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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Did Muslims forget about the Crusades?

The crusades are so ubiquitous these days that it is hard to imagine anyone ever forgetting them. People play video games like Assassin’s Creed (starring the Templars) and Crusader Kings II in droves, newsfeeds are filled with images of young men marching around in places like Charlottesville holding shields bearing the old crusader slogan “Deus vult” (God wills it!), and every year books about the crusades are published in their dozens, informing readers about the latest developments in crusader studies.

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The strange case of Colonel Cyril Wilson and the Jihadists

The aftermath of the Arab Revolt of 1916-18 and the settlement in the Middle East after the First World War still resonates, world-wide, after a century. It is not only the jihadists of the so-called Islamic State and other groups who rail against the Sykes-Picot Agreement—the secret arrangement between Britain, France, and Russia that carved up much of the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Many moderate Muslims have a rankling feeling of betrayal, being aware that Sykes-Picot contradicted the British promise—albeit a vague one—of a large independent territory for Sherif Hussein of Mecca, the leader of the Arab Revolt, if he would rise up against the Ottomans, Britain’s wartime enemies.

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The hippie trail and the search for enlightenment

The Hippie Trail was one of the last, great expressions of the counterculture during the mid-1950s to late 1970s. Headed to the East, the most celebrated route was from London to Kathmandu, although many stopped in India or went on to Australasia, and there were subsidiary routes to the Mediterranean, to Morocco and to the Middle East.

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T.E. Lawrence and the forgotten men who shaped the Arab Revolt

T.E. Lawrence, known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” has provoked controversy for a hundred years. His legend was promoted in the 1920s by the American Lowell Thomas’s travelogue; renewed in 1935 through his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom; and revived in 1962 by the epic film Lawrence of Arabia. The hype should not blind us to the fact that Lawrence’s contribution to the Arab Revolt of 1916-18 against the Turks was indispensable.

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The hippie trail and the question of nostalgia

The term ‘hippie’ was coined around 1965; the term ‘hippie trail’ began to circulate in the late 1960s: it referred principally to the long route from London (or sometimes Amsterdam) to Katmandu. This was not an actual path, although disparate travellers often, by coincidence, followed a route that led through the same cafés, campsites, border-crossings, […]

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Disaggregation and the war on terror [excerpt]

The early years of the 21st century are marred by acts of violence and terrorism on a global scale. Over a decade later the world’s problems in dealing with international threats are unfortunately far from over. In this excerpt from Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism, author David Kilcullen looks back on a time he was called upon to help develop a strategy for the Australian government in fighting this new global threat.

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Keeping secrets in sixteenth-century Istanbul

In April 1576, David Ungnad was worried. The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II had dispatched him to Istanbul in 1573 as his ambassador. Being obedient servants, Ungnad and his colleagues regularly sent detailed dispatches home. At the beginning of April, one such bundle of letters was intercepted and handed to Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha for inspection.

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The historical roots of Iran: an interview

In April 2017 Bridget Kendall, former BBC diplomatic correspondent and now Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, interviewed Michael Axworthy, author of Iran: What Everyone Needs to Know® about the history of Iran, the characterization of Iran as an aggressive expansionist power, and the current challenges and developments in the country today. Below is a transcribed version of part of the interview.

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Aleppo: the key to conflict resolution in the Syrian civil war?

Finally, just a couple months ahead of the sixth year’s end in the conflict, an agreement has been reached in Astana, Kazakhstan on 24 January 2016 by the participation of the major domestic and international state and nonstate actors, who had stake in the conflict. Why is Aleppo significant? Why are there external states supporting various rebel groups? And, why did the conflict in Syria take so long to resolve?

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Ancient legal papyri bring lost world to life

Everyone has heard of the ancient Jewish religious scrolls discovered at Qumran by the Dead Sea in the middle of the 20th century. But who is aware that nearly 100 legal papyri have been found in the same region, or that they allow unparalleled access to the ancient social world of Judea and Nabatea in the period 100 BCE to 200 CE?

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Preventing the next flight from Bethlehem

A part of the Christmas story tells how the Holy Family fled Bethlehem, warned in a dream of the vengeful plans of a mad monarch. In recent years, Christians have once again found cause to flee the town of his birth. The case study of Palestinian Christians is emblematic of the larger problems faced by Christian populations in the Middle East.

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The Oxford Place of the Year 2016 is… Aleppo

The Twitter poll has closed and the results are in: our Place of the Year for 2016 is Aleppo. Aleppo lead the polls for longlist and shortlist consistently, and news from the city has dominated coverage of the Syrian Civil War in 2016.

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The paradoxical intellectualism of Gershom Scholem

Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) is widely known as the founder of the academic study of Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah. In the nearly thirty-five years since his death, Scholem’s star has continue to shine brightly in the intellectual firmament and perhaps even more brightly now than in his lifetime.

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An Interview with Jörg Matthias Determann

When I first started researching historiography in Saudi Arabia, I came across many publications by government organizations, as they were the most readily available. At first glance, many of these history books told the same story: a narrative that focused on the royal family and its creation of a first Saudi state during the eighteenth century, a second Saudi state during the nineteenth century, and finally the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the twentieth century.

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