Jihad piracy and slavery remained a serious threat to Europeans for more than a thousand years. As historian Ibn Khaldun proudly proclaimed about the early Middle Ages: “The Christian could no longer float a plank upon the sea.” The reason why the West, for centuries, didn’t have easy access to the Classical learning of the Byzantine Empire was because endemic Muslim raids made the Mediterranean unsafe for regular travel.
It has to be the height of absurdity to block access to something and then take credit for transmitting it, yet that is precisely what Muslims do. As stronger states slowly grew up in the West, regular contact with their Christian cousins in Byzantium was gradually re-established, especially with the city-states of northern Italy where during the Renaissance the printing press - an invention aggressively rejected by Muslims - made Greco-Roman texts, with translations aided by Greek-speaking Byzantine refugees from Islamic Jihad, available to future generations.
Thus, Westerners eventually gained access to the Greco-Roman manuscripts preserved in Constantinople, the Second Rome. Consequently, they no longer needed to rely on limited translations in Arabic, which had often been made from Byzantine manuscripts in the first place, and frequently by Christian or Jewish translators.
The Middle East had for thousands of years been more advanced than most of Europe. This situation didn’t begin with the introduction of Islam. On the contrary: it ended with Islamization. The region we today call the Greater Middle East, which includes Egypt, Palestine, Syria, south-eastern Anatolia, Iraq, Iran and parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the seat of the oldest known civilizations on the planet and the source of many of the most important inventions in human history, including writing and the alphabet.
It is surely no coincidence that the first major civilization on the Indian subcontinent, the Harappan Civilization, arose in the Indus Valley in the northwest, i.e., closest to Sumerian Mesopotamia. A little-understood culture at the Mediterranean island of Malta has left us with megalithic temples that may be the oldest freestanding stone structures in the world. Dating back to 3600 BC, they predate the pyramids of Egypt with a thousand years.
- - - - - - - - -
Still, it is not a coincidence that literate European civilizations took root in lands that were geographically close to Egypt, the Fertile Crescent and Mesopotamia: The Minoan civilization at the island of Crete, later mainland Greece and the Balkans, then Rome. Even in the Roman Empire, the Eastern part was more urbanized than its Northern and Western regions, which is one of the reasons why the Eastern half proved more durable.
Contrast this with modern times, when southeast Europe (the Balkans) is Europe’s number one trouble spot. So is the original seat of the first Indian civilization, in Pakistan and Kashmir. The Greater Middle East thus went from being a global center of civilization to being a global center of anti-civilization. This change largely coincided with the Islamization of these regions.
Muslim reformist Irshad Manji has asked in her book The Trouble with Islam what caused the earlier “golden age” of Islam, and concludes, with a few reservations, that “tolerance served as the best way to build and maintain the Islamic empire.” In light of the evidence quoted above I disagree with her, and even more so with David Levering Lewis. Islam’s much-vaunted “golden age” was in reality the twilight of the conquered pre-Islamic cultures, an echo of times passed. The brief cultural blossoming during the first centuries of Islamic rule owed its existence almost entirely to the pre-Islamic heritage in a region that was still, for a while, majority non-Muslim.
I’ve recently been re-reading some of the books of American evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond, including Guns, Germs, and Steel. What strikes me is how Diamond, with his emphasis on historical materialism, fails to explain the rise of the West and especially why English, not Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit or Mayan, became the global lingua franca.
His most important flaw is his complete failure to explain how the Greater Middle East went from being a center of civilization to being a center of anti-civilization. This was not caused by smallpox or because zebras are more difficult to domesticate than water buffaloes. It was caused by Islam. Yet is striking to notice how Diamond totally ignores the influence of Islam. This demonstrates clearly that any historical explanation that places too much emphasis on material issues and too little on the impact of human ideas is bound to end up with false or misleading conclusions.