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A Tale Of Three Cities ISTANBUL 

-Bettany Hughes

*****

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.

*****

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

 

*****

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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Damascus Gate 

by Robert Stone

damascus-gate

 

 

What is it about authors who have been incarcerated in Catholic orphanages and other religious institutions during their formative years? This is another book I found at Clunes Book Festival in Victoria and I wonder, is it the title that attracted me or the intense stories about faith written within its pages? The author Robert Stone has himself a past bathed in religious upheaval and search for identity. He was raised by his schizophrenic mother until he was five, when she was committed to an asylum for the insane. Five year old Robert, whose father abandoned the family, was then taken in by a Catholic Orphanage, who Stone describes as having the ‘social dynamic of a coral reef’. The violence the boy experienced at the hands of men posing as carers, is a heart rending story retold many times over by children raised in religious institutions.  I think it must be the passion and fearlessness with which these authors take on ‘taboo’ subjects that attracts my undivided attention. Someone wrote that books, once written, have no need of their authors. That is true enough, but I must admit to seeking out most books by author, rather than title or genre. I like to know more about the background of the author, particularly if a book has had a deep effect on me, and Damascus Gate is just such a book.   You can never judge a book by its cover in my view, especially when it’s a good read you are looking for.

At the centre of the Damascus Gate story is struggling free-lance journalist, Chris Lucas (Catholic mother, Jewish father), who teams up with a psychiatrist in Jerusalem to write a book about religious zealots, some insane, of all persuasions who come to the Holy City to ‘find the truth’ a condition labelled the ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’. The two men enlist the help of an archaeologist, who himself seems to have caught the ‘combative spiritualism’ endemic in Jerusalem. Little does Lucas realise that he is being followed, photographed and controlled by various groups fulfilling their own agendas. The Jerusalem Syndrome is a label attached to a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are believed to be triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. Followers of the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be equally affected by the syndrome. There is no doubt that with the Israeli army surrounding the city, and with its spies everywhere, the religion of Judaism appears to have the upper hand and control of the city and its environs with the help of its watch towers and road blocks at every twist and turn.  The best known manifestation of Jerusalem Syndrome is whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by an intense religious mania and most often resolves to full recovery for the afflicted over time or immediately following their departure from the city.

Even those of little faith, or atheists, sense ‘there is something here in Jerusalem’, but what, they cannot say.

Damascus Gate is set in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, is fiction based on fact; we all know what a powder keg Jerusalem is with its struggle to contain the three religions within a relatively harmonious state. Making the situation even more volatile, are the various sects of Christianity, Islam and Judaism competing to have their ‘truth’ realised, even though archaeological proof is yet to be discovered for any of their respective claims. This book is a great read and highlights the sectarian differences between  Christians, Muslims and Jews whose followers all fight for supremacy over this small historically important city. Each sect has its own neighbourhood and if you’re not one of them, you are forewarned to avoid walking through its streets alone without an approved escort. It can be a very dangerous city and riots between Jews and Arabs can erupt at any time for the slightest of motives. Not only that, this fraught city attracts all manner of religious lunatics hell bent on ‘saving’ their respective Messiah’s or Holy Prophet’s relics from the infidel. Drugs, money and sexual favours add to the heady religious mix, and anything can happen at any time. Herman Melville’s quote sits revealingly on the front page of Damascus Gate: ‘Enigma and evasion grow; And shall we never find Thee out?’

A  Jewish extremist underground movement exists in Jerusalem and it aspires to rebuild the Temple. To achieve this, the mosques must be blown sky high. The Israeli Defence Force and Mossad know that if this happens Armageddon will erupt in Jerusalem which will surpass its many past destructions, the effects of which will be felt across the globe. There is not much going on in Jerusalem that these two forces don’t know about.  The tensions are deep and ancient, with their thousands of years of history fought over every day and at every religious festival. Serious political games are being played out at the very highest levels where murder, intrigue and ‘religious  authority’ are used to control and incite violence which is forever simmering at a very shallow depth beneath the surface of this ancient land.

Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the state of Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there. One of Israel’s Basic Laws, the 1980 Jerusalem Law refers to Jerusalem as the country’s undivided capital. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister, President and the Supreme Court while the State of Palestine ultimately foresees the city as its seat of power. However, neither claim is widely recognized internationally. In latter years Muslim extremists have become more powerful and dangerous making Jerusalem even more volatile than ever. Staff of non-government organisations such as the UN and Save the Children, feature in this story and all play an integral part in the intrigue and hidden agendas.

One reviewer says of Damascus Gate: ‘Stone has a journalist’s eye for detail, but a novelist’s eye for irony’…and I believe that this is what makes the book such a great read. Stone manages to capture all the intrigue, all the religious fervour and menace in his words and all the while there is the ‘festering menace of Gaza’.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 23 January 2017

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The American Pastor Terry Jones, said that the burning of the Koran was a success and ‘a once-in-a-lifetime experience’. One wonders what he meant by ‘a success’.  Pastor  Jones, a fundamentalist Christian,  oversaw the torching of a copy of the Muslim holy book on Sunday, after staging a mock ‘trial’ in which it was found guilty of what he described as ‘crimes against humanity’.  The ‘jury’ in the case had heard arguments from a ‘prosecutor’ and a ‘defender’ of the Koran before sentencing it to ‘death by execution’.   Is he using human terms for the Koran because he is too afraid to ‘try’ the author?

I have never read the Koran, but a muslim acquaintance told me that it is all about interpretation, and unfortunately fundamentalist muslims  interpret verses in the Koran as catalysts for acts of brutality to infidels, ie anyone who is a non-muslim.  The majority of muslims don’t read such senseless violence into what is written in their holy book.  The same can be said of the Christian bible,  both books written hundreds of years ago. Most decent Christians and muslims only want the best for their families; for their children and grandchildren to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.

How can the pastor’s stance be anything other than an attention-grabbing one?  Or perhaps the man is mentally ill.  It just doesn’t make sense, that an intelligent man could verbalise such rubbish as:  ‘After listening to ‘evidence’ and arguments from both sides, the jury pronounced the Koran ‘guilty’ of five ‘crimes against humanity’ including the promotion of terrorist acts and ‘the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith’.  The Koran’s ‘punishment’ was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options had included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings.  Hasn’t this church leader and his small congregation got better things to do, such as helping the sick and the poor?

“It is not that we burn the Koran with some type of vindictive motive,” Mr. Jones said. “We do not even burn it with great pleasure or any pleasure at all. We burn it because we feel a deep obligation to stay with the court system of America. The court system of America does not allow convicted criminals to go free. And that is why we feel obligated to do this.”   Mahatma Gandhi was reputed to have said something along the lines of: “There is nothing wrong with Christianity.  Christians are the problem”.   One could say the same about Islam and muslims.

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All this mindless stupidity on both sides achieved nothing but senseless  killingsNews Item:

Stirred up by a trio of angry mullahs who urged them to avenge the burning of a Koran at a Florida church, thousands of protesters overran the compound of the United Nations in this northern Afghan city, killing at least 12 people, Afghan and United Nations officials said. The dead included at least seven United Nations workers — four Nepalese guards and three Europeans from Romania, Sweden and Norway — according to United Nations officials in New York. One was a woman.  Five Afghans were also killed.

See  Burning  Books Leads to More…

Burning the Koran; English Al Jazeera

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Mad American Christian Pastor, Terry Jones

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Terry Jones has published a guide called Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran; railed against the rights of women to have abortions; and describes homosexuality as ‘a sin’. When Pastor Jones was in Germany, his daughter Emma, one of his three children, described the church, run by Dove World Outreach, as a cult and accused them of financial and workplace abuse.

Dove World Outreach is funded by the pastor’s furniture firm, TS & Company, which buys vintage items from Europe and sells them in the US. The employees are members of the church, who are understood to work for no wages and live rent-free in run-down properties owned by the pastor and his wife.

Perhaps this pastor should heed an old warning: When you point the finger of accusation at someone, be careful what you say, because there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Why is it that some humans persist in killing those of other ethnic groups or other religions?  I know that power and corruption is part of the cause, but it takes a whole lot of hatred to spend one’s life in the pursuit of killing innocent families.  At least the Christians gave up slaughtering heretics and muslims hundreds of years ago.  Islamic militants seem hell-bent on starting up Christian/Muslim wars.  Don’t they realise most of us respect people of different faiths?  We may not agree with their belief systems but it doesn’t mean we want to kill them.  What I cannot understand is why the Islamic militants are blowing up their own mosques and destroying their own culture.

My heart goes out to the religious  minority Christians living in Iraq.  How terrifying must it be to know that you are being targeted and the country is in the hands of weak government.

Iraqi bomber- note the cavalier treatment of this mass murderer!

Source: World News –

BAGHDAD (AP) — The toll from the bloody siege of a Baghdad church rose Monday to 52 dead with dozens more injured, Iraqi officials said.

The standoff began at dusk Sunday when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the nearby Iraqi stock exchange and then entered the nearby Our Lady of Deliverance church — one of Baghdad’s main Catholic places of worship — taking about 120 Christians hostage.

Iraqi forces stormed the church after a tense hours-long standoff, freeing the hostages. It was not immediately clear whether the hostages died at the hands of the attackers or during the rescue.

Officials said at least one priest and nine policemen were among the dead. Many of the wounded were women.

The casualty information came from police and officials at hospitals where the dead and wounded were taken. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.  Photo below shows residents carrying empty coffin to pick up the dead from the Christian church.

Source: Associated Press

BAGHDAD – A string of bombings targeted Christian houses in Baghdad early Wednesday, killing at least four people and wounding 11 others, officials said.

The attacks underscore the threat to Iraq’s minority Christian community following the church massacre last week that left 58 people dead. Al-Qaida militants claimed responsibility for that attack, and threatened more violence against the country’s Christians.

Police said bombs went off near four houses belonging to Christians in the Iraqi capital’s predominantly Christian districts, police said. The officials said the bombs detonated within minutes of each other early Wednesday.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The blasts come after a similar series of bombings late Tuesday that hit three empty houses belonging to Christians in western Baghdad, police officials said. No one was wounded in those bombings.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s political leaders are preparing to meet for the third day in a row over the formation of a new government eight months after an inconclusive elections.   Many believe militants are exploiting the political vacuum created by the politicians’ prolonged bickering over who should be the next prime minister.

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