But goddammit, this round is on me
Nobody learn no nothing from no history
~Gogol Bordello, Ave. B
There’s a story out there, pretty horrible story at that: a superpower gets involved in the Mid-East because of vital national interests; forms and supports a local government; finds itself overextended around the world; walks away from the nascent government leaving the area in chaos; Islamic Fundamentalists take advantage, declare jihad and a Islamic State; they start small with no arms to speak of; grow rapidly, unnoticed by the world; they arm themselves by taking the arms of their enemies – arms supplied by the superpower; they declare full-out war against the Infidel, terrorize swathes of the area, take cities, slaughter the non-believers – not just of Islam but also the Muslims that don’t recognize the leader’s charismatic views; they become infamous for their beheadings.
The story I’m talking about started in the 1870s when Great Britain, citing the Suez Canal as vital to its national interest, got wrapped up in Turk/Ottoman/Egyptian/Sudan politics . . . installed a government it approved of . . . and walked away to move onto other, more pressing problems.
Muhammad Ahmad proclaimed himself the Mahdi – the messiah, redeemer of the Islamic faith – and took full advantage of the political chaos in Egypt and the Sudan. He and his 20,000 or so followers roamed the countryside on either side of the Nile taking towns, imposing their version of Islamic Law, unopposed for a year or so completely ignored. They were armed only with spears and swords and a religious fervor that made them feared in combat.
They finally caught the attention of the powers that be, a 4000 man Egyptian army officered by the British and armed with the latest weaponry was sent south to punish the Mahdi. That force was totally annihilated by Ahmad’s force, now armed with modern weapons, including artillery. Shortly thereafter the British sent another 8,000 men south, this time there were a handful of survivors (none British) and the Mahdi now had machine guns.
The Mahdi wreaked havoc throughout the Sudan, took Khartoum, beheaded one of Great Britain’s heroes, Charles “Chinese” Gordon, killed thousands, held off British forces for years, survived the death of the Mahdi and lasted until destroyed by overwhelming British force in 1898. By the end of the ‘Mahdist Wars’ Egypt, Italy, Belgium, Ethiopia, and Great Britain had lost over 18,000 men.
The Mahdi and his successors lost an estimated 70,000. Countless civilians were slaughtered.
Geopolitically the Mahdist War had repercussions felt today – take a look at Egypt and Sudan. Toward the end of the war Britain and France came within an eyelash of war over the area. The resulting diplomatic solution led to the Entente between France and Great Britain at the turn of the century . . . Which led to German resentment and fears . . . Which led to …. You get the picture.