Jan 1, 2014
We raise them not above us, nor do we place ourselves above them. We give them what we can; we satisfy them with an excuse when we cannot. And when they go beyond their bounds we make them taste the sweetness of our discipline.
Abdul Aziz bin Saud, on good governance. The House of Saud, p.100
Dec 30, 2013

Discipline was rarely the strong point of any bedouin army; only an eye for the main chance and the hope of loot held them together, and the battle of Jarrab proved no exception. When the Rashid cavalry appeared, charging over the sand and salt flats with their war banners streaming in a great cloud of dust, shrieking their tribal war cries and shouting Allahu Akhbar! (God is Great!), the Saudi army at first held firm. The cavalry counter-charge from the flanks went in to divert the Rashid thrust and soon there was a melee of hand-to-hand fighting with dagger, sword and rifle butt across the little plain in front of Shakespear’s position. Shakespear himself was in full view, standing on top of a dune in his British khaki uniform and solar topee, alternately taking photographs of the scene and tying to direct the fire of Hussein, the gunner. Presently, however, out of the dust part of the Rashid cavalry emerged, charging at full speed upon the Saudi infantry in front of Shakespear. For a few moments there was ragged fire from the wild men behind the sand dunes, but as the mixed cohorts of the camels and horses thundered down upon them the bedouin ranks broke. Within minutes they were fleeing in hundreds past Shakespear’s position, and Hussein, seeing his own gun emplacement left unprotected, paused only long enough to jam the breech before he, too, fled calling to Shakespear to do the same. But the Englishman stood his ground. When last seen, his solar topee was gone but he had drawn his service revolver and, bareheaded, was shooting at the oncoming cavalry at almost point-blank range while the Saudi forces melted from the field.

Ibn Saud afterwards blamed one of his tribal contingents, the Ajman, for changing sides in the middle of the fight; and with their record of treachery and sporadic friendship with his family rivals, the Araif, that is probably as good as explanation as any. Certainly, the Ajman later helped the Rashid forces to clean up the booty on the field, which was probably all they were concerned about anyway. But whatever the explanation, Shakespear was dead, and with him had gone Ibn Saud’s most devoted and eloquent of foreign admirers.

The House of Saud, pp. 49-50
Apr 20, 2013
What we have seen in Chechnya under Dudayev is a peasants’ revolt; and you as a historian will know that a peasants’ revolt is the ugliest, the most stupid and the most dangerous political phenomenon.
Ruslan Khasbulatov, quoted speaking to Anatol Lieven in Lieven’s Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power
May 10, 2010
Sire," he said, "you are preparing for war against the sort of men who wear leather trousers and leather for all their other garments as well. They eat not as much as they want, but as much as they have, since their land is rugged. Moreover, they have no wine but drink water instead. They have no figs for dessert, nor anything else good to eat. Now if you should conquer them, what will you take from these people who have nothing at all? And then again, if they were to conquer you, think of how much you will lose: as soon as they taste our good life, they will never give it up and you will never get rid of them.

A Lydian named Sandanis to Croesus, in Herodotus’ Histories 1.71.2-3.

Certainly not fully applicable to our predicament in Afghanistan, though the evoked image of a figless, leather-panted enemy doesn’t fail to delight.

May 10, 2010

…global warming shows that apocalyptic prophesying is doing well. The latter goes something like this: Man used to live in harmony with some Rousseauian Eden. Man’s activity—the violation of a taboo against nature, the original sin—disrupted that order and cast humanity into a deteriorated habitat, exposed to plagues and cataclysmic floods. Salvation is possible if Man would atone for his sins and change his ways. In this case, that entails con-suming less energy (sinning less) and buying indulgences—the tax on greenhouse gas emissions, the “pay back” for our carbon footprint.

The biblical parallel is too obvious to be accidental. Climate change and loss of biodiversity are integral to the history of the planet. The recent warming episode is unquestionably due to human activity, but given the range of long-term variables that can potentially affect the climate and given the magnitude of risks involved, it seems shortsighted to focus policies on correcting human activity rather than on broader climatic and environmental management. The actualization of risk is about probability, not about design. Yet, humans have to imagine design when there is none and take ownership of causality. Things do not just happen to our species: We sin. Solace comes from the illusion that ritualistic self-flagellation can make up for structural failure at long-term planning—recently exposed once again by war and financial crisis. Like the Middle Ages, an anxious, contrite present spawns its fundamentalisms: not just the jihadists but radical environmentalists and immigration vigilantes alike, all weaned at the teat of Modernity, all fanatically nostalgic of an idealized past.

Camille Pecastaing
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