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subtitle: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda
by Yaroslav Trofimov
Trofimov has a fascinating background. Born in 1969 in the Ukraine, he has been a reporter for many years, most recently covering the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal. Though he was barely ten years old when the events described in this book occurred, he has done an incredibly thorough job of researching, uncovering, and ferreting out the facts (against formidable obstacles) and reconstructing the events of November, 1979.
To say that 1979 was a turbulent year is to understate the obvious. In January of 1979, the Shah of Iran fled his country. In February of 1979, the Ayatollah Kohmeini returned to Iran from exile in France and took power as the head of a theocratic state in Iran. In the spring and summer of 1979, 70 percent of US gas stations shut down because they were out of fuel. Long lines of cars waited to get gas, and in some areas of the US there was rationing.
On November 4th of 1979, “revolutionary” students (Shiite followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini) in Tehran stormed the US embassy and took sixty-six US diplomatic personnel hostage.
On November 20th of 1979, a group of Sunni Wahabi fundamentalists seized control of Islam’s holiest shrine, the Grand Mosque of Mecca. Their leader was Juhayman al Uteybi, a retired corporal of the Saudi National Guard. The Whahabi fundamentalists were dissident critics of the Saudi royal house. They rejected any compromise with western or modern ways and were particularly outraged by the introduction of television to Saudi Arabia and to changes in the traditional, subservient roles assigned to women. Most of the Wahabi fundamentalists were descended from the Bedouins of Arabia – an ethnic group which had long been resentful of their conquest and oppression by the House of Saud.
It took the Saudi government two weeks to defeat the rebels and regain control of the Mosque. The 400 rebels came armed with rifles and grenades, and it eventually took the use of artillery and armored personnel carriers inside the Mosque to subdue them.
Less than a month after the uprising at the Grand Mosque, in December of 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Saudi government used the outrage of the Islamic world to divert the zeal of the Wahabi fundamentalists into a jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Although almost all the rebels who carried out the attack on the Grand Mosque were killed in battle or executed soon thereafter, they had many sympathizers and co-conspirators. Many of these traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan in the 1980’s to fight the Russians. They saw the humiliating defeat and withdrawal of the Russians in 1989 as simply one step in the grand cause of purifying Islam of Western influence and Islamic countries of all Western presence. After 1989, the jihadi’s turned their sights from Russia to the US, and after a decade’s campaign where they attacked the US in Africa and Arabia, they were prepared for a spectacular strike on the US itself.
This book serves three very valuable purposes. First is the reconstruction of the seizure of the Grand Mosque itself and the inept and uncoordinated struggle of the Saudi government to retake it. Second, the book contains a succinct and illuminating history of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia that will help everyone in the west to understand what a fragile coalition of competing tribal interests it is. For instance, I had not known that there are at least three separate major ethnic, tribal groups within Saudi Arabia – the Sunni tribes along the western, Red Sea shoreline, the Bedouin nomadic herdsman of the interior, and the Shia clans along the eastern, Persian Gulf shoreline. Each group is then further sub-divided along clan and family groups. Third, the book analyzes how the zeal of the Wahabi fundamentalists achieved international influence, allied first and foremost with a network of Egyptian plotters. These Wahabi fundamentalists (tolerated, subsidized, and feared by the Saudi monarchy) became the core of Al Qaeda.
Trofimov has done an incredible service for all those who want to understand the times and the conflict between Islam and the West which has dominated history for the last thirty years. Penetrating the reticence and secrecy of the Saudi kingdom is a formidable task. That Trofimov was able to track down so many eyewitnesses of the events of 1979 and piece together their accounts is astonishing.
I highly recommend this book for all those interested in understanding the times in which we live.
The Siege of Mecca can be ordered from Greenleaf Press by clicking here.
subtitle: Refuting Nazi Connections and Other Modern Myths.
by Uwe Siemon-Netto
Was Luther an anti-semite?
Was Luther (and/or Lutheranism) responsible for the rise of Hitler and the acquiescence of the German people in the crimes of the Nazi’s?
Uwe Siemon-Netto is uniquely qualified as an author and a theologian to write on these topics. He gives his reasons for writing in the preface to his book:
“1) I am a journalist.” Siemon-Netto spent 50 years as a correspondent, first as a reporter on American affairs for German language publications, and then, eventually as the religious affairs editor for UPI. He covered events from the assassination of President Kennedy and the Vietnam War to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the first Gulf War in 1991.
“2) I am a Lutheran.” Not just a nominal Lutheran – Sieman-Netto is a German-born, committed Lutheran who learned a deep faith from his devout, courageous grandmother and who at age 50 decided to pursue both ordination and earned a masters and doctorate in theology.
“3) I am a Leipziger.” Siemen-Netto was born in Leipzig in 1936. The Mayor of Leipzig (Carl Goerdeler) was a committed Lutheran Christian and a member of the “Confessing Church” in Germany (along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller) which resisted Hitler.
The first two chapters in the book present the problem: the association of Luther with Hitler publicized by William Shirer, Thomas Mann, and Lord Vansittart of the British Foreign Office.
The remaining three chapters demolish this cliche and show what a false picture of Luther it presents. Those who would accuse Luther of being a racist anti-semite must overlook his 1523 essay: That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. Here is a quote from Luther from that essay: “If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian.”
In the remaining three chapters, Netto first examines the religious backgrounds of the Nazi leadership (none were Lutheran – Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, and Streicher were all lapsed Catholics) as well as their stated religious convictions (they were all rabidly anti-Christian neo-pagans). Netto dryly observes that no critics appear to have blamed Hitler on Catholic theology. Netto then goes on to examine Lutheran theological teaching on obedience to authority and resistance to tyrants. In his historical analysis, Netto is able to show that Luther’s teaching is no different from Calvin’s (who is usually credited as the author of the doctrine of godly resistance).
Finally, Netto gives two historic examples of Lutheran resistance to tyranny – both historically centered on Leipzig. He analyzes at length the opposition to Hitler by the Lutheran Mayor of Leipzig, Carl Goerdeler, who was executed in February of 1945 for his part in the plot to assassinate Hitler (Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also among the conspirators who was executed). He shows convincingly, that the profound Christian faith of Goerdeler and Bonhoeffer led them to resist Hitler, rather than to acquiesce. He shows that they were the authentic heirs of Luther.
His second example is the Lutheran leadership of the resistance to the East German government in the uprisings in Leipzig in 1989. The fact that the East German government was overthrown with almost no bloodshed is remarkable. Netto documents the role played by the Lutheran church in resisting the tyranny of the communist government in East Germany. See, for example, this essay on the internet: An Introduction to the Role of the East German Protestant Church in the Peaceful Revolution of 1989.
There may have been some defect in German character or German political traditions which allowed the rise of Hitler to power and the failure to prevent his crimes – but it cannot be laid at the feet of Martin Luther. Committed Lutherans opposed Hitler. Lapsed, uncommitted, nominal Christians looked the other way. Neo-pagans and secularists supported him.
This is an important book. Those who would criticize Luther, or blame him for the rise of Hitler should read it. It will give them pause, and suggest that the responsibility for Hitler lies elsewhere.
Those interested can order the book from Greenleaf Press.
There is trouble in the land of the Egyptologists. The history of Ancient Egypt remains a fascinating topic for a large number of people. The significance of Egypt as a partner and antagonist for the nation of Israel is undeniable. But academia at large, and Egyptologists in particular have been reluctant to admit what has become increasingly obvious over the past 20 years – the accepted chronology of Egypt must be drastically revised. The chronology of Israel, by contrast, has a high degree of confidence among scholars. It appears that the Ancient Egyptians have succeeded for a century or more in hoodwinking the rest of the world by exaggerating the antiquity of their dynasties. Velikovsky pointed out many of the problems in the 1950s and 1960s, but was dismissed (unfairly) as a crank. In the 1990’s, David Rohl and Peter James offered new evidence documenting the dating problems and offering several new revised timelines that would better fit the data. We sold Rohl’s Pharaohs and Kings through Greenleaf when it came out. I wish it were still in print.
There’s a new book that picks up the argument, reinforces and advances the investigation and presents an update to the proposed “new chronology” of Egypt. The book is Unwrapping the Pharaohs by John Ashton and David Down. This is an exciting time for Egyptologists! The field is wide open and ripe for new discoveries, new analysis, and new ideas. The crux of the Ashton-Down book is a revision of the Egyptian timeline and an exploration of the new synchronicities which occur. The text is beautifully illustrated with lots of new color photographs, taking full advantage of the recent discoveries in Egypt made during the last 20 years. Also included with the book is a DVD with 86 minutes of foot filmed on location in Egypt. On pages 205-210 of the book is the payoff – a proposed detailed revised chronology which eliminates the First Intermediate Period and drastically shortens the Third Intermediate Period. This makes Hatshetsup a contemporary of Solomon (and possible the Queen of the South?) and Rameses II (Rameses the Great) a contemporary of Jeroboam II. Ashton-Down agree with Rohl in asserting the the Plagues of the Exodus (especially the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the crossing of the Red Sea) are the reason for the astonishing conquest of Egypt by the Hykos c. 1440 BC. For all those who are interested in Egypt, and especially those looking for evidence that confirms the biblical account and reconciles Egyptian history with the biblical dates, I highly recommend this book.
A second book on Egypt, also high recommended, is Imagining Egypt by Mark Millmore. The book combines stunning color photography of Egyptian monuments with computer graphic recreations of what the Egyptian temples and villas would have looked like in ancient times. In addition, the book includes a wonderful chapter with a detailed explanation of the system of symbols used in hieroglyphic inscriptions. In addition to the computer graphic recreations of ancient monuments, the book also includes current photographs, original diagrams, maps, and timelines. A fascinating book that helps us to imagine what Egypt looked like at the height of its glory.
Aside from the fact that the title has a marvelously poetic rhythm to it, this is a thoroughly delightful classic children’s biography by an accomplished children’s author. Jean Fritz has written dozens of biographies and a number of very good works of historical fiction. Although its been in print for quite a while, this biography of Patrick Henry remains one of her best.
May 29th is Patrick Henry’s birthday and the “hook” on which she hangs her narrative. She begins by describing what life was like in Hannover County, Virginia in 1736, the year that Patrick was born (four years after the birth of George Washington). She describes his childhood (much time devoted to hunting, fishing, and exploring the wild Virginia forest), his education (taught at home by his father, who had a university degree), and tells some amusing anecdotes remembered by his friends (he was fond of dunking them in the creek by tipping over their canoe!).
Fritz describes Patrick’s improbable introduction to the practice of the law. As a young newlywed in his 20’s, he was helping his father-in-law run an Inn and Tavern. Most of their business came from the quarterly sessions of the county court which Patrick found a fascinating source of entertainment. At 24, he decided that he would like to try his hand at lawyering. This isn’t as improbable as it sounds. Henry was a serious intellect and once the subject of law caught his interest, he applied himself rigorously to mastering it. After “reading the law” for a year, he passed an oral examination by three lawyers in Williamsburg and was licensed to practice in the colonial courts.
Fritz then describes the first big case that established Henry’s reputation as a gifted orator and a legal mind to be reckoned with: the “Parson’s Case” of 1763. A group of Virginia parsons appealed a Virginia colonial law which converted the obligations of their parishioners from payment in tobacco to payment in cash. When the price of tobacco tripled, the Parsons felt they had been cheated and they appealed to the King of England. The King obliged them by vetoing the Virginia law and ordering the colonials to pay up. The Parsons then sued their parishioners for damages and back pay. Patrick Henry, age 27, took the case of the parishioners. Here’s Fritz’s description of what happened at the trial:
“Patrick Henry straightened up, he threw back his head, and sent his voice out in anger. How did the king know how much Virginians could pay their parsons? he asked. What right did he have to interfere? . . . The crowd sat transfixed . . . He talked for an hour. What about the parsons? he asked. Were they feeding the hungry and clothing the naked as the Scriptures told them to? No, he said. They were getting the king’s permission to grab the last hoecake from the honest farmer, to take the milk cow from the poor widow.”
The jury awarded the Parsons damages and back pay – but set the amount at one penny for each Parson.
Two years later, age 29, Patrick Henry was elected to the House of Burgesses, the legislature of the colony of Virginia. His first speech was a denunciation of King George and Parliament’s imposition of the Stamp Act – taxes on the colonies, imposed without their consultation or consent. He denounced the King in such strong language, that the king’s defenders rose to their feet and shouted, “Treason!” Patrick Henry’s reply was, “If this be treason, make the most of it!”
Ten years later, in 1775, age 39, Patrick Henry delivered his most famous speech. Henry had had enough of the King’s treatment of the colonists. He perceived correctly, that the King had already dispatched troops from England to force the colonists to pay the taxes he demanded.
“Gentlemen may cry peace, peace,” he thundered, “but there is no peace. . . Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Patrick bowed his body and locked his hands together as if he, himself were in chains. Then suddenly he raised his chained hands over his head. “Forbid it, Almighty God!” he cried. “I know not what course others may take but as for me –” Patrick dropped his arms, threw back his body and strained against his imaginary chains until the tendons of his neck stood out like whipcords and the chains seemed to break. Then he raised his right hand in which he held an ivory letter opener. “As for me,” he cried, “give me Liberty or give me Death!” And he plunged the letter opener in such a way as it looked as if he were plunging it into his heart.”
Dramatic, no? The crowd went wild.
Virginians responded by electing Patrick Henry to be their governor for five consecutive terms. He was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson.
Patrick Henry went on to oppose ratification of the Federal Constitution in 1788 because it lacked a Bill of Rights.
He retired from politics in 1796 at the age of 60. I LOVE Fritz’s description of Henry’s life after politics:
“He lived just as he liked to live — knee-deep in dogs and children. Dorothea added eleven children to the family and, of course, by this time there were grandchildren too. Patrick encouraged all of them to go barefoot. He didn’t like to see children in shoes until they were six or seven years old and he believed that, if possible, they should avoid the inside of a schoolhouse until they were twelve. Nature, itself, was the best teacher, he said, and in his old age, as in his younger years, he took every opportunity to enjoy it. Come a nice spring day and Patrick Henry might be off to the wood, one child in the saddle before him and one behind. Or he might be walking down to the river, trailed by a string of children and dogs. Or he might be simply sitting in the shade of the huge old orange osage tree that spread its branches over most of the front lawn. He’d have some children with him, or course; his fiddle would be handy, and beside him would be a bucket of cool spring water with a gourd for drinking.”
This is a delightful book. A wonderful biography of a true American original. Patrick Henry, Virginia gentleman.
Professors and practitioners of history will tell you that the only way to really understand historical events or historical figures is to read original sources. If you want to know about Luther or Lincoln, your best course of action is to read what they wrote – unfiltered if possible, in the original editions if you can, and in their own handwriting best of all.
Part of my lifelong fascination with Martin Luther came from the marvelous year I spent poking around in the archives of the State of Hesse in Germany, where many of Luther’s letters are preserved. Holding in my hands a stack of letters written by Luther made the Reformation real in a way that nothing else ever could.
Two unique books appeared this year which skillfully incorporate the benefits of tangible, original documents. The first is Lincoln: The Presidential Archives. The second is David McCullough’s 1776: The Illustrated Edition.
The new Lincoln book is the one that came to my attention first. It was published in September of this year. Chuck Wills is an accomplished author and he does an excellent job outlining Lincoln’s life and political career in nine chapters. The text is interspersed with hundreds of photographs and shots of newspaper headlines and front pages. But what really sets this book apart is the inclusion of facsimile reproductions of original documents. About a dozen are included, each on a tinted separate heavy-stock sheet slipped into a translucent pocket at the appropriate place in the books narrative. With the chapter discussing Lincoln’s boyhood and education, there is a reproduction of a page from his “sum book.” In the chapter on his marriage and young family, there is a reproduction of his marriage license to Mary Todd. In each case, holding an original document (even it is only a well-crafted facsimile) makes the historical account richer, nearer, more tangible and provokes a more visceral, emotional response. It makes Lincoln much more real, much less abstract. The text is written on an adult level (though certainly not too advanced for high school students), and many students will need some help in absorbing and understanding the historical documents, but I can’t think of a better way to introduce students to the raw materials of history and historical research. For anyone with a historical sense of who Lincoln was (and the text and photographs will give it to you), seeing a flyer for a play at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865 and then seeing the “wanted” poster issued in the manhunt for Lincoln’s assassins produces a profound effect. For anyone with an interest in Lincoln, I highly recommend this book – especially if your students have an interest in understanding how historians conduct their research. Note: 2008 will be the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. I know its a cliche to study Lincoln around President’s Day, but 2008 will be a special year. Here’s a list of the historical, facsimile documents included in the book:
- a leaf from Lincoln’s string-bound childhood sum book
- Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s marriage license, 1842
- Patent application submitted by Lincoln in 1849
- 1860 campaign banner for the Republican ticket
- First letter carried over the plains by the Pony Express with the news “Lincoln elected,” November 8, 1860.
- Letter from Mary Todd to Abraham sent during her tour of New England in the fall of 1862
- Lincoln’s original handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863
- Telegram from New York City to Lincoln with news of the Draft Riot, July 13, 1863
- Telegram from Sherman to Lincoln presenting him with Savannah as a “Christmas gift,” December 25, 1864
- Telegram from Lincoln to Grant encouraging him, February 1, 1865
- Poster advertising “Our American Cousin” to be performed at Ford’s Theater April 14, 1865
- Broadside offering rewards for the capture of Lincoln’s assassins
Click on the books title, Lincoln: The Presidential Archives, here or in the text above to order directly from Greenleaf Press. The price is $40.
The second book of this type is 1776: The Illustrated Edition by David McCullough, just released from the publisher this October. I LOVED this book when it first came out. The narrative focuses on a single year and takes us month by month, week by week, often day by day through the events of the remarkable year. McCullough has won two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award. He’s a brilliant writer and historian. His historical books read almost like novels and are perfect examples of the importance of the maxim, “above all, tell a good story.” With a new introduction by David McCullough, 1776: The Illustrated Edition brings 140 powerful images and 37 removable replicas of source documents to this remarkable drama.
In 1776, David McCullough told the story of the greatest defeats, providential fortune, and courageous triumphs of George Washington and his bedraggled army. In 1776: The Illustrated Edition, the efforts of the Continental Army are made even more personal, as an excerpted version of the original book is paired with letters, maps, and seminal artwork. More than three dozen source documents — including a personal letter George Washington penned to Martha about his commission, a note informing the mother of a Continental soldier that her son has been taken prisoner, and a petition signed by Loyalists pledging their allegiance to the King — are re-created in uniquely designed envelopes throughout the book and secured with the congressional seal.
Both a distinctive art book and a collectible archive, 1776: The Illustrated Edition combines a treasury of eighteenth-century paintings, sketches, documents, and maps with storytelling by our nation’s preeminent historian. Like the Lincoln book, the inclusion of facsimile originals makes everything much more real. For your students, the original sources are a way to help them understand the rich reality of the past. For any history buffs among your family and friends, this would make an excellent gift. The hardcover, slipcased edition with source documents is $65, but worth every penny. Click the title anywhere in the review to order direct from Greenleaf.
No, its not an oxymoron. In the midst of some spectacular turkeys, there are
three four very good films out in movie theaters right now that you can take your wife to without risk of embarrassment: Dan in Real Life, Enchanted, August Moon, and, of course, Bella.
Dan in Real Life is set against the backdrop of a large family fall get-together at a resort cabin in New England. The relationship between the parents, the grown-up children, and the assorted nieces, nephews and grand-children forms the matrix against which the romantic misadventures of Dan are set. I’m becoming a real fan of Steve Carrell. I really liked him in Evan Almighty, and he gives a great performance here as well. He’s that rarity in Hollywood (and real life?), a decent likable guy. Trying to be a father to his three daughters, trying to do the right things for his extended family, and trying to sort out his feelings about the very attractive woman he bumped into at the bookstore. The action and the resolution is both entertaining and encouraging – and funny!
Enchanted is a delightfully entertaining movie from Disney, with a wry twist. The tone is similar to Shrek, but with just a tad less edge – and its perhaps a better movie for that. The premise is the sudden transference of a princess from her cartoon fairytale kingdom to New York City (where she complains that no one has been very nice to her!). Her charming prince follows to find and rescue her and the resulting comic opportunities, clash of cultures, and hilarious misunderstandings are quite entertaining. There is a hilarious send-up of the princess charming the cute little forest creatures with a song as they clean the household cheerfully together. In New York City, the princess sings — and a crowd of pigeons, rats, and well-choreographed cockroaches clean the apartment to her lyrical directions. On a more serious note, Enchanted, like Dan, gives us a leading man who is a single dad – and he’s an intelligent, thoughtful, caring decent guy. He loves his daughter, and is trying to do the right things. There is of course, a happy ending, after a number of comic misadventures and plot complications. Oh, and there’s a great big musical production number in central park that is a hoot – part Busby Berkley, part Rogers and Hammerstein, and part Ferris Bueller. We walked out of the theater smiling and feeling refreshed. It is so unusual to watch a movie with a hero (rather than a bad-boy anti-hero) that the effect is novel, surprising, and quite enjoyable.
August Rush is the richest (and perhaps most moving) of the current crop. Since Cyndy and I have two adopted daughters from China, this one REALLY tugged at our hearts and played with our emotions. All those parents who know about the story of the “Red Thread” will immediately recognize the plot. In China, there is the widespread belief that all those who’s lives you are destined to be a part of are connected to you by an invisible “Red Thread.” In August Rush, the “Red Thread” is music. August is the name of the eleven-year-old boy who is the film’s protagonist. He is in an orphanage, but is convinced that he will be reunited with his parents. He hears music, and believes that the music is his parents calling to him. He believes that if he can write the music down, and play it to enough people, that his parents will find him. August, as it develops, is a musical prodigy. Ten minutes after picking up a guitar he’s doing harmonics and complex chords. The first day he sits down at the piano he ends up composing pages of music – a la Mozart, to who is cited by name to describe August’s abilities.
There are several subtle nods to a Christianity and the belief in God’s providence in the film – and they are all the more powerful for their being not too overt. At one point, August seeks refuge in a church, where he finds authentic Christians who care for him and a pastor (strong, sympathetic male figure) who goes out of his way to help him pursue his music. The pastor provides one of the great lines of the movie. August has mysteriously disappeared and one of his friends, an adorable six year old girl wants some reassurance that he’s ok. “Of course he is,” says the pastor. “I’ve prayed for him. Have you prayed for him?” There’s also a very subtle beat at the end, where August sees his parents, realizes that his music has succeeded, looks upwards towards the sky, smiles and then looks back down towards his parents. A very powerful moment – without a spoken word.
August Rush is also refreshing in having several strong, decent male figures. In addition to the pastor mentioned above, there’s another strong male figure in the social worker assigned to August, who demonstrates that he really cares for him and goes out of his way to try to help him. Finally, its clear from the movie that its just as important for August to find his father as it is for him to find his mother — and just as important that his mother and father find each other. And both August’s mother and father are equally intense, decent, and thoughtful as their desire to find each other and their son grows.
Finally, I should say a word about Bella. The word is “go see it!” It is being marketed as a pro-life movie – which it is – but it is also a rich, subtle, character study of two strong individuals and a celebration of family and life. The subtitle that the film-makers put on the ir website speaks volumes – “true love goes beyond romance.” Bella won the “People’s Choice Award” at the Toronto Film Festival , which should have assured it of distribution and wide release. But, surprise, surprise, all the studios passed on picking it up – several complaining that it lacked an “edge” – code for not any sex or violence. There’s a reason it won the award. Its a wonderful film.
So there you have it. For those of you who go to the movies, let us give thanks for having so many good choices! And let us hope that Hollywood gets the message from the popularity of these films and gives us many more films with characters as rich (and as decent) as these.