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Nevertheless, back in viking times, "Norway" was quite aggressive, expansive and violent country ;-)

I find this provocative diary constructive enough. As a leading civilisation, the West has the most power to set the violence and greed standards. And it set them quite high. If you cannot control your own aspirations and methods, what can you ask from the less knowledgable?
 

by das monde on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 12:00:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can keep on going back in history and the "Western" countries will have to repent for eternity.  That is why I find this kind of excuses unproductive.  To me it seems as if it is a competition in how much repent we can do.  

Of course you have to acknowledge the ill deeds done in the past, but then move on and not keep leaving in the past.  

As a leading civilisation, the West has the most power to set the violence and greed standards. And it set them quite high.

Yes that might be, but then you have to set those standards to other nations too, otherwise the whole thing is futile. You can not have certain standards for yourself and lesser standards for others, that would be double standard and not viable and unwanted.  These embassy attacks are in direct violation of international law and a direct attack on Norwegian souverenity.  Such standards have to apply to Syria, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestinians, Iran etc. also, if not, the terms mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence will have no meaning.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 10:40:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is not repentance. The point is indeed moving on to the future. But to learn from history, you have to know it, and you have to know yourself.

I do not say that the West should feel eternally guilty or to redeem its sins. What happened that happened. Everyone must continue to live from the things that we have now. But the civilisation may learn a lot from realisation of missed opportunities, or from evaluation of the things done. In the past 600 years, the West was destroying a lot of other societies, their economies and environment, human lives. That shouldn't have been that way, and that shouldn't continue like that.

For example, let's consider the vikings again. After some looting of Norh-West Europe (this is not complaining, just a matter of fact), they reached Greenland and North America. They failed to establish themselves in the North America and eventually in Greenland (after 500 years of good trying) primarily because they failed to establish good relations with the Indians or with the Inuit. They were not even close to having good relations... At the end, they had to leave North America and did not survive in Greenland.

Regarding the standards, I can say this. Lay people or "lay" nations largely follow behaviour of the leaders. Of course, lay people are not able to do exactly what the most powerful do. But they tend to copy the moral behaviour. If the most powerful cannot limit their greed or forceful violence, the people will also grab whatever they can grab, and they may "blow up" whatever they can and need to "blow up". If the most powerful show that you can live happily without striving to grab everything you can possibly grab, people will realisze that too. Surely, in absolute terms you cannot expect that no pure thug will be more nasty than benevolent wealthy citizen. But a society can live with a handful of desperate pimps. Global problems occur when everyone from top to down is desperate for grabbing and winning over. And this global attitude is largely determined by the behaviour of the "leaders".

Getting back to the civilisation matters, the Western standards of greed and violence were hardly lesser than of anyone else. The arabs are violent? Yeah, they have violent traditions. But those traditions evolve together with things like the Crusades or colonization. Again, we cannot change the past. But every lunatic crusade has consequences, and those consequences have more consequences. And we all have to live with those consequences, whoever "started it". Cultural traumas can heal slowly, but they get inflicted much more easily.

by das monde on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 08:15:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They failed to establish themselves in the North America and eventually in Greenland (after 500 years of good trying) primarily because they failed to establish good relations with the Indians or with the Inuit. They were not even close to having good relations...

This may be right about North America, where they were never much of a presence in the first place. But with the Inuit they seem to have gotten along until the Little Ice Age combined with massive erosion undermined their agriculture. Then they had to compete for seals with the Inuit, who now had the upper hand and didn't have to compromise.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 08:43:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the North America, the vikings probably had very few encouters with the Indians at all. But when with the first encounter they killed 8 out of 9 met Indians, that's not a great start.

The evidence of "getting along" with the Greenland Inuit is surprisingly zero. Apart from a few worn iron artifacts in Inuit camps, there is no evidence of any trade or common undertakings whatsoever. The Norse vikings learned nothing from the Inuit: neither Inuit hunting or fishing methods, nor they tried to adopt the kayaks. The Norse written records tell how Inuit bleed when hit with an axe, and not much more.

The Norse vikings were rather conservative Christians. They supported the nice life of a local bishop handily. They hardly even thought of making friends with godless and "primitive" Inuit.

by das monde on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 09:36:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jared Diamond details (in Collapse) the Viking failure in Greenland.

They apparently never learned to exploit indigenous marine species for food, but wrecked the frail soil by their insistence on the domestic meat animals of their traditional culture;  and thus signed the death warrant of their colony, though at first this was not obvious.  It's a mesmerising read.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 09:53:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I read Collapse. Their insistance on "proper civilized" status meals was a huge drag. But I would say, ignorant soil destruction is a more understandable mistake than failing to cooperate with neighbouring peoples for the sake of your own survival.

Even more, one might say that the Norse Vikings learned to sustain the soil they got, until the Little Ice Age left them hopeless.

It is unlucke that they did not move to the North America. Newfoundland would already have been much better than Greenland, if they did not want to deal with more Indians more South. But of course, it was just a few thousand Norse people in Greenland, not enough to make and sustain the right decision...

by das monde on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 10:44:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They apparently never learned to exploit indigenous marine species for food

Well there are evidence of the contrary at least when it comes to trading artifacts taken from indigenous marine species.  Whether these artifacts came in to the settlers hands thru trade or whether they were obtained thru hunting  is unknown, but the conclusion must be that either the trade with the Inuits were extensive or the Viking settlers were quite able to adapt and became able hunters, or they did both.  

Trading with Norway, under whose rule they eventually came, the Greenlanders exchanged live falcons, polar bear skins, narwahl tusks, and walrus ivory and hides for timber, iron, tools, and other essentials, as well luxuries such as raisins, nuts, and wine.


Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 08:41:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the North America, the vikings probably had very few encouters with the Indians at all. But when with the first encounter they killed 8 out of 9 met Indians, that's not a great start.

I'd like you to provide me with some sources to your claim if possible.  

The evidence of "getting along" with the Greenland Inuit is surprisingly zero. Apart from a few worn iron artifacts in Inuit camps, there is no evidence of any trade or common undertakings whatsoever. The Norse vikings learned nothing from the Inuit: neither Inuit hunting or fishing methods, nor they tried to adopt the kayaks. The Norse written records tell how Inuit bleed when hit with an axe, and not much more.

I'd again like you to provide me with some sources to your claims if possible.  

I have some sources telling the exact opposite of what you are claiming, like; Archaeological investigation so far does not confirm the picture of only brief and violent encounters between the two peoples. and Traditional Inuit accounts suggest that the Norse may have been as eager to trade as to fight, and given the economic realities of mediaeval Greenland, this would seem likely..  

The Norse written records tell how Inuit bleed when hit with an axe, and not much more.

First of all, bear in mind that the sagas were written several centuries after the events they described and after the stories had been passed on orally for generations, it is likely that the dramatic events, including warfare and violence, had been highlighted and exaggerated to some extent by the story tellers and that they for obvious reasons can not be the the only sources you rely on.

The Norse vikings were rather conservative Christians.

No, not originally.  The Vikings took the Norse gods with them to Greenland and some scientists believe that it is not before Erik Raude and his wife Thjodhilde arrived in Greenland that the Christian faith was introduced alongside the old Norse belief. Here is a snip from one source: In 1961 workmen discovered near the barn a tiny horseshoe-shaped chapel built for Erik's wife Thjodhilde. When Erik and his supporters arrived in Greenland, the old Norse gods were still worshiped. Erik, a believer, upheld the ancient fatalistic philosophy of his Viking ancestors, but Thjodhilde converted to Christianity. Erik refused to surrender his beliefs, and Thjodhilde held steadfastly to hers. In time he granted her a small church 6.5 feet wide and 11.5 feet long, with room for 20 to 30 worshipers.

They hardly even thought of making friends with godless and "primitive" Inuit.

Well they at least seemed to trade with them according to sources and isn't friendship a two way street?

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:00:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry here is the source to the snip beginning with In 1961 workmen discovered near the barn a tiny horseshoe-shaped chapel built for Erik's wife Thjodhilde.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:03:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My source is Diamond's Collapse.

Your citations are taken a bit out of context.

From these few brief records the suggestion is that contacts between Inuit and Norse were few and violent, and the idea that the Norse colonies in Greenland were exterminated by the Inuit has become entrenched in writings on the subject. However, as the sagas were written several centuries after the events they described and after the stories had been passed on orally for generations, it is likely that the dramatic events, including warfare and violence, had been highlighted and exaggerated to some extent by the story tellers.

Traditional Inuit Legends

Traditional Inuit accounts suggest that the Norse may have been as eager to trade as to fight, and given the economic realities of mediaeval Greenland, this would seem likely. Metal was in short supply for the Greenlandic Norse as it had to be imported from Europe, as did their requirements of grain, timber and luxury goods. Payments for these imports were made in skins of walrus, polar bear and other animals, and primarily in walrus and narwhal ivory. [...]

The Archaeological Record

Archaeological investigation so far does not confirm the picture of only brief and violent encounters between the two peoples. In the Greenland Norse settlements there is no evidence of massacres, or destruction of farmsteads, or re-occupation by Inuit. In Inuit settlements throughout Greenland, there is evidence of acquisition of Norse materials, but no indication as to whether this material was acquired through trading, warfare or looting of abandoned sites. Archaeological specimens of smelted iron, bronze and copper widely distributed throughout Arctic Canada probably indicate that metal was an extremely valuable trade commodity to the Inuit of the period.

So the particular references to unconfirmed "brief and violent encounters" have the purpose of stressing that there is no evidence that Norse colonies were exterminated by the Inuit. Surely, the same references can be applied wider. But just in the same way you might say archaeological investigation so far does not confirm the picture of regular trading or otherwise friendly contacts between the two peoples.

Diamond's book does say that the evidence of Norse artifacts in Inuit camps is very small or neglibile. This is different from saying that there were specimens of smelted iron, bronze and copper widely distributed throughout Arctic Canada. Are there any Inuit artifacts found in Norse settlements?

If the metal specimen are indeed "widely distributed" in the Inuit Artic, this does indicate trade. The question is then: how regular or intensive was the trade? If the cooperation was indeed rather tight, it must have had noticable social consequences. But we see no sign of that on the Norse side, nor on the Inuit side as well. So the most reasonable assumption is that the two sides were not very much in contact, possibly they were avoiding each other, and both trade and violent contacts were rather rare.

The sagas indeed do not tell everything, nor they are precise. But even if they were passed orally for generations, importants hints of survival must have remained. Surely, violence stories form an important learning material. But total absence of amicable reference to Indians or Inuit in Norse sagas shows at least that the Norse vikings did not consider friendly contacts important. So I guess the Norse were not the ones more interested in "the two way street".

The vikings were indeed non-Christian originally. But when they acdepted Christianity in Scandinavia, the Island and Greenland settlements took the religion very seriously as a part of their 'civilised' identity. The church was allowed to be very explotative by the end:

By the middle of the fourteenth century, it owned two-thirds of the island's finest pastures, and tithes remained as onerous as ever, some of the proceeds going to the support of the Crusades half way around the world and even to fight heretics in Italy.
by das monde on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 02:08:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the particular references to unconfirmed "brief and violent encounters" have the purpose of stressing that there is no evidence that Norse colonies were exterminated by the Inuit. Surely, the same references can be applied wider.

Well since there are clues of natives killing Vikings too, I guess your guess is as good as mine.  There is no conclusive evidence, but there are indications and indeed there are people that ponder such a scenario as one of several plausible explanations.  

But we see no sign of that on the Norse side, nor on the Inuit side as well. So the most reasonable assumption is that the two sides were not very much in contact, possibly they were avoiding each other, and both trade and violent contacts were rather rare.

There are signs of trade in the Inuit legends, whether you chose to believe in it or ignore it is another story, but even if it is little evidence of such trade you can not automatically jump to the conclusion that there were little or no trade at all.  There is just not enough evidence to back up such a conclusion.  The same thing can be said about the Norse sagas.  Just because there are little or no mentioning of trade in them, doesn't mean that it was no contact or trade at all.  The Norse sagas were written as eulogies to Norse kings and "brave" Norse Vikings and have to be interpreted within that context, just as English and other European kings had their personal writers.  Thus you can only extract partial and inconclusive information from them.  

To conclude, your statements, like; primarily because they failed to establish good relations with the Indians or with the Inuit. They were not even close to having good relations... At the end, they had to leave North America and did not survive in Greenland. and In the North America, the Vikings probably had very few encounters with the Indians at all. But when with the first encounter they killed 8 out of 9 met Indians, that's not a great start. and The evidence of "getting along" with the Greenland Inuit is surprisingly zero. Apart from a few worn iron artifacts in Inuit camps, there is no evidence of any trade or common undertakings whatsoever. The Norse vikings learned nothing from the Inuit(.....) are just pure speculations that is not backed up by conclusive evidence and thus have to be seen as such.  

As Siroccos says in his comment; Then they had to compete for seals with the Inuit, who now had the upper hand and didn't have to compromise. points to the fact that the Vikings and Inuit's/natives competed over the resources in Greenland and Vineland which of course could lead to and indeed lead to fights, but there are no conclusive evidence of especially aggressive behaviour from the Viking settler against the natives.  

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 08:19:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My aggregate response is down here.
by das monde on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:14:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is not repentance. The point is indeed moving on to the future. But to learn from history, you have to know it, and you have to know yourself.

Yes, I sometimes suspect that to be the real motive behind some of the arguments, but that is my opinion.

To claim that leaders in most "western" countries don't learn from history and that they don't know themselves is a bit strong in my opinion.  Maybe some people haven't learned their history, but I do think that the best authority on oneself is oneself and no one else.  

By referring to histories wrong doings all the time, you are living in the past, and it is by the way it can be an excellent way of silencing your opponents.  

For example, let's consider the Vikings again. After some looting of North-West Europe (this is not complaining, just a matter of fact), they reached Greenland and North America. They failed to establish themselves in the North America and eventually in Greenland (after 500 years of good trying) primarily because they failed to establish good relations with the Indians or with the Inuit. They were not even close to having good relations... At the end, they had to leave North America and did not survive in Greenland.

Well, to be honest the term; good relations was not in much use in those days I am afraid it was just not a priority.  If you look at many North-American tribes then you'll find out that even they had their fair share of conflicts and war.  The reasons why the Vikings disappeared from North-America was much because they were too few (a minority) and was wiped out by the native majority.  

Lay people or "lay" nations largely follow behaviour of the leaders. Of course, lay people are not able to do exactly what the most powerful do. But they tend to copy the moral behaviour.

I beg to differ.  You seem to paint a picture with a too broad a pencil and fall into the trap of generalization, if this is so, why the rift between the USA and many European countries?  If they went along with the US in the second Gulf War, they would certainly get favoured business contracts and having better relations with the "all powerful" one, wouldn't that be in their best interest?  But even if Iraq was "up for grabs" as you say many other countries didn't follow suit.  I would say that standing up for your values and, as in the cartoon case, freedom of speech is very much a moral standard and not something that represent the "the-grab-all-you-can" ideology that you describe.

The arabs are violent? Yeah, they have violent traditions. But those traditions evolve together with things like the Crusades or colonization.

I am not sure what you mean here, but if you mean that because of the crusades and the colonization history the Arabs have to use violence against the West today, I have to disagree.  That is certainly living in the past and a logical conclusion would be that the Europeans had to resort to violence against the Arabs remembering the Ottoman march and onslaught in Vienna or the Ummayyad conquering of southern Spain.  This kind of thinking is not constructive and will lead to a state of constant war.      

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 09:10:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
- in the late 80s when the notorious Ivar Garberg of Radio Bergen - who's still going strong - had a muslim kid on the line. "Why," thundered Garberg, "should we trust you muslims? Do you think we have forgotten what you did in Constantinople in 1453?"

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 09:21:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeeeha, lol.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 09:24:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My British Mum often said that she "hates the French" because of 1066.  People are like that...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 09:54:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not say that the Western leaders do not know history. But you can always know the history better. There is still plenty of default assumptions of self-righteous superiorities. For example, Orientalism is not quite a science of Eastern societies, it is rather the Western imagine and prejudices of the East.

Well, to be honest the term; good relations was not in much use in those days I am afraid it was just not a priority.

What do we know about good relations in those days? All we know is how the West came into touch with other civilizations, and the pattern is very consistent. Do we have to assume that civilization contacts without Western participation looked exactly like that? Yeah, I know, you can provide a few examples of bloody tribe clashes without the West. But does this mean that tribes and civilizations always went to one other's throat? Of course, building friendly communication between complete strangers without common language is a very non-trivial task. But I doubt that killing habits must be the most natural choice in such situations.

I am very curious about "friendly" contacts between civilizations. I believe that there were plenty of such in Eastern Asia, for example. But it is kind of difficult to recognize them by some direct evidence. I think that Indians also knew different means of "tribe colliding" - I do not idealize their societies, but I think that they knew "friendly" means of contacting as well. At least they did not have the aggression initiative when Columbus (or Vikings) came along.

It is very imprecise that the Vikings were "wiped out" by the Indians. As I indicated in the response to Sirocco, there were probably very few Viking causalities from Indian spears, but several times more Indian casualties. The Vikings were much better in raiding than in non-violent communication. (But I still admire them for many other reasons.)

About the generalization of "following the leaders": I do not mean that the nations tend to follow whatever the leader wants or says. Everyone has its own interests, preferable politics and yes, values. What I mean is just copying the ethical pattern of the "leader". In the Iraq case, Europe was not interested in grabbing Iraq, America was. But what America did with Iraq, may excuse Europe to do whatever it actually wants to do - which might not be so ambitious as grabbing an oil rich country, but... I may concur that Europe had learned quite a lot from the history, probably more than anyone else, and Europe's actual wishes are not that simplistically interventional. Even if Europe could "concur the world", it would probably not necessarily do it. (But who knows.) It is more appropriate to talk about what excuses the US provide to Arabs with its own behavior. America does everything violent what it can do, without any real regard of the effects. Ethically, the "fundamentalist muslims" do just the same: they blow up everything they can, and they do not care who gets hurt. Herewith I do justify the fanatic Muslim action, by no means. This is just an observation how ethical standards develop: if the most powerful does everything bad he can do, can you ask much restraint from the others?

Regarding the historical Arab violence: Right, they were concurring Spain, Vienna - that was indeed usual medieval business. But were they just as blindly ruthless to the concurred nations as the West was to American, African or Australian natives?

by das monde on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 10:26:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well at least I have provided you with sources claiming that the Vikings were as eager to trade as they were to fight and that is what traditional Inuit legends says.  If the Vikings had been that violent and that bloodthirsty surely they wouldn't have been portrayed in the Inuit legends as eager to trade and as a matter of fact the very sagas you are referring to claims that it was a lot of native (in norse called skraelinge) attacks/raids on Norse settlements on Greenland indicating the that the natives might not be so peaceful after all.

But does this mean that tribes and civilizations always went to one other's throat?

No that is my point there is little evidence of neither and thus futile to speculate about.

1. It is very imprecise that the Vikings were "wiped out" by the Indians. As I indicated in the response to Sirocco, 2. there were probably very few Viking causalities from Indian spears, but several times more Indian casualties. The Vikings were much better in raiding than in non-violent communication.

  1. Well at least as precise as you claiming; (.....)They were not even close to having good relations(...) and (.....)very few Viking causalities from Indian spears, but several times more Indian casualties. According to the Wikipedia; Only two Viking leaders actually overwintered in Vinland, the second being Thorvald Ericsson, Leif's brother, who was killed the second summer. However, according to the stories, the idea was soon abandoned due to conflicts with the "skrælingar" (possibly the later Beothuks, or Dorset people)(.....) which gives a certain credibility to my claim that some of the settlements on Vinland indeed could have been wiped out by natives and thus made the Vikings give up their settlement policy in Vinland.  

  2. Again could you be so kind to provide me with some sources or is this pure speculation from you part?


Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:32:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe a small winter settlement was "wipped out". But I would rather assume that the Norse just backed up after the few conflicts.
by das monde on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 02:27:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But were they just as blindly ruthless to the concurred nations as the West was to American, African or Australian natives?

Well if you look at the history of islam during the expansion the Muslim were not any better than many Europeans so, yes I believe they were as blindly ruthless to the concurred nations as the West was to American, African or Australian natives.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:35:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you mean the expansion of Islam up to Indonesia and Malaysia? Islam came there surprisingly peacefully, mainly through merchants. Islam even helped to calm wars between Indonesian kingdoms somewhat, and incepted unification of Indonesia, one might say.

I do not know of cases outside Arabian peninsula of Islam spread by commanding conversion of native peoples, in the way of Christian military missionaries.

by das monde on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 02:17:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To me, faith has little to do with aggressive expansion, it is just an excuse for it or  - at best - a stimulation. People are violent and aggressors by nature, that's the problem. And some people are worse than others.

When you say that a religion can temper that aggression, I totally agree.

by Nomad on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 06:05:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
People are violent and aggressors by nature, that's the problem.

I wish to disgress here. So we agree, some peoples are more violent than other peoples, and some people are more violent than other people. Like you say some people are worse than others. But are the better people still bad?

The problem is that the violent people often (and not surprisingly) usurp the power and determine the course of history.

If you consider a dramatic clash of civilisations (like Europeans vs Indians, or vikings vs 9th century North West Europe), you should see not only the ruthless aggressors, but also the other, rather tame side, which was not that crazy with fighting for more bounty at all. It is not that the tame side was always less advanced - it was usually behind just in military build up or aggressive temperament.

So if you look closely at the encounters of the West, you will notice many peoples with not so violent nature. So I do not agree with your generalization. Violence can go up or down, depending primarily on the character of the dominant power. Like everything else, violence evolves - people learn new nasty (and sometimes cosy) tricks from each other. Increased violence easily begets more violence, untill a calm hand (or crisis) comes up.

There is of course a practical problems for the tame side - how you fight "barbaric" violence of others? Is the only solution preventive violence of your own? I do not think so. But humanity learns violence much better than intelligent resistence, that's true.

by das monde on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 07:57:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's called: evolution. It's not the perfect analogy, it probably is yet another generalisation, but when describing history with a broad brush there's a need to Think Big. It seems to suffice.  I'll muse away here a little.

In both the two examples you cited, the conquest of America and the invasions of the Vikings, I would put more weight in the scale on advances in military and weaponry than on the tempered aggression of the conquered. About the Vikings I don't know so much - you and Sirroco seem to know a lot more - but I've always wondered when in history they decided to switch from just trading, to trading and and pillaging. One reason perhaps: Because they could?

In an amusing read, the Science of Diskworld, an interesting notion is put forward: humans first worked together as a tribe, tribal behaviour, and this was a smart evolutionary move. Somewhere down the line, the human tribe had become so big, that it was more advantageous for one tribe to simply wipe out the other tribe. That's barbaric behaviour, and it took advantage over the tempered, naive humans still adhering to tribal behaviour. Not that the tribal way was without violence, of course, but once a barbaric vision sets in, it nurtures violence.

Is there an answer to barbaric violence, except to revert to violence yourself? I've no idea. In case of the Americas, it seems to me at first glance there was no other way how history unfolded. The Indian tribes were outmatched in every possible way. On evolutionary scale, they were the weaker species and they got "replaced" by a stronger version. The term of the evolutionist Gould comes to mind: punctuated equilibrium.

As for the Vikings, I've no idea, but I suspect that an arm's race was the only response of North-West Europe to withstand the Vikings. That would be phyletic gradualism, with a steady transformation of the species.

by Nomad on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 05:34:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Famously, the Koran declares in 2:256 that "la ikraha fi d-dini" (there is no compulsion in religion). The traditional standard exegesis is a prohibition on forced conversion, and there has indeed been little of such outside the Arabic peninsula.

But this interpretation is not uncontroversial. Militant Islamists claim the verse is abrogated by Sura 9, known as "the Sword" and believed by some to be the last one revealed. Here we have a number of harsh commands, including:

9:73 "O Prophet, fight [jihad] the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be stern with them. Their abode is Hell, and what a terrible destiny!"

...and even more infamously:

9:123 "O you who believe, wage war on [qital] those of the unbelievers near you and let them see how harsh you can be. Know that Allah is with the righteous."

Non-salafists tend to deny that Sura 9 abrogrates 2, confining the injunction to wage war to a specific context, namely that of defending the muslim community (Umma) against aggressive infidels.

Then again, there are many forms of compulsion. Sura 9 also imposes special demands on dhimmis (followers of other Abrahamic faiths) for the privilege of living within the Umma:

9:29 "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold forbidden that which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the poll tax (jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

Historically, this tax applied to all male non-muslims in muslim-dominated areas. Although some defend it as compensation for not having to do military service, it has been a major incentive for conversion in North Africa, the Balkans and elsewhere.

Furthermore, the Ottomans practised the dreaded devshirmeh (children tax or collection) in conquered lands, especially the Balkans. By this institution, boys were taken from their families and trained as military slaves (janissaries). Christians on the Balkans and elsewhere were also subject to legal discrimination, draconian punishments (e.g. impalement) and annexation of churches. Some were even forcibly converted outright, e.g. in Kosovo and Macedonia after the uprising in 1689.

So historically speaking, "there is no compulsion in religion" is at best a truth with modification in regard to Islam as well as, of course, to Christianity.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:15:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Minor correction: it's a specific verse that is called "the Sword," namely:

9:5 "When the period of four months during which hostilities are suspended expires without the idolaters having settled the terms of peace with you, resume fighting with them and kill them whenever you find them, and make them prisoners and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush."

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:29:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you mean the expansion of Islam up to Indonesia and Malaysia?

Well I am talking about Islamic expansion in Europe and vice versa.  Islamic expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia has no bearing since it has nothing to do in the ongoing debate about Western Imperialism in the Middle East and their fight against Islam during the its expansionist period, even if it points to the fact that Islam in those days was very much an imperialistic tool for ambitious rulers, just as Christianity was.  

I do not know of cases outside Arabian peninsula of Islam spread by commanding conversion of native peoples, in the way of Christian military missionaries.

Well in Europe, and more specifically in Russia and Central Asia.  It started with the Mongol ruler Batu Khan in what is called the "Golden Hoard" in 1235-1255.  His Mongol successor Mahmud Ghazan converted to Islam in 1292.

He focussed his religious persecution instead on the Buddhists, who had been so intolerant of Muslims for the past 30 years in the Il-Khanate. Ghazan converted all Buddhist temples to mosques, and he forced the Buddhist priests and monks to either convert to Islam or return to India, Tibet, or China. Christians were also persecuted, in retaliation for their special treatment at the expense of the Muslims under the Buddhist rulers of the Il-Khanate. Ghazan reorganised the administration of the Il-Khanate to reflect its new official Islamic faith. He replaced traditional Mongol law with the Sharia, or Islamic code of law, and adopted Islamic military codes for the Mongol army. At Ghazan's death in 1304, virtually all Mongol elements in the Il-Khanate had been absorbed into Islamic culture.
The Ottoman conquest of Constantinopel in 1452 and their expansion all the way up to Vienna is another example of Islams imperialist history.

My point is that history is not that black and white as some people seems to understand it.  It is not the only Europe and the "West" that has got an imperialist past with slave trade and abuse of human dignity. History is full of evidence pointing to the dark history of Arab and Islamic imperialism and hence is not something that is exclusively reserved to Europe and the "West".

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by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:23:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's noteworthy indeed how little one hears of the Arab slave trade, which in Africa spanned an incredible 13 centuries and has involved at least as many victims as the European equivalent (upwards of 11 million). Can't say I've noticed much remorse over this among Arab politicians and intellectuals, and I have the distinct impression that few others have noticed it either.

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:38:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, unfortunately some people seem to have a very selective memory when it comes to certain issues especially when it concerns the vilification of the "West".  

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by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 11:01:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not surprised that Genghis Khan successors were that oppressive. The Islam factor was a small part of all the atrocities they did.

The early Islamic "imperialism" was not very enthusiastic. They had 1000 years after the fall of Roman empire to conquer not just Mediterranean region, but much more of Africa and Asia. Yet they were not much into it. Even the Byzantine example rather shows lazy lack of imperialistic ambitions than aspiration to follow the Romans.

I do not deny their slavery and the influence the Arabs had. But if you use the term "imperialism", the early Arab "imperialism" did not match the later Western standard.

by das monde on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 08:21:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The early Islamic "imperialism" was not very enthusiastic.  They had 1000 years after the fall of Roman Empire to conquer not just Mediterranean region, but much more of Africa and Asia. Yet they were not much into it. Even the Byzantine example rather shows lazy lack of imperialistic ambitions than aspiration to follow the Romans.

Well, enthusiastic or not, still it was imperialism. The view of whether the Islamic imperialism was enthusiastic or not has more to do with personal preference than historical facts.  Well, actually they didn't have 1000 years to conquer the Mediterranean region and much of Africa and Asia, because there was much intra-rivalry within the Muslim congregation, with the Umayyad against Shiites in the battle of Kerbala and Umayyad against Abbasids and Abbasids against Seljuk Turks and Mongols.  They didn't have the ability and neither the competence at the time to do it, but when they finally did there was an Islamic stretch all the way from India to southern Spain and into Russia and Europe, but with sometimes with different rulers of different empires because of lack of unity and organization.  

But if you use the term "imperialism", the early Arab "imperialism" did not match the later Western standard.

The Umayyad Empire was pretty much an equivalent to the Roman Empire, only to the south of it, stretching from Spain all the way to present Iraq, so yes I would say could certainly match the Roman Empire.

Umayyad conquests extended westward across north Africa into Spain and France and eastward into India and Central Asia - an empire greater than that of Rome at its zenith.
 

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by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Fri Feb 10th, 2006 at 12:58:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Caliphate was indeed pretty darn big:

Compare the Roman Empire:

and that of Alexander the Great:

The only significantly larger empire was that of the Mongols:


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 10th, 2006 at 01:07:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry my comment above has to be modified.  instead of writing; They didn't have the ability and neither the competence at the time to do it, but when they finally did there was an Islamic stretch all the way from India to southern Spain and into Russia and Europe, but with sometimes with different rulers of different empires because of lack of unity and organization.

What I mean t to say that because of the intra-rivalry within the Muslim congregation, they didn't have the resources and possibly the competence to expand further.   Still, as Migeru so splendidly shows with his maps, the Islamic caliphate was at least as big as the Roman Empire if not bigger


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by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Fri Feb 10th, 2006 at 06:50:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I stole the map from Wikipedia.

After the coup that deposed the Ummayyads the Empire fragmented, so it wasn't very long-lived, and it was already too large to maintain its unity, as witnessed by the fact that the last surviving Ummayyad, Abd-Ar-Rahman, was able to install himself as Emir in Al-Andalus without the Abbasids being able or inclined to do anything about it. 150 years later the Emirs of Al-Andalus declared themselves Caliphs anyway.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 10th, 2006 at 07:05:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, mate.  If your interested in maps of history by the way, here is a nice website.

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by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Sat Feb 11th, 2006 at 12:27:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If we call everything "imperialism", we project too much of the recent history to the long and winding past. It is easy to put a default frame you are most familiar with, hang facts on it like on a Christmas tree, and make excuses "that was always the norm". This is reminiscent to modelling an ancient economy with "The Flinstones" series.

What I exercise is sceptisism of some default assumptions that we automatically make when thinking of civilizations. Do peoples always use violence when they can? Are climactic expansions determined by technological progress, or more by self righteous delusions more occasional than normal? The quietly  assumed answers to these questions are speculations as well.

The maps do not show how and why people went on conquering. Gengis Khan just needed to raid and collect "taxes" for his own wealth. Quite similarly, the West was reaching out for still new natural and human resourses just to raise their economic status. The Arabs were less practical, I would say. They were certainly ruthless, and the "needs" of rulers had to be satisfied. But those "needs" were more statical, and the resourses (human as well) were further from exhaustion. The Arabs are indeed internally violent, and that diminished their effectiveness. (Perhaps Jerome's comment in this thread is relevant.) But how could they be incompetent in empire building after the Roman/Greek or Persian examples? Perhaps they were indeed not so "enthusiastic" about empire growing obligations.

What I want is not just to compare the civilisations and say "yeah, this was an empire, and that was an empire". I wish to have some quantative measures of comparison, or to discern aspiration shifts. In particular, how often did peoples had a sence of measure with things? In the modern world, "everyone" basically thinks of having as much as possible, without thinking of how much is good enough. "If you won't grab this, someone else will..." The Medievial Arabs were probably just as greedy is some respects, but somewhere they were less aware of all possibilities to grab more than they need, I would say.

I will try to summarize and formulate my thoughts of this kind in a diary some day.

by das monde on Mon Feb 13th, 2006 at 04:19:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
1. The maps do not show how and why people went on conquering. Gengis Khan just needed to raid and collect "taxes" for his own wealth. Quite similarly, the West was reaching out for still new natural and human resourses just to raise their economic status. 2. The Arabs were less practical, I would say.

  1.  Well, that is irrelevant, in my opinion, it is still imperialistic policy and conquering by force, equal to that of the "Western" countries and that is why I find it futile to engage in the "blame game".

  2.  Yes, they were and thus hindered by practical reasons rather than refraining themselves from conquering more land out of noble reasons as you seem to suggest.  


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by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Tue Feb 14th, 2006 at 12:52:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nevertheless, back in viking times, "Norway" was quite aggressive, expansive and violent country ;-)

As shown below there are no evidence of Vikings being especially aggressive outside Europe and aggressive behaviour seems to be a "norm" in those days.  That is why the article above have no bearing on Norwegian history since we haven't had any colonies or done any conquering outside Europe.  

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 08:45:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From Diamond's Collapse (Chapters 6-8), I understood that the Viking violence "norm" was clearly higher than of other European countries in the 8th-11th centuries. Here are some selection of excerpts:
[The] vikings did indeed terrorize medieval Europe for several centuries. In their own language (Old Norse), even the word vikingar meant "raiders".

[Besides] being feared pirates, the vikings were farmers, traders, colonizers, and the first European explorers of the North Atlantic.

[The] Viking raids began abruptly on June 8, AD 793, with an attack on the rich but defenseless monastery of Lindisfarne Island off the northern English coast. Thereafter, the raids continued each summer, when the seas were calmer and more conductive to sailing, until after some years the Vikings stopped bothering to return home in the autumn but instead made winter settlements on the targeted coast so that they could begin raiding earlier next spring. From those beginnings arose a flexible mixed strategy of alternative methods to acquire wealth, depending on the relative strengths of the Viking fleets and the targeted peoples. As the strength and number of Vikings relative to locals increased, the methods progressed from peaceful trading, through extorting tribute in return to promise not to raid, to plundering and retreating, and culminated in conquest and the establishment of overseas Vikins states.

[The] Viking raids on Europe declined as their European targets gradually came to expect them and to defend themselves, as the power of the English and French kings and the German emperor grew, and as the rising power of the Norwegian king began to harness his uncontrolled hotbed of plundering chiefs and to channel their efforts into those of a respectable trading state.

[Chiefs] accumulated the necessary wealth through trading, raiding, and the production of their own farms. But Viking society was also a violent one, in which chiefs and their retainers fought each other at home as well as fighting other people overseas. The loosers on those internecine struggles were the ones who had the most to gain by trying their luck overseas. For instance, in the AD 980s, when an Icelander named Erik the Red was defeated and exiled, he explored Greenland and led a band of followers to settle the best farm sites there.

[On Vinland:] According to the sagas, the first Indians that the Vikings met were a group of nine, of whom they killed eight, while the ninth fled. [Not] surprisingly, the Indians came back in a fleet of small boats, shot arrows at the Norse, and killed their leader, Erik the Red's son Thorvald.

[The] next group of Norse voyagers did manage to establish a trade with local Indians (Norse cloth and cow's milk in exchange for animal furs brought by Indians), until one Viking killed an Indian trying to steal weapons. In the ensuing battle many Indians were killed before fleeing, but that was not enough to convince the Norse of the chronic problems that they would face.

[On Greenland:] According to sagas and medieval histories, around the year 980 a hot-blooded Norwegian known as Erik the Red was charged with murder and forced to leaved for Iceland, where he soon killed a few more people and was chased out to another part of Iceland. Having ended up, there too, in a quarrel and killed still more people, he was this time exiled entirely from Iceland for three years beginning around 982.

[Evidence of violence there:] The church cemetery at Brattahlid includes, in addition to many individual graves with neatly placed skeletons, a mass grave dating from earliest phase of the Greenland colony, and containing the disarticulated bones of 13 adult mean and one nine-year-old child, probably a clan party that lost a feud. Five of those skeletons bear skull wounds inflicted by a sharp instrument, presumably an axe or sword. While two of the skull wounds show signs of bone healing, implying that the victims survived the blow to die much later, the wounds of three others exhibit little or no healing, implying a quick death. That outcome isn't surprising when one sees photos of the skulls, one of which had a piece of bone three inches wide sliced out of it. The skull wounds were all on either the left side of the front of the skull or on the right side of the back, as expected for a right-handed assailant striking from in front or behind, respectively.

These are not all characterizations of Norse violence in Diamond's book. I would especially refer to the inframed story A typical week in the Life of a Greenland Bishop: The Saga of Einar Sokkason on pages 237-238.

So Vikings were pretty violent by any standards, especially the Vikings who ventured to Greenland or Vinland. The Inuit and Indians could hardly top them.

Regarding evidence of trade between the Inuit and the Vikings: I cannot deny the possibility, and I acknowledge the Inuit stories and (still scarce) evidence in Inuit camps. Still, I doubt that the trade was significant. There are no social influences whatsoever, literally. The trade was certainly less significant than Norse needed.

I am very skeptical whether the Inuit played a role in "exterminating" vikings. First of all, the last evidence in the Western colony shows clear signs of a desperately cold and hungry winter, and no signs of Inuit raiding. Secondly, the Inuit had no use of raiding the Vikings; neither had they evidently looted the abandoned sites. Thirdly, the Inuit probably had no military experience whatsoever; they had enough problems with just surviving their way.

I do not think that Sirroco's remark about hunt competition is very relevant. The proportions of hunting Inuit and vikings to seal numbers were not close to dramatic, I guess. Very likely, the viking share of hunting was not significant to the Inuit, who also had more effective hunting methods. The vikings did most hunting in the fall (after summer field works and before winter). Seal hunting required going far away from farms and dear man power. Most laborious were summer expeditions to the north to hunt for walrus tusks and bear skins, for European export rather than for food. The vikings were not able to hunt ringed seals (most valuable as food) at all.

As for the Viking-Indian encounters, the evidence shows that the Viking left their camp(s) very clean, leaving almost nothing of value, which is an indication of their decision not to come back. So there is no reason to speculate that the Indians wiped them out.

by das monde on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:12:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So Vikings were pretty violent by any standards, especially the Vikings who ventured to Greenland or Vineland. The Inuit and Indians could hardly top them.

Yes, I do not deny that the Vikings were violent, even more violent than many other European people, but what I am saying is that in the overall picture violence was a part of most societies at the time and accepted as such.

There is no conclusive evidence excessive violence exercised by the Vikings in Greenland and Vineland.  According to the Inuit legends the Vikings were portrayed rather favourable and not especially violent if so, wouldn't they have been portrayed more negatively as they were by monks after they attacked  the monastery of Lindisfarne?  Even so the Vikings were a minority and not many in numbers in their settlement at Vineland and couldn't have represented too much of a threat to the natives thus the failed Viking settlements in the area.  

I am very sceptical whether the Inuit played a role in "exterminating" Vikings.  

I do agree with you that it was not an "extermination" as such of the Viking settlements, but I do believe that hostilities between the natives and the Viking settlers was one reason why they abandoned they settlements in addition to some others you have mentioned in your comment above, but the notion that the Vikings were the excessively violent perpetrators in this relation, is unsubstantiated.  

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by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 04:03:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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