The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The black flag

Ilkka Lindstedt has deemed my slapdash post worthy of a response. In fact more than a response - he has gone so far as to send me a draught of his Essay(s) IV: "Al-Madāʾinī’s Kitāb al-Dawla and the Death of Ibrāhīm al-Imām". For this I can only express my gratitude.

I'd mentioned before - Lindstedt's work is really two works. The titular part is a brief in favour of Kitab al-Dawla's existence, and an implicit plea for someone - perhaps himself? to reconstruct this. (It's from this basis that his overall dissertation argues for the Abbasids as scheming for power all along, as I'd blogged earlier.) The next part, which I will be suggesting for him to expand into a separate essay in its own right, is an attempt to date the history by Ibn A'tham. I deal with the former for this post's purpose.

Lindstedt's thesis is in dialogue with the work of Saleh Said Agha. Agha had accepted, from Julius Wellhausen, that the rebel army of AD 740s Khurasan was mainly Persian. Agha goes on from there to deny that the Abbasids had much to do with this rebellion. Instead - says Agha - the Abbasids were later opportunists who found their opportunity in the revolutionary chaos.

I am not here discussing the merits of Agha's case versus Lindstedt's. I acknowledge entirely my lack of standing to do so. I do however find notable that such a fundamental debate is even being had, in peer-reviewed journals. Neither Agha nor Lindstedt are stray researchers crying in the wilderness!

The fundamental fact of the Dawla is that the Abbasids won and became the sultans of God. As a result the official historians wrote whatever history the Abbasids were pleased to make their own. That meant that objective history only became possible outside Islam. The various Haruri rebels by contrast did not win; and so Muslim and Christian historians alike (once they had done with the confutation of the heretics' theological errors) could treat their careers objectively.

We can assume that the regime's rivals might remember things differently. But they too might not have entirely prostrated themselves at the altar of the Goddess History. This is another important point, and I must credit K~ in MI for this observation: the power of the press belongs to those who own a press. So, as of the late 700s AD; the surviving enemies against the Banu Abbas were Umayyads in Spain, and various Christians in Europe and Anatolia. To the extent anyone here and then cared about history: Umayyads would have to admit that the sons of Abd al-Malik kind of screwed things up over the 740s AD, and the Greeks would sheepishly wonder if they should have expended quite so much energy in destroying the artistic legacy of Byzantium.

Where the new regime's rivals feel themselves in the wrong as well, that means their propaganda efforts will not be aimed at setting the record straight. They will feel safer writing simple satires upon the winners' narrative. Satires are, of course, secondary works.

So Agha is entirely in his rights to wonder, where all political elites are in agreement, if perhaps the scam is on the rest of us. We have certainly had our fill of this in these United States.

But this only excuses Agha; it doesn't defend his work. Sometimes, perhaps most times, a "bipartisan consensus" is correct. Figuring out whether a consensus has merit is exactly why we need works like Lindstedt's.

posted by Zimri on 21:02 | link | 0 comments

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