Introduction to History of the Middle East
November 28, 2010
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. 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. 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,...