Thursday, November 19, 2015

Clashes of Civilizations - Mongols and ISIS

ISIS and the Mongols. Is there something we can learn from the Mongol exploits throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe that will inform the civilized world's response to ISIS? The confluence of societies today are writing a complicated history that will eventually unfold into something more clearly distinguishable. While the so-called clash of civilizations (Huntington) taking place today seems out of sorts in the grand scheme of international relations, there was a similarly complicated period in the 13th century in which Christendom (particularly Catholicism), Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other societies clashed during Mongol expansion.

A fascinating read from 1955 by historian Christopher Dawson reveals the interplay among them all and how overlapping alliances formed to confront each other’s adversaries. The introduction alone is enough to get a good sense of the complicated challenges facing each societies’ ways of life. Granted, there has been some debate over the years as to the accuracy and authenticity of the various letters exchanged between Mongol Khans and Papal envoys. Furthermore, Dawson was a scholar who focused on the history of the Catholic church, so you'll sense his influence.

Nevertheless, the broader historical point seems true - that Mongol expansion tested the "national interest" of several civilizations and threatened to upset each civilization's "way of life" - a truism that seems to be taking place in today's context. Consider Dawson's exposition in the context of the West, the U.S., Europe, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Syria and...ISIS. To what extent can the contest of alliance making during the Mongol expansion inform today's interactions between Western states and Russia as they confront extremist expansions out of the Middle East?

You can access Dawson's book here:

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