to replace Christians. One can imagine that these Jews had also been forcibly uprooted from their homes and brought to a coastal city for the conquerors' purposes.

Levy-Rubin makes clear that the reason why inland areas suffered less change in their daily lives and less oppression is that the conquerors feared that if the Christian population --Greek and Aramaic-speaking-- stayed in place in the coastal cities and towns, they might aid a future Byzantine attempt at reconquest. The Jews on the other hand could be trusted more by the Arabs since they had their own resentments of Byzantine anti-Jewish policy. Nevertheless, Jews too suffered from the conquest as in this Syriac account which depicts Jews being massacred along with Samaritans and Christians east of Gaza. Levy-Rubin writes that even after conquest of a town or city had been completed, the conquerors might try to induce the native population to leave. This policy succeeded in several places and in some places freed up the homes formerly housing the departed natives for Arab settlement. We know that many Jewish homes in Tiberias --for example-- were taken over by Arab settlers, although it is not certain that the Jews had left before their homes were taken over.

Here are some passages quoted from Milka Levy-Rubin's article. It represents important, thorough research:

We learn from the words of al-Baladhdhuri [Muslim historian writing in Arabic, died ca. 892] that the northern coastal strip was mostly evacuated of its inhabitants. . . Among the cities of which many of the inhabitants left, he counted. . . Gabala [not to be confused with Gbal = Byblos], Antarados (Tartus), Trablus (Tripolis), Beirut (Berytos), Tyros (Tyre, Sour [= Tsor]), Sidon. [M Levy-Rubin, "The [Arab] Conquest as a Shaper of the Map of Settlement in the Land of Israel in the Early Muslim Period," Cathedra (September 2006; Jerusalem, Yad Ben-Zvi, in Hebrew), p 56]

Meanwhile, Antioch [Antiochia, Antakiya] and Laodicea [Latakiya],

were partially abandoned [p 56]


Caesarea was conquered by the sword [that is, it did not surrender] and its inhabitants were taken captive [and sold as slaves], and it seems that `Akko and Ashqelon too were mostly evacuated of their Christian inhabitants in the end. At the end of the process, the coastal strip was emptied of the overwhelming majority of its previous inhabitants, and the latter were replaced by a new population. [p 56]

What can we learn about the way in which the Christian population was evacuated from the coastal cities? At which stage of the conquest and in which way was it evacuated? . . . In many cases, the city was conquered first and only afterwards abandoned by its inhabitants. [p57]

Milka Levy-Rubin continues her article with details illustrating what happened in particular cities. We will return to her picture of events which vitiates much of Brockelmann's mild depiction, and the claims of other embellishers and edulcorators as well. And her main source is al-Baladhdhuri, a Muslim historian.

At a time, when charlatans like the late Edward Said have demanded adherence to an embellished picture of Arab and Islamic culture in the name of "leftist" political correctness --in the name of "anti-imperialism," God save us-- yet often serving the contemporary policies of empires, the ugly truth is a necessary corrective.
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1 comment:

Abdul said...

As for al-Balaadhiri i.e. Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Jabir (d. 279) - upon whom rely certain people - he was a court genealogist and poet, not a hadith expert even if al-Dhahabi mentions him in Tadhkirat al-Huffaz because of his erudition. His masterpiece is Ansaab al-Ashraaf, which he did not complete. One might say he is the archetype of the Abbasid historian full of anti-Umayyad stories. He became insane in later life because of excessive consumption of memory-strengthening anacardium nuts (balaadhir). Imam al-Shafi`i and Ibn al-Jawzi also used them, the former died "early" at 54 of chronic hemorroids and the latter lost his beard, rahimahum Allah. It is strange how much some people rely on al-Balaadhuri for what suits their lusts.