The Goals of the Islamic State: Hijrah, al-Haramayn and Hegemony |History News Network

A historian of Islamic history, Timothy R. Furnish, explains the goals of ISIS:

“Long-term, ISIS—as many breathlessly have reported—aspires to not just ruling all the Islamic portions of the Middle East, Europe and South/Central Asia, but Rome and points further west, including the United States.  This may be a hookah-dream, but considering that the ideology—if not quite all the brutal activity—of ISIS has solid grounding in Salafism, both its Wahhabi and Deobandi (South Asian) versions, it’s something that should be taken seriously by non-Muslims.

It is the medium-term goals of ISIS that should most concern us.  I submit that these primarily are two-fold:  1) to goad us—that is, the United States—into inserting ground troops into, particularly, Syria, as a means of fulfilling the hadith about the great apocalyptic battle  near Dabiq; and 2) to take over Saudi Arabia, or at least to cause such regional instability that Riyadh’s regime fractures, and ISIS Toyotas ride triumphantly into al-Haramayn, the “two holy places” of Mecca and Medina.” Read his entire article at:

History News Network | The Goals of the Islamic State: Hijrah, al-Haramayn and Hegemony.

Sultan Murad IV (seventeenth century) and al Baghadadi

Sultan Murad IV (seventeenth century) and al Baghadadi

History News Network | The Fall of Rome and All that

The historian Douglas Boin argues that we have misread the fall of Rome and its relevance to today because we have ignored religious beliefs. “Anxious notions about the last days, notions of spiritual warfare, and a righteous belief that a divine hand was endorsing a specific law or policy were ideas in Rome that crossed the theological aisle. But that doesn’t make them any less ‘religious.’”

“That’s why today’s ghost stories are ultimately so revealing. We keep pretending we’re doing Roman history when what we’re really masking is our own severe anxiety about the fast-changing changing world—using the same ideas that our ancestors did, two thousand years ago. It’s time we put these beliefs back into our history books instead of doing as Gibbon did: ignoring them or, worse, pretending they were never there. What people believe—and what people are taught to believe—can’t be left out of history.” I agree. I have long argued that ideas and beliefs are key to understanding the past. Of course they must be understood within the particular circumstances in which they are found, but to ignore them completely has too often led us to misunderstand the past and the present.

History News Network | The Fall of Rome and All that.

Sacking of Rome

What Is Deism? |

In a recent blog post at Patheos, Thomas Kidd argues that during the eighteenth century “[m]ost deists really did consider themselves serious theists, and…devotees of Jesus and his teachings” and therefore “[t]heir deism was not just a convenient cloak for atheism.” From that assumption he concludes, “The deists’ closest descendants today are not the ‘new atheists’ who have stirred up so much media chatter in recent years.”  Instead, “Their closest descendants are probably liberal mainline Christians who see Jesus as their model but who eschew (or even deny) the particular, exclusive doctrines that have been associated with Christian orthodoxy for millennia.”

In defending this position Kidd overstates the Deists’ connection to Christianity in order to claim that they were theists. They believed in God, otherwise they would not have been Deists, but their god was not the theistic god of Christianity, even if they had an affinity for the moral precepts of the man Jesus as Jefferson did. (For a more in-depth discussion of Jefferson’s religious beliefs and whether or not he was a Deist see my previous post on the subject: Was Jefferson a Christian?). But once Kidd establishes their theistic credentials he believes that therefore they could not possibly have been the forerunners of the “new atheists.”

Thomas Jefferson & Benjamin Franklin

Thomas Jefferson & Benjamin Franklin


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My Lai Massacre: “The Scene of the Crime” – The New Yorker

I don’t remember how I learned about the My Lai massacre, but it began a life-long quest to understand how and why such atrocities occur. It was a turning point in my life that ultimately led me to getting my PhD in history, even though the focus of my research has been on the Bosnian War (1992-1995) rather than Vietnam.

Similarly, a desire “to understand how young men—boys, really—could have done this,” is what drove the reporter Seymour Hersh to pursue the story of My Lai as soon as he learned of it in 1969. In large part we know about My Lai because of Hersh’s dogged determination to uncover what happened. Recently he visited My Lai and this is the subject of his recent article in The New Yorker.  It is long but well worth the read.

The Scene of the Crime – The New Yorker.

Photograph by Katie Orlinsky

Photograph by Katie Orlinsky

From fascism to parking tickets – some odd Magna Carta moments| History News Network

The British Library currently has an exhibition to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, and Legacy). One of the exhibit’s curators discusses some interesting things he has learned while preparing the exhibition:

History News Network | From fascism to parking tickets – some odd Magna Carta moments.

King John at Runnymede (1215) signing the Magna Carta

King John at Runnymede (1215) signing the Magna Carta

Right Versus Left: Culture Wars, Past and Present |History News Network

Walter G. Moss lays out the different approaches that both the left and right take on the subject of morality. He mildly scolds both for their different failings on this subject: ” Neither dogmatic conservatism nor just spouting half-baked progressive platitudes serve our country well.” While I agree that we all need to take morality more seriously, the real difficulty is that liberals and conservatives completely disagree on the sources and meanings of morality.  To add to the difficulty is the misunderstandings concerning “relativism” from both left and right. But that will have to be a subject for another day.

Read the entire article at:

History News Network | Right Versus Left: Culture Wars, Past and Present.

The Age of Progress

History News Network | Did Bombers Win the War in WW Two?

Robert Huddleston, who served as a combat pilot in World War II, dispels the popular assumption that air power won the war against Nazi Germany. “The Allied strategic bombing campaign did not produce victory as propaganda promised: Defeat of the enemy came from a combination of sea, air, but mainly ground forces.”

History News Network | Did Bombers Win the War in WW Two?

Allied bombing WWII

A Political Crackdown at University of North Carolina – The New Yorker

In a recent article at the New Yorker, Jedediah Purdy examined the role of politics in the recent elimination of three centers and institutes at the University of North Carolina, most notably the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, by the board of governors. This article exposes the real reasons for the attacks on higher education, not just at UNC, but nationally. As Purdy explains, “Republican politics in North Carolina are characterized by a tight interweaving of elected officials with think tanks and advocacy groups.” One of those groups is the Pope Center, which “defines its mission as to ‘increase the diversity of ideas’ on campus and ‘encourage respect for the institutions that underlie economic prosperity,’ including ‘private property,’ ‘competition,’ and ‘limits on government.’”

In one of its reports the Pope Center “devote[ed] a great deal of attention to programs dedicated to ‘the morality of capitalism,’ which have been founded at sixty-two public and private colleges and universities. Many of these programs…were funded over the past fifteen years by North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, under its former president John Allison, who is now the C.E.O. of the Cato Institute. In a 2012 statement, Allison explained that he funded the programs to ‘retake the universities’ from ‘statist/collectivist ideas.’ He also noted that training students in the morality of capitalism is ‘clearly in our shareholders’ long-term best interest.’”

This is only one of many think tanks and special interest groups that has spent a lot of time and money to undermine public education (K-12 and higher education) as we know it. One of the most successful has been the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which, according to their website, “works to advance limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.” (to see some of its model legislation on education see ALEC Exposed) These political groups have allies in the religious community who would also like to see the destruction of public education as well. Recent legislation pushed by Republican-controlled state legislatures has already greatly benefited these religious groups as money designated for public education is funneled into private religious schools through voucher programs (see The New York Times).

Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, declared that his goal was to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and therefore called for “skills and subjects employers need.” And that “[o]ur universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.” But this rhetoric is only meant to mask their real goal to perpetuate a status quo that preserves and increases the power and wealth of the 1%.

A Political Crackdown at University of North Carolina – The New Yorker.



Japanese historians seek revision of U.S. textbook over ‘comfort women’ depiction | The Japan Times

A new twist on the textbook wars! Some of Japan’s historians are complaining that McGraw-Hill published a history textbook which “contains a number of ‘factual errors’ on the ‘comfort women’ issue,” and are therefore requesting that the textbook be rewritten to their specifications. They are not content with distorting their own history within Japan, they want to make the rest of the world complicit in their nationalist agenda to deny their WWII crimes. I’m certain that McGraw-Hill won’t cave into this demand, but it does show how desperate the nationalists are. If they want to restore pride and respect to their nation, as they claim, they would do better to admit their past wrongs and learn from them. Trying to deny the past is what is bringing them shame.

Japanese historians seek revision of U.S. textbook over ‘comfort women’ depiction | The Japan Times.

Japanese comfort women

Credit Robert G. Fresson, The New York Times (November 14, 2014)

When Did Mandatory Vaccinations Become Common? | History News Network

Cristina Valldejuli summarizes the history of mandatory vaccinations in the U.S. Given the current situation with the growth of anti-vaccers this history offers some important lessons. Here’s an excerpt: “Chapman states that few founders contested the federal government’s responsibility to protect the population from epidemics like yellow fever. The real issue, he reports, “was which level of government should enact and enforce quarantine.” This was the same question that arose years later when vaccination gained popularity in the medical field. Wendy K. Marine, George J. Annas, and Leonard Glantz explain that while Jeffersonians were uncomfortable with a strong federal role, Jefferson himself favored a bill that required the federal government to “guarantee and distribute effective vaccine” and signed it into law in 1813. Ultimately, Congress decided that the best approach was to leave the implementation of vaccination efforts up to state and local authorities.” Read the entire article here:

History News Network | When Did Mandatory Vaccinations Become Common?.