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The Silk Roads; A New History of the World

by Peter Frankopan, a senior research fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, and Director of the Centre for Byzantine Research at Oxford University.

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I think all current politicians and economists should read this book, because history repeats again and again but then, politicians and world leaders never seem to learn. Frankopan’s research is extensive and he presents many source testimonies and documents to support his claims. His writing moves along at a swift and thoroughly engaging pace. I would go so far as to recommend this book to college teachers. It gives a rare and independent insight into the political history of our world.

Historically, the Silk Roads were a network, with their geographical centre in Asia Minor, Central Asia, the Caucasus, China and the Middle East; territories that met, and traded with one another along arterial routes of communication. These routes influenced the world as we know it today. Ideas, cultures and religions were also spread via this network.

Bettany Hughes, whose book A Tale of Three Cities; ISTANBUL is also a great read, says of Frankopan’s ‘The Silk Roads’: How shamefully we in the West have been caught in the 20th and early 21st centuries with our strategic trousers around our ankles, … failing to remember why the map of the Middle East is drawn with such straight lines. Our ancestors would have been horrified by today’s wilful ignorance. Ancient reports of the region (studded, admittedly, with some fantastical nonsense) would put many modern memos to shame. Tellingly, Frankopan includes some recently released diplomatic cables and US political briefings describing Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran that are cringingly callow, and exemplify the danger of living in what the late historian Eric Hobsbawm called the ‘permanent present’, ignorant of our past.

In this vein, to quote Frankopan: The liberation of Christendom seemed to be at hand…it soon became clear how wrong these reports were…what was heading towards Europe was not the road to heaven, but a path that seemed to lead straight to hell. Galloping along it were the Mongols…Later the Mongols became increasingly interested in the techniques that had been pioneered by western Europeans, copying designs for catapults and siege engines created for the crusaders in the Holy Land and using them against targets in East Asia in the late thirteenth century. In this way Control of the Silk Roads gave their masters access to information and ideas that could be replicated and deployed thousands of miles away.

In the sixteenth century the age of empire and the rise of the west were built on the capacity to inflict violence on a major scale eg. the Americas. By then the best money was to be had in human trafficking and it was said to be ‘in league with the crown and with god.’ Before the discovery of the Americas, trading patterns ‘had begun to pick up’ and many scholars argue that this was due to improved access to precious metals and ‘the rising output of mines.’ But other scholars ‘point to the fact that tax collection became more efficient in the second half of the fifteenth century.’ [Perhaps our current political leaders and economists should take note]: ‘Economic contraction had forced lessons to be learned…’ and the collection and setting of taxes paid a crucial part in those valuable lessons.

I thought The Road to Empire a very interesting chapter and one which mirrors much of what is happening in our 21st Century:

Ottoman bureaucrats had proved to be highly skilled administrators, adept at centralising resources …as the empire swallowed up more territory in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this had worked efficiently and smoothly. When the momentum of expansion slowed…the fragility of the system became apparent, under pressure from the cost of sustaining military action on two fronts- in Europe in the west and with Safavid Persia in the east…but also as a result of climatic change that had a particularly severe impact on the Ottoman world. [my emphases].

Frankopan discusses at length the different outcomes relating to the gap between rich and poor in Islamic countries as opposed to Christian countries in the west. It may not surprise many readers that Islamic countries had the more equitable laws which meant less concentration of wealth and property within a few elite families, including royal dynasties, as in the west.

Under the surface, powerful currents were swirling unseen…Robert Orme’s attitudes were typical of the eighteenth century; The first official historian of the East India Company, Orme penned an essay whose title On The Effeminacy of the Inhabitants of Indostan [India], reveals much about how contemporary thinking had toughened. A bullish sense of entitlement was rising fast. Attitudes on Asia were changing from excitement about profits to be made to thoughts of brute exploitation…It was the Wild East – a prelude to similar scenes in the west of North America a century later. Go to India, the memoirist William Hickey’s father told him, and cut off half a dozen rich fellows’ heads… and so return a nabob. Serving the East India Company in India was a one-way ticket to fortune.

The Road To Crisis is an intriguing chapter in which late eighteenth century Russia looms large as a threat to Britain. Anyone interested in the part Russia played in forming the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century, will find this very interesting, as I did. Much of what is happening in our world today, makes more sense, and I understand the reasons why China and Russia do not trust the west. This includes the aftermath of the Crimean war and Russia’s determination to claim back the Crimea peninsula.  The west would eventually help the spread of Islam in the East as a way of curtailing Russian expansionism.

‘In the late nineteenth century, Russian confidence, bullishness even, was rising fast.’ Britain planned to expand its territories into the far East, and in this quest, was in competition with Russia. But once China granted trading privileges to the British, they had little hesitation in using force to preserve and extend their position. Central to the commercial expansion was the sale of opium despite fierce protests by the Chinese, whose outrage at the devastating effects of drug addiction was shrugged off by the British authorities. The opium trade had expanded following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, which opened up access to ports where the trade had been restricted previously, while also ceding Hong Kong to the British; further concessions were granted after British and French forces marched on Beijing in 1860, looting and burning the Old Summer palace.

Britain was also keeping a watchful eye on Russia which was meddling in one of Britain’s most prized possessions: Persia with its black gold. ‘Russian ghosts were everywhere. Anxious Foreign Office officials pored over a stream of reports on the activities of Tsarist officials, engineers and surveyors in Persia, that was flooding back to London.’

The reasons for the First World War: ‘World leaders go to war for their egos…’ in this case the fight over Persian oil, and the carving up of Ottoman Empire territories. Offerings of an ‘empire’ to leading figures in the Arab world were made in return for their support. The wheeling and dealing, involving Russia, Germany and Britain, while the first world war was raging, is sickening, and all the while Britain was fearful of ‘losing’ India. ‘The former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour was anxious that ‘a rapid defeat of Germany’ would make Russia more dangerous still by fuelling the ambitions of the latter to the extent that ‘India might be at risk’. There was another worry: Balfour had also heard rumours that a well-connected lobby in St Petersburg was trying to come to terms with Germany; this he reckoned would be ‘as disastrous for Britain as losing the war’.

Both Britain and France passionately claimed to have noble aims at heart and were striving to set free ‘the populations subject to the bloody tyranny of the Turks’, according to The Times of London. ‘It was all bad’ wrote Edward House, President Wilson’s foreign policy adviser, when he found out about the secret agreement from the British Foreign Secretary. ‘The French and the British are making the Middle East a breeding place for future war’. [my emphasis]

…By the end of 1942, the thoughts of the new allies, Britain, the USA, and the Soviet Union were turning to the future…it was clear that the ‘effort, expense and trauma of another massive confrontation had exhausted western Europe’. It was already obvious that the old empires had to be wound down. Such chapter titles as The Road to Genocide, The Road to Super Power Rivalry, and The Road To Catastrophe are a good indication of what followed the Second World War. Most of us know some of this history, but The Silk Roads describes in detail, much of it in newly released source documents, the tragic consequences of this, to my mind, a completely unnecessary war. The claim in this book that world leaders go to war largely for their egos, is as true today as it has been throughout human history.

Post Second World War there was concern across the world for the seemingly out-of- control proliferation of nuclear weapons manufacture. Most readers will by now be well versed in the reasons for the later USA invasion of Iraq, but many will be surprised by the indirect involvement of Israel, USA, England, Italy, France and Russia in the years leading up to the invasion.   Few had doubts that the research reactors, powered by weapons grade uranium and other materials essential for dual use, as well as separation and handling facilities capable of extracting plutonium from irradiated uranium, were solely for energy purposes. The west turned a blind eye as and when needed. As Pakistani scientists noted ruefully: ‘…the western world was sure that an underdeveloped country like Pakistan could never master this technology…and yet at the same time western countries made hectic and persistent efforts to sell everything to Pakistan. They literally begged us to buy their equipment’.

Frankopan writes:

As it was, it was not hard to see how stern talk from countries like the US, Britain and France, which refused to be subject to the inspections and rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency, grated with those that did and had to conduct their research in secret; but the real hypocrisy, in the cold light of day, lay in the enthusiasm with which the developed world rushed to earn hard cash or gain access to cheap oil.

There were half-hearted attempts to curtail the spread of nuclear materials. In 1976, Kissinger suggested that Pakistan should wind down its processing project and rely instead on a US-supplied facility being built in Iran that was part of a scheme devised by none other than Dick Cheney, for the plant in Iran to serve as a hub for energy needs across the region. When the President of Pakistan turned down this offer, the US threatened to cut off the country’s aid package.

In 1980 US President Carter’s handling of the hostage situation and the Iranian oil embargo was a catastrophe. Operation Eagle Claw, the covert mission he authorised to rescue hostages… ‘was a propaganda disaster’… this was but one disaster in a changing world order. Countries were fighting back against the hypocrisy of the west.

In the mid-1980s, when the United Nations reports concluded that Iraq was using chemical weapons against its own civilians, the US responded with silence. Condemnation of Saddam’s brutal and sustained moves against the Kurdish population of Iraq was conspicuous by its absence. It was simply noted in American military reports that ‘chemical agents’ were being used extensively against civilian targets. Iraq was more important to the United States than the principles of International Law – and more important than the victims.

The chapter on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, its subsequent withdrawal of troops and weaponry, and the involvement of China, USA and Saudi Arabia in training and supporting Islamic militants is a must read.

Those resisting the Soviet army were supplied with money and weapons by the three countries. The long-term implications and consequences are now well known and documented, if not the initial struggle in ridding Afghanistan of the Soviet invaders.

Men of Saudi extraction who followed their conscience to fight in Afghanistan were highly regarded. Men like Osama Bin Laden – well connected, articulate and personally impressive – were perfectly placed to act as conduits for large sums of money given by Saudi benefactors. The significance of this of course, only became all too apparent later.

Frankopan lays out in detail how these events have made our world much more dangerous, and volatile, than it ever was.

Things were not going well between the USA and Iraq for various reasons, and there was mistrust on both sides. Rumours were rife that the USA was about to overthrow Saddam. Consequently, ‘…in one of the most damning documents of the late twentieth century, a leaked transcript’ of the then ambassador’s meeting with the Iraqi leader in 1990, reveals that she told Saddam that she had ‘direct instructions from President Bush to improve our relations with Iraq…we know you need funds…’. Iraq was running up debts in the war with Iran and the depressed price of oil presented problems for the economy. Saddam subsequently asked the ambassador what USA’s opinion was on his solution: to take over control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, a region over which Iraq was involved in a long-running dispute with Kuwait. The ambassador answered, [to summarise], that ‘…the Kuwait issue is not associated with America’. Saddam had asked for a green light from the US, and he got one. The following week he invaded Kuwait.  Frankopan:

The consequences proved catastrophic. Over the course of the next three decades, global affairs would be dominated by events in countries running across the spine of Asia. The struggle for control and influence in these countries produced wars, insurrections and international terrorism – but also opportunities and prospects, not just in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, but in a belt of countries stretching east from the Black Sea, from Syria to Ukraine, Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, and from Russia to China too. The story of the world has always been centred on these countries, but since the time of the invasion of Kuwait, everything has been about the emergence of the New Silk Road.

In conclusion, under the chapter The New Silk Road Frankopan warns, and I quote in full: In many ways, the late twentieth and early twentieth centuries have represented something of a disaster for the United States and Europe as they have played out their doomed struggle to retain their position in the vital territories that link east with west. What has been striking throughout the events of recent decades is the west’s lack of perspective about global history – about the bigger picture, the wider themes and the larger patterns playing out in the region. In the minds of policy planners, politicians, diplomats and generals, the problems of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq seemed distinct, separate, and only loosely linked to each other…While we ponder where the next threat might come from, how best to deal with religious extremism, how to negotiate with states who seem willing to disregard international law, and how to build relations with peoples, cultures and regions about whom we have spent little or no time trying to understand, networks and connections are quietly being knitted together across the spine of Asia; or rather, they are being restored. The Silk Roads are rising again.

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-Anne Frandi-Coory

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A Tale Of Three Cities ISTANBUL 

-Bettany Hughes

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A Book Review – 5 stars *****

 

Byzantion of Greece’s ancient past,  the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, famed Constantinople of New Rome and Muslim Ottoman Empire that today goes by the name of Istanbul, Turkish republic.

‘Istanbul is the city of many names’, writes Bettany Hughes: Byzantion, Byzantium, New Rome, Stambol, Islam-bol are just a few of them. And Istanbul today ‘is lapped by the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara; to the north is the Black Sea and to the south, through the Hellespont or Dardanelles, the Mediterranean.’

A diamond mounted between two sapphires and two emeralds…the precious stone in the ring of a vast dominion which embraced the entire world as described in ‘The Dream of Osman’ c. AD 1280.

Hughes guides the reader around the city that I wish I had visited. It is obvious from reading this book that the author has walked Istanbul’s streets and knows the city well, and she has meticulously researched  its 8000 years of history. I can assure you that this is no dreary history book the likes of which bored us to tears at school. The ancient town of Byzantion’s King Byzas (legend has it that his father was Poseidon, his grandfather, Zeus) was well located at the intersection of trade routes. Eventually the Roman emperor Constantine decided that ‘Old Rome’ was too far away from all the action and over time the City of Constantine became Constantinople, the New Rome, capital of the Roman Empire itself. The gateway between East and  West. Constantinople’s Christian name was changed to Istanbul around 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The book has short chapters with clear and helpful titles, dated in both Western and Islamic calendar formats where appropriate.  It enables readers to navigate this vast book in piecemeal fashion, but I found it difficult to  put this book aside; it is so well researched and written, with personal written accounts from people who were present during many of the historical events, which made the book all the more fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the frequent references to current and recent archaeological digs the findings of which verify historical accounts.  Hughes includes several maps and colour plates, which I constantly referred to as I was reading. It is evident that the West owes far more to Eastern cultures than we have been ready to believe in the past. The Roman Empire pillaged much wealth from Egypt and the East and in turn the Ottomans pillaged from Roman territories. It is arguable that the rabble that made up early Western civilisation reached a turning point when it invaded and colonised Egypt.

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Ottoman and Byzantine territory in the east Mediterranean c. AD 1451

 

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Muslim and Christian lived in relatively peaceful harmony during the Ottoman era but both sides could be extremely brutal whenever their territories or power were threatened. The Ottomans, however, were far more than their harams and baths, which titillated and attracted travellers; they were skilled diplomats and traders. Christian slave boys ‘harvested’ from the West were trained as interpreters.  Called Dragomans, one of their critical attributes was their facility with languages, and some of them could speak up to seven languages which enabled the empire to spread its culture and bargain with valuable commodities to negotiate peace. When the Ottoman Empire began to crumble at the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany, France and Britain ‘fought over the spoils’ and it is apparent that the after-effects of this breaking up of once cohesive territories helped to turn Christianity and Islam against each other which we are still witnessing in modern times. Millions of refugees were displaced during the carve up of territories, and millions died.

This book, as well as being a great read, informs readers on how the current geo-political era came into being, and it does not always put the West in a good light. We owe so much of the great advances and wealth in our Western civilisation to the East, and let us not forget, to Islam

-Anne Frandi-Coory  27 October 2017

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Also here on Anne Frandi-Coory’s Facebook page: 

https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

  

Will our heroes find the object they need to find in order to complete the next step in their quest?

 

One relic found and another to locate, or so that’s what Evan thought, it’s what his “father” Zeus told him when he dumped him in world and time so far removed from the twenty-first century. What if he doesn’t find the sacred objects? Will he be trapped forever in this forsaken age? Join Evan and his companions as they continue their epic odyssey, traversing the ancient world in search of powerful icons that even the gods are frightened of.

 

In

The Labyrinthine Journey

 will reluctant modern day hero, Evan and his friends succeed in finding the relics to stop the advent of Christianity?

The odyssey continues. Will Evan succeed in his quest to find the relics and go home?

The quest to locate the sacred object adds pressure to the uneasy alliance between Evan and the Atlanteans. His inability to accept the world he’s in, and his constant battle with Zeus, both threaten to derail the expedition and his life.

Traversing the mountainous terrain of the Peloponnese and Corinthian Gulf to the centre of the spiritual world, Evan meets with Pythia, Oracle of Delphi. Her cryptic prophecy reveals much more than he expected; something that changes his concept of the ancient world and his former way of life.

You can buy book l and ll here on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Labyrinthine-Journey-Servant-Gods-Book-ebook/dp/B075QGZQP9

Read more here about Book l of The Odyssey:

‘The Search For The Golden Serpent’

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Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro,

likes to meander between contemporary life to the realms of mythology and history.

Luciana has always been interested in Mythology and Ancient History but her passion wasn’t realised until seeing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

From then on, she was inspired to write Historical Fantasy.

She has spent many lessons promoting literature and the merits of ancient history. Today, you will still find Luciana in the classroom, teaching and promoting literature. To keep up-to-date with her ramblings, ahem, that is meanderings, subscribe to her mailing list at

http://www.luccav.com.

 

You can connect with her via:

Website www.luccav.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/ClucianaLuciana

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Luciana-Cavallaro-Writer/304218202959903?ref=hl

LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=242021145&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic

 

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Please visit Anne Frandi-Coory’s facebook page here: 

https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

 

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I have just finished reading Apollo’s Raven, and I absolutely loved it, every single, beautifully placed word! I didn’t want the book to end, so I am hanging out for Book Two. When I first began reading Apollo’s Raven, I had no idea of what to expect, not knowing very much about ancient Britannia, or the power of Druid magic.  Reading this wonderful book, was akin to embarking on an epic journey of love, betrayal, mysticism, and Druid’s dark magic, all of which surrounds Catrin, the Celtic warrior princess who was determined to fight for her family’s Cantiaci kingdom, no matter what.

As Catrin is struggling to interpret her mystifying connection with a particular raven, which seems to be following her everywhere, she meets the captivating Roman, Marcellus, son of a high ranking Roman official who has landed in Britannia with a cohort of reconnaissance soldiers ahead of an invasion-ready legion. As a result, distrust is fomenting between two Celtic kingdoms and among members of their royal families. Torn between loyalty to her father, King Amren, and her forbidden love for Marcellus, she finds her inherited gift/curse of ancient Druid magic sometimes a hindrance, often life-saving.

Britannia is being battered not only by warring tribes and invaders, but by warring families! The burgeoning influence of patriarchal Rome’s empire is beginning to threaten some and create thoughts of treachery in others, while elements of dark magic and mystery surround a trusted druid, who perhaps shouldn’t be trusted at all. Then there are historic prophesies and curses returning to haunt Catrin and her family, including the terrifying shape-shifting ability of her murderous half-brother. Catrin’s  father places his utmost trust in the Druid, Agrona, but is she who she once was?

The political and romantic turmoil requires the teenage Catrin to use all of her fierce physical prowess and intelligence to quell the uprising of violence and intrigue between her father’s kingdom and that of a rival king’s. The visible presence of Roman soldiers in the surrounding countryside is inflaming the rivalry between the two kingdoms and their respective royal families. Not only that, both Marcellus and Catrin are seemingly cursed by the misdeeds of their respective ancestors.

An unpredictable, spell-binding tale, made so much richer by the historical integrity of the research carried out by the author, Linnea Tanner.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 19 August 2017

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Also on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

 

 

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The God Delusion is a great read; funny and witty in places and deadly serious in others. The author, Richard Dawkins is a professor and a scholar of renown and of course the brilliant writer of several significant books.

The God Delusion is divided into chapters with the several headings within each chapter making the book easy to read.  Dawkins is an atheist who has written, and lectured on, a great deal about the harm religion does to children, by religious indoctrination, which he believes is a form of child abuse. This book was right up my alley, so to speak. Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches  that unquestioned faith is a virtue.

Religion, whether either one or other of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity or Islam, is full of contradictions…no wonder children are confused. And it’s not just Muslims who are inspired to become martyrs. I can remember as a child revering those Christian martyrs whose stories we heard every day from the pulpit or in catechism classes. These three monotheistic religions have engaged in extreme violence against their respective ‘infidels’ and apostates. One only has to read the Qur’an to know that Islam is not a religion of peace.  Dawkins quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson “ …the religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next”…Except, writes Dawkins, ‘we are not allowed to laugh at Islam, under threat of fatwas!’ And anyway, Dawkins comforts his fellow atheists by promising us that monotheism is doomed to subtract one more god and become atheism. It cannot come soon enough for me and the millions of other atheists around the world.

Another thing about monotheistic religions that has no place in 21st century in my view, is that they enjoy tax-free status and as Dawkins states: ‘… far better to abandon tax-free status for religions altogether… because it helps to promote them while allowing them to avoid the rigorous vetting imposed on secular charities.’  Dawkins has researched the huge amounts of money amassed by TV evangelists in USA unscrupulously ‘stolen’ from believers. And believe me, the amounts of tax-free ‘donations’ these religious thieves steal from the true believers are the only ‘awe’ inspiring thing about the capitalist religion of televangelists.

I was especially interested in the chapter in which the author, who is a biologist and supporter of the Darwinian theory of evolution, discusses his views on religion as a ‘by-product’ of something else. Once again evolution of the human species comes into play and indeed does make sense to me. A theory that posits a selective advantage to children’s brains that possess a  ‘rule of thumb’ in order to keep children safe and so preserve human life; e.g. the experience of previous generations. Obey your parents, obey your tribal elders, ‘especially when they adopt a solemn minatory tone.’ This makes perfect sense to me having been indoctrinated since infancy into Catholicism which ensures children do not question anything they are told, and never learn to think for themselves. It has perhaps allowed so many children to be sexually abused by clergy with impunity, for centuries. Believe, and obey without question!

I love Dawkins’ description: ‘The god of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant in all fiction: Jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak. A vindictive, blood thirsty, ethnic cleanser. A misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully!’  What chance do children have when  they are inculcated from infancy, to believe in, and fear, this vile father figure of a god?

Many scholars, including the author, are of the view that it’s the very moderate inculcation of religious teachings that inspire suicide bombers, and Dawkins discusses this at length. He also enlightens the reader on the many arguments that arise between creationists and atheists, and this was intriguing and at times gobsmacking that creationists actually believe such pie in the sky fairy tales in the face of proven and widely accepted scientific research and findings.

Scientists posit that we humans have evolved and so are products of natural selection; so ‘we should ask what pressure or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured the impulse to religion’ and Dawkins gives us compelling answers. The roots of morality and why we are good is also a riveting chapter and I urge all those who believe that religion acts as humanity’s ‘moral compass’ to at least read this chapter. Morality was a factor in human existence long before religions came into being. Dawkins asks  if our moral sense has a Darwinian origin, and he suggests that readers will find no surprises in this chapter if they are well read and open minded, which of course those indoctrinated with religious dogma throughout their childhoods very likely won’t be! In any case, writes Dawkins, his purpose in analysing scriptures is to demonstrate  that most religious people who claim to derive their morals from scripture do not really do so in practice. But, he adds, ‘suicide bombers obviously do.’

As Dawkins states, the Bible and Qur’an are ‘plain weird…as you would expect of chaotically cobbled together anthologies of disjointed documents composed, revised, translated, distorted and improved by hundreds of different authors, writers, copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning several centuries.’  He also discusses at length the Old Testament stories taken from much older mythologies, which I found especially interesting.

One of the most ridiculous statements Dawkins elicited from an interview with a well-known televangelist, was that he blamed the disastrous flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, on a lesbian who lived in the city at the time. And he recalls the statement by a certain Anglican bishop, ‘thank god Jesus spoke the Queen’s English.’  Historic Mecca, the cradle of Islam is being buried in an unprecedented onslaught by religious zealots, but as Dawkins avows, there isn’t an atheist in the world  who would want to bulldoze Mecca or the Buddhas of Bamiyan,in the mountains of Afghanistan, for example.

And of course we all know that scriptures are blatantly misogynist and the author highlights relevant, horrific passages, full of rapes incest, sodomy, which would have been enough to add to my childhood nightmares if I’d read them at that time. For instance, in one chapter, two male angels (whatever they are) were sent to Sodom to warn Abraham’s nephew, Lot,  to leave that city. Lot invited the angels into his house and when all the men of Sodom gathered around outside and demanded that Lot hand over the angels so they could sodomise them, Lot refused and instead offered his two daughters ‘which have not known men’ to do with whatever they wanted. However, he warned them to do nothing to the two men whom he was protecting under his roof! Eventually Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt and Lot commits incest with his two daughters. Dawkins suggests here that parents do not use the bible to teach their children morality. It’s obvious that zealous protectors of the Bible and Qur’an cherry pick chapters pertaining to peace whenever it suits them, because neither of these books can support their claims  that their religion is a religion of peace and morality. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the latest ludicrous claim by some Muslim women that Islam is not only a religion of peace, but also a ‘feminist’ one, is laughable! And how does it help to engender equality of the sexes, when the men of Jewish faith pray and thank god every day, for not making them a woman?

Dawkins provides the reader with clear and concise reasons why he believes moderation in faith fosters fanaticism,  and I found his reasons for this perfectly feasible. He uses the phrase ‘moral zeitgeist’,  spirit of change, or ‘enlightened consensus’, of which the opposite is the dark side of religious absolutism or extremism. His point is, and this is important in 2017,  that even mild or moderate religion helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes. It goes without saying of course, that indoctrination begins in early childhood because parents inflict their religious beliefs onto their children.

In his book, Dawkins quotes respected journalist, Muriel Gray, writing in the Glasgow Herald, 24 July 2005, with reference to the London bombings: Everyone is being blamed, from the obvious villainous duo of George W Bush and Tony Blair, to the inaction of Muslim ‘communities’. But it has never been clearer that there is only one place to lay the blame and it has ever been thus. The cause of all this misery, mayhem, violence, terror and ignorance,  is of course religion itself, and it seems ludicrous to have to state such an obvious reality, the fact is that the government and the media are doing a pretty good job of pretending that it isn’t so.

Religious indoctrination and absolutism  has, in my humble opinion, allowed children of all Abrahamic religions to be sexually abused by their own paedophile clerical minders and others of their own faith. Dawkins writes: ‘More generally, (and  this applies to Christianity no less than to Islam), what is really pernicious is the practice of teaching children that faith itself is a virtue. Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned  faith is a virtue primes them, given certain other ingredients that are not too hard to come by, to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades. Faith can be very dangerous, and  deliberately  to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong. It is purely and simply a violation of childhood by religion.’

Dawkins quotes another scholar, Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity: The mantra, ‘Islam is peace’ is almost 1,400 years out of date. It was only for about 13 years that Islam was peace and nothing but peace…For today’s radical Muslims – just as for the mediaeval jurists who developed classical Islam, it would be truer to say ‘Islam is war’. One of the most radical Islamic groups in Britain, al-Ghurabaa, stated in the wake of the two London bombings, ‘Any Muslim that denies that terror is a part of Islam is kafir.’ A kafir is an unbeliever ( i.e. a non-Muslim), a term of gross insult…Could it be that the young men who committed suicide were neither  on the fringes of Muslim society in Britain, nor following an eccentric or extremist interpretation of their faith, but rather that they came from the very core of the Muslim community and were motivated by a mainstream interpretation of Islam?

Food for thought: Is the reason Muslims murder and torture those who criticise or make fun of Islam and their prophet, because they know that if Islam endures the same scholarly scrutiny that Christianity and Judaism have in recent decades,  that it will be revealed as the sham that it really is? I urge readers to place their Bible, Qur’an or Torah in their home library on shelves alongside other great classics of  literary fiction.

The other night I watched a news item showing a Muslim child, barely five years old, at a kindergarten, dressed in a black hijab and full length black dress….while the other children around her were dressed in pretty, colourful clothing, their pretty hair tied up in dainty ribbons and bows  …how is this conducive to a small child feeling a part of the community she lives in? And why do Muslim women insist on wearing clothing that makes them stand out from the crowd and attract negative and sometimes abusive reaction from extremists of other religions? Surely religion is a private matter to be celebrated at home or in a church or mosque?

-Anne Frandi-Coory 20 June 2017

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A Letter to Catana Tully, author of

Split At The Root – A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity

Dear Catana

I loved your book; so sad and yet uplifting to know the wonderful person you have become. I could relate to the essence of your story even though our stories are set in different parts of the world. It doesn’t matter what race or creed, life affects us in the same way, for better or for worse, for we are all too human and need love, just as much as nourishment, to thrive.

I find the hardest thing for me is that I cannot return to my childhood and change that which I yearn to do. Our identities were snatched from us and even after a lifetime, we still seem to be searching for something. Oh, we know our family history, I too researched mine for years before I wrote Whatever Happened To Ishtar?

I too was prevented from having any contact with my mother. The reasons are as varied as yours: her shame of unwed motherhood, and of course ethnocentric prejudice.  I know that your German parents loved you, but what right did they have to rob your mother of you, and you of your mother? Your poor mother was used as nothing more than a slave, and that is what my Lebanese father’s family surely wanted of me? You write about your mother Rosa, as being so tired from cooking and cleaning for your German family, that she must have lamented the time that she couldn’t spend with you. I wonder, did she believe that she wasn’t worthy enough to love and care for you, her baby,  as Mutti and Ruth did? My Lebanese extended family didn’t have a black slave, but they had me, a scapegoat child who would surely do the job!

Although your German family appeared to love you, and you had everything you could possibly have wanted, they stole your heritage, purely and simply. I too had a good, formal education, and I am grateful for that, but it could never make up for being separated from my mother as an infant, and never knowing her extended Italian family. A primal cut leaves a primal wound, which never stops bleeding. Our young mothers were vulnerable, both were naïve; more than likely coerced into an act they were not ready for,  by sexually experienced men. I find it interesting that your mother also became pregnant after one sexual encounter with your father. My mother was an innocent ex Catholic nun while the father of her firstborn son  was a soldier returning from the Second World War. He was already married with a young son, so she was left to fend for herself.  It is true that the relationship a mother has with her child is intimately affected by how that child was conceived.

Like your German family convinced you in subtle ways, your mother was to be shunned or even feared, my Lebanese family made sure that I knew my mother was a ‘fallen’ woman and that it was inevitable I would follow in her footsteps unless rigid controls were put in place. No man would want to marry me, so best that I become the family dogsbody who remains unmarried and cares for the household. I too was given another name, which I have now largely rejected.

Your German mother’s life goal was to make sure you married a man who, like her, could ‘frame’ you as being well educated, well brought up, in spite of your black skin. The nickname she gave you absolutely appals me. How could it not enter into your subconscious mind and influence your deep feelings of self-worth later in life?

Even though we had very different upbringings…yours infused with love and mine with hatred, the end result was the same; we lost our souls, our cultural and personal identity. I love that the Carib’s, your mother’s people, embraced you when you finally returned to her village, decades later. This I know takes enormous courage.

You write about dreaming of your mother Rosa being ‘at my bed’ and your Carib siblings talk of being aware of the scent of her favourite Jasmine flower whenever her spirit hovered in the vicinity. While writing Ishtar? my  mother’s nightly spiritual nagging urged me on whenever the book took too much of an emotional toll on my well-being and I just wanted to give the whole thing up. She wanted me to tell her heart-breaking story. I too believe, like your sister Adela does: ‘Back home we believe that there is no death, that when life in the body ends we return to our real essence; that of being spirits.’

All memories of the excluded mother who gave us birth  are erased from the surface of our minds only to be buried deeply within us. Our lives  were controlled, and as one of your reviewers has written: ‘Those who control the present control the past, and those who control the past, control the future.’

I am sure that our mothers’ spirits are now at peace. As I read your beautiful words within the pages of Split at the Root, they evoked vibrant images and enabled me to accompany you on your journey ‘home’. Thank you, Catana for sharing your life with us.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 7 March 2017

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Dear Penny

I just had to put this down on paper, because I know you love Elena Ferrante’s books as much as I do.

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Frantumaglia…wow Penny, I don’t know if you have read this book, but Elena Ferrante’s words keep punching me in the stomach.
frantumaglia
As you know, Frantumaglia translates into English as ‘a jumble of fragments’ but this book is far from a jumble. I don’t read a lot of modern fiction because I find that non-fiction has more ‘punch’ ’emotion’ and less hollow creative writing. But much of Ferrante’s life is in her books of fiction; so much of the streets of Naples, and of course, so much about our mothers. I can identify with what she says, even though I spent my infancy and childhood only with nuns, while dolls were my security until my teens. I was close to no females until the birth of my daughter when I was 23 years old… and as Ferrante says: “Dolls are not merely a miniaturisation of the daughter. They can be stand-ins for women…” Perhaps real women was what I needed, women whose bodies I could see?  Ferrante talks at length of the ‘shapelessness’ of mothers’ bodies, and I know full well what she means, although in a completely different context. And of course, nuns were also subservient to their men; god in heaven, priests and bishops here on earth!
I had decided, after reading the Neapolitan Novel Quartet  and The Days Of Abandonment not to read Ferrante’s two other earlier books Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter. That is until I read Frantumaglia; then, how could I resist?
Ferrante says of mothers she knew in Naples, including her own: ‘They are cheerful and foul-mouthed women, silent victims, desperately in love with males and male children, ready to defend and serve them even though the men crush and torture them to become even more brutish. To be female children of these mothers wasn’t and isn’t easy. Their vital, obscene, suffering subjugation, full of plans for insurrection that end in nothing, makes both empathy and disaffected rejection difficult. We have to escape from Naples [Italy] to escape from them as well. Only later is it possible to see the torture of women, to feel the weight of the male city on their existence, feel remorse of having abandoned them, and learn to love them, to make them, as you say, a point of leverage in order to redeem their hidden sexuality, and start again from there.’ And in my case, to forgive them.
Frantumaglia – A Writer’s Journey, is a collection of correspondence between Ferrante and her Italian publishers,  interviews with film makers, and responses to readers’ questions, all conducted by email through her publishers to protect her anonymity. Every piece of writing in the form of correspondence between Ferrrante and her readers is full of passion, and I believe, she exposes her very soul to us. Here is an example in which Ferrante discusses with a reader, her insights into the fragmentation felt by mothers. Her own mother used the term ‘frantumaglia’ to explain her feelings of ‘disintegration’. The Days Of Abandonment is the story of Olga’s slow disintegration and fragmentation after her husband informs her that he is leaving her and their children for a much younger woman.
 …
Interviewer: Do you think that this emotional journey, this coming apart into a jumble of fragments and then putting oneself back together, is an inevitable passage in the lives of women, with or without analysis?
 …
Ferrante: In the women I feel close to it was. In some cases it seemed to me that feeling literally in pieces could be traced back to that sort of original fragmentation that is bringing into the world-coming into the world. I mean feeling oneself a mother at the price of getting rid of a living fragment of one’s own body; I mean feeling oneself a daughter as a fragment of a whole and incomparable body. 
Ferrante then goes on to say: What counts in the end is the collective flow of generations. Even when there is both merit and luck, the efforts of a single individual are unsatisfying.
 …
Ferrante could easily have been writing about my Italian mother, grandmother and great grand grandmothers. I researched and studied their lives from their childhoods, to try and understand why my own mother abandoned me in an orphanage, and why so many mothers in my family tree had such fragmented and brutal lives. Everything Ferrante writes deeply resonates within me. Thank you Penny, for introducing me to Elena Ferrante.
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-Anne Frandi-Coory 13 February 2017

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