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Saturday, 26 July 2014

Who is ISIS?

A picture of supporters of ISIS
Over the last few months all of the media reporting on Iraq have focused on the terrorist group ISIS which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; alternatively translated to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Their extremist views and actions which range from public beheadings and bombings which have thrown northern Iraq into disarray, caused the US to reconsider sending troops back into Iraq and have alienated the Muslims worldwide. Muslim leaders have denounced their extremist interpretation of the Koran and even the terrorist group al-Qaeda have denounced this group.
The flag of ISIS
How were they formed?- The group was founded under the name of JTJ in 2003 but became what it is today in 2006 under the name ISI, (Islamic State in Iraq), to fight the US coalition and the Shiite government. They were extremist Sunni Muslims who opposed the US backing a Shia government after the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein. Many members of ISI were loyal to al-Qaeda and hence adopted their style and unfortunately targeted many civilians while under the leadership of Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who in 2006 ordered the killings of Shia Muslims. They became one of the groups which openly started to fight the US lead coalition and were responsible for multiple bombings and kidnappings. ISI was largely focused in the capital Baghdad with it controlling the Dora neighborhood until June 2007. Until the Arab Spring they claimed responsibility for many attacks and bombings in Baghdad including the bombing of the Mansour Hotel which killed 13 including six Sunni Sheikhs in retaliation of the rape a Sunni woman by Iraqi police.

Post-Arab Spring- They supported the Egyptian protests stating that 'the doors of martyrdom had opened' and hoped it would encourage extremists in Gaza would follow their extremist views. During the Syrian Civil War the group expanded into Syria on the 9th April 2013 where they renamed themselves ISIS. Quickly they became a force to be reckoned with in Syria getting a large power base in Aleppo. With the US leaving Iraq in 2013/2014 they became more militant and declared an Islamic state in Fallujah in Northern Iraq. They became the dominant force in Iraq after defeating the Syrian army in 2013 and in May 2014 killing and crucifying several people. The following month they captured Mosul and easily defeated the Iraqi army who were both deterred by the group's extremism and having no loyalty to the corrupt Shiite government. On the 11th of June they captured another major city, Tikrit, and started heading towards Baghdad which prompted Obama to request US$500 million from Congress to fund and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and the Iraqi government buying Sukhoi fighter jets from Russia and Belarus. ISIS has however brought together the US and Iran who both fear their growing strength in the area.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: the current leader
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi- In the man pictured above, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the head of ISIS where in 2010 he was the head of Iraq's branch of al-Qaeda which joined the ISI. He quickly became the organisations head but other than that little is known about him. It is known that he was born in 1971 and that he was prisoner of the Americans in the Bocca Camp between 2005 and 2009. On the 29th June he declared a new caliphate with him as caliph.

ISIS is currently one of the biggest threats to Iraq and Syria as well as anyone who disagrees with them. The UN has recently said that they are responsible for many war crimes including public executions and female genital mutilation. However only time will tell about what will happen. 

Please leave any comments and suggestions for future posts.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A History of Gibraltar

One of the famous locals
I've been in Gibraltar for the last two weeks so I thought I'll write about this little peninsular on the tip of Spain overlooking Morocco. As a first all the pictures shown on this post I took so sorry in advance.
The Gibraltar Rock from Spain
History pre-1309- What we now recognise as the above limestone rock formation on the peninsular came about 5 million years ago when the Strait of Gibraltar was formed when the Atlantic Ocean broke through the Strait forming the Mediterranean but the Rock itself was formed by millions of years worth of weathering and deposition of limestone. The first humans to live in Gibraltar was not our species but in fact Neanderthals with the first Neanderthal skull dating from 50,000 years ago being discovered in 1848. It is thought that the Neanderthals found in Gibraltar were one of the last remaining populaces of the species with evidence of them living in the Rock's caves until around 24,000 at the latest. Our species then occupied the strait after the Neanderthals passed away with the Almerian people living there but little is found of habitation inside the Rock after the Bronze Age when agriculture became popular. The Romans, Carthaginians, Greeks and Egyptians all regarded the Rock with some sort of symbolic importance with Egyptian scarabs and jewelry being found where they left offering to the Gods asking for safe passage and the Greeks having one of the Pillars of Heracles during his supposed tenth labour being placed at the Rock, (now enshrined by a memorial which a taxi blocked my view of). In 67 BCE Pompey put the area as his main base as he fought pirates in the Mediterranean and later became under the rule of Christian Visigoths where it had been abandoned after the Vandals sacked nearby Carteia in 409 CE. In 711 a Berber army under the control of Tariq ibn Ziyad captured Gibraltar and the Rock was named Jebel Tariq, Tariq's Mount. Here Tariq built the famous Moorish castle until he was replaced and in 1309 the First Siege of Gibraltar took place where a coalition of Aragon and Castile captured Gibraltar.
The Moorish Castle today
1309-1462- The Castilans captured Gibraltar in 1309 but merely six years later Granada, (the Islamic nation in Southern Spain), tried to retake Gibraltar which was beaten back. In 1333 the Sultans of Fez (Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman) and Granada (Muhammad IV), laid siege to Gibraltar but the King of Castile Alfonso XI failed to raise an army and the city was captured. Abu al-Hasan rebuilt the Moorish Castle which Arab chroniclers described as 'strong walls as a halo surrounds a crescent moon'. Starting from 1339 after Abu al-Hasan's death Castile tried to retake Gibraltar as apart of the Reconquista with Castile finally capturing Spain in 1462.

Spanish rule and the War of Spanish Succession- After Granada was conquered in 1492 the Spanish crown forced the Moors to either convert or leave while forcing all of Gibraltar's Jews to leave also. In 1501 the Spanish Queen Isabella issued a new set of royal arms to Gibraltar after remaking it a crown possession; the arms still being used today. Despite this as Granada no longer existed Gibraltar started going into decline as it lost its strategic value, especially after Marbella replaced it as the regions main port and Gibraltar came under siege during many wars after such as in 1607 by the Dutch but it was fortified after it was fought that England would siege the area but instead they attacked Cadiz which failed spectacularly and almost hysterically as the siege was lifted after four days when the English looted wine and got rip-roaring drunk while achieving nothing, (when empire building or boozing I can see their preference) . In 1704 the War of Spanish Succession broke out a coalition between a Dutch-English navy under the Duke of Marlborough captured Gibraltar. Under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 Gibraltar was seceded to the newly formed Britain alongside Minorca.
A picture of the Duke of Marlborough at the start of the Great Siege Tunnels
British rule- The British immediately started refortifying Gibraltar with it being Britain's only possession in the area. It went under siege when Spain declared war to retake it and in 1729 the Treaty of Seville briefly solidified Britain's rule over the area. When Spain and France entered the American War for Independence of the side of the US the Great Siege started on the 24th June 1779 and lasted until 7th February 1783. It was the longest siege ever done including the British armed forces and one of the longest in history with it only being lifted after peace was established in a treaty. Constantly it was battered by floating French batteries and Spanish cannons. During the Peninsular Campaign it was the main supply point for the British and was one of the first areas to know about the British victory in the Battle of Trafalgar before even The Times newspaper. When Franco took power in 1939 it forced the government to fortify the area in preparation for an invasion or possible alliance with the Axis powers. During the War Gibraltar was constantly bombed by Vichy French aircraft and the populace was evacuated to the UK, Jamaica, Canada and other safer British possessions. As apart of Operation Felix Hitler wanted Franco to enter the war and invade Gibraltar but Franco refused and Hitler abandoned the plan. Today there are many war memorials including the one below.
Post-war- After the war Gibraltar was rebuilt and its economy flourished. In 1967 Franco pushed for a referendum to return the place to Spain and when it was passed 12,138 voted to stay with the UK to 44 to join Spain. This caused Franco to block the border and called the city inhabitants 'pseudo-Gibraltarians'; the border being closed until his death in the seventies. Still tensions are still predominant between the Spanish and Gibraltarians. In 1988 the Provisional IRA targeted Gibraltar with a car bomb and it ended in controversy after the SAS shot all three PIRA members. As of the 1990s Gibraltar saw massive economic growth becoming a popular tourist destination with a new airport being built a million pound apartments by the sea. This even caused the city to be accepted into the UEFA league. The start of The Living Daylights was filmed on the Rock as well!

The Apes- Arguably the Rock's most famous inhabitants. Barbary Apes have lived on the Rock throughout its history, so much so that in legend it says if there are no apes left on the Rock that Gibraltar will cease to be British. This caused Churchill during the war to order the population to be replenished after their numbers grew few. Currently around 300 apes live on the Rock and are under the care of the military, (my stepdad had to look after them when he was in the Gibraltar regiment). How the apes got on the Rock in unknown with theories including the Moors introducing them or them crossing the land bridge before the formation of the Mediterranean, hence why they are also found in the Atlas Mountains.
One of the apes that I saw
 Saint Micheal's Cave- This is the largest of the 150 caves open to the public and is 300 metres ,(980ft), above sea level. It was formed by erosion of the limestone and has been found containing cave drawings of ibex from its neolithic residents. The main section is now an auditorium and often small concerts are held with it holding 100 people. Yearly the cave attracts 1,000,000 people.
A bad picture of the auditorium that I took
Thanks for reading and please comment
The flags of the EU, UK and Gibraltar

Friday, 4 July 2014

History in Focus: The American Revolution

Happy Independence Day to my readers in the US! Today Americans from Florida to Rhode Island to Utah to California will be celebrating the independence, (despite the fact that the Declaration was made on July 2nd), of the United States from the British Empire so let us look at how it happened.

Background to the Revolution: One of the earliest key causes of the revolution first happened in 1763 where the British crown passed numerous acts. After the French-Indian War Parliament decided to introduce a series of taxes on the Thirteen Colonies to help rebuild and to cover the costs of integrating the newly conquered territories into the Empire. The biggest of these taxes was the Sugar Act which imposed tariffs on imports on foreign molasses and also the Currency Act was passed bringing the colonial currency under Parliament who abolished the colonial paper bills. However a third major act in 1765 was the tipping point: the Stamp Act. This was the first direct tax on the Thirteen Colonies and a tax had to be paid on all printed materials ranging from stamps to newspapers to legal bills to playing cards. This angered the colonies who ushered the cry 'No Taxation without Representation' and declared that the tax violated the Bill of Rights which forbade taxation on people who were unrepresented in Parliament and the colonies were unrepresented in Parliament despite the fact that rotten boroughs consisting of a Lord, three sheep and a beagle were. A boycott was issued on British goods and in the October of 1765 the Stamp Act Congress met up in New York with representatives of nine of the colonies to make a resolution to repeal the tax. It worked and the following year George III repealed it, only to introduce the Declaratory Act the same day giving control of US laws to Parliament.
George III: The King who imposed the taxes
In 1768 the Townsend Revenue Acts were imposed which put more and more tariffs on items like paper, glass and paint causing a wave of both violence from a group called the Sons of Liberty and a massive boycott of British goods. It took until March 5th 1770 for the violence to turn even bloodier with the Boston Massacre. A mob harassing British soldiers in Boston caused a more skittish one to open fire at point blank range which in turn caused his fellows to do the same killing five and injuring six and further alienating the colonies. The violence started to increase after this but then the Tea Act was passed to save the near bankrupt East Indian Company in 1773. On May 10th of that year Sons of Liberty members, some dressed as Mohawk Native Americans, got on board ships to dump 342 crates of tea into the Boston Harbor. Parliament introduced more taxes on the colonies to reimburse the East Indian Company but the fact that people dressed as Native Americans shows that they identified themselves more with America than Britain.

The Boston Tea Party
The Start of the Revolution: By 1774 the Americans had lost all regard for London's laws and Massachusetts was in open rebellion. On April 18th 1775 Paul Revere and William Dawes are sent to Lexington to warn colonists of the approaching British who were coming to quell the rebellion. The Battle of Lexington and Concord took place the next day quickly followed by the Battle of Bunker Hill. Although the Americans lost Bunker Hill it was only 500 Americans dead to British 1000 so it gave the Americans hope that they could win the Revolution. After Congress created the Continental Army George Washington was made Commander in Chief and quickly lifted the siege of Boston. A true War of Independence had started.

The Declaration: In April 1776 a Congress met to vote for independence. On June 7th 1776 all thirteen colonies voted for independence and the following month a draft of the Declaration of Independence was made by Thomas Jefferson. With it being signed by the Founding Fathers, John Hancock even having an idiom named after him, and on July 4th 1776 the Declaration was ratified. The United States had been born with 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' but it had to fight.

Winning the Revolution: In 1776 the British made a reprisal and made the newly independent nation fight, even managing to lay siege to New York and won the support of both slaves who they promised freedom and Native Americans who they offered to be left independent. Washington started a policy of guerrilla tactics as well as traditional battles such as his victory at Yorktown. Unfortunately a scorched earth tactic was used on many Native American land who were loyal to Britain and some who were innocent but after the revolution their lives got even worse. In 1778 Washington and Jefferson took a policy of 'the enemy of my enemy' where they got an alliance with France who got involved in the war against the British which the Spanish and Dutch joined when they made an alliance with France leaving Britain to fight four adversaries. The siege of Yorktown was the final battle with the British navy arriving to aid the British besiegers only to have the French and Dutch send an even bigger navy. This was lucky for Washington as the treasury was empty, the European allies were leaving and soldiers were ready to lead a coup as they weren't getting paid and the revolution was brother vs brother as most of the British troops were in fact Loyalists, very few soldiers there were British. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris guaranteed US independence and all land up to the Mississippi and down to just on the Florida border.

Legacy: The Revolution has a mixed legacy. On one hand nothing change with rich, white slave owners being replaced by rich, white slave owners and the democracy excluded most of the people, mainly women, African-Americans and Native Americans. Many freemen who had fought for the British were sold back into slavery and a massive relocation program that at times bordered on genocide was imposed on Native Americans. However what it stood for is massively important. It was the first true democracy, not one owned by a monarch, and it inspired people for freedom. There was a reason why the initial rioters were called Sons of Liberty. The Revolution stood for freedom and liberty and eventually those excluded from this were given liberty based on the Constitution which inspires millions not only in the USA but the world. It is really up to you how you view the legacy. Which is better: actually changing the system or setting up values to die for.

Happy Independence Day and please leave comments.