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Mongol Criticisms

November 28, 2010 Mongol Invasions The Mongol Invasions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries have long been a point of contention amongst historians and scholars. The series of assaults launched on behalf of the Mongols ultimately amounted to a holocaust in which few were spared. Though the immediate impacts of the conquests were undeniably horrific, some historians have commended later Mongol regimes for the institutional reforms they introduced.

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However, even with these post invasion innovations in mind, a legitimate rationale behind the excessive destruction and violence is still a question for debate. When examining the ideological motives of the Mongols, it is clear that they were radically impassioned by their beliefs. Unfortunately, the logic behind these beliefs is less clear.

Taking into consideration the relevant religious debate during the time period as exemplified in “William of Rubric’s Account of the Mongol Invasions” as well as the pertinent humanitarian concerns best illustrated by renowned historian Ibn al-Athir, criticisms regarding the religious legitimacy and negative humanitarian impacts of the Mongol Invasions are valid assessments. The first controversy surrounding the impact of the Mongol invasions is whether or not their motives were legitimate.

Much of historian criticism suggests that the religious and ideological beliefs of the Mongols that compelled them to action were both extremist and illogical. The second topic of debate is whether, with those motives in mind, the extermination of such an enormous group of people, could possibly be justified. In contrast with these historians’ criticisms, some historians commend the institutional reforms and cultural changes initiated by the Mongols.

However, considering the inhumanity of systematically exterminating entire civilizations based on religious and ideological beliefs that are in many ways flawed, historian criticisms are both appropriate and compelling. The religious foundations of the Mongol invasions have been subject to criticisms from historians who raise interesting ideological concerns. Some historians argue that no event so catastrophic could possibly hold any justification in religion nor could it be condoned for whatever long-term beneficial effects[1].

According to Ibn al-athir, “there is no strength and no power save in God, the High, the Almighty, in face of this catastrophe, whereof sparks flew far and wide, and the hurt was universal”. It has also been suggested that Mongol religion did not take into account morality nor incorporate any codes for governing human behavior. The tribe’s original religious identity was based in Tengriism, or the worship of an Eternal Blue Sky god. In practice, Tengriism was notably primitive. Ibn al-Athir confirms this observation in saying, “As for their religion, they worship the sun when it rises, and regard nothing as unlawful”.

A religion that takes no particular stance on fundamental moral issues and provides no feasible code of living for it’s followers is a religion that encourages chaos. But an even more obtrusive Mongol belief was in their God given destiny to conquer the entirety of the known world. They defined this destiny as an attempt to “purify the earth of the disorders that taint[ed] it” (96). Or in other words, to destroy any civilization whose beliefs did not coincide with theirs. By modern standards, the Mongol invasions could be classified as genocide.

The arrogance of the Mongols also ensured the continuity of the movement. In William Rubruck’s account of the Mongols, it is evident that the perspectives of other religious, social, or political parties were largely suppressed. Tolerance for opinions that conflicted with Mongol regimes was minimal, and their violent history instilled a level of fear in people that kept them quiet. Combined with their passionate objective to carry out God’s will, Mongol arrogance and intolerance gave the movement frightening momentum.

Being violently impassioned by these questionable beliefs, it is not surprising that the actions of the Mongols were also very controversial. The systematic extermination of hundreds of thousands of people, involving cases of torture and public killings, undoubtedly constitutes a humanitarian catastrophe. For Ibn al- Athir, the Mongol invasions represented “the greatest catastrophe and the most dire calamity (of the like of which and days and nights are innocent) which befell all men generally”. He comes to this conclusion in part by considering the most tragic event preceding the invasions.

This event was Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughtering of the children of Israel. In his comparison he notes that the Mongols killed more people in a single city then all of the children that were massacred in Israel, thus deeming the invasions the single most catastrophic event in history at that time. During the Mongol’s invasions they destroyed villages, and desecrated countless schools, libraries, mosques, and palaces. Many historians perceive their militant tactics as being ruthless and barbaric.

Examples of such acts are: The flooding or burning of entire villages, pouring molten gold down the throat of a Muslim governor, creating public pyramids from victims severed heads, and even slaughtering dogs and cats on the street. Ibn al- Athir comments on the merciless approach of the Mongols by asserting that “Even Antichrist would spare such that follow him, though he destroy those who oppose him, but these Tartar’s spared none, slaying women and men and children, ripping open pregnant women and killing unborn babies”. This reiterates the dilemma of how any event so atrocious in it’s impact could have any legitimate rationale behind it.

Accredited arguments in support of the Mongol Invasions commend the long-term effects of Mongol rule. The two most prevalent to the debate are: First, that a post invasion shift toward government centralization occurred and ultimately benefited Middle Eastern infrastructures. Second, that the Mongols introduced a new phase of creativity to the Middle East. Some historians have labeled the shift back toward government centralization as the rebirth of the Iranian Monarchial System and commend it for having “recreated the brilliance of Saljuq-Period Turkic-Iranian monarchical culture”.

They argue that this change enabled innovative developments and constructions such as building cities, developing irrigation works, and trade expansion. Furthermore, some argue that the synthesis of Mongol, Turkic, Seljuq, and Iranian concepts gave birth to a uniquely innovative and artistic culture. Evidence supporting this conception includes the flourishing of historical writings, the revival of painting and illustration, and architectural advancements. It is true that Mongol rule saw a complete cultural transformation that may have in some ways benefited Middle Eastern society, but at what cost?

The value of any newly established state must be weighed with the value of the one it replaced, not excluding the question of why it was replaced in the first place. By modern standards, the justifications behind the actions of the Mongols are backwards and nonsensical. Consistent with historian criticisms, Mongol religion fails to incorporate any ideals of morality or legality or to provide any sort of framework for its followers. Furthermore, though they claimed to be endowed with a God given destiny, they were never able or willing to back this claim up with any sort of proof.

This leads one to wonder why no one contested the actions of the Mongols during that period. The answer to that question is best illustrated in the religious debate recounted in “William Rubricks account of the Mongols” in which the exclusiveness of Mongol influence is illuminated. The Mongols sought to institute a level of fear in it’s people that would keep them quiet and prevent them from fighting back. Sadly, even those who didn’t fight back were not necessarily spared. The nonsensical violent and inhumane acts committed by the Mongols were inexcusable.

The invasions ultimately led to the obliteration not only of entire Middle Eastern populations but also to that of their cultural identities. Whether what replaced those cultures was prosperous or not, there is no justification for the diabolical actions of the Mongols. humanity o Their claimed religious incentives and fatalistic belief in their destiny This brings me to the inquiry of what logical motive led the Mongols to perpetrate their invasions. During their invasions the Mongols destroyed villages, and desecrated countless schools, libraries, mosques, and palaces.

In fact there have been cases in which they even destroyed damns and flooded entire villages. Another argument in favor of the Mongol’s is that the synthesis of Mongol, Turkic, Seljuq, and Iranian concepts gave birth to a new level of creativity in the Middle East. Ibn al- athir is recognizing the impossibility that any religion could provide justification for the atrocious actions of the Mongols. The powerful impact of Mongol religion and ideology on their militant actions qualifies them as extremists.

In Hulegu Khans warning to the inhabitants of Baghdad he asserts his belief that he is doing his part in carrying out God’s given destiny: “I will burn your city, your land and yourself. If you wish to spare yourself and your venerable family, give heed to my advice… If you do not, you will see what God has willed” (97). When a movement as enormous in scope and strength as the Mongol’s claim to have a purpose that is endowed to them by God, their influence is automatically multiplied. William of Rubruck’s Account of the Mongols” provides a detailed Western Account of the Mongol invasions. The religious debate included in his account, addresses the areas in which Christian ideology conflicts with institutionalized Mongol religion of the time. One significant principle that incited conflict among the religious parties present was the omnipotence of God.

Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. and Lawrence Davidson, A Concise History of the Middle East Ninth Edition, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 2010, 95-98