The results are in, and no, we're not the most violent mammals - at least in terms of killing each other, that is. That'd be meerkats:
A study on violence in more than 1,000 mammals has revealed that pretty much all of them are murderous, but meerkats are the most bloodthirsty of all.
Evolutionary biologists, led by José María Gómez from the University of Granada in Spain, conducted the study in order to understand human violence in an evolutionary context. They found that when Homo sapiens first came into existence, roughly one in 50 of us were killed by members of our own species. This made us typically violent for a primate, though around six times more murderous than an average mammal.
Our murderous tendencies have shifted over time though. Gómez’s research found that we became considerably more violent during the Iron Age and Medieval period of Africa, Europe and Asia, but over the past few centuries, have become significantly less violent than when humans first existed. This suggests that as we formed large, organized states, complicated social structures have kept our violent urges in check.
But where do meerkats fit in? The researchers weren’t focused on these unexpectedly lethal creatures, but Ed Young at The Atlantic organized the research to rank the top 30 most murderous mammals. Meerkats come well ahead of lions, wolves, and leopards. Roughly one in five meerkats die at the hands of their own species.
From the original paper:
The psychological, sociological and evolutionary roots of conspecific violence in humans are still debated, despite attracting the attention of intellectuals for over two millennia. Here we propose a conceptual approach towards understanding these roots based on the assumption that aggression in mammals, including humans, has a significant phylogenetic component. By compiling sources of mortality from a comprehensive sample of mammals, we assessed the percentage of deaths due to conspecifics and, using phylogenetic comparative tools, predicted this value for humans. The proportion of human deaths phylogenetically predicted to be caused by interpersonal violence stood at 2%. This value was similar to the one phylogenetically inferred for the evolutionary ancestor of primates and apes, indicating that a certain level of lethal violence arises owing to our position within the phylogeny of mammals. It was also similar to the percentage seen in prehistoric bands and tribes, indicating that we were as lethally violent then as common mammalian evolutionary history would predict. However, the level of lethal violence has changed through human history and can be associated with changes in the socio-political organization of human populations. Our study provides a detailed phylogenetic and historical context against which to compare levels of lethal violence observed throughout our history.
So Steven Pinker was right. We are becoming progressively less violent - and certainly less violent than our evolutionary history would suggest.
Amos Milburn, R'n'B pioneer, with his 1948 classic, live at the Apollo in the mid-Fifties:
It's all Amos here. Fantastic boogie piano, great vocals. The horns - where you can here them - are distinctly underwhelming. The recorded version, by contrast, has fine pumping horns and solos to drive it along. But then we're missing out on seeing the man in action.
A key figure in the development of rock'n'roll:
Nick Tosches has called Amos Milburn "the first great rock n roll piano man". It is true that Milburn was a crucial figure in the trans- formation of jump blues into R&B and rock 'n' roll. Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis have all cited Amos as a seminal influence on their work. Ironically, Milburn would be swept aside by the very idiom that he had helped create. Milburn picked up his style from a rich variety of sources : the boogie woogie piano of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, the blasting big bands of Lionel Hampton and Buddy Johnson, and as a contrast, the silky smooth after-hours cocktail blues of Charles Brown, Nat "King" Cole and Ivory Joe Hunter. But the result was pure Amos Milburn.
Also from Showtime at the Apollo:
And (not live this time) the classic One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.
Amnesty's Salil Shetty, at the Guardian, on the latest revelations about the use of chemical weapons in Darfur:
Chemical weapons have been banned for decades at the international level in recognition of the fact that the suffering they cause can never be justified. Credible evidence that Sudan’s government might now repeatedly be using them simply cannot be ignored.
More than a decade ago, the international criminal court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. And yet, the president has since won two elections and travelled regularly, including to Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. As signatories to the Rome statute which created the ICC, each of these countries had a duty to arrest Bashir on his arrival. None of them did.
Absolutely no effective measures have ever been put in place to protect civilians in Darfur despite being under the watch of a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission (Unamid). Peace talks and agreements have brought no security or respite for the Darfuri people.
The response of the international community in the last 10 years has been utterly deplorable and in the face of such an ineffective reaction, it is little wonder that Al-Bashir’s hubris has grown.
All true, alas. So what can be done?
In the light of this shocking new evidence, and on the eve of the UN security council meeting in New York, we are calling on it to do more to protect the children, men and women of Darfur.
It can do this by applying political pressure on the government of Sudan to ensure that the Unamid peacekeeping force, as well as humanitarian agencies, can access parts of Darfur such as Jebel Marra, where some of the worst abuses appear to be happening. There need to be more peacekeeping bases, and they must be able to conduct proactive patrols deep into these remote areas.
There also needs to be an urgent investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and, if there is sufficient evidence, prosecutions of all those suspected of criminal responsibility must follow.
Bashir must learn that there are consequences when crimes under international law are committed. There has been 13 years of catastrophic violence and recurring human rights violations; it’s time the world set its focus, once more, on Darfur and act.
After the ringing condemnation earlier, this can't help but sound a little, well, anti-climactic. We can no longer tolerate these outrageous and barbaric war crimes being committed by the government of Sudan against its own people, so we're going to....apply more political pressure. The president has already, we are reminded, been indicted "on three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes". If that leaves him and his African and Arab allies entirely unmoved, what more exactly can be done in terms of political pressure? The UN, as we know only too well, is subject to the whims of its member states, and hasn't exactly got a sterling reputation in such matters.
One of the first comments on Shetty's piece captures the isolationist spirit of the new Guardian left:
Obviously this is a tragedy but international “peacekeeping” is almost always, in the long run, a terrible idea that merely freezes conflicts rather than allowing them to reach resolution
Imagine if the English Civil War had been halted halfway by a force of foreign soldiers who insisted on the validity of both side’s claims and demanded amicable negotiations
Maybe part of the reason that Africa remains riven by war while other continents are markedly more stable is the continual presence of “peacekeeping” troops attempting to maintain a stasis in the balance of power. And oh how surprising, that balance of power suits the world’s major powers.
If peacekeeping was going to fix Sudan it would have happened already. Awful as it is to say, some wars need to fight themselves out. People didn’t pick up arms for a laugh. They won’t put them down just because they’re asked nicely.
So leave Bashar and his government to finish off the genocide undisturbed. Wonderful. [To be fair, another commenter immediately sets the guy straight.] This used to be called "survival of the fittest", and was a position associated with the political right. Now, though, with the new anti-imperialism, it can be embraced by the left with a clear conscience. Times have changed.
Interesting review by Lyn Julius, at Standpoint, of a new book on the supposed golden age of Muslim rule in Spain:
In 2008 France was rocked by a fierce controversy when a medievalist academic named Sylvain Gouguenheim published an essay. Contrary to majority opinion, “Aristotle at St Michael’s Mount” argued that Muslim Spain in the Middle Ages had not acted as a conduit for the transmission of classical Greek texts to the West. Syriac Christians, rather than Arab Muslims with barely a knowledge of Greek, he contended, had ensured the preservation of Greek civilisation.
Hundreds signed petitions and letters to the press, rounding on Gouguenheim and accusing him of Islamophobia. Few academics came out in his defence. His ideas fell foul of the politically-driven agenda to promote “Golden Age” Spain as a brilliant period of interfaith coexistence. The witchhunt demonstrated the dangers of attempting to dislodge prevailing myths.
Darío Fernández-Morera, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University, must be commended for daring to wade into this hazardous arena. He has come well-armed: his The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise has 95 pages of notes, and the lionisers of political correctness will not find it easy to penetrate chinks in his bibliographical armour of primary and secondary sources, many not published in English.
In an exhilarating and unput-downable read, Fernández-Morera debunks the fashionable myth that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together (convivencia) under “tolerant” Muslim rule. He prefaces each chapter with a quote by scholars, politicians and respected publications extolling the Andalusian paradise. World-class academics — hailing from Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Princeton, London, Oxford — look like fools in their apologetics for jihad: the violent Muslim conquest of Spain euphemistically described as a “gentle migratory wave”.
The very renaming of Spain (from the Latin Hispania) as al-Andalus in order to avoid offending non-Christians is one of several “hegemonic manoeuvres” to disguise a dystopia built on slavery and Islam’s “imperialist system” of strict separation and subordination for non-Muslims. According to Fernández-Morera, coexistence was never more than precarious. Jews and Christians lived as subaltern dhimmis who paid a jizya tax to live under Muslim protection. But, the author claims, the dhimmi system was never other than a Mafia-style protection racket....
Naturally, Fernández-Morera echoes Gouguenheim’s theory that Byzantine monks were already translating Greek texts into Latin. It was “baseless” to say that Islam preserved classical knowledge and passed it on to Europe. In fact Islam slowed down the exchange of science, art and poetry. Many of the so-called Muslim luminaries of the Golden Age turn out to be of non-Muslim or non-Arab ancestry, if not themselves Christians and Jews.
From the description at Amazon:
Historians, journalists, and even politicians uphold the Muslim kingdom in medieval Spain – “al-Andalus” – as a multicultural paradise, a place where Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in harmony. There is only one problem with this popular account: it is a myth
In this groundbreaking new book, Northwestern University scholar Dario Fernández-Morera tells the full story of Islamic rule in medieval Spain. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradiseshines light on hidden history by drawing on an abundance of primary sources that historians have ignored, as well as archaeological evidence only recently unearthed.
This supposed beacon of peaceful coexistence began, of course, with the Muslim’s violent conquest of Spain. Far from promoting peace and religious tolerance, Muslim rulers maintained their power for centuries through brute force. Fernández-Morera documents the many ways in which Islamic rule led to religious and cultural repression – including the subjugation of Spain’s Christian population.
The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise provides a desperately needed reassessment of medieval Spain, proving that the Muslims were not, in fact, benevolent rulers. As professors, politicians, and pundits continue to romanticise the Islamic occupation, Fernández Morera sets the historical record straight - showing that a politically useful myth is a myth nonetheless.
The last time I mentioned Darfur here was, I think, back in 2010, quoting Eric Reeves - Forgetting Darfur:
The bitterly ironic truth is that Darfur has been doubly betrayed by the international community's response to the ongoing crisis in southern Sudan . The first betrayal came during the 2003–2004 negotiations to finalize the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in January 2005. Darfur was excluded from the issues to be negotiated in this comprehensive peace because it was considered too complex and because Khartoum would not agree to any addition to the negotiating agenda. Much of the world obligingly played down the atrocities being committed throughout Darfur in the interests of seeing the CPA through to completion. There was, however, no lack of knowledge about the genocidal character of counter-insurgency in Darfur ; the International Crisis Group was one of several important organizations that, early on, reported the ethnically targeted destruction of civilians with no connection to military actions:
“Government-supported militias deliberately target civilians from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit groups, who are viewed as ‘Africans’ in Darfur and form the bulk of the SLA and JEM [rebel groups] ethnic base. … The latest attacks [by the government-supported Arab militias] occurred deep inside the Fur tribal domain, against unprotected villages with no apparent link to the rebels other than their ethnic profile.” (December 2003)
This was only one of many reports publicly available that proved simply too inconvenient for those seeking to secure the CPA; in the end, there was almost no international pressure on Khartoum to halt the genocidal counterinsurgency during its most violent phase. When the world finally turned its attention from South Sudan to Darfur, the consequences of previous inaction were all too apparent. The vast majority of African villages in Darfur had been destroyed, typically with a terrifying completeness. Mortality was already in the hundreds of thousands.
Since then, despite the International Criminal Court's charge of genocide against Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir, the forgetting has deepened. Darfur? Rings a bell...where's that again?
Today, from the Times (£):
The Sudanese government has been accused of using chemical weapons to kill civilians including babies and children, leaving hundreds of survivors with “horrific” symptoms.
Up to 250 people have been killed since January in alleged attacks on the Jebel Marra region of Darfur, according to an Amnesty International report.
Those affected by the “poisonous smoke” suffered symptoms including bloody vomiting and diarrhoea, blisters that changed colour and fell off, blindness and nausea. Breathing problems were said to have killed the most people.
Amnesty said that the indiscriminate bombardment continued and marked a new low in the regime’s human rights abuses. The investigation used satellite images, more than 200 phone and internet interviews and expert analysis of photographs to substantiate its claims. The most recent of 30 alleged attacks was on September 9.
Survivors reported that flames and coloured smoke billowed from the bombs when they landed, filling the air with an “unnatural” smell. Two experts approached by the charity concluded that the shells probably contained blister agent.
One man said that his three-year-old son had been left “almost like a skeleton” after his skin fell off.
Access to medicine is practically non-existent in Jebel Marra and other remote regions which the government has struggled to control during its 13-year war with non-Arab rebels.
“Scorched earth, mass rapes, killings and bombs — these are the same war crimes being committed in Darfur as in 2004 when the world first woke up to what was happening,” Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s director of crisis research, said.
“The scale and brutality of these attacks is hard to put into words. The images and videos we have seen in the course of our research are truly shocking.”
Amnesty is calling for a UN war crimes investigation and international pressure on Khartoum to allow access for peacekeepers and aid....
About 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since the start of conflict in 2003, according to the UN. Some 4.4 million need aid and more than 2.5 million have been displaced.
The International Criminal Court accused President al-Bashir of war crimes and genocide in 2009 and 2010. Amnesty said that the global response to Sudan’s crimes had been deplorable and no effective measures had been installed to protect civilians.
Indeed. Join the list...Syria, Yemen...
Since Iraq, of course. we know that the biggest sin that can be committed is for the west to get involved; especially to intervene and overthrow a bloodthirsty tyrant. Things might not go perfectly, in which case there will be western politicians to be excoriated, lengthy damning reports to be written, and above all lessons to be learned about neo-colonialism and other such horrors. So no...we don't do anything.
Michael Totten on Iraq, Syria and the birth of ISIS:
Democrats love to blame ISIS on George W. Bush for invading Iraq, while Republican partisans blame ISIS on Obama and Clinton for withdrawing from Iraq prematurely.
They’re all wrong for one simple reason.
ISIS is a product of the Syrian war, not the Iraq war.
The Syrian civil war started in 2011, eight years after the United States invaded Iraq and three years after President Bush signed the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that included a deadline for all American troops to leave the country. All combat forces were out in 2010. Only a small “transitional force” remained until 2011.
Whether or not invading was a good idea, leaving almost certainly was, and in any case, it was inevitable. The war was over. Americans didn’t want to be there anymore. Iraqis didn’t want us hanging around either. Public opinion in both countries mandated withdrawal.
I visited Iraq seven times as a foreign correspondent. On my final trip, in 2008, I was bored. It was a hard country to write about then because it was more or less stable. The various militias and terrorist organizations had been routed. If the Iraqis had their act together, they’d be in fine shape by now after eight years of peace.
An entirely separate chain of events led to the rise of ISIS. It started in Tunisia...
What began as a non-violent protest movement for reform against Bashar al-Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party transformed over time into an armed insurrection. Relatively moderate forces fought both alongside and against Islamist factions like the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Foreign fighters poured into the country from all over the world, and three years into the bloodshed and mayhem, in 2014, ISIS declared its “caliphate” in the Syrian city of Raqqa in the wake of the withdrawal of Assad’s armed forces.
That’s how it started, and the Syrian civil war is emphatically not a product of the Iraq war. Follow the international chain of causation backwards and you won’t end up in Baghdad, but in Tunisia. ISIS—or something that looks and sounds a lot like it—would have sprung up in Syria even if Iraq were an Arab version of Switzerland.
To be sure, ISIS is the reconstituted and rebranded version of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which reared its ugly head in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein, so in that sense it does appear, at a glance anyway, that ISIS is the product of the Iraq war rather than the Syrian war, but here’s the thing: Al Qaeda in Iraq effectively ceased to exist for years after losing to the American and Iraqi armed forces in the mid-to-late 2000s. It lost every scrap of territory and its entire leadership was erased.
If ISIS didn’t exist, and if Al Qaeda in Iraq never existed, the Nusra Front, which is the Syrian franchise of Al Qaeda, would be recruiting all the foreign fighters, and the Nusra Front has never even set foot in Iraq.
Donald Trump (along with Bernie Sanders and Gary Johnson and so many others) talks about Iraq as if the Middle East would be fine if the Baath Party were left in place in Baghdad. It’s a frankly ludicrous proposition. The Baath Party is still in place next-door in Syria, and how’s that working out?...
It’s not America’s fault that that part of the world is a mess. It’s the fault of the people who live there. When we aren’t busy taking partisan shots at whichever political party we love to hate most, we all know it’s true, so please, for once, let’s stop blaming America and Americans for what the Middle East does to itself.
The United States has made plenty of mistakes over there, no question about it, and only a stubborn fool refuses to learn anything from them, but Iraq is so dysfunctional that it would still be in catastrophic shape even the United States did everything right. And if Iraq had its act together, it wouldn’t matter how many mistakes Americans made—Iraq would be fine.