Tag Archives: Jibal Ansariya

Islam’s First Terrorists

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 24, 20151. The Assassins (book)

Book Review: The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (1967) by Bernard Lewis

This review can be read in six parts: one, two, three, fourfive, and six.

Abstract

The fourth Caliph, Ali, was assassinated during a civil war that his supporters, Shi’atu Ali (Followers of Ali), lost to the Umayyads, who thereafter moved the capital to Damascus. The Shi’a maintained that the Caliphate should have been kept in the Prophet’s family; over time this faction evolved into a sect unto themselves, which largely functioned as an official opposition, maintaining its claim to the Caliphate, but doing little about it. Several ghulat (extremist) Shi’a movements emerged that did challenge the Caliphate. One of them was the Ismailis. Calling themselves the Fatimids, the Ismailis managed to set up a rival Caliphate in Cairo from the mid-tenth century until the early twelfth century that covered most of North Africa and western Syria. A radical splinter of the Ismailis, the Nizaris, broke with the Fatimids in the late eleventh century and for the next century-and-a-half waged a campaign of terror against the Sunni order from bases in Persia and then Syria. In the late thirteenth century the Nizaris were overwhelmed by the Mongols in Persia and by the Egyptian Mameluke dynasty which halted the Mongol invasion in Syria. The Syrian-based branch of the Nizaris became known as the Assassins, and attained legendary status in the West after they murdered several Crusader officials in the Levant. Attention has often turned back to the Assassins in the West when terrorist groups from the Middle East are in the news, but in the contemporary case of the Islamic State (ISIS) the lessons the Nizaris can provide are limited. Continue reading

Islam’s First Terrorists, Part 2

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 18, 2015

This is the second of a six-part series. For part one, see here

2. Alamut

Alamut fortress, northern Iran, the headquarters of the Nizaris

The Origins of the Nizaris in Persia

Hassan-i Sabbah would lead the Nizaris in Persia. Recruited in Rayy, near Tehran, by the chief dawa (missionary) of the Fatimids in 1072, Hassan-i Sabbah went to Egypt between 1078 and 1081, before returning to Iran to proselytize. In 1090, Hassan-i Sabbah won control of the fortress of Alamut in north-west Iran, which would become the headquarters of the Nizaris. Throughout the 1090s, the Nizaris gained control of further castles in Daylam, specifically the Rudbar area; in the southwest of Iran between Khuzestan and Fars; and in the east in Quhistan. Most impressive was the capture of the fortress at Shahdiz, near Isfahan, in 1096-7.

The Daylamis were a notoriously rebellious and hardy people; one of the last to convert to Islam, they were then among the first to assert their independence within it, first politically by forming a separate dynasty and then religiously by converting to Shi’ism. Continue reading

How Many Alawis Have Been Killed In Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 20, 2015

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In a report on the internal divisions in the Assad regime and the passing of Syria’s sovereignty to Iran by Ruth Sherlock in The Sunday Telegraph on May 17, there was this stunning sentence: “Perhaps a third of all Alawite males of military age have been killed in the civil war.” This is a startling thought.

To determine if this figure for the proportion of Alawis killed is plausible it is necessary to know how many Alawis there were in Syria at the outset of the war, and how many people have been killed during the war. Continue reading

The Local And Regional Implications From The Fall Of Idlib

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 31, 2015

Statue of Hafez al-Assad defaced after Idlib City falls, March 29, 2015

Statue of Hafez al-Assad defaced after Idlib City falls, March 29, 2015

After an insurgent offensive began on March 24, Idlib City fell on March 29, making it only the second—of Syria’s fourteen—provincial capitals to slip from the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the last one being Raqqa City on March 4, 2013. The regime has been on borrowed time in Idlib City since Wadi al-Deif to the south, near Maarat an-Numan, fell in mid-December.

In a scene reminiscent of Raqqa—and indeed the fall of Baghdad—a statue of Hafez al-Assad was destroyed. The insurgents broke open some secret prisons, while finding that in a final act of needless cruelty the regime had murdered other prisoners in the cells before retreating.

An operations room, Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), organised this offensive, and is composed of: Faylaq a-Sham (Sham Legion), Liwa al-Haq, Ajnad a-Sham, Jaysh al-Sunna, Ahrar a-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa (JAA), and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat an-Nusra. Continue reading

From Kessab to Cannibals: Syria’s Media War

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 5, 2015

Mother Agnes Mariam on RT. An agent of the regime, she dismissed Syria's rebels as a foreign conspiracy.

Mother Agnes Mariam on RT. An agent of the regime, she dismissed Syria’s rebels as a foreign conspiracy.

Fouad Ajami once said Syria was the “first YouTube war“. An academic study called Syria “the most socially mediated civil conflict in history“. From the start of the Syrian war, the media and propaganda dimension has been of immense importance, impacting the course of the war on the ground and affecting the policy of foreign States who could make a decisive difference in the conflict. Continue reading

What To Do About Syria: Sectarianism And The Minorities

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 24, 2014

The Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa City

The Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa City

In the last few days I’ve been asked a lot about my longstanding view that the beginning of a Western strategy in Syria is the removal of Bashar al-Assad. The question has come from various angles and been phrased in various ways but it always boils down to: “What comes next?”

The best response I have seen to this comes from Thomas Nichols: “When someone says ‘tell me how it ends,’ it’s another way of saying: ‘I just don’t happen to like this particular case for intervention,’ for whatever reason.” Continue reading

Will The Alawis Break With Assad?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 12, 2014

A grisly brood: The Assad family

A grisly brood: The Assad family

Last Thursday, in Akrama, an Alawi section of Homs City, there was the most extraordinary scene: Alawite anti-Assad protests. A twin bombing at a local school—reported as a suicide bombing by the regime, though there is no evidence for this—had massacred fifty Alawi civilians, most of them pupils. Annexing the slogans of the revolution, the Alawis took to the streets to demand the removal of Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi. “The people want to topple the governor,” people shouted, a conscious echo of the “Arab Spring” chant, a-shab yurid izkat an-nizam (the people want to topple the regime). Continue reading