Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when such statements were still permissible, I was frequently accused by my teachers of coming from Mongolia (though not precisely in those words), a charge I vehemently denied, and for which, I am glad to say, they would be sacked today – one little piece of human progress to counterbalance the unflagging pessimism of this blog. Why exactly a person of limited intelligence should be given that particular insult is unclear, given that the Mongols never invaded western Europe, let alone the United Kingdom; but so it was, and the insult was given equally to the supposedly stupid me and to the entire population of Asia into the bargain.
I also used to think of Mongolia as part of China, mostly because it is located north, east and west of China; however it is also located south of Russia, and indeed it forms a kind of buffer state between those two competing superpowers.
The Mongols were once a superpower themselves, when Genghis Khan ruled them and built an empire, and his grandson Kublai Khan extended it from India and Persia and most of Arabia in the west to China and Siberia. They even pushed into Poland and Hungary, into Bohemia and parts of Austria and the Balkans, and left behind cities of great importance, most notably Moscow.
Few wars of empire in the whole of human history can have been quite so barbarically murderous as those the Mongols fought, and in a very real sense we should see IS and their radical Islamist confrères more as a revival of Mongolism than of Islam. But the empire collapsed at the end of the 14th century, after which it became part of the Tibetan Buddhist world of the Manchu Qing dynasty.
Finally, in the 20th century, it emerged from that isolated existence as the newly-created Mongolian People’s Republic, only to find itself quickly incorporated into the Soviet empire. In 1992 it fashioned a democratic constitution and adopted a free market economy, though it does not take much looking at the place to realise why Genghis Khan decided to conquer other countries. How else to feed his people, unless by stealing the food from others, given the virtual absence of arable land and mineral resources (actually there are lots of mineral resources; but he couldn’t have known it then, and nobody is even trying to mine them now)?
One third of the population, which is remarkably small given the vastness of the country, live as nomads, wandering the steppes that separate the snowy mountains and the emptiness of the Gobi Desert in search of water, let alone grazing. With Moslem Kazakhstan on its western border, and significant numbers of Kazakhs living in Mongolia, Islam lives uncomfortably alongside Tibetan Buddhism, with no armed conflict as yet – one cannot easily imagine an army of Tibetan Buddhists facing an army of Khazak Moslems: yoga versus decapitation is not an equal struggle.
Marks For: 1
Marks Against: 1227 (the year of Genghis Khan's death)
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