Historians regard the Mongol raids and invasions as some of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Brian Landers has offered that, “One empire in particular exceeded any that had gone before, and crossed from Asia into Europe in an orgy of violence and destruction. The Mongols brought terror to Europe on a scale not seen again until the twentieth century.” Diana Lary contends that the Mongol invasions induced population displacement “on a scale never seen before,” particularly in Central Asia and eastern Europe.
– Wikipedia: ‘Mongol Invasions and Conquests’
According to the UN, there are currently some fifty million refugees – persons displaced by conflict, climate change and economic deprivation – wandering about the world looking for a home.
Each day, the news reports on boat people – men, women and children – drowning in their hundreds in the Mediterranean, or stranded, fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, in their thousands aboard leaky vessels off the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia without food, fresh water or hope of official rescue; migrants being trafficked and left to die in the Sahara or the Texas panhandle; British voters bitching on about ‘too many foreigners’ being let in to the country, the rise of narrow nationalism.
We sometimes hear too, when there is no tiresome British ‘election news’ to divert the news editors from their obsession with celebrity trivia, of the ten million displaced persons in the expanding Syrian civil war; of refugees streaming away from conflict in eastern Ukraine; of the ebb and flow of the creation of the new ‘caliphate’ state known as ISIL and its attendant massacres, mass expulsions and slave trafficking; of the displacement of tens of thousands in Darfur, Eritrea, Mali, northern Nigeria and even Libya, owing to continued ethnic and religious violence.
Most of these 21st-century enforced migrants are Muslims, as would have been the case during the Mongol expansion into the Islamic empire. Where would they have gone? Many westward, to North Africa and Spain. Most, it seems, were massacred where they lived: a typical Mongol ‘horde’ consisted of ten thousand highly disciplined soldiers, each of whom was personally required on pain of death during one campaign alone to execute a quota of 24 captives…. The slaughter at the seige of Baghdad, for instance, was on a scale imaginable only with the invention of modern weapons of mass destruction.
Today’s crisis is largely being brought on by violence between, not against, rival Muslim sects and, frankly, tribal or criminal gang warfare. Behind it, however, lie opportunities for the strong to seize power, that have been created in a number of states in the wake of failed wars and ‘investment’ strategies involving largely American and Russian interests, together with the economic disadvantages caused by corrupt regional government, chronic under-development, overpopulation and climate change – examples of which include the relentless onward march of the Sahel and the salination of agricultural lands.
Historically, too, oil has been a key factor in attempts by Western governments and corporate interests to engineer ultimately unstable polities in the region.
A quick check on Wikipedia produces a fascinating comparison with the massive displacements and depopulations that occurred throughout most of the 13th century as a result of the murderous expansion of the Mongol empire, which was eventually turned back by Charles Martel at the gates of Vienna (although, fascinating ‘fact’, its expansion in the Middle East was curtailed as a result of there being not enough grass for their horses – the same reason, lack of fuel for their tanks, that halted the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes in 1944. ‘Plus ça change…‘ indeed!).
The Mongols have even been accused of biological warfare, deliberately spreading plague. After 1347, it is estimated, one third of the population of Europe was wiped out in the space of two years, owing to ‘the Black Death’. That number, about thirty million, compares with a reduction identified by Lary, of about forty-two million in the Chinese population as a result of massacres and flight during the previous century. Set against a human population of now, over seven BILLION, however, even these terrifyingly large numbers of casualties would represent less than half a percentage point of the total and would be made up again within two years.
The moral is that the human world is in a constant state of flux, and that from time to time, irresistible forces of population growth combined with the rise of ambitious and ruthless leaders will create major perturbations in the patterns of settlement that bring about nation states. We may be experiencing the beginnings of just such a radical transformation in our lifetimes.
Things may indeed get a great deal worse, if the century of Mongol expansion is to be reflected in many years of chaos as a result of the re-emergence of a radical Islam committed to a strategy of conquest through ultra-violence, set against the trend to a warming world of resource shortages and the too-visible weakening of the Western military and cultural counterbalances.
British and other European-nation voter concerns about an unacceptable excess of ‘foreigners’ – people of alien appearance and culture – hurling themselves in desperation against our gates are both a becoming irrelevance, given three factrs: the porosity of our modern borders; the need for cheaper labour to outcompete the Eastward drain of manufacturing and IT jobs (and to support our ageing native populations), and the seeming lack of concern and will in our governments to find cogent policy solutions – yet at the same time, they are a more serious portent of things to come.
But what are the options? To arm ourselves and gun these unfortunate people down, or hope to incarcerate them conspiracy by perceived conspiracy, eroding wider human rights with ever-more oppressive and futile legislative measures; before, as is our fear, their growing communities with their restless ideology and relative social disadvantage irrupt in hostility against us?
To try somehow to tackle the triple threat of violent jihadism, international criminality and economic chaos at its roots (throwing money at a problem is always a good strategy, but it doesn’t work for long)?
Or to bend to the force of History and accept that the nation-states model of ‘civilization’ we have mostly known for the past five hundred years, based on ethnic, political and religious cohesiveness, is finished; and that many, possibly millions of us, will die violently or hungrily before a new historical paradigm emerges?
You cannot stir the jam back out of the semolina.