Sunday, January 31, 2016

Research Book Post #2

January 27

Book: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler

Section: Second half of Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 (Page 20 to 50)

Mesopotamia, and the Melting Pot of Unique Languages
     The final half of Chapter 2 discusses how while it may be easy to consider military strength as well as religious and economic control as the only drivers of what makes a language successful, it has been proven that this is not the case. The book uses the Phoenicians, whose colonies stretched across the Mediterranean, in cities such as Carthage, however despite their economic success, their language never took hold, with languages such as Greek and Latin becoming the main language bases at that time. The book also discusses how languages such as Sogdian, used in large economic powerhouses, do not always succeed, but often rather the languages of those trading are used. It discusses how for a long time it was believed by even linguists that how a language functions has very little to do with how it succeeds, however this book is an effort to argue that a language can be more or less likely to spread based on how it works. The chapter then discusses how language seemed to have a flip from the time before to after 1492. This flip occurred when the Age of Exploration and colonization began. Before, land was the main course for language to spread, being dictated by literacy, religion, and land power. After 1492, language spread through sea routes, and colonies became much more useful as a way for a language to grow.

     The next chapter discusses the first written languages, found in Mesopotamia. It discusses how many of these languages, such as Sumerian, left no real heir in terms of their language. It was in Mesopotamia that the first form of writing, on non-biodegradable stone tablets, was born. It was also a melting pot for dozens of small civilizations, each with very different languages with their own distinct origin, in states such as Sumer, the Hittites, and Elam. It also discusses how this was the first for many features of language, as the first place with written records, as well as the first area to emphasize libraries and museums. It was here that languages intermingled constantly for the first time, with each state being in constant trade and contact with its distinct neighbors, leading to a cosmopolitan environment. The chapter then discusses the three sister language Aramaic, Arabic, and Akkadian, all of the same family. It discusses how these languages were changed by their neighbors. It is believed that these languages were brought by a mass prehistoric migration out of Africa into Mesopotamia, as the languages have ties to others in Ethiopia with none in Mesopotamia. These languages then began to take on Sumerian logograms for their own language, despite the massive grammatical and audible differences. It then discussed how these migratory tribes began to become integral parts of the area, starting a cycle during which and Akkadian dynasty would rise and rule for a few centuries before being overthrown by either internal or external powers. These powers, however, would eventually abandon their language and adopt Akkadian, leading to Akkadian being the language of the area for over 1500 years. The book then goes on to talk about how the power position of the Akkadian and Sumerian languages were disrupted when several languages of the Indo-European family came down from the north into areas such as Persia and managed to secure themselves stiffly in those areas. Several tribes came down and would conquer Mesopotamia itself, with their success being attributed to their development of iron weaponry. Soon after, a third group, the nomadic Aramaeans, began to conquer and control Mesopotamia, spreading and settling its people across the area, despite the push back from Assyrian monarchs. Eventually, they would firmly become a major power player in the region. They would be strengthened by the rise of the Persians under Cyrus and Darius, who would use the language as the administrative backbone under which they would unite their large empire. This language would later be supplanted by Greek under Alexander the Great, who was then supplanted by Latin in the west and Parthian in the East. The remaining Aramaic speakers in the Fertile Crescent would be wiped out with the rise of Arabic and Islam.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Human Geography: Chapter Eight", "Lines in the Sand", "Who Owns Jerusalem", "Texas is Turning Blue and The Republican Party May be on the Verge of Extinction…", "Benedict Anderson, Man Without a Country", "This computer programmer solved gerrymandering in his spare time"

Conner Lewis
January 21

"I'm not ready to declare ISIS a real state just yet, but after today, the group has proved it's not to be underestimated." - Slate

     Radical Islamic extremists wanted to have a united Islamic State under Sharia Law, but many states in the Middle East do not conform to much of Sharia Law, so the extremists formed groups such as Al Qaeda and eventually ISIS in order to fulfill their goal, then they took large portions of Iraq and Syria with sovereignty over these regions, despite not being recognized as a true state. 

Many states in Africa, especially those found in Subsaharan Africa, were not divided along geopolitically sensical or smart lines, but rather were a result of the Berlin Conference which divided Africa along lines that would lead to the most resource extraction and production. This left the states created after decolonization with very little in common between its different peoples, and a one major goal of nearly every African state has been to create a strong national identity through which they can unite their nation as a single unified population.


Lines in the Sand - This article describes how the borders of what makes up the current states of the Middle East were drawn back at the end of WWI during the treaty of Versailles as a way of devolving the Ottoman Empire. It discusses how these borders were drawn with very little regard for any real present factors, as well as displaying a concept created by four researchers who believe that their new map would prove a more stable and safe Middle East.

Texas is Turning Blue and The Republican Party May be on the Verge of Extinction… - This article discusses how the state of Texas, a historically staunch defender of conservative ideals and by extension the Republican party, is slowly becoming more and more liberal and Democrat as areas such as Houston, as well as the suburbs around Houston such as Missouri City, along with many other suburbs, are having nearly 100% of their population growth being dominated by Hispanic and Asian populations, who tend to nearly universally vote Democrat. This is a very large issue, as pointed out in the article, as the state of Texas holds 38 electoral votes due to the United States' system of territorial representation, the largest of all the normally Republican states, leading to it being the linchpin along which the entire Republican nomination resides, meaning that if Texas were to turn blue and vote Democrat, it would be nearly impossible for any Republican candidate to win.

Benedict Anderson, Man Without a Country - This article covers the life and death of Benedict Anderson, whose book "Imagined Communities" discusses how nationalism is not just a method to justify conflict, but also a way for a multinational state to maintain itself by uniting its people under a single group and ideal. Spending much of his life in Indonesia, a large multinational state, Benedict Anderson saw front hand how one's nation is not dictated by where one is born, him being an Anglo-Irish descendant born in Britain's overseas colonies in Asia, as well as being able to observe how nationalism can lead to lots of good as different nations join under one identity.

Gerrymandering Solved - This article discusses how software engineer Brian Olson has produced an algorithm which divides states based on census blocks in an effort to get geographic compactness which will also stop the rampant use of gerrymandering by both parties legislators in an effort to control state legislative bodies. It does run into the issue of creating majority-minority districts, as per the Voting Rights Act, that can equally represent minorities in the state's legislature enough to sway the state's decisions.

Extra Credit:
This is an interesting video that discusses how some citizens in the United States don't believe in US sovereignty over them due to laws which the US has made, which means that while they accept that the US laws apply to the land the US controls, they believe that they do not have to follow them. The video covers why they believe this and how this is a problem for the US.

Crossing the Mexican-American Border, Every Day - This article covers the day to day routine of people like Valeria Padilla, a resident of Juarez, Mexico, who have to travel across the Mexican-American border every day in an effort to get to their school, job, or family, and how the Americans are attempting to make it difficult to get in and out. The American government has made crossing its boundaries difficult in an effort to stem the flow of drugs, guns, and undesirables into the states, and the ramifications of this have had a huge impact on those who attempt to travel in between regularly, as by making it more difficult for this travel to occur, it widens the divide between the groups on both sides, as they lose real contact with each other, allowing for stereotypes and hostility to flourish more than it already has in the region.

Who Owns Jerusalem  - This article discusses how the original Palestinian and Israeli borders were divided from the British controlled Palestine in 1947 by the UN, as well as how the Arab nations refused the 55/45 split between the land that would go to Israeli and Arab populations, as well as the terms that Jerusalem be under neither's full sovereignty. This caused a war to break out that would lead to Israel eventually gaining sovereignty over all of Palestine, as well as all of Jerusalem, despite the fact that the international community at large sees it as contested territory.

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Human Geography: Chapter Seven", "Religious Trends in America", "Who Owns Jerusalem", "Israel Arab Conflict", "Religious Conflict in the Middle East", "Jefferson and Other Founding Fathers Defended Muslim Rights"

Conner Lewis
January 6

Israel okays plans to build first new Druze town since ’48 - The Times of Israel

     Practitioners of the Druze wanted to have towns and communities of their own which could freely practice their religion and develop economically but the government of Israel was only giving them towns with little to no possibility for future development because of their faith so they demanded more and better towns, then the Israeli government decided to build them a new town in the north that would allow them to be free to practice their faith and find employment nearby.

The Middle East is the birthplace of three of the world's major religions, the Abrahamic Faiths, of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While Judaism and Christianity tend to focus on Israel and Jerusalem in their connections to the Middle East, Islam tends to focus around the cities of Mecca and Medina within the nation of Saudi Arabia, which are the two holy cities in their faith. The Middle East is also home to several sects of Islam. While many of the nations depicted above are Sunni, Iran is a Shia state and most of Oman's population follow a separate sect of Islam, as 70% of the nation is Ibadi Muslim.


Human Geography: Chapter Seven
Religious Trends in America
Who Owns Jerusalem
Israel Arab Conflict
Religious Conflict in the Middle East
Jefferson and Other Founding Fathers Defended Muslim Rights

Essay Question: What do Human Geography: Chapter Seven, Religious Trends in America, Who Owns Jerusalem, Israel Arab Conflict, Religious Conflict in the Middle East, and Jefferson and Other Founding Fathers Defended Muslim Rights have to say about how religion can be used to justify or mask actions which are not particularly religious?

     On the outside, religions can often depict themselves hypocritically in how they see violence and war. It is a common tenet of all religions that war and violence in general is bad and should be avoided, and this is for both moral and pragmatic reasons. Religions disavow violent acts because nobody wants to follow a religion which supports or encourages people to be aggressive and unkind to their peers, as one large part of religion is a sense of inclusiveness with a collective group, and this is hard to achieve if that group actively supports treating each other poorly. Pragmatically religions disavow violence as it is often very hard for a society to operate at all when it is fighting itself, on any scale. On the other hand, even in the modern day, many conflicts are described as having religious causes behind them, with adherents stating that they are performing righteous work for their religion through their violence, justifying it. While it may be easy to describe this as radicalism or extremism, this is often used as a scapegoat to ignore the larger issues at hand. It is common knowledge that when things are going well overall, people are more inclined to work together to maintain the current state as well as simply having no reason to disagree. The opposite is true as well, that when things are not going well overall, meaning economically, politically, environmentally, etc, people are more inclined to see their differences and disagree. This is the main reason why writing religious conflict as simply radical acts of faith is ignoring the main issue, which is that there is something else in those people's current situation, other than faith, which is driving that conflict. In Human Geography: Chapter Seven, it is clearly explained how people of different religions interact based on the current situation, as well as how religious interactions function as a whole. The article  Religious Trends in America comments on how radicalism in modern society is forming and why, as well as how the opposite is occurring as well. Religious Conflict in the Middle EastWho Owns Jerusalem and Israel Arab Conflict all describe a conflict which has been described as both religious and political, the Israeli Arab conflicts of the past decades. Finally Jefferson and Other Founding Fathers Defended Muslim Rights is an article which talks about how religious conflict can also be social, as different sides attempt to decide how other faiths should be seen and interacted with. 
     Human Geography: Chapter Seven discusses how different religions interact along interfaith boundaries, where faiths border each other in terms of adherents, and how these border regions are where most, but definitely not all, religious conflict occurs. It also discusses how these boundaries can be the sites of some of the most violent religious conflicts while also being very peaceful. There are also intrafaith boundaries, which are boundaries between sects of a single larger religion. Similar to interfaith boundaries, these can be peaceful or violent, depending on the current situation. One example of a peaceful intrafaith boundary can be found between protestant and Catholic Christians in Germany, who live peacefully despite differing religious views. They do so because while their faith may differ, they are connected by a strong economic, political, and social system which is currently very successful. An example of an intrafaith boundary which is not peaceful is that of the boundary between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq, who have been engaged in civil war for a while due to several reasons. One reason the conflict between these two faiths had been stirred, despite their general ability to live in peace previously, is that Iraq was until recently dominated by the Sunni Ba'ath party. This party was deeply opposed to Iranian expansionism, and sought to stop them by also targeting other Shiites in their nation. This is an example of how a political situation can stir supposed religious conflict, as states attempt to justify conflict against neighbors and minorities through the use of religious differences. An example of interfaith boundary conflict is that of the conflict between Catholics and Muslims in Nigeria. This conflict is led first and foremost by differing cultures and economics, not religion. The south of Nigeria is dominated by agricultural Catholics, and the north is dominated by pastoral Muslims. The Catholics live in lush forests while the Muslims live in hotter, more arid conditions. Between the two groups is a stretch of land fit for both herding livestock and agriculture, and as land in Nigeria becomes more and more scarce due to the rising population, the conflict between the northern and southern parts of the country rises. While they tend to justify their conflict religiously, and while many do believe what they are doing is religiously correct, in reality the conflict is led by the desperation coming from the
fact that the people are simply in an economy that is finding it difficult to support such a large population, as well as the fact that the country is split between two different lifestyles and cultures. This divide, along with the economic instability, is what really drives the current conflict. Another great example of a religious conflict which has different underlying issues is that which occurred in Northern Ireland. The island of Ireland is divided into two general parts, the larger southern part which is Catholic and controlled by the nation of Ireland, and the norther Protestant part which is a part of the United Kingdom. This northern part remained with the UK even after the southern part gained independence, as most of its people felt a closer tie to the UK due to the shared belief in the Anglican Church. Despite this, many Catholics remained in the northern part which desired to join with the rest of Ireland. Part of this was due to the fact that the larger Protestant two thirds of the region had many more economic advantages and opportunities under the British government. This, followed by a long period of economic stagnation, which led to 60% of Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland being unemployed, led to the rise in conflict and tension between the Protestants and Catholics in the region. It is important to note that as this economic divide started to grow, each group began to see the other as the cause of the issue, with Catholics blaming Protestants for taking jobs and opportunities and Protestants blaming Catholics for the acts of terrorism they were committing, the two groups began to divide themselves more and more visibly and physically. This led to segregated neighborhoods marked by walls and graffiti signaling which group lived where. This divide along with economic stagnation is exactly what happened in Nigeria, and the same events occurred. Both groups began fighting each other, and while they attempted to rally support under the cause of religious differences, the differences between the Anglican and Catholic churches had never been a problem until things started to go wrong politically and economically. All three of the conflicts described here are examples of how religion can simply be a mask for different social and economic issues in a society.
     Many attribute conflicts such as these to rises in fundamentalism and extremism or radicalism. It is important to stress the differences in these two things. Fundamentalism is simply a stricter focus on religion and the religious doctrine of a faith due to the perceived loss of morality and order in a society, often leading to a more literal interpretation of scripture than what was previously believed. Extremism is fundamentalism carried to the point of violence. The article Religious Trends in America describes how changes in modern society of dictated a rise and fall in fundamentalism and extremism. The article explains that most of society has become more secular, as religion is cast to
the wayside of everyday life more and more. This has caused an equal reaction by those who have kept their faiths to become more fundamentalist as they perceive this loss of faith and secularization as a loss of morality in society and attempt to hold on to their faith even tighter. This rise in fundamentalism across the world has led small amounts of these people to become extremists for their faith.While there is a rise in extremism, this rise is not very large, nor is it centered on only certain regions or faiths. The current formation of IS, or the Islamic State, a terrorist state controlled by Islamic (Sunni) Extremists, has led many to believe in a rise to Islamic extremism as a whole, however it is important to see the situations which also helped lead to the rise of the Islamic State. The Islamic State rose to power in a time when much of the Middle East was in turmoil, and this was in part due to the actions of Western countries such as the United States to overthrow governments perceived as hostile, as well as perform attacks such as drone strikes, which inevitably leads to many casualties. These acts led to many disgruntled peoples in the Middle East to see the US and the West as threats to them and their way of life. Due to this, many see joining terrorists such as the Islamic State or Al Qaeda as the only way to defend their way of life from the invading foreigners. This has led many to join ISIS not only on the basis of faith, but also on ideology and safety.
     The next three articles, Who Owns Jerusalem and the Israel Arab Conflict, document the events which occurred after the formation of the dual states of Israel and Palestine in the Middle East in the 1940's. Israel was supposed to act as a nation for the Jewish people to move to after many Zionists wished for a nation of their own in which they could feel safe from the actions of other governments that they had observed in the past, like the Nazis of Germany and the Soviet Pogroms in the USSR. The Western nations, particularly the UK, decided to create the nation of Israel for the Jewish people in the middle of the Middle East, a region almost entirely dominated by Muslim Arabs. Little to say that the peace put in place did not last long. The Arab nations of the Middle East did not appreciate how foreign powers came into the Middle East and carved up its regions for people who had not lived there for hundreds of years. They soon declared war, however the Arabs were beaten several times, and each time the state of Palestine got smaller until its people were focused in very small areas, particularly the Gaza Strip. All this was often described as a religious war between the Jews and the Muslims, however it goes beyond that, as in reality it is the Arab nations of the Middle East responding to the fact that a foreign nation decided for them that land that had been theirs for centuries would now be given to a foreign culture, religion, and ethnicity without their consent. After the Israeli state conquered and settled much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, organizations such as Hamas fight the Israeli government due to their oppression in land that just several decades earlier was their own. Rather that simply being a religious conflict, it is more of a reaction to feeling angry over a decision which wasn't in their favor, and in a way it was more focused on nationalism and ethnicity than it was religion. The final article, Jefferson and Other Founding Fathers Defended Muslim Rights, shows how religion can be used as a catalyst for social conflict as well. The article discusses the disagreement between the Founding Fathers over how far their Constitution and its rights extend. Some Founding Fathers believed that the rights which are detailed in the Constitution should only extend to Christians and its many denominations, not all the inhabitants of the United States at the time, which included many Muslims among the slave population. The other camp believed that at least religious freedom should extend to all people of the United States, not just Christians. This conflict was really between those who believed in a more free America, with the founding ideals of total religious freedom, against those who are possibly more fundamental in their faith, believing that only those of the correct faith, Christians, should be able to worship their god freely. In reality it was a conflict between traditionalists who supported a Christian state like the one they had gained independence from, and the liberals who wished to see complete freedom and opposed the old traditional form of rule. People like Jefferson were really fighting to keep their state from reverting to the old ways of a state with selective rights as had been apparent in England, rather than attempting to defend the rights of Muslims. Much like the modern day, it was a political battle between liberals and conservatives, as the two groups argued over how free their supposedly free country should be. The conservatives wished for a system very similar to the old ways, which allowed for more freedom in how Christian denominations served god, while the liberals wished for a new more free system. In the end it was not truly a religious debate about Muslims, but more about how free the new system would truly be, and in the end Muslims were allowed to practice their faith, even if most of them were still considered less than people.
     All of these articles display how while religion might seem to be hypocritically used to justify conflict while at the same time attempting to stop it, it is also often a mask for real prevalent social issues which can be found just under the surface. The Chapter from the book showed how borders and boundaries can be the site of both peace and stability as well as violence and conflict based not on the faiths which are there, but rather the individual situation. The next article showed how the rise of fundamentalism was also marked by changes in social and political ideologies and beliefs. The next articles gave an example of a conflict seemingly religious, but one that goes much deeper, and finally the last article showed how conflict can be found anywhere, not just on the battlefield.

Extra Credit:

This video, if you skip the first minute, elaborates how Founding Fathers saw and dealt with Islam and their rights at that time.

Thursday, January 7, 2016