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A Leviathan Conundrum

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 20, 2014

Around 4000 years ago, a covenant was made between Abram and the God. In it the God promised a stretch of land on the east coast of the Mediterranean to the descendants of Abram. Three sets of people believe in this covenant as part of their history; the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. For most part of the last 3000 years, these three people have dominated the population of this region and ruled over it.

The Jews consider themselves to have descended from Abram’s grandson, Jacob (Son of Isaac), while a large chunk of the Arabs deem themselves to be the descendants of Abram’s son, Ishmael (Non Arab Muslims include Persians (Iranians), Turks, Kurds etc). The Christians gave a reboot to Godly orders with the coming of Jesus, so the Promise of Land holds little contemporary significance to them.

For much of first millennium BC, the Levant supported a large Jewish population. They ruled the region for a while as well. But in 66 BC, the Jews fell under Roman hegemony thanks to a civil war within the ruling Hasmonean dynasty. In 37 BC, the Hasmoneans would be replaced by the Herodian dynasty who ruled Levant as a client of the Roman Republic. In 6 AD, the Romans annexed the kingdom but Herodians retained powerful positions within Roman administration. A revolt against Roman rule in 66 AD would eventually lead to the exhaustion of the remaining vestiges of Jewish rule within the Roman Empire. The gradual disintegration of Jewish power in the region helped in the rise of Christianity. Many of the early Christians were Jews, left disenchanted by their religious leaders.

Staying outside the Roman system of religion, both Jews and Christians were persecuted by the Romans. There were rebellions as well in the next century ending in defeat, but the revolt in 135 AD led to the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem. The Jewish hold on the Promised Land was now truly lost.

Countryless, Jews ventured out of their Promised Land after a long time. Though many stayed behind, Jews traversed the vast extent of the Roman Empire and had settled in communities of their own across Europe by the time the German tribes gained control of South Western Europe. With the Roman shift to Christianity, Levant reverted to the control of an Abrahamic religion. Christians retained control over the Levant till 613 AD, when it was conquered by the (Zoroastrian) Sassanid Empire of Persia. It should be noted that Jews had rebelled against the Christian Byzantine forces in the Levant during this time, suggesting that the Jews retained a formidable presence in the region. The Sassanid occupation was short lived. Byzantium would reclaim Levant in 627 AD, only to lose it again 10 years later to a new force – Muslims.

From then on, the Levant has been dominated by Muslims, except for a brief hiatus in 12th and half of 13th centuries owing to the Crusader intervention from Europe. Jews, who remained, remained under foreign rule. Among Muslims, Levant was first ruled by Arabs followed by the Berber Fatimids, Kurdish Ayyubids, the Mamluks (freed slaves of mixed origin) and finally the Ottoman Turks.

The Jews who had moved to Europe fared somewhat better. With restrictions in money lending on Christians, Jews flourished as moneylenders in Europe. However, they had to face persecution on and off for being an outsider in Christian Europe. Humans have had the chronic tendency to blame the outsider in bad times. Persecution would increase in the nineteenth century with the rise of the nationalistic fervor. The weakening of Ottomans and the break-up of the (German) Holy Roman Empire made way to many new nations in Europe. Jews, in the views of many Europeans, gave their religion precedence over the nation they lived in. This view festered around long enough to foster the support for an anti-semitic Adolf Hitler.

For most of nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was a nation on the verge of collapse. As early as 1855, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia had initiated talks to break up the dying Empire. He died later that year. But the expected collapse added zeal to the Jewish call for a return home – the Zionist movement. Levant eventually fell into British and French hands, with the help of Arab forces, after World War I with the demise of Ottomans. The French paved for republicanism in their sphere of influence which would eventually become Syria and Lebanon by the World War II. The British divided its realm along Ottoman lines. The former Sanjak of Jerusalem, which lied west of River Jordan, while the region east of it became the Kingdom of Jordan led by WWI ally, Abdullah I (Son of Husain ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, also a “male line” descendant of the Prophet, though Sunni).

The British retained control of the land between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan initially with a view to have a Jewish + Islamic state. The Arabs rebelled against the imposition and a peaceful resolution seemed to be not in the near future.

Hitler’s defeat toned down anti-Semitism in Europe but the underlying issue was not quelled. If left unattended, anti-Semitism would raise its ugly head once again in Europe. Humans have had the chronic tendency to blame the outsider in bad times. With the Zionist propaganda now in its full force, the solution for Europe seemed logical. However, the emigration of Muslims from the former Ottoman provinces in the Balkans and North Africa has perhaps negated its impact. Meanwhile, the descendants of Abram continue to kill each other off for the rite of the Promise much like the sons of Feanor chasing the Silmarils.


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Germany vs Argentina

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 13, 2014

Argentina has a large German immigrant population. Like neighboring Brazil, they also gained from the unstable Germany post Napolean, in their nascent years. Their natural rivalry with Britain meant that the Argentinians were encouraged to retain a strong bond with Germany. Argentina stayed neutral for WWI despite Germany sinking couple of Argentinian merchant vessels and their attitude continued for most part of WWII as well.

However that changed with Pearl Harbour. USA made a persistent attempt in recruiting all the other American nations to her side. A military overthrow and a new government would eventually lead to Argentina joining the Allies in March 1945, right in time for the victory dance. The relations between Argentina and Germany continue to remain strong, with Argentina accused (for good reason) of harboring escaped Nazi soldiers. For most part the German immigrants in Argentina are naturalized and speak Spanish, but their impact on the nation remain strong. The current President of Argentina has German ancestry via her mother.

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Netherlands vs Argentina

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 9, 2014

Netherlands and Argentina have very little in common historically except that they were ruled at different times by Spain. The traditional European rival of Argentina are the British who holds the contested Falkland Islands in the Atlantic. But even before that, Britain had occupied Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, briefly in early 1800s and later neighboring Montevideo (Capital of Uruguay), before being expelled by local forces paving way for Argentine independence.

Netherlands has a long history of presence in the Americas. They controlled Recife, one of the World Cup hosting towns, for more than two decades. Suriname, north of Brazil, is a former Dutch family. They had ventured into Chile and maintained a base there for a while. But the Dutch never managed to hold on to any position in present day Argentina.

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Brazil vs Germany

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 6, 2014

In the southern corner of Brazil there are the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. Along with neighboring Uruguay, they were a bone of contention for Spain and Portugal with competing claims. Eventually Uruguay fell under Spanish influence, while the Brazilian states were taken into Portugal. This changed in 1820s when Argentina and Brazil separated from Spain and Portugal respectively. A war was fought and Uruguay became independent.  The aforementioned states also formed a republic, Riograndese Republic, which was subsequently conquered by Brazil in 1845.

The formative years of the Riograndese Republic also saw a huge influx of immigrants from Germany. Germany, at that time, was a loose confederation of kingdoms, principlaties, duchies and counties, before being united into the German Empire in 1871. The 1820s saw an exodus of Germans to America for better opportunities away from the political uncertainties at home. Most of these immigrants went to USA, but a large chunk went to Brazil.

Today, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina share a strong German heritage. But things haven’t been all easy for Germans in Brazil. In its initial years. the Nazi party, looking to extend its influence outside Germany, looked for the German Brazilian population. For a while, the Nazi party in Brazil was the party’s largest foreign contingent. In both the world wars, Brazil started at a neutral position. But after Germany sunk Brazilian merchant ships during both the wars, Brazil took up arms against Germany.

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Netherlands vs Costa Rica

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 5, 2014

The year was 1624. The Dutch West India Company led by Jacob Willekens and Pieter Heyn landed in the Brazilian city of Salvador. Without support from Europe, the capital of Brazil did not stand much of a chance. A defence force of 3000 was prepared in haste to withstand the attacking navy, but many of the new recruits abandoned at first sight of the Dutch artillery. It soon fell to Dutch hands, but Dutch left behind a nominal force at Salavador and took the war booty back home. Salvador remained in Dutch hands for another year, till Brazil’s Spanish masters (Spain and Portugal was united during this time, so was Netherlands but they were actively in rebellion) send out a fleet in 1625. Salavdor was retaken after a short siege.

The Dutch would sent more fleets to Salvador for relief, but this time Brazil was better equipped and would never again fall into Dutch hands.

The year is 2014. A Dutch football team has landed in Salvador and will be taking on a group of Costa Ricans soon.

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Argentina vs Belgium

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 5, 2014

Not that long ago, Belgium spend a year or so without a working government. Having spend most of its history as part of different nations, Belgium became a single nation only in 1830, but it had a stitched up feel, with a Dutch north and a French south. In 2007, electoral differences between the two halves led to a 196 day hiatus in governance. The situation worsened in 2011 when it seemed for a while no government can be formed. Partition of Belgium into two was a frequently heard discussion. Eventually government happened, after 589 days.

Argentina had a difficult time in its formative years to form a government. Buenos Aires had something of a monopoly on trade given its strategic position and it wanted complete control of the nation. The result was a civil war with the federales on one side, looking for better representation of all provinces against the unitarios pushing the Buenos Aires agenda. From 1826-1880, Argentina was embroiled in a civil war to decide the position of Buenos Aires. During the inital years of the civil war, there was no government in Argentina with the nation remaining as a loose confederation of provinces. Buenos Aires would break away from Argentina in 1852 only to rejoin after victory in 1861. However, the tables got turned in 1880, with the federalization of Buenos Aires.

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Brazil vs Colombia

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 5, 2014

Brazil and Colombia share a boundary in the Amazon rain forest. One of the last places in the continent to be colonized, Brazil now controls most of the rainforest. Ironically it was the Spanish who made the initial settlements. Barred by the Treaty of Torsedillas of 1494, Portuguese stayed out of Amazon initially while Spanish conquistadors explored the region in search for booty. It was in 1615 that the Portuguese ventured out of their assigned area. Spain and Portugal was in union at this time, but it won’t be along before Portugal became independent.

In 1615, Portuguese seized the French base of Saint Louis (Present day Sao Luis in Brazilian state of Maranhao) and the next year gained control of the mouth of Amazon. Portugal gradually gained more land along the river moving upriver. Manaus, one of the host cities  of the World Cup and one of the city of Amazon’s origin was founded in 1694 by the Portuguese.  Soon it became a fight for control between Spain and Portugal. But instead of a fight by soldiers, it was by competing Catholic missionaries – Spanish Jesuits and Portuguese Carmelites. Eventually the Portuguese won out.

In 1750, the western border of Brazil separating it from the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru was decided. It took another decade or so to decide on the northern border separating Brazil from the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada (Of which Colombia and Venezuela were part).

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France vs Germany

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 4, 2014

The year was 843. The place was Verdun (Verdun-sur-Meuse in present day France). Three brothers; Lothair, Louis and Charles, assembled to divide the largest German nation among themselves. The Carolingian Empire covered present day France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Austria, Switzerland, northern half of Italy and parts of northern Spain. Amassed over a century, it was one of the largest nations in Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The three brothers, along with a fourth brother Pepin who died in 838, had been fighting the Emperor Louis I the Pious since 818 for control over his vast domain. For most part, thought, they had lost. But in 840, Louis I died and the brothers inherited the Empire from their father. In true Frankish custom, the realm had to be divided between the sons.

The eldest, Lothair, received the imperial title and Middle Francia, the middle part of the empire. Louis, also called the German, received the eastern part and Charles, the youngest also called the Bald, received the western part. As time progressed West Francia became France and East Francia became Germany.

Lothair died in 855 and Middle Francia was again divided between his three sons. But it didn’t take long for their uncles to attempt seizure of their lands. Since then the nations created by Louis the German and Charles the Bald – Germany and France, have been locked in battle for Lothair’s land. Recently the fighting has been largely limited to Alsace & Lorraine, currently in France, but have switched sides a few times the past two centuries.

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Belguim vs USA

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 2, 2014

Belgium and USA share a well connected history. It is in Brussels that the US led NATO found its headquarters, giving regional importance to an otherwise thrown around piece of land.

For most of its history, Belgium has had to play second fiddle to other nations. Like its northern neighbor, Belgium spend many years under French, Burgundian and Spanish rule. But while Netherlands was independent by 1640, Belgium was retained by Spanish thanks to the efforts of the Duke Alexander Farnese of Parma, the Governor General appointed by Spain (Also the great grandson of Pope Paul III). From there it continued to be part of other countries – Austria (after 1713), France (Part of Napolean’s Empire) and finally when it was added to Netherlands as a buffer between the Dutch and the French. However, the religious and economic differences of the two Low Countries forced Belgians to work towards independence, which it got in 1830.

Belgium was devastated by WWI and it took the efforts of a certain Herbert Hoover (Later US President) to rein in the world to support Belgium in their recovery. Hoover organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium which had a significant impact in helping Belgium. Belgium would later return part of the favor during WWII – by sourcing uranium from its African colonies.

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Argentina vs Switzerland

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 1, 2014

Both Argentina and Switzerland have the same unique talent. Both know how to get into very excessive debts very quickly. Unfortunately for Argentina, they tend to be bad in repaying their debts. For many centuries, the Swiss mercenaries fought in armies across Europe. Argentina’s colonial masters, Spain, also employed them, but it is doubtful that they were used in the American continents.

Switzerland was the base for a German tribe called Alemanni who were conquered by Franks. After 843, they became aligned towards Germany in the east. They sided with France in Burgundian wars against the German Emperor, Maximilian I (Formerly Archduke Maximilian of Austria who married the Duchess of Burgundy) and paved way for their independence and developed their reputation as a world beating force.

Argentina gained independence from Spain in 1816 after the Napoleanic Wars. It was a larger nation then including areas in present day Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, but it would soon break up. Even then, it would take some time for Argentina to become a stable nation. Civil wars continued till 1880 before Argentina could hope to remain as a single nation.

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