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The Religion and the People

Religion must play a central part of any story about Middle Eastern conflict, because conflict in the Middle East is about religion.

Almost 600 years after the death of Christ, in Ramadan, the ninth month of the year in the Arabic calendar, an Arab named Mohammed proclaimed that as he slept in a cave where he had been meditating, the Angel Gabriel came to him and instructed him to "recite."

Koran is Arabic for "The Recital." Islamic prayer begins with the recitation:
"God alone is great; I testify there are no other gods, but God; and Mohammed his Prophet…"

At the age of 40 Muhammad began to preach, believing and convincing others that he was God's appointed prophet of the true religion. He established a theocratic state at Medina around 622 and began to convert all Arabia to Islam. In contrast to the earlier words of Christ who preached peace and love, Muhammad not only advocated but led his followers in the use of violence and arms to spread and police his message.

For those of you who want to believe Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, count the times in the Koran that Mohammad instructs his followers to kill those who do not accept his words as absolute. There are many. Other religions have fanatics, but fortunately, none of these others are in control of entire nations. It brings to mind exactly why America prospered as a haven those trying to escape religious intolerance and why we have gone to such extremes to maintain the separation of church and state.

Following the death of Mohammad, his descendants and the many believers spread the Islamic faith, first along North Africa littoral and then into Europe in the eighth century, and were only driven out after a slow series of wars that lasted until the thirteenth century. European Christians tried to regain the Holy Lands with the Crusades across the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, only to be driven back by Saracen blades. (Saracen was a term used primarily by Christians to describe Arabian Muslims.)

The Turkish Ottoman Empire, founded in the 13th century, lasted through the Nineteenth Century until finally undone by an internal conspiracy of the "Young Turks," a secret society of Islamic military officers who had forsaken national ties for the sake of Islam - and power. While not the first secret society, this was the cabal that is used today by many as the format best suited by a weaker force to oppose dominate organizations - closed cells, independent operations, all united by a higher code. Beginning during the early part of the Twentieth Century, the machinations of the secret alliances of military officers and political figures created a constant undercurrent to the political and cultural scene that continues today.

Starting in the 1700's, the dominance of the Turks over the Islamic world was challenged by the Al Saud clan, a fierce warrior family who based their fundamental Islamic beliefs on the teachings of imam Muhammad ibn al Wahhab. From the center of Arabia, the Wahhabis firmly gained power over the Turks, their Egyptian surrogates and the Sharif family. The discovery of oil in the desert sands eventually brought even more power to what is now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

During the First World War, Islamic military forces led by the Sharif family, working with British under the direction of advisors such as Colonel T. E. Lawrence, led to a loose organization of Islamic countries as they formed the Arab League, only to be disenfranchised by the European powers, much to Lawrence's chagrin.

Secret societies probably began when man began speaking, or even before - a grunt and a wave of a spear might rally an otherwise disorganized group of men against a cornered mastodon. We in America are familiar with the Masons, a secret society founded in religion that attracted many of our nation’s leaders, and to my limited knowledge, a benevolent organization. The Masons were influential at least as far back as the Revolutionary War. Other secret societies, such as the Mafia and the Chinese Tongs, exist to organize criminal activity. We have also seen the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan, another American secret society, clearly not benevolent. We do know that today the Arab world still is driven by secret societies, some benign, some that help shape the world through terrorism and intimidation - not so benign.

Al Ahad – "The Covenant" – was an Islamic secret society of military officers cica 1915 which included some of the leaders of the Arab League. Colonel T. E. Lawrence made indirect use of Al Ahad during World War I to turn many of the Turks against their government and to the side of the Arabs in their mobilization against the Turkish forces in Palestine and Syria. In contrast, Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, "The Base" is also a secret society, but more along the lines of the Mafia and the Ku Klux Klan. Now we have ISIS, killing and torturing in the name of Allah.

You can see my head was filled with facts - and fiction - about the Middle East and I felt obligated to write my own version. I was beginning to understand the fundamentals of writing.

Now I wanted the "expand the envelope" with my writing.

(Click below to continue the Flight to Adventure.)

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(Footnote - Even in these paragraphs I found myself falling into the pattern that intrigued T. E. Lawrence: Those who read or write about Arabs and the Arabic language often use different spellings for the same person or place. Lawrence dismissed criticism of the practice in his own writing as irrelevant, only a part of the difficulties of translating from the Arabic and a hint of the illusions of vagueness surrounding the Arab world, especially as viewed by Westerners.)

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