The brown pond is the answer, and this is the Brown Pundit's podcast. Today we have a full house, we have Razib, we have Omar. We have and we have a very, very special guest, Tim Magnetize Smith. He is a grandmaster when it comes to writing, and he is also a sage when it comes to knowledge. And I'm telling you guys this because he's also very humble. So he probably won't say this himself. But this is a really accurate description.
But I want to get into who he is. So, Tim, what's your background, your journey into studying Arab history and culture? How did you become like Arabist and how did a Brit such as yourself end up into Yemen and beyond? Well, hi there. I don't know whether to say good morning or good evening or good afternoon, because I was speaking to you actually at the moment from from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
But I might talk about why I'm here a bit later.
But, yeah, how how did I get into Arabia into the subject being a Brit? I guess there's a sort of oh, there's an old Orientalists connection going back to the days of Empire and that kind of thing, but I'm obviously rather younger, but I'm a sort of post Orientalist. I think that's how I would cross myself. I hope I've kind of I don't have any of that old kind of baggage, but.
Yeah, how did I get into it originally? There's probably a little story that happened to me when I when I was very, very young, which explains a few things, and I was I guess I was, I don't know, six, seven years old. And I was floating around in my in my father's bureau. And I found this little kind of lump of red stuff and was mystified.
And I said, Oh, Dad, what's this?
And he took it and turned it over and said, oh, it's the blood from a dragon from Arabia. And I kind of thought being that age, oh, you know, Arabian jargon, that sounds interesting, it sounds exciting.
You know, in fact, the explanation was it's something called Dragon's Blood, which comes from a tree and it's addressing the violin makers used to to to to make the the lacquer for their violets.
And my grandfather had made violins as a hobby. So this was just hanging around. But the idea of this sort of wonderful place where you have Dragon's blood and things like that, it got into my head and I was one of those little kids, funny little kids who was always interested in the past.
You know, I if I if I imagine myself as a small boy, you know, has the sort I were watching, for God's sake, you know, I had a pocket watch on the end of the chain.
I was always a bit old fashioned, I suppose.
I don't know. We had pictures on the wall at home of.
You know, Victorian pictures of camels and deserts and things like that, and it somehow got into my head, although all the all that world.
And then later on, this was this was actually quite a big turning point in the 1970s, I think. Nineteen seventy four, seventy five, something like that. When I was so when I was quite a young teenager, I was born in 1961, they had a big event in London called The World of Islam Festival. And as part of this in the Museum of Mankind, they had a kind of mock up of the souk.
So the market in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, and it had all the smells and all the, you know, the goods sitting around and the sounds recorded. And you went into this, I suppose it was a hall and it was all kind of fun, you know, full of dust and smells and sounds and things like this. And and that really attracted me to the idea of one day going to to that part of the world and particularly to to to Yemen, to sort of unknown quarter of Arabia right down to the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula, where nobody really knew very much about it.
So that's really how I got into it.
I you know, I studied languages. I studied particularly Latin and Greek.
And I particularly like well, I got pretty fed up with Latin and Greek.
I think the thing is, you when when you're studying a subject like that that people have really been working hard on since the Renaissance, you know, five or six hundred years, there's not a lot new that you can say. So I thought, you know, I want to carry on with languages, but I want more of a challenge than some of the classics of the Old World came back to me, that kind of imaginary world of of Arabia and Arabic and things like that.
So I, I started studying Arabic at at Oxford University and I've never really looked back. So it seems like it was a lot of it was a lot of serendipity, wasn't it? It was just you encountered these Arab artifacts of these cultures in your life and you just naturally gravitated towards it versus other types of, you know, ancient cultures, like you said, Greek, Latin or even other ones, maybe Chinese or Indian or American. But it was more so Arab culture specifically.
Like what about Arab culture, do you think really differentiated it from maybe other cultures that you encountered? It's hard to say. I mean, we all have this. You know, we all have pretty preconceived images of what different cultures are like and I suppose. Nowadays, if you ask people what they thought of Arab culture or Islamic culture, they might have a different a different picture. But but I think I came really at the end of a sort of long.
Orientalist fascination with with with with with the east in general and with with Arab culture in particular, and, you know, it goes back to the, I suppose, 17th century in Europe.
And when I say Orientalists, again, I'm divesting it of the kind of package that that it gave that a kind of timeless connection with Western Empire Building.
So but this this fascination with with the East, with the Orient, with the Arab world in particular, and I really come.
At the end of that, I suppose, in historical terms, and, you know, there's something very visual and very arresting about Arab culture and Arabic culture and quite a lot of it is to do with the language and it's to do with the script. I mean, when we think of. Islamic culture. We really think of Arabic script, don't you think of those wonderful inscriptions of the, you know, buildings in places like Samarkand which which are kind of illegible that covered with script and the wonderful script of Koran copies and things like that.
It's it's a very kind of legible, invisible and graspable culture through that script. And it's highly attractive. So so, Tim, this is a I have a question in terms of I imagine you you were at Oxford right around the time side came out with Orientalism, right? Yeah. So how did how did that impact like I imagine you had started studying already, Arabic thought and and that process. But how did that did that book impact how you looked upon your own studies in your own way of of of, you know, engaging with what you have been taught so far and then kind of how you move forward in your life?
I think really in personal terms, it didn't really touch me at all.
I'm trying to think when would say Orientalism came out.
It was like nineteen seventy eight right around there. Was it 1978?
OK, well I suppose it took a bit of time to filter through to, you know, young guys.
I was in those days and I think it took it took a few years to filter through to, to, to academia.
I'm not sure that it it it had its kind of devastating effect that it eventually had in the first year of the publication.
I don't remember that really.
Well, to be quite honest, I was so bound up with the difficulties of learning the Arabic language. I don't think I would have noticed or or anything else.
Arabic is a very, very difficult Wildwoods. It's got a ferociously difficult grammar.
And in some, you know, my my my first year or more of Arabic at Oxford was just kind of wrestling with with with these intricacies, these linguistic grammatical intricacies.
Well, just just on that point, because, I mean, I did study Sanskrit and Greek. So how different is the linguistic foundation of Arabic?
Does it have declensions is to have the you know, the that kind of set up of of the grammar, the Greek Latin sounds pretty well in the sense, you know, we tend to think of languages in groups and this and this is the I suppose it comes from German philologists of the 18th and 19th centuries, mainly that you think of something like Indo-European, which covers Sanskrit and Greek, and you think of Semitic languages, which covers Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopic, things like that.
We kind of tend to think of them as not meeting. But in fact, you know, Arabic, it does have declensions and inflections and moods, subjunctive and just sense and things like that.
All these things that the Greek has and Sanskrit, I take your word for. So I don't know, Sanskrit, but it has all these things. It's it's a very interesting language because of all the Semitic languages, so-called. It really has the fullest drama, which tends to suggest it's it's. Possibly one of the oldest languages that we might come back, the oldest languages in the Semitic group, but we might come back to this later.
But it does have this full panoply of of grammar, which if you've got a kind of linguistic mind and you like these things, it's it's absolutely fascinating. A question sorry about your question. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I have never really studied Arabic, so, you know, it just it's interesting to me about the linguistic contours of of that language and how it connects to the other languages, because later on it does come into play and we do in Persian and all that stuff.
And actually, I really I really meant to say a bit more on this on this point. Yes. I kind of like the inflections and things.
But, yeah, what I meant to say was, even though we talk about Indo-European soil Stojko, even though we talk about Indo-European languages and Semitic languages as being something, you know, something quite different, you get these moments where whether there's a kind of substratum, I think that's what philologists actually call it, a linguistic substratum that kind of goes on the both of them.
So you get. Even words that are those are shared. I mean, I'm just trying to think of a good example of, you know, the word for a sword in Arabic, it's it's safe. And in Greek, it's if you take the anything off to force in Arabic safe. I don't know what it is in Sanskrit. It might be something similar, but, you know, when you're talking about something is you know, it's very different in Sanskrit.
It's catgut. All right, that might be linkable with something in European languages and indeed Arabic, but this safe and safe force, that that's not a coincidence. Another example that I talk about in the histories is the word for pen, which in Arabic is color Greek column Calamus Read. And you know, these two basic things, the sword and the pen in human culture that's shared between Greek and Arabic. And. You know, from which did they go into the other?
I don't know, I don't know if anyone knows, but it seems to be that there was some kind of.
Pool of shared language, possibly in the Near East, in the Levant, in that area, which both Arabic and Greek come from, and of course, the scripts, the scripts of Arabic and Greek and eventually Latin, too, they all come from one origin, different though they look they all come from finished.
So, you know, if you dig deep enough, if you really delve down into the linguistic parts, you find quite a lot that is shared. So obviously, language is the dominant theme of your book in terms of Arabs, as people, as three thousand year history, everything, why did you choose language over Islam, which is, I feel like is the go to for most people when they talk about Arabs. But you kind of linked the Arabic language across its entire history and, you know, the spread and pretty much the biggest weapon of Arabs, as well as the most uniting force, basically like a sword and shield for Arabs.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, and yeah, you're quite right, a lot of histories of Arabs or the Arabs of those people call they begin actually with Islam or they might have a page or two for that.
Then you have the Arabs sort of charging onto to world's history, onto the stage of the world's history with Islam.
And if you if you begin there, I think you're only telling half the story what facts are telling?
Less than half the story. But as a historian, you cannot you can only look at the written and archaeological sources.
And, you know, going back in time, I make a point to the history of the oldest inscription we know so far that mentions Arabs is, I think, ninth century B.C. And I thought, oh, let's do some arithmetic.
And I and I, I worked out the number of years that had elapsed since this inscription that we can date. Actually very accurate accurately, I think is eight fifty three, but not very good with dates.
I'm a historian, is not good with dates, but if you if you work out how many years have gone by since eight. Fifty three B.C. until now.
And you have it, I found when I was writing the history a couple of years ago that exactly in the middle was when the Prophet Muhammad was recognized as a prophet in the in the story when he goes to to Syria and meets the monk and bussau the hero here and notices the prophet to him.
And that's right in the middle of recorded Arab history. So I think if you if you start telling Arab history from Islam, you're only telling half of it. You have fourteen hundred years plus since Islam and you have fourteen hundred years plus before Islam. And obviously you have many years before that when we didn't when we don't know really what was happening.
But so to start with, Islam in the history of Arabs is really short changing your ureters I think. And so you have to look at something else. Which is which unites Arabs or makes them Arabs over history. It's very difficult to pin down what does make Arabs Arabs. It's the same with everyone.
I think I used the image of a of a of an old trunk, a traveling trunk covered with labels. And, you know, you get labels, I don't know, London trees, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Singapore, they're all stuck onto the trunk. And human beings are similarly covered, covered with labels.
You know, I introduce myself or you introduce me as a Brit.
But, you know, I'm British, I'm English, I'm Scottish. I'm a bit Yemeni. Well, quite a lot generally, I suppose, because I've lived there for a long time, et cetera, et cetera.
You know, we all have these different labels and. People who have borne the label Arab over time have been actually quite different. So you have to look at the sort of something that that that brings them all together. And I really think the most successful. Thing to look at is language. Now, before we get into the kind of pre Islamic Arab history, I do want to touch upon your writing style and it's really beautiful. It's really poetic and it's something we don't mean myself.
I don't usually see this type of writing and a lot of history books or any books for that fact. Do you think the Arabic language, which you kind of do describe, is like magnetic, almost hypnotic and very poetic, of course. Do you think studying the Arabic language really influenced your writing? And that's how it became so poetic, page after page after page?
Yeah, I mean, undoubtedly I've had this influence because I I've read a lot of Arabic over the years.
Obviously, you can't fail to be to be affected by it.
And. You know, Arabic isn't always poetic, this is very, very plain Arabic, but quite a lot of it is is written in special ways.
I mean, Arabic poetry itself is how you would describe it. It's it's like a kind of. It can be like it can be like different things, but but I'm just envisioning it at the moment as as a kind of Faberge egg, you know, a really elaborate. Object, which is which is composed of all these different and precious words all put together very, very carefully and very beautifully. That's poetry.
But in Arabic you have a sort of intermediate thing between poetry and prose, which is called Saddam, which literally means the cooing of doves or cooing of pigeons. And it's kind of it's prose which is rhymed and rhythmical. And a lot of famous Arabic writers use this. I mean, it was it became a sort of a cliche to use this such this rhyming rhythmic prose to the extent that even when newspapers started coming out of the 19th century, they were written in this in this strange, rather hypnotic kind of writing.
And all of that has got through to me. Yeah, but I think I don't know.
I mean, I've got I've got deeper reasons in my life. I think. Why, why, why, why. Language is poetic.
I was I was always enthralled going to church as a little boy.
We always went to to the services that used the Book of Common Prayer, which is a 17th century prayer book.
And the language of that time is, you know, absolutely stunning. I think you think of the.
Poets like George Herbert and writers like Thomas Brown and and they they write a very sort of poetical English, a very beautiful English, and, you know, I don't think it's out of the way to use.
Poetic language, when you're writing a history, I think, you know, basically, if if you're inflicting a very big book on readers, you should make it as good a read as possible.
And you should use the techniques of poetry and even rhetoric to to to tell the story that you have to tell. And, you know, I would add here that.
I'm not saying that I'm a poet, but, you know, it's kind of germane to this that I think poets often understand history as well as historians do, or even better, perhaps I quote quite a lot of poetry in my history.
And, you know, particularly people like this are Kabbani, the late Syrian poet, died about 20 years ago.
And I mean, he's he he has images of time. Which are absolutely striking and unforgettable. You know, he he calls he talks about the hourglass that swallows you night and day. Excuse me, this this hourglass that swallows you night and day and it's kind of a metaphor for time, and it became quite a strong, powerful metaphor for me. And I think, you know, a poet like Nizar Qabbani understands time.
T.S. Eliot understands time when he says that time, past time, present to contained in future or whatever it is.
I think he says perhaps they are. I'm pretty sure they are. And, you know, everything is kind of mixed up together.
Eliot understood the complexity of time, which is what you I as a historian have to deal with. It's it's not always a simple timeline. I think of, for example, Yeats and he talks about WBA talking about time in. I think he calls them Jóhannes. Yeah.
Of course, the famously gibes meaning like sort of spirals.
So I think that you're really taking a poetic approach to history and to time. It helps you to understand it.
And it can help the reader to understand that you don't want to kind of bamboozle the reader or or deafened the reader with rhetoric.
But I think you want to write well to try to deliver your message. And there are a lot of histories around, you know, not just of Arabs, but. All sorts of other big subjects, which are not very well written, and I've read plenty of them and they're a bit of a. A bit stodgy, you kind of wade through them. I wanted to kind of let the reader be carried along, carried through by a current. What I loved about your book is that while it had a style, you matched it with a huge level of substance.
And I wanted to ask you, how do you view history as a subject? How did you approach really compiling the truth or narrative of this book when it comes to balancing your own biases, being empathetic to these stories of the past, which can be kind of it could seem over at times or it could be, you know, the other side where they played down things. How do you really build a narrative or build a truth of your book?
Oh, Lord, let me think about this, you know, basically, history is a bit of a mess. You can you can look at it in so many different ways.
You can look at it as angels or chronicles where you say, you know, first this happened and then that happened.
This happened and then that's happened.
You know, some people actually like that. And you obviously have to have a. An idea in your head of what happened after what is along the timeline, but as I suggested, we're talking about poetry. I don't think the timeline is is absolutely straight. You know, it has kinks. It has points where it goes back on itself. You have examples where something happens that might not have an effect for a very long time.
And, you know, I use one extreme example of this.
I think maybe the beginning of.
Of my history, where some British colonial officials were in a village somewhere in southern Arabia, Yemen and the sheikh, the head, the chief of the village, said, oh, we've got this very old well, and it's full of sand.
We want you to dig it out. And they said, well, alright, fair enough, but why us?
And the sheikh said, Oh, because when the Romans invaded, I think that was in twenty five B.C. or twenty six B.C. alias Carlos, the prefect of Egypt, I believe it was when the Romans invaded, it was they who filled it in. And you are both a kind of Falange, Frank, you know, European foreign.
So the Romans filled and filled in the well 2000 years before it was still the Brits responsibility to to to clean it up 2000 years later.
Now, that that's obviously anecdotal and the very. Extreme case of, of course, and the fact actually, I don't know if they ever did, and I've never been that to ask, but it would be interesting.
But you do have causes and effects working over. A very long period of time, so, for example, you know, even today.
In what we now call politics, we're kind of. Addressing in the Arab world, questions that arose after the death of the Prophet Muhammad with a succession, who was going to be in charge of this?
The whole Sunni Shiite question that people talk about a lot is it really goes back then to that time.
So things events have reverberations across time and the causes have effects across huge periods of time. So, you know, just to say that history is one darn thing after another, I forget who said it sometimes appears to be that when you were in it.
But as a historian, you have to look at.
And shapes and patterns, and you have to kind of tease something out of it all. And, you know, the great historians have done this very, very successfully and has has the great poets, as I've mentioned, but looking at historians, I think I have two big influences.
And one of them is Khaldoon on the 14th century historian who is also famous for being really founding figure of sociology and quite a few other.
Humanities and he he he had this this very persuasive and very plausible cyclical view of history and, you know, I've been influenced by that, as really has everyone who writes about Arab history and other histories.
But I think possibly my greatest influence in thinking about history was a Massarotti. Who was a really very early Arab historian.
He wrote across the 9th and 10th centuries at and he had this the striking image in his great history, Maruja, the hub of the Meadows of Gold, a title that Maruja have a margin of Jowhar, the metals of gold, of the minds of gems.
That's what he called his history. And he talks about history as. Collecting gemstones and. And he says when you tell history, you're collecting gemstones of different shapes and sizes and colors and then you're stringing stringing them together on a thread. To make a beautiful necklace. And and this is really what what I felt I had to do. I hope this all makes sense. I mean, it's it's all quite sort of airy fairy, but it's it really has been the basis of my thinking.
And and, you know, you might find a gemstone here. You might find a gemstone there somewhere away along the timeline.
So, you know, time.
The timeline is not the only route that the that you should follow when writing history, or rather you should admit that the timeline is very complex and you should it backwards and forwards jump into the future, jump backwards and pick up these gemstones and then arrange them so that they make sense and so that they make. Make something of that that we can actually understand otherwise, you know, it really is a sort of MORRICE. And to be quite honest, I get a few regions whoo hoo hoo hoo hoo!
Don't like the Mai Mai Mizoguchi style gemstone stripping, but most people really get it and they really seem to understand it. And it makes a lot of sense. And and and that's the basic thing that you're trying to do as a historian to make sense of. Of something exceedingly complex. Yeah, Tim, I was just going to say, if anyone's read the book, they know exactly what you're saying.
It's that's how the book is laid out. It's much clearer at length and it's a little different, but it's great. And, you know, it is the way it is.
So I think you don't really have to if you read the book, I don't think you have to explain yourself as much. But, you know, if you haven't, you kind of got to lay it out that way. Yeah.
And can I come in here and say, by the way, I do have a very clear chronological table at the end of the book, about 30 or 40 pages, which which has everything in order, beginning with hominids coming out of Africa and crossing into what's now the Arabian Peninsula, like whenever it was like a million years ago, coming right up to the presence of Merit's all beautifully along the timeline.
So I have a quick question. You did mention some of the mythology of the Yemenis of giants in the past. Was there stuff you left out of the book about that topic? Because, you know, as a geneticist, Yemen is actually super interesting because it seems to have some really, really deep, deep, basic ancestry of not African populations.
Yeah, oh, Gines, I can't remember writing about Giants, I can remember writing about Giants in my book where there's this wonderful Waddi, this valley huge valley called Hadramout, big province of Yemen is named after it.
And it's got kind of like like slide's. It's a bit like the Grand Canyon, but on the on the kind of bigger scale.
And Yemeni mythology said that it was built by giants and they they made these step like sites so they could sit, sit on them and keep out of the reach of the giant ants that would tickle them and, you know, things like that.
And also you get this idea of, oh, you may be thinking of the kind of giant profits. There are various tombs in Yemen that appear to be giant tombs. And, you know, as I said, to be of of a very ancient prophets who.
You were of a huge size, but, yeah, the whole genetic thing and the question of where Yemen fits into how people, how human beings, you know, hominids to begin with and then later Homo sapiens came out of Africa.
It's a hugely interesting question. So there's a lady I know actually called Allah Allah, as she calls herself an English shammari twelvefold.
I know. Really. OK. Her father is an old mate of mine and they're family. I know very, very well in Sanaa.
And, you know, Allah is or Allah is. So, you know, I know her as a as a as a sort of young lady. Some visits there.
But she has really, you know, she has oh, she's a star of the US, you know, of that kind of world of human archaeology. I mean, she's doing stuff. She's got, I think, two series on the TV at the moment. And yeah.
And she you know, she has told me about the plans she had to do field work, which I hope and pray she'll be able to do one day in Yemen, because I think there are enormous discoveries to be made that, you know, obviously a lot has been done up in the north, you know, across the Sinai and that kind of route out of.
Out of Africa, but the southern route across the bubble, Mandeb, the bottom end of the Red Sea. It's been very much ignored and done. Yeah. So perhaps between you, you can you can find out amazing new facts. So I wanted to Segway. This is perfect. We had a really good setup, but I want to get into the real history of your book and I want to start at the top. So how did this Arab identity form and I know we touched on a Saudi Arabia that Yemen the area, and I didn't know before reading your book.
It's very important in the whole, you know, mythology or unity of what Arab or Arabia is. So how did this identity come to form? Who are the big group there?
Yeah, well, I mean, again, we get immediately into complexity because if you read a lot of traditional histories and if you ask Yemenis, the Yemenis will say, oh, you know, we are the original Arabs.
But I think if you actually look at the inscriptions, which you have to do as a as a as a historian, and you go back to the ancient Yemeni kingdoms and I'm talking about Saba or Sheba for even the sheep of the Bible, the Queen of Sheba, that kind of thing.
You had this this kind of crescent of of of kingdoms in southern Arabia. Cheeba Sahba had me out on Hatamoto.
Indeed, that I've already mentioned, and I kind of think of it as being a southern fertile crescent because it's the fertile place at the bottom of Arabia where you get mountains of rain and greenery and you can you can have a quite a wealthy agricultural society. And it kind of mirrors or reflects the the the well, the fertile crescent that runs through Iraq, Syria and so on.
So down in this what I call the Southern Fertile Crescent, and I must say I didn't actually invent the term. It was Freddy Beeston who was professor of Arabic at Oxford and who I am very, very fondly.
Lots of this do and he mentioned this once and I of picked up.
So yeah, down in the Southern Fertile Crescent, you had these very advanced kingdoms of people who came. Ultimately, probably from the Northern Fertile Crescent, as did Arabs, and I'm talking now about the kind of original Arabs mentions in the Assyrian inscriptions.
So you had these people called Arabs who were between the two Crescent's and they were wandering around this sort of wilderness and they had got into breeding camels, taming them, domesticating them, using them to go backwards and forwards across the wilderness, eventually to to be transported whole its long distance lorry drivers off of the first millennium B.C. onwards, and indeed also mercenaries.
And that's where you get the first inscription mentioning an Arab. He's a he's a sort of he's a sheikh. He's he's a headman called Jenda Dunedoo. A grasshopper is what his name means. And he's effectively putting a thousand camels into a war that the Syrians were involved in.
So you have the Arabs wandering around between these two Fertile Crescent two kind of parentheses or brackets down in the south to look at Yemenis who have these Yemeni kingdoms and the people that did not think of themselves as Arabs at all because they you know, they write about themselves as shops, the Southern Charpentier, etc., the people of sheep, of the people of Kenya.
And then they talk about Arabs very much as outsiders who who gradually filter it quite often as mercenaries.
But when when these when these mercenaries, the numbers increased and the actual Arabs started playing a bigger political role in the South, some strange things start happening, their language starts spreading and people begin to use it instead of the local languages.
Is this very kind of strong? If you like, a quite a colonialist or imperialist language, it tends to it tends to colonize the places it goes, which is why we have a lot in in Southeast Asia, in East Africa. A lot of Arabic words and Arabic began to take over.
Those Southern Arabian kingdoms, but they still have the separate identity. When Islam comes along. You know, we tend to think of Islam as the beginning of Islam, as a very kind of Arab phenomenon, but in fact, the Southern Arabians were tremendously important in it.
And this is shown, you know, that there are hadiths hadith sayings by the Prophet Muhammad that mentioned the Southern Arabians with with some with great fondness because he knew that they were part of the sort of whole program of Islam and the whole unifying wave that Islam set off it.
It brought in the southern Europeans. And they they became very important in the expansion of what we know is the Arab empire.
And they were kind of subsumed into this Arab identity and they were even told that they were the original Arabs.
So. Have we got into complicated ground yet? I'm not quite sure, because I can't see you, I can't see your faces looking confused and dismayed. But what I'm saying is that. Southern Arabia was arabized linguistically before Islam, and then very early on in Islam, the southern Arabians were were kind of brought into the into the Islamic. Project, if you like, and they were given a new identity as. Arabs, which their ancestors would not have accepted.
I remember reading.
Yes, I got a phone call, I got yeah, and by the same token, you know, a lot of what we think of as specifically Islamic and, you know, something like the institution of pilgrimage or the pilgrimage of Islam.
You know, it's it's it's it's kind of it's one of the core identifiers of being a Muslim that you go on the pilgrimage, on the pilgrimage to Mecca if if you can.
There were pilgrimages in southern Arabia and on.
I think very early Islamic historians were very conscious of this, and they always tend to begin their histories right back at the dot with Adam.
One of these, and they tend to look a lot at the Southern Arabian kingdoms and talk a lot about them because they knew the role that they had played in the build up to Islam and in early Islamic times.
So really, partly what I'm doing in my history is giving that sort of prominence to the, if you like, the back story of Islam.
That's actually quite a good phrase. I'll have to remember that. All right. Down the back story of Islam. Um, which, you know, it's it covers it covers that southern fertile crescent.
Oh, I think there's absolutely the. There's absolutely no doubt about the role, the Hejaz, you know, the area of Arabia around Mecca and Medina.
There's no doubt about the role played. No, it's absolutely essential.
You know, we were very, very fortunate when we talk about Arab history since Islam or Islamic history, that we have the Koran, which is, you know, it's it's the biggest it's the most important historical document, quite apart from being a holy read scripture.
So, you know, we know a lot about it from that. And we have very few doubts about the position of the hijackers.
You know, of the details can come on come can come under question like, you know, things like the Prophet Muhammad was born in the year of the elephant.
Now, how do you take the year of the elephant, which was when? The Ethiopian ruler of Yemen, the occupying force, they tried to attack Mecca and they took a force with them, which included an elephant which was repelled with divine help.
You know, things like the dating, the fact is, is a bit problematical. It's usually dated 570 A.D., but that there are questions around that.
So I think, you know, the minutiae are can be questioned.
But but the basic role of the Hejaz in in in the beginning of Islamic history, that's absolutely no doubt about it whatsoever.
And Mecca was a very, very fertile place for thinking about God, thinking about creation.
There had already been preachers and people trying to to guide the inhabitants of the HIJOS towards a kind of monotheistic monotheism. So, you know, Mohammed, the prophet comes out of all of this and, you know. Becca, I always see us as one of a succession of. If you like nodes that are situated between a habitable bed, what do I mean by that?
It's kind of situated between the Second World and the nomadic world, and Mecca always functioned as a kind of.
You know, a junction between these two worlds and there had been other places like Mecca before, both in Arabia and up to the north, you know, with natural places like that.
So, you know, Mecca took its place as a. A station, a way station that joined the nomadic and the Second World and and and all of this fed into the atmosphere that produced Islam.
So, Tim, that theme that harder and better or the settled world versus the nomadic world that dominates your whole book, just like the Arab language you call it like a wheel of fire, which, again, that was beautiful. I want to touch on the role of the Nabatean in the north, how how much they played a role in terms of creating these Arabs. And I also want to add on to that. Do you think that the Bedouins ended up winning in the end in that they kind of dominated the whole idea of being Arab?
Yeah, I'm laughing when you say did the Bedouin. Yeah. And the fact I think they they have won over time.
But going back to the Nabatean. Yeah. The Nabatean, I don't know.
I think that, you know, the very noticeable because the Romans knew them so and are generally sort of Eurocentric histories, which we tend to know quite a lot about the Nabatean and the power Irene's and of course, Eurocentric history just like them because they took on quite a lot of classical culture and an opportunist built that wonderful facade, temples and meeting places of Petra.
You know, I don't know that they fit into the picture is one of several people who mediated between the Mediterranean world and the Arabian world and indeed Mediterranean worlds of the ancient world, looking at them on the on the trade route.
So, yes, they were important in that respect.
And, you know, all those people spoke a sort of language probably, which was probably quite a bit like Arabic, you know, something in the so-called North Arabian family.
But what was the other part of your question? Do you think the Bedouins won?
And I I think the veterans from the. Yeah, I mean, I tend I tend to follow Ibn Khaldoon. In his cyclical view of history, where the Beduins. You know, there are kind of a reservoir of power and umph, if you like, and actually it is quite a good translation of his term Asaba, which really means windedness.
So what he's saying is that these Bedouin types of people have a have a very strong binded in this whole group identity, which enables them to to seek the power and to gain power and mobile that they have shoka or, you know, they have fighting capacity and they can form new power bases and take over.
And then they become sedentary. They they they get into the good life of being rulers.
And then several generations, three generations, he says usually later some more Bedouins come to. A take over. So, yeah, I mean, I think I think basically that view has a lot. A lot to be said for it and. I think we see it happening.
We see it happening, this tension between how bad we see it happening in the early Islamic history where Muhammad came from, essentially a very, very settled background of the mercantile background in Mecca, but for the project of the Political Project of Islam, for, you know, to build a state and certainly after Muhammad to build an empire, you had to use the Bedouin tribes.
Ta ta ta ta, get anywhere.
But there was always a tension and I think this tension today and I mean, I have two illustrations in my history.
I mean, literal illustrations that kind of I quite like. And one of them is.
From ancient South Arabia, and it chose to Bedouins on a camel with, ah, with a license and that sort of galloping along, you know, people like that actually in the end caused quite big problems for the settled societies of South Arabia.
And then I you know, I fast forward forwarded my illustrations to to Tahrir Square in Cairo, where in 2011, I've got a picture of a Bedouin type person on a camel who's kind of charging along with a camel stick through the crowds of pro-democracy supporters.
And there seems to be some kind of link in my mind that. You know, Bedwin ism is not a great supporter of of of settled institutions and democratic principles, and I think we've probably seen this happening through time.
You know, you can obviously push it too much because it's easy to see things in dichotomies, but settled dramatic, but it's certainly it's another thread that runs through my history and I think very strongly through Arab history languages. That is the thread. But this this tension between the settled and nomadic and today, obviously, we don't have many actual moments, but between the sort of settled mindset of the institution building mindset and if you like, the raiding mindset that's still present today.
Yeah, well, this is when you talk about the Arab world. I almost prefer to call it the Arabic world.
The Arabic world, I should say, with the emphasis on the IC, because it really is a kind of. It's a linguistic linguistic construct, if you like. You know, I don't know about the genetics, if if you could.
I think if you could do a genetic study of people from, as you say, from Morocco to Oman, it would be a huge mixture. So how does it become the Arab world's or the Arabic world? I mean, yeah, through the. Original expansion of the of the of the Arab empire, but a lot of this expansion was outsourced.
Let me explain.
You know, if if you think of the the takeover of Spain in the early 18th century, you know, we think of it as an extension of the Arab empire.
In fact, it was it happened under Tareq and Zayat to who was who was Berber.
And most of his army was Berber. There weren't so many Arabs there at all. They came later and the Arabs came along later in second Spain. But North Africa itself was was not very Arab at all until. Probably the old one with a Hillel's 11th century, I suppose, and onwards. Yeah, and the these tribes, big nomadic tribes originating in Arabia and parts of Saudi Arabia, they'd moved to Egypt and then they were causing problems in Egypt.
So the the the rulers of Egypt kind of kicked them out. And they then crossed over North Africa. And there was another wave of of of Arab expansion. And that's, you know.
North Africa didn't really become very Arabic until the 11th century onwards. Obviously, the majority of people there were still non Arabs, non Arabic speakers.
But over time, as I've said before, Arabic is this very strong, this very sort of virile language which has tended to dominate it.
It's you know, it obviously it didn't quash the the Berber or the Mersey or whatever we call them, languages and in North Africa. So, yeah, I mean, this Arab world, it's it's it's it's a total mixture, and that's why I as a historian, I have to look at something that joins it all together. You know, languages is is the threat.
And it's why I call it the Arabic world. And actually, the threat does become a bit frayed in places like, you know, Algeria. Yeah, so let me just jump in really quick, Tim, as a geneticist, I've looked at this question and what you're saying is exactly correct. There is some shift towards Arabs of Arabian Peninsula in some populations, whereas like if you look at the pure Berber, like the capital of the Highlands, they don't exhibit any of that shift.
So there's a reason why they're still speaking their native dialects.
If you look at Muslims and Christians in Lebanon, there are subtle differences which indicate that the Muslims interacted in the whole Arabic Islamic world where they have like a little bit of Mongolian Turkic ancestry, a little bit of African, whereas the Christians don't have that much. So one thing that you see throughout the Near East is when you sample a religious minority like the Assyrians, you know, a group like that or Palestinian Christians, they tend to be much less cosmopolitan, even though on the whole they're all from the same broad group of Semitic speaking people, Arabs, Ahriman.
So it's hard to distinguish the further west. You go obviously to Morocco, they're much different. And so you see the impact of, you know, Arab ancestry in the cities as a minority component and stuff like that.
But, you know, basically the genetics confirms what you're saying in terms of it was a cultural transformation and these people were Araba sized. It's a little difficult to say. I think the core like Levant area because Arabs aren't that different in the first place. The Arabs of the desert aren't that different than Syrians anyway. Yeah, oh, that's fascinating to hear that, because, you know, I'm aware that say, you know, in Lebanon, various Christian communities, they trace their ancestry back to, you know, Arab figures, pre Islamic Arab figures.
So really, you you are saying that genetics pass the time. That's fascinating.
Yeah, a lot of it does. It's it's pretty. When I when we first started looking, we were thinking that there's going to be no difference between Christians and Muslims.
But there's consistent differences and it's always due to oppositionism. The Christians show much less cosmopolitan ancestry. The same is true in Iran with Muslims versus the Zoroastrian genetics, et cetera, in India or Pakistan. If I see a African sub-Saharan African segment in a South Asian individual, I'm 95 percent sure it's a Muslim person.
It would be fascinating to. To do some kind of synthesising history that that put together genetics and linguistics and to see to what extent they go along with each other.
Yeah, I think I think it's one of the great questions of history how how far they do go along with each other. But perhaps we ought to get together and do this. Oh, God, that would be a huge task.
That sounds awesome. I'll just say that history of the world of genetic linguistics, something like that.