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
We all know that the midterm elections are different this time around. They are usually like “all politics,” namely local. But this time around they’re different. They are all presidential, all about Trump, as most everything is. And for the anti-Trump crowd — I’m talking about the political commentators and “analysts” — any and all things bad are held to be Trump’s fault. This is presumably because they believe that their condemnations of Trump will result in a Democrat takeover of the House of Representatives.
A new book explores how graffiti artists in Beirut skirt limitations on expression to share political criticism in the streets.
A photograph of the book “Drawing Lines” by Tamara Zantout, taken at the launch of the book at Beit Beirut cultural center, Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 25, 2018.
BEIRUT — Beirut’s alleyways and streets are peppered in bright, detailed and provocative graffiti. Street artists use the medium, which exists in a legal grey area, to express their identity and give voice to political frustrations.
On Tuesday, San Francisco will become the largest city in the nation to allow noncitizens to vote, and the city has spent $310,000 on a “new registration system” specifically aimed at illegals. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the plan is the first in the state and follows Proposition N, a 2016 ballot measure allowing votes by noncitizens over the age of 18, reside in the city, and have children under age 19.
By the count of the Chronicle, only 49 noncitizens have signed up to vote on Tuesday, which works out to $6,326 for every illegal voter, but there’s more to the story. City officials are worried that voting could expose illegals to ICE, who might come looking and possibly deport somebody. So supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a backer of Proposition N, urged the city to spend $500,000 to warn the illegals.
At first Sabbath service after massacre, shooting survivors are blessed; rabbi says to those who condemned Trump’s visit: ‘No one tells me how to welcome a guest in my own home’
On November 3, 2018, a joint communal Shabbat prayer service at Pittsburgh’s Beth Shalom Conservative synagogue following the massacre a week prior which saw 11 Jewish community members killed. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — A week after an anti-Semitic shooter massacred 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the community embraced each other in prayer on Saturday.
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.” He sees this trend creating a surge in “xenophobic populism.” Writing in Politico, Katy O’Donnell agrees: “Nationalist parties now have a toehold everywhere from Italy to Finland, raising fears the continent is backpedaling toward the kinds of policies that led to catastrophe in the first half of the 20th century.” Jewish leaders like Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association, sense “a very real threat from populist movements across Europe.”
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.”
We’ve been told for a long time that the ceasefire is on the way. It had many names in the past, such as tahdiah, hudna, and most recently—”an arrangement.” On Friday, once again, reports started emerging that an agreement has been reached. Several hours later, southern Israel was hit with a barrage of rockets. What happened?
And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for No Human Being shall see Me and live.” — Shemot 33:20
Faith is deeper than knowledge. While scientific data is absorbed only in the brain, faith permeates all parts of the human personality. Nothing is untouched, all spiritual limbs quiver, and everything is transformed. It is thus more difficult to acquire faith than knowledge, and faith has a more radical effect on the human being.
A Catholic archbishop recently touched on an unspoken but highly subversive phenomenon: How anti-Christian forces exploit Christian teachings to empower those who seek to dismantle Christian civilization, Muslims being chief among them.
In an interview published last summer by the Italian outlet IlGionarle.it, Catholic Archbishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan said:
The King of Jordan, not some lowly clerk, announced that Jordan will not extend the currently existing leases renting two parcels of land to Israel. One is the so-called Island of Peace in the northern Naharayim area and the other located in the southern Arava, near Tzofar, an agricultural cooperative village (moshav). Jordan was entirely within its rights to decide not to renew the leases