Few people have ever heard of the Khwarezmian Empire. At one time, it extended throughout Central Asia, from the shores of the Caspian Sea to India, and encompassed most of modern day Iran.
A trade expedition was sent from the East to the city of Otrar, in hopes of establishing a peaceful commerical relationship. Perhaps suspecting the merchants as spies, the Governor of Otrar had them executed and confiscated their goods. Not wishing this incident to turn into a precursor to war with the powerful Khwarezmids, a second diplomatic expedition was sent to protest the deaths of the merchants, with the request for appropriate reparations. These men were taken before the Shah, Ala ad-Din Muhammad, who had them shaved bald, beheaded, and the heads sent back, with a refusal to pay reparations for the actions of the Governor of Otrar.
This displeased the ruler in the East, and so in 1218, the Great Khan – Genghis Khan - assembled 200,000 men and marched on the Khwarezmian Empire. Khwarzemids piss off the wrong guy, maybe? Yeah, you got it. Were they worried? Nah. They outnumbered the Khan's army four to one. The Mongols had nothing but light cavalry, and were going up against well equipped and armed infantry and heavy cavalry, defending some of the most heavily fortified cities in the world. Classic case of overconfidence? Ohh, yee-ah, baby.
Two years later, the Empire was in ashes, the Governor and Shah dead, the Shah’s son the sultan fled into India. For the Muslim populations, defeat went beyond simple military conquest. It seemed that God had forsaken them. The Mongols cultivated this idea. After capturing Bukhara, Genghis Khan ascended the pulpit in the Friday mosque and announced:
“THOU HAST SINNED, O ISLAM! AND I… I AM THE WRATH OF ALLAH!”
Is that what he said? Nah. That’s what I say he said. Historical accounts go something like this:
“O people, know that you have committed great sins, and that the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you”.
I love that story.
Now, the viewpoint from the Muslim lands is that this was the beginning of the end for the Golden Age of Islam. The Muslim lands would never recover from the Mongol Catastrophe. Coupled with the internal splintering of religious sects, charges of heresy, assassinations, squabbles and power grabs among the religious and political leaders, along with the occasional irritation of the European Crusades, and it was the end of the golden age of free inquiry, empirical investigations, and advances in science, philosophy, and medicine.
Some (unfair) blame has been cast at the feet of one Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al Ghazali, a tenth century philosopher and theologian.
During his lifetime, orthodox interpretations of faith were challenged, and skepticism was on the rise. The rap goes along the lines that, like the mullahs of today, he forbade this type of thought, and the tide of religion was turned back towards tradtional belief. Culture was thus “frozen” and no further advances have taken place within the Muslim world.
The Muslim world is, by and large, a brutishly backward place. In terms of economic development, they rank second to last only behind Africa. While abject poverty is rare, most of the population – despite the enormous energy wealth – is barely getting by. Public health, literacy, life expectancy, education and the sciences are all at a dismal level.
So, is this the Mongols fault? Or al Ghazali’s?
It’s quite simply because they have fucked-up leaders.
You know, the more I read history, the more I realize it is the story of psychopaths. Occasionally brilliant, ruthless, psychopaths. But more normally, shallow-pated, narrow-browed, blunt-skulled (can I make the brain smaller in any other dimension?) motherfuckers more interested in puffing up their sick, fucked-up, grisly, malformed personalities through petty rivalries and fratricidal conflict.
This is not to say the Muslim world has a monopoly on this type of intestinal parasite. The rest of the world, most notably Europe and America, has had very healthy franchises going.
As the Russians say, “Whether salt water or fresh, shit floats to the top”.