May 15, 1718 Rapid Fire

The lightly armed merchant vessel of the 18th century was ill equipped to oppose the swarming attack of a hundred or more pirates.  Enter history’s first, machine gun.

A story comes to us from the Revolution, of a battle near Boonesborough, Kentucky. A British officer dared to poke his head out from behind a tree. A split-second later he was dead, a lead ball in his head. It was a near-miraculous shot for the day, nearly 250-yards distant from the shooter. The man with the rifle was Daniel Boone.  The weapon was his famous Kentucky long rife.

It was a good thing that the man could shoot that weapon, because it took about a minute to load, aim and fire.  The smooth-bore weapons of the age were a little quicker. A skilled shooter could could get off 3 rounds per minute, but aimed fire was all but impossible at any kind of distance.

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Kentucky Long Rifle

Military tactics on land evolved toward massed firepower.  When large groups of men fired at one another, something was going to get hit.  Defending yourself at sea, was another matter.

Long before the revolt in Great Britain’s American colony, European navies abandoned oar-powered vessels in favor of sailing ships carrying tons of powerful cannon.  Not so the corsairs of the North African coast.

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Ottoman privateer Murat Reis, the Elder

 

The “Barbary pirates” of the Ottoman provinces of Algeria, Tunisia & Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco favored small, fast galleys, powered by combinations of sail and oar and carrying a hundred or more fighting men armed with flintlock, axe and cutlass.

Barbary navies never formed battle fleets, and would flee at the sight of European frigates.  These people were looking for lightly armed merchantmen.  They came to take hostages for the Arab slave markets.

The Arab slave trade was never racialized in the way of trans-Atlantic, chattel slavery.  Black Africans and white Europeans alike, were fair game.  Some historians assert that as many as 17 million entered the Arab slave markets, from Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Southeast Africa and Europe.

It was the enslaved mercenary armies of the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt and Syria, the Mamālīk (singular Mamlūk), who expelled the last Christian armies from the Levant in 1302, ending the era of the Crusades. For five-hundred years, elite slave armies called “Janissaries” formed the bulwark of Ottoman power from southeastern Europe to western Asia and north Africa.

Ohio State University history Professor Robert Davis estimates that Barbary corsairs captured as many as 1 – 1¼ million Europeans between the 16th and 19th centuries alone, kidnapped from seaside villages along the Mediterranean coast, England, and as far away as the Netherlands, Ireland and Iceland. Some 700 Americans were held in conditions of slavery in North Africa, between the period of the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

The lightly armed merchant vessel of the 18th century was ill equipped to oppose the swarming attack of a hundred or more pirates.  Enter history’s first machine gun.

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The “Puckle Gun”, patented this day in 1718

James Puckle (1667–1724) was a British inventor, barrister and author. The Puckle Gun, also called the “defence gun”, was a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock fitted with a revolving cylinder.  At a time when a trained shooter could load and fire no more than three times per minute, James Puckle’s weapon was capable of  nine.

The Puckle gun was intended for naval use, to prevent the boarding of ships at sea.  There were two variations, the first intended for use against Christian adversaries.  This one fired round balls. The second version was considered to be the more lethal of the two and fired square bullets, intended for use against Muslim Turks. According to the patent, square bullets would persuade the Turks of the “benefits of Christian civilization”. The weapon could also fire shot, with each discharge containing up to sixteen musket balls.

Among investors, there was little interest in the Puckle Gun, and the weapon never gained wide acceptance. Before the era of mass production,  gunsmiths had trouble reliably producing its small, complicated parts. One newspaper quipped that the gun “only wounded those who hold shares therein”.

In time, humankind would become much more adept at killing itself. Dr. Richard Gatling invented his multi-barrel, crank fired “Gatling Gun” in 1861, writing that his creation would reduce the size of armies and so reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease. With a rate of fire of up to 900 rounds per minute in the .30 caliber model, Gatling’s gun was popular from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 to the Anglo-Zulu war of two years later, and the “Rough Riders” assault up San Juan Hill.

American-British inventor Hiram Maxim invented the first true “machine gun” in 1884, by harnessing  the weapon’s recoil.  The Hiram gun was a favorite of colonial wars from 1886–1914, and variants entered the trenches of WW1.

It would take about a hot minute with the search engine of your choice, to realize that the practice of Muslim slavery, primarily (though not exclusively) at the expense of black Africans, continues to this day.

December 15, 1979 Iranian Revolution

Aside from some of the most dismal economic conditions in American history, the Iranian hostage crisis did more than anything else to doom Jimmy Carter, to a single term.

Ruhollah Mousavi, the name translates as “inspired of God”, was born in the Iranian village of Khomein, on September 24, 1902.  Born into a family of Shi’ite religious scholars, Mousavi was raised by his mother and aunt after his father was murdered while the boy was still an infant.  The mother and the aunt died in a cholera outbreak when he was 16. After that he was raised by his brother, Seyed Mourteza.

The family claimed to be directly descended from Muhammad, and both brothers were avid religious scholars, attaining the status of Ayatollah: Shi’ite scholars of the highest knowledge.

As King of Persia (Iran) since the 1920s, Rezā Shāh Pahlavi weakened the powers of religious leaders and pushed for a more secularized country.  Pahlavi’s reign was largely a force for modernization, but was often despotic, and failure to modernize a large peasant population paved the way to the Iranian Revolution.

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Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi came to power in 1941, following the Commonwealth/Soviet invasion of the Empire of Iran which forced the abdication of his father.

The years following WW2 saw a “growing nationalist mobilization against foreign domination” across the Middle East.  In Iran, increasingly politicized Shiʿite “Islamic Fundamentalist” sentiment took the form of the Fadā’iyān-e Islam, literally “Self-Sacrificers of Islam”, an activist organization founded by theology student Navvab Safavi and dedicated to “purifying” Islam through the assassinations of leading intellectual and political leaders.

Prime Minister Haj Ali Razmara was assassinated by Fadā’iyān-e Islam radicals in 1951, the organization’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Abol-Qassem Kashani becoming Speaker of the National Parliament.

In the early 50’s, secular Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh enjoyed an alliance of convenience with the hard-liner Kashani, mentor to the future Ayatollah Khomeini, at the same time seeking to blunt the political power of the Shah, believing that the Persian King should “reign, but not rule” in the manner of the constitutional monarchies of Europe.

In 1901, Mozzafar al-Din Shah Qajar, King of Persia, granted a 60-year petroleum search concession to British investor William Knox D’Arcy for £20,000, equivalent to $166 million in 2016.  By the WW2 period, support was building for state control of foreign-owned oil assets, many believing such policies to be the way forward to greater wealth and self-determination. Mossadegh attempted to negotiate a 50/50 split of oil profits, but the British controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) balked.

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Mohammad Mossadegh

Contrary to the American position at that time, the UK government began plans to undermine and overthrow the Iranian government.

AIOC refusal to submit to audit of its books led to the “Nationalization Crisis” of 1951, and the near-unanimous vote in the majlis to nationalize Iranian oil assets. Foreign-owned oil executives were expelled from the country, the British government enforcing an Iranian oil embargo while Prime Minister Mossadegh talked of a “cruel and imperialistic country” stealing from a “needy and naked people.”

With the United States fighting a war in Korea, the American government was deeply entrenched in a cold war mindset. Mossadegh had lost the support of Islamist hardliners by this time, for his failure to move the nation toward sharia-based theocratic government.

The communist-supporting Tudeh party began to infiltrate the Iranian military, persuading American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that the Iranian government was “falling” to the Soviet Union.

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Tehran University students, in the time of the shah

Before long, economic and political isolation severely weakened the Mossadegh government, as the American government switched sides on the question of Iranian overthrow.  Two UK/US-backed coup attempts followed in 1953, along with the temporary expulsion of the Shah. The government was done for good that August. Mohammad Mossadegh would spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini had formed very different views by this time from those of his teachers, concerning the separation of church and state.  Khomeini dedicated himself to teaching, cultivating a group of dedicated students who would one day become his staunchest supporters.  By the time of JFK’s election to the Presidency, Shi’ite Iranians regarded Khomeini as “Marja-e Taqlid”.  A person to be imitated.

Khomeini gained prominence in 1962, opposing a law which would remove the requirement that elected officials be sworn in on the Qu’ran. In 1963, he gave a speech suggesting the Shah could leave if he didn’t like the political direction of the country, a speech which earned him a stay in prison.

Khomeini was arrested again in 1964, after pronouncing his belief that Jews would take over Iran, and that the US considered all Iranians to be little more than slaves.  Khomeini was deported to Turkey, later taking up residence in Iraq because Turkish law prevented him from wearing the traditional clothes of a Shi’ite cleric and scholar.

During his years in exile, Khomeini developed his ideas on the structure of an Islamic state, which he called “Velayat-e faqeeh”.  He would lecture on his religious theories, videotapes of which were smuggled into Iran and sold at bazaars, making Khomeini the leader of Iranian opposition to the Shah’s government.

Iranian Revolution 4Military force had to be called out in 1975, to dispel crowds at a religious school in Qom.  Khomeini declared it the beginning of “Freedom and liberation from the bonds of imperialism”.  By this time Khomeini was too hot to handle even for the Iraqis, and he moved to Paris.  It was only a few short months before his triumphant return.

Thousands were killed in riots and demonstrations throughout 1978, which the Shah first tried to quell, and later to embrace.  “As Shah of Iran as well as an Iranian citizen”, Pahlavi said on November 5, “I cannot but approve your revolution”.

It was too little, too late.  Weeks later the Shāhanshāh, the “King of Kings”, left his country for good.

Iranian Revolution 2Khomeini re-entered Iran in February, as the Shah went from country to country, looking for a place to stay.  With the now-former King of Kings suffering from a form of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, President Jimmy Carter reluctantly allowed the Shah into the US for surgery. Pahlavi left on December 15, 1979 for Panama.

Iranian Revolution 1Meanwhile, now “Grand Ayatollah” Khomeini was denouncing what he saw as an American plot.  Revolutionaries stormed the American embassy and seized 66 hostages.  13 women and black Americans were released.  Richard Queen, a white man sick with Multiple Sclerosis, was released nine months later.  The remaining 52 hostages would be 444 days in captivity, paraded before television cameras in blindfolds as Khomeini denounced “The Great Satan”.

The US attempted a rescue on April 24, 1980.  “Operation Eagle Claw” ended in collision between aircraft and the death of eight American servicemen, an Iranian civilian, and the destruction of two aircraft.

Iran-hostagesAside from some of the most dismal economic conditions in American history, the Iranian hostage crisis did more than anything else to doom Jimmy Carter, to a single term.

Iranian revolutionaries wanted the Shah to stand trial for atrocities committed by his secret police, the SAVAK, but the Islamic Republic of Iran would easily match the worst of the Shah’s reign when it came to brutality.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is gone now, but his influence is very much alive.  If you want a fun read sometime, download the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Khomeini is personally named in the document.  Three times.

There is a quote, attributed to the Ayatollah, which says “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world”.

A 2007 article in the Economist calls the authenticity of this quote into question, noting that the Mullahs like to build up bank accounts in Dubai and Switzerland, behavior hardly consistent with such an apocalyptic world view.

As South Korean intelligence officials warn of a madman neighbor to the north “bartering” nuclear weapons for oil, the previous administration concluded a comprehensive “Nuclear Agreement” with Iran, replete with secret side deals, including $400 billion in cash flown into Tehran in the middle of the night.

While the current administration mulls over the re-certification of that deal, it would be nice to settle the authenticity question on that Khomeini quote, once and for all.

October 18, 1009 The Mad Caliph

Christians and Jews had had relatively cordial relations with the Caliphs who had come before, but Al-Hakim was different. Some believed his every action to be right and just, others that he was overcompensating for being borne of a Christian mother. Many believed he was simply insane.

According to Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death in the year 33AD. He was crucified on Mount Golgotha, his body buried in a tomb carved out of the rock of a nearby garden. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead. From that moment to this, the Tomb of the Resurrection has been at the center of all Christian faith.

roman templeIn 132, the Roman Emperor Hadrian all but erased all sign of Jewish and Christian presence, in the old city of Jerusalem. Golgotha and the Tomb were obliterated, and a pagan temple to Venus Aphrodite was raised in their place.

Constantine the Great, Rome’s first Christian Emperor, destroyed the pagan temple in the 330s, bringing the tomb back to light and building a magnificent complex on the site.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

It was almost 300 years later that, according to Islamic faith, the Angel Gabriel revealed the Word of God (Allah) to the prophet Muhammad.   In the years following the death of Muhammad in 632, the armies of the Rashidun or “Rightly Guided” Caliphs swept across the Arabian peninsula and laid siege to Jerusalem, conquering the city in 637.  The Rashidun Caliphate was replaced by the Umayyad a short 24 years later, only to be replaced by the Abbassid, in 750.  Within 400 years, these first three Caliphates in the history of Islam had expanded the faith from the borders of China and India, to Visigothic Spain.  Five million square miles, larger than any modern state, with the sole exception of the Russian Federation.

In the years that followed, Jews and Christians were able to practice their faith in the conquered city with varying degrees of freedom. That came to an end in 1009.

Al-Hakim_bi-Amr_AllahAl-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, (literally “Ruler by God’s Command”) was the 6th Caliph of the Fatimid Dynasty, coming to power in October of 996.

He was the “Mad Caliph”, the “Nero of Islam”. In September of 1009, Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of all churches, synagogues, Torah scrolls and other religious artifacts throughout Jerusalem, Syria and Egypt. Most especially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, whose destruction was carried out on this day, October 18, 1009.

The Church of Calvary and the Martyrium were demolished, and the Edicule of the Tomb dismantled.  Furnishings and equipment were stolen or destroyed.  So complete was its destruction that the rock beneath its foundation was hacked, and then the rubble set ablaze.  Only remnants of the Constantinian structures of the Anastasis remained, submerged under demolition debris.

All of Christendom recoiled in horror, at the desecration.  It was no small part of what led to the 1st Christian Crusade to retake Jerusalem, though that wouldn’t take place for another 100 years.

Unlike the Fatimid Caliphs who came before, Al-Hakim persecuted the “dhimmis” under his control, launching campaigns of destruction throughout Palestine and Syria in 1011 and again in 1013-14.

Church-of-the-Holy-Sepulchre

The reasons are unclear.   Christians and Jews had had relatively cordial relations with the Caliphs who had come before, but Al-Hakim was different. Some believed his every action to be right and just, others that he was overcompensating for being borne of a Christian mother.

Many believed he was simply insane.

Al-Hakim became increasingly erratic in the following years, issuing edicts forbidding the eating of certain foods, dictating what fishermen were permitted to catch, and prohibiting chess. Women were proscribed from going outside.  Shoemakers were forbidden from making women’s shoes. One day he ordered Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, the next day he’d rescind the order. Hakim would personally murder or cut off the hands of slave or dignitary, without warning, and without reason.  He was feared by Muslim and Christian emissaries alike.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt between 1042-1055 with funding from Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus, though it would never regain the magnificence of Constantine’s original structure.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Al-Hakim himself went out for a ride one night in October 1021, and never returned. All that was ever found of him was his blood stained clothing, and his donkey.