Have you heard of the Land of Punt? I certainly hadn’t – before I read David Silon’s ‘Occupied Territories’.
It’s a clever title designed to make you sit up. To most people the Occupied Territories have something to do with Israel. Silon means those territories stretching from West Africa to Iraq that came under Arab rule after the 7th century. There is a bewildering variety of peoples, each with a long and complex history.
The flag of the Druze
As Silon (who claims to be neither an academic nor a scholar) points out in his introduction, subjugation by the Arabs did not mean that the occupied peoples themselves did not desist from being at each others’ throats. He also makes it clear that the Arabs were not the only oppressors of indigenous peoples. The Turks and the Persians inflicted their fair share of oppression too.
The Land of Punt refers to Somalia and Djibouti, one of the first regions to convert to Islam. Did you know that they wanted to establish a Dervish state in the early 20th century, before Somalia was split into three by the British, the French and the Italians?
Silon’s 45-page booklet is a labour of love and a work in progress. It includes peoples who are Muslim but want to throw off the Arab yoke – like the Amazigh (or Berbers), the Kurds and the Sumer or Marsh Arabs (who apparently are not Arabs at all, but a separate ethnicity called the Madani.)
On the other hand, the Comoro Islands, sandwiched between East Africa and Madagascar, seek to assert their Arab-ness over their African-ness.
And the Druze? What do they seek? It seems that in 1921 they had their own state, but were always clashing with the Maronites. Today, however, they do not seem to want to assert their independence from either Syria, Israel or Lebanon, and are content to live as a minority.
Then there are indigenous Christians – the Arameans, Syriacs, Maronites, Copts. All have suffered discrimination and persecution under various Muslim rulers. But did you know that the Crusaders were no less a nightmare for the Arameans? The eastern Christians have a history of squabbling with the church of Rome, yet Assyrians and Maronites call themselves Catholics. Work that one out.
Israel makes an an appearance as the only Jewish state previously ruled by Islam to have reclaimed sovereignty. Silon’s chapter gets a little too bogged down in historical detail; he could have written a little more about the rise of the Zionist movement.
We get a chapter on the Nubians, an ancient people now split between Egypt and the Sudan. But why stop there? Where are the Rifian people, the Beja, the Touareg, the Chaouis, the Chenouas and the Mozabites of North Africa? Silon is gracious enough to offer to remedy omissions in future editions.
‘Occupied Territories’ goes into a lot of detail – and there is perhaps too much reliance on Wikipedia. But Silon’s work is an eye-opener – and makes an important point : the ‘Arab world’ is nothing of the sort. It is a collection of disparate groups and peoples, some of whom still want independence and liberation from arabisation and islamisation.
For copies of Dave Silon’s ‘Occupied Territories’ booklet contact [email protected]