On ABC’s This Week today, American Secretary of State John Kerry said that the recent destruction of priceless Assyrian works of art by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq(ISIS) was a “rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan.”
Tamerlane? Genghis Khan? Wow. These ISIS guys must be really bad ass. But are they? Really? Let’s take a quick look-see here.
Just about everyone’s at least heard of Genghis Khan, which translates directly from the Mongol for “Great King.” Born Temujin, Genghis Khan united the Mongol tribes in 1206 CE and led them on incredible campaigns of conquest, establishing a Mongol Empire that stretched from northern China through Mongolia, Persia, and Central Asia all the way through Russia to the borders of Europe. His immediate successors completed the Mongol conquests of China, Russia, Ukraine, and even Hungary.
Ol’ Genghis was indeed ruthless. Acutely aware that there were only so many Mongol horsemen available to die in battle, he adopted a very direct strategy in persuading a targeted city to surrender. If it surrendered on the first day his army showed up and agreed to be a good, taxpaying part of his empire, no one was hurt. On the second day, the city’s surrender would be accepted only if its inhabitants gave up its leaders to the Mongols for execution. If it hadn’t surrendered by the third day, everyone in it would be killed by the Mongols once the city fell.
Talk about shock-and-awe. Genghis Khan very consistently used this tactic, and it was very persuasive. It helped him conquer a huge chunk of the Earth’s land mass. George W. Bush had nothing on Genghis.
Or Tamerlane, for that matter.
Tamerlane, or more accurately Timur the Lame, was a man of Turkic and Mongol descent who took over the Mongol khanate of Samarkand, now a city in Uzbekistan, in the late 14th Century CE. Using Genghis Khan’s tactics, he conquered Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, northern India, most of European Russia, Iraq, Syria, and most of modern Turkey. Timur was in the habit of chopping off the heads of a conquered city’s population and building a pyramid of skulls out of them. Shock-and-awe again, wouldn’t you say?
Even his tomb was bad-ass, for it had a curse that actually came true. An inscription read, “Whosoever disturbs my tomb will unleash an invader more terrible than I.” Soviet archaeologists excavated his tomb on June 22, 1941, the very day that Hitler’s Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Now that’s shock-and-awe from beyond the grave!
So how does ISIS really compare to these guys? Personally, I think both Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame would be quite rightly offended by John Kerry’s remark. No doubt many works of art were destroyed in their conquests, but they never destroyed anything out of any sense of religious fanaticism, as ISIS does. In fact, both were remarkably tolerant of different religious faiths. Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, and Buddhism all flourished under Mongol rule. So Genghis and Timur both waged war in a tremendous and terrible shock-and awe-fashion, but neither did it out of any sense of religious persecution.
ISIS may have dreams of a grand Islamic Caliphate, but in fact they control maybe a third of Syria and Iraq, and the regions they control are not even contiguous. They’ve chopped off some heads, but I have yet to see a pyramid of skulls built by them. In fact, the most recent pyramid of skulls I’ve heard about was a small one of Taliban heads erected by German forces in Afghanistan a few years ago. The strategy worked, too, as the Taliban left the Germans alone until their own government recalled them a few years later. No doubt the Taliban are familiar with Genghis and Timur.
John Kerry? Apparently not so much. ISIS, no matter how fanatical they are, has done nothing on any scale remotely reminiscent of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan. They’re just not powerful enough, and are never likely to become so. Their version of Islam is rejected by most Muslims around the world, and all their religious intolerance will do is piss other people off and generate sympathy for their opponents, like the Iranians, Syrian and Iraqi Shiite Muslims, Assyrian and Coptic Christians, and others.
Comparing ISIS to Tamerlane and Genghis Khan is like comparing Al Capone to Hitler’s Gestapo or Stalin’s NKVD. It may be effective propaganda to the ignorant and incurious, but a click or two on the Google can quickly convince anyone with an ounce of intelligence of the colossal inaccuracy of Kerry’s comparison.
Speaking of intelligence, later in the same interview the corporate media reporter asked Kerry if “we,” as in the American government, had any intelligence related to yesterday’s murder of one of Vladimir Putin’s political opponents just outside the Kremlin.
Kerry replied, “We have no intelligence.”
On that, Mr. Secretary, I am in complete agreement with you.