Monday, 6 February 2012

After the Caliphate

After the Caliphate

They had not easily been overcome. The struggle was harsh, but the fanatical hordes of Islam had been over-matched by the strength, courage and skill of the Imperial German troops and their incomparable, and it seemed- unconquerable - organisation, leadership and technology. The Moslems had sought death unflinchingly, and they had found it; sent to Allah by the bullets, bombs and bayonets of the best army in the world.

After driving Islam out of Europe, and overcoming the Turks with the aid of the Russians, the Germans and their allies or auxiliaries from the shrunken successor states of western Europe, had established a firm grasp on Antioch and it's environs, that strategic region which had seen victories of Alexander and Bohemund, and many before and since. Not trusting the Turks to remain defeated and quiescent, they had strongly fortified themselves there and dared the Moslems of the Middle East to break their teeth upon this iron stronghold at the entrance to the Levant. All the time, of course, they were strengthening their grip on the supply route by land and sea leading from the recently liberated Constantinople, and back by sea, river,rail and road, through the Balkans to Germany itself. Held in a vise between the threats of the Russians to their north and east, and the Germans to their west and south, the exhausted Turks had been compelled to remain still. However fervently the more resentful and religious wished to intervene in response to their own inclinations and the inflaming appeals from the Caliph in Jerusalem; they were unable to do more than wriggle feebly and make a few unofficial ghazi raids with low level piracies and spying against the hated infidels. Slowly the Europeans cleared the pirates from the Aegean and Cilician coasts and the islands of Crete and Cyprus and took firm control of the adjacent seas, reducing the Islamic threat in this theatre to merely nuisance value.The Moslems lacked the timber and the iron, and much of the technical skill and determination that would have been needed to float a fleet strong enough to wrest naval dominance from the Europeans. After several years of fighting around Antioch, it was clear that the Moslems could not re-capture it, and it appeared that the Germans were unable or unwilling to give the blood and treasure that would be required for a major assault into Syria aimed at the capture of Jerusalem. Their men, however, were receiving battle training which kept the German war machine alert and efficient at relatively low cost.

Whilst the attention of the Caliphate was fixed on the immediate German threat in the Levant, the allies or auxiliaries of the Germans became active in the Mediterranean and the Maghreb. The Men of Wessex, jealous of the mineral resources of the Yorkshiremen, and even of the Mercians, had scraped together a fleet and army and had seized the iron mines of southern Morocco and it's thinly settled coast, to give themselves the basis for a metal working industry that they hoped would be comparable with that of their neighbors and rivals. The Germans had approved this initiative as it gained an important resource from the Moslems, kept the Wessexmen keen on continuing the fight, and encouraged their other European partners to try their own luck at despoiling the Moslems. They had coaxed the Mercians and Yorkshiremen into selling coal to Wessex to promote it's industrial growth.This had resulted in a revamping of the old decayed system of canals and river transport
throughout England.

The Moroccans had not been able to make any vigorous response, not least because they feared falling victim to the renewed aggression of the Spaniards and the French, who had themselves started to seize the coastal towns of north Africa, partly in response to Moslem piracy, and partly in hopes of gaining some useful territory, and partly from a desire not to be completely outdone by their neighbors in fighting the Moslems. Biter complaints to Allah and to his Caliph had elicited no helpful response, so the small number of invaders, supported by the Germans, had slowly taken over the coast and organised estates to grow crops for export to Europe. There was a severe limit to the quantity of olive oil and wine from the Mediterranean that could be profitably sold in the markets of Europe - and North Africa produced little else that could be profitably sold in the markets of Europe. Hence the area relapsed into it's usual torpor with the coastal towns and farmlands under the control of new masters, as had happened before. The desert tribes continued their migrations and squabbling and occasional raiding of the settled areas, eliciting the predictable and predictably ineffective punitive counter raids, so that everything continued as it always had.

The Germans were interested in controlling the Mediterranean passage between Sicily and Tunisia, so they ensured that there was a reasonable garrison and a naval force based in Tunisia. Some Imperial bureaucrat with a sense of history and a liking for pretty maps, had designated the North African littoral from Morocco to Tunisia, 'Vandalia'. He had given it a governor and council which co-ordinated the relations between the French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Dutch and Danish owners and occupiers of it's towns and estates, with a military commander to ensure that their forces worked together.

The big surprise, particularly for the Moslems, came when the German attack arrived, not via Antioch and through the Levant as everyone had expected, but directly across the sea; to fall upon an Egypt that was not well prepared to receive it. Of course, it had been impossible to conceal the preparations for such a large attack, but the Moslem commanders had expected the Germans to attack through Antioch, possibly with diversionary attacks on Libya by the other Europeans, so the defences of Egypt had been weakened. Counter attacking the Germans, in prepared positions, across the Sinai desert, once they had secured the main points in Egypt, and had left their 'partners' who had bypassed Libya by sea, to clean up remaining resistance, had been another losing proposition for the forces of the Caliph when they arrived from the north. Allah had had a bad week before his battered forces pulled back to organise what defence they could on the other side of the desert, and to respond to the raids from the re-invigorated Imperial forces around Antioch who had taken the opportunity to make gains into northern Syria and to probe along the coast towards Lebanon. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth in Jerusalem, but no compensation for the irrecoverable losses of manpower, territory and prestige.

Command of the sea had then enabled the Europeans to by-pass the Sinai desert and land substantial forces along the coast of Palestine, as well as to introduce long distance raiders and reconnaissance teams, supported by the German airships.Co-ordinated defence efforts collapsed and soon the whole coastline was liberated, although fierce Moslem resistance continued in fortified areas and towns.Many such points of resistance had to be reduced to rubble by German artillery and the final defenders killed in hand to hand combat.The end had come when, unable to defend Jerusalem any longer, the Caliph and his entourage had died in a suicidal attack against the German forces. Although mopping up continued for some time, this series of unparalleled disasters for the cause of Islam had broken the morale of the remaining Moslem forces which had no further powerful Moslem state to support. It caused many to question the foundations of their belief. A final German psychological victory, just before the death of the Caliph and the liberation of Jerusalem, had been achieved by a daring raid on Mecca. An airship had quietly carried a company of assault troops down the Red Sea and over the desert.In the middle of a sleepy night they had silently descended unobserved into the centre of Mecca, removed the already broken holy meteorite from its corner of the Kaaba and departed with it's fragments which would later be displayed to the world along with photographs of the raid to prove it's authenticity, leaving explosive charges to detonate spectacularly as they flew away through the otherwise silent night.

A war god who keeps losing battles soon loses followers. Thereafter Islam became far less popular in the Middle East, although it remained strong amongst savages in Africa and in areas of southern and central Asia far from German influence.

All that was some years ago, and since then the Germans and their supporters have busily consolidated their gains. Egypt, jewel in the Mediterranean crown, has become a major producer of sub-tropical produce. There is even talk of re-building the dams on the Nile to regulate it's floods again. It's importance for the Romans lay in it's grain production to feed the voracious and parasitical city of Rome. This is no longer needed. Poland and the Ukraine can more easily supply any grain needed beyond local production. Of course the Egyptian population is much lower now, it's cities are cleaner, it is well managed and Islam is a superstition now found only amongst the lowest classes.

The Holy Land is a quaint backwater. It's surviving Moslem population was expelled to Iraq or Arabia or Jordan, and the remaining population subsists on basic agriculture and the tourist or pilgrim trade to mainly Christian religious sites. Of course, it's not at peace. The wrangles between the various Christian sects have replaced the Moslem disputes, albeit they have been more a matter of words than of blood, thus far. Unfortunately these wrangles are replicated in the disputes amongst the governing council, which includes Russian and French as well as German representatives, reflecting the enormous prestige of the Holy Land and it's history of religious disputes and of foreign interference. Organisation and policing of the pilgrim routes and facilities is in the hands of a revived Templar Order, headquartered again in what was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, although this is no longer believed to have been Solomon's Temple. The tour groups are brought mostly by German and Russian ship owners or operators.It's a long way and quite expensive. The route from the south of France is less safe because of piracy by Italian, Greek, Corsican, Sardinian and Sicilian gangs, as there is less protection than on the military route from Constantinople. There was far too much disagreement amongst the religious sects for Jerusalem to be made a Patriarchate, as Constantinople had been, and there was no agreement on who should be king of a proposed new Kingdom of Jerusalem, so the area remains under a Council for the Holy Land, representing various sects and their foreign backers, and depending ultimately on German arms and goodwill.Sectarians of apocalyptic disposition ponder the recent German successes and compare them confusedly with their expectations of a climatic battle of Armageddon, not sure what to make of recent history and it's potential relation to their favourite Biblical prophecies, and only serving to confuse each other still further by their ranting.

The rest of the Fertile Crescent is under direct German control. Following the destruction of the Caliphate, the Germans acted swiftly to gain control of Mesopotamia, sending forces as far as Basra, to secure access to the Persian Gulf and forestall any such move by the Russians. These were becoming restive at the comparison between their own passivity, distanced by rugged mountains and recovering from the terrible casualties they had suffered against Turkey, and the continuing series of spectacular German successes. This far sighted geopolitical manoeuvre has yet to bear fruit as the Germans have shown no interest in extending their influence through the Persian Gulf into the Indian Ocean. They have been content to receive a small amount of trade via Arab or Persian intermediaries. Perhaps this trade will grow as the spices brought from India or the Indies by Arab sailors, and commonly used in middle eastern cooking, may start to become popular in Europe once again.

Much has been achieved, and more may follow. Europe and the Mediterranean and the Middle East have been freed from the plague and curse of Islam, their people free to follow milder and less violent superstitions. Germany stands supreme, a colossus bestriding three continents; a benign colossus, encouraging and keeping peace amongst the pygmies of the rest of Europe, whilst busily extending it's population and influence in southeastern Europe, making it an enlargement of Germany itself. This organisation, colonisation and prosperity is being extended to the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts that had been occupied by the Turks, and to the uplands of Syria that had seen the Crusader states and before them the cities of the Seleucid successors of Alexander.

It had been proposed to revive Ionia, but it was immediately obvious that the remaining 'Greeks' were no longer sufficiently 'Ionian' to be able to supply enough suitable settlers. Hence, most of the remaining Turkish inhabitants were simply deported to the Anatolian plateau, and the coastlands garrisoned and slowly settled by Europeans, to protect the route to the Middle East and to strengthen the fetters binding Turkey to prevent it from again intervening against the interests of Europe and civilisation.

Not altogether co-incidentally the ruins of the great Seleucid city and military base of Apamea, not very far from Antioch, and where the great Seleucid military parades had been held, has become a favoured tourist site, and there are important modern military bases in its vicinity. Many senior officers and officials and businessmen have holiday villas in the area, to enjoy the climate and the company and use the area as a base for sight seeing throughout the Middle East. There is now a comfortable commercial airship service linking Berlin, Vienna, Belgrade, Constantinople, Troy, Ephesus, Pergamon, Antioch, Apamea, Baghdad and Basra. From Antioch a branch goes to Jerusalem and Alexandria. Railways and steamships carry freight and poorer passengers over much the same routes, which are fully protected by the military. The difficulties of supply, communications, government, trade and tourism have been greatly reduced and the prosperity of many correspondingly increased.

Apart from maintaining some military and naval base, the Germans have been less interested in the western and central Mediterranean than in the east. The minor European states maintain their footholds in 'Vandalia' and ship some produce from Alexandria. The Mediterranean islanders avoid tangling with the Germans, but slyly raid others, and each other, when they can.

The Germans seem content with their achievements, able after generations of sustained struggle to rest and turn to the pursuits of peace and pleasure. They do not want to conquer the world. They do not even want to extirpate Islam. They are willing to maintain their empire within the bounds of the deserts to the south and the mountains to the south east. They have no interest in the wretched savages living in and beyond the Sahara. They will keep an eye on the semi-independent Arabs of southern Arabia and allow some trade with them and with the Persians. The status of the latter within Islam as Shi'ite heretics has moderated their grief at the failure of the Arab orthodox Sunni Caliphate, and their reluctance to be caught between the Russians and the Germans in the same vise as constricts the Turks - also hereditary enemies to whom much territory was lost in the past - makes them cautious and polite towards the Germans and causes them to influence their followers within Imperial domains to be similarly prudent and self-effacing. The Germans seem happy to remain in Middle Earth, between the physical and spiritual extremes of Ice and Fire, rejecting the temptations of Eastern ecstasies and indifferent to their western equivalent.

For the moment the Imperial war machine rests, and begins to rust. It's soldiers stand at the furthest limits of the old Roman Empire, behind them it's bureaucrats and businessmen busily organise peace and prosperity; before them only a small picquet of romantics, orientalist academics, mystics and travellers on 'the golden road to Samarkand', who travel physically and spiritually 'for lust of knowing what should not be known'. The rulers of the Empire, this Second Holy Roman Empire of the German People, this western head of the revived Double Eagle would not put it in such terms, but they have lifted their faces to the dawn gleaming on the snowy peaks of the Zagros Mountains and rejected the lure of following the Macedonian and the Dionysian rout over them to Ecbatana, Persepolis, Hyrcania, Parapamisadae and onwards to the utmost bounds of mellifluous possibility in places of mystery, horror, terror and ecstasy. For them, practical men prudently seeking security, prosperity and social success, in charge of the humble destinies of common men seeking just these things,- although inhabitants of such a romantic enterprise as an Empire, and such a wildly romantically named Empire,- it is as if they sit as merchants ruling an emporium, and forget Imperium. In their hearts, and as men bearing serious worldly responsibilities for others and not free to wander as poor pilgrims seeking salvation, the call of Apollo from Delphi rings louder; 'Know Thyself','Nothing in Excess'.

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