Back in February, I wrote about how, in my pre-Internet teens, my curiosity about my family history sent me to the genealogy room at the New York Public Library – where, though I failed to find anything about my father’s forebears (his parents had been poor Polish Catholic immigrants), I managed to trace some of my WASP mother’s lines to colonial-era settlers from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France. Late last year a family member picked up where I’d left off, and, using today’s extraordinary online resources, soon discovered – as I noted in February – that we’re part American Indian. Soon afterwards, she ascertained that we had Italian and Dutch antecedents. Then she had me spit in a vial, and the DNA results – which I got a couple of weeks ago – informed me that I’m also part Baltic, Swedish, and Jewish.
Swedish? Jewish? Okay, I was hooked. As Al Pacino put it in Godfather III, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Putting aside my most recent online distractions (geography quizzes and Scrabble in Norwegian), I clambered once again up my family tree, and within a few days I’d traced some of my distaff lines back to the early Middle Ages, locating progenitors in Spain, Hungary, and pretty much everywhere in between.
Of course, I was fully aware that once you get to medieval times, you’ve left behind researching your very own family tree, in the sense of cobbling together something that’s unique to you, and are instead poking around in the lives of people from whom untold millions of us are descended. This past weekend, wondering about the numbers on this, I tracked down a 1998 study by Yale statistician Joseph Chang, who concluded that sometime in the late thirteenth century, there lived a European man or woman who – get this – is a direct ancestor of every white person currently alive.
That’s not all. Go back to a thousand years ago, and one-fifth of the Europeans who lived then have no living descendants today (their gene pools having dried up relatively soon), but every single one of the others is an ancestor of everyone of European heritage living today. “All lines of ancestry,” as statistician Adam Rutherford putsit, “coalesce on every individual in the tenth century.” Five years ago, a DNA study reached the same conclusion as Chang’s math.
Rutherford’s own calculations suggest that the chances that a Briton living today is not a direct descendant of Edward III (1312-77) is one in 100 nonillion. “Everyone from this room,” he recently told a British audience, “is directly descended between 21 and 24 generations from Edward III.” Just last week, as it happens, I found one of my own direct lines back to that particular royal. Yep, twenty-four generations.
You might think that the fact that our family trees all ultimately converge would make it a waste of time, after a certain point, to keep plugging away at this stuff. On the contrary, it’s a neat way to enhance and refresh your historical memory. This time around, every time I’ve added another famous name to my family tree, I’ve googled that person and read up on his or her life. I’ve always loved history, but now it feels considerably less distant. To stumble over Geoffrey Chaucer, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Charlemagne in your direct ancestral lines, as I have in the last few days, has to affect the way you think about these immense figures – and the way you view your own relationship to history in general.
As it happens, one name in particular really hit home for me when I found it in my tree. That would be the name of Charles Martel – the man who, on the tenth of October in the year 732, led the army that saved Europe from the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate at the Battle of Tours.
Yes, I was aware that every Caucasian on earth today is descended from the guy. But sue me. I still found it moving to be able to trace one meandering line back from me through forty-six (count ’em, forty-six) specific individuals – all of whom, to those persons immediately above and below them on my chart, were not just names on a computer screen but family – and to wind up at the man who repelled the nefarious forces of Islam at the height of its European power. To follow an ancestral line from yourself to someone like him is to experience a compelling sense not only of one’s flesh-and-blood connection to history but of one’s intense and ineradicable filial obligation to it.
Nailing down that Martel nexus underscored for me a vitally important fact: namely, that one weapon that Muslims have in spades, and that we Westerners don’t at all, is history. They remember these things. We don’t – at least not in the fiercely acute way that they do. In this era of social networks and reality TV, an overwhelming number of us folks in the West inhabit an eternal present, preoccupied by the latest tweets, Facebook postings, and celebrity Instagram photos. We live and die by the daily news cycle, allowing ourselves to get worked up into a lather over trivial events that we’ll forget about in a week. Issues that weren’t even on our radar five years ago (transsexuality, anyone?) now steer what we think of as our moral compass. Meanwhile we have little or nothing in the way of historical perspective. Kids graduating from some of the “best” colleges in America don’t know who fought whom in World War II, let alone World War I or the Napoleonic Wars – or, needless to say, the Battle of Tours.
In this regard, we could hardly be more different from those people in the Muslim world (and, increasingly, in our midst) who are more than willing to sacrifice their earthly lives to drag the nations of the West into the House of Islam. To them, the forty-seven generations that separate you, me, and them from the Battle of Tours are absolutely nothing – nothing at all. They have a feeling of intimacy with their forefathers of fifty-odd generations ago that is a good deal more potent and profound than whatever sense of attachment most of us in the West have with our late great-great-grandparents. Their values and principles, if you can call them that, haven’t changed in fourteen centuries.
Indeed, to any Muslim who’s been properly educated in his faith and in his solemn duties thereto, the very earliest days of Islam – only a little over a century, nota bene, before the Battle of Tours – are realer, more vital, and more significant than his own quotidian existence. That’s a momentous psychological force and a not inconsiderable asset for the jihadist cause; it’s a phenomenon that we in the West, however hard we may try, are probably incapable of fully replicating within our own hearts and minds. But my experience of the past couple of weeks has taught me that even a brief climb up your family tree can give you something of an idea of what that closeness with the past must feel like. And this act of forging ties with our shared Western patrimony, it seems to me, can only aid our current struggle to do for our own posterity what Charles Martel did for us all those centuries ago – namely, to ensure that his and our civilization is saved, yet again, from the scourge of Islam.
Published in Front page magazine
The University of Cape Town campus. Photo: Adrian Frith via Wikimedia Commons.
The University of Cape Town, the top-ranking academic institution in Africa, is set to consider enforcing an academic boycott against Israel later this month.
The UCT Senate, a decision-making body comprised primarily of professors and administrators, endorsed a proposal on March 15 to bar the university from entering into any formal relationship with Israeli academic institutions that operate “in the occupied Palestinian territories,” or otherwise enable “gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the university said in a statement.
The campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
JNS.org – Students at Brown University voted overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum held between Tuesday and Thursday, calling on the school to separate itself from companies that conduct business with the State of Israel.
The tally was 69 percent in favor and 31 percent against.
Members of the pro-Israel community nationally and locally condemned the outcome.
“For the sake of My servant Yaakov, Yisrael My chosen one, I call you by name, I hail you by title, though you have not known Me.” Isaiah 45:4 (The Israel Bible™)
Many have seen similarities between the Biblical King Cyrus and President Donald Trump. (Breaking Israel News)
After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!
Many are claiming this was a pre-election gift to Trump’s friend, Netanyahu, but it others see a much larger significance that transcends politics and enters into the realm of the Biblical. One such belief was expressed by Breaking Israel News publisher Rabbi Tuly Weisz, who noted that the announcement came on the Jewish holiday of Purim.
“The same days on which the Yehudim enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.” Esther 9:22 (The Israel Bible™)
If there was ever a quintessentially Jewish holiday, it’s Purim, when the Jewish people were threatened by Haman, a descendant of Amalek, and saved by God’s hidden hand. Even so, we find examples of people from the Nations being inspired by the story of Purim and even gathering to mark the day alongside the Jewish people.
Protesters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags shout anti-Israel slogans during a demonstration in Amsterdam June 4, 2010. Israel’s raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla has set off a diplomatic furor, drawing criticism from friends and foes alike and straining ties with regional ally Turkey, which cal. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Demonstrators carrying Palestinian flags turned their backs on a Dutch chief rabbi during his eulogy at a vigil for Muslims killed in New Zealand.
The incident Sunday happened as Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs was discussing the meaning of a minute of silence at the gathering at the Dam Square World War II memorial monument. Thousands of people, many of them Muslims, gathered at the square to commemorate the 49 people slain Friday by a far-right killer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Hamas is now accusing the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah of exploiting the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip to call on Palestinians to overthrow the Hamas regime. Fatah, for its part, is accusing the “dark forces” of Hamas of acting on orders from outside parties to establish a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.
The US administration says it will publish its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, known as the “Deal of the Century,” after the general elections in Israel on April 9
There is a difference between an “honest broker” and a “neutral arbiter.” In advance of the rollout of its Middle East peace plan, the Trump administration has taken a series of steps to ensure its role as the honest broker. The U.S. is not “neutral” between our ally, Israel, and the Palestinians who seek to replace it. But it won’t be easy to change presumptions that are deeply embedded in the
When the FBI informs us that parents are ready to spend up to $6.5 million in bribes to get their children into prestige colleges, it seemingly implies that all is very, very well in the American university. But Warren Treadgold tells us that’s an illusion.
He’s a distinguished professor of Byzantine history at St. Louis University who has also taught at Berkeley, FIU, Hillsdale, Stanford, and UCLA. Having entered college in 1967, he draws on long experience to both indict and offer a remedy of the most thoroughly left-wing major institution in America. His book, The University We Need (Encounter, 2018) presents its case with insight and a light touch.
The threat posed by Hezbollah and Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior operative in Hezbollah, was unmasked by Israel on Wednesday.
Daqduq was responsible for the “abduction and execution of five American servicemen in Iraq in 2007,” the IDF said. The role of Hezbollah members in neighboring states is an illustration of how groups allied with Iran are continuing to build a web linking Tehran to Beirut via a “road to the sea” that transits Iraq and Syria.
According to the IDF, the role of Daqduq includes establishing terror cells in Iraq to fight the US in 2006, stints training in Lebanon in 2013-2018 and now putting down roots in Syria.
Every few weeks, some political or national figure demands a national conversation about race. (Most recently, Senator Kamala Harris insisted, “We have not had these honest discussions about race.”)
What does a conversation about race mean? Invariably, an indictment of the fundamental unfairness of our country, the historical roots of racism in white supremacy, and the national guilt of white people.
Or, to put it more simply, why Senator Kamala Harris deserves to be in the White House.
We don’t have national conversations about anti-Semitism because the problem can’t be narrowed down to an easily blamed demographic. The Democrats invariably try to blame anti-Semitism on the usual suspects, white male Republicans living more than two hundred miles from a Starbucks, but the largest toll of violent anti-Semitic attacks tend to fall on New York City’s black neighborhoods.