Monday, February 25, 2008

The Myth of Tolerance in Classical Islam

The following is a brief excerpt from Fjordman’s latest essay, “The Truth about Islam in Europe”, which can be seen in its entirety at Brussels Journal.


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.
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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.

18 comments:

Cairistiona said...

"Islam’s much-vaunted “golden age” was in reality the twilight of the conquered pre-Islamic cultures, an echo of times passed."

Here's my analogy: When a new coach takes over a basketball teem, he gets the players recruited by the previous coach. If those players are good, the new coach can coast along on their efforts. Once those players are gone, though, if the coach is lousy, then the team is lousy. That is pretty much what happened to the Middle East when Islam took over the coaching job.

PRCalDude said...

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.

This is why I'm increasingly negative towards bestsellers (aside from those of Spencer) and popular scientists like Diamond (who incidentally glazes over population genetics completely).

nikolai said...

I think they were relatively tolerant in the beginning. Because there were so few of them. The armies that came out of Arabia conquered and became a very thin layer over the top of the existing societies. They had to be tolerant to avoid stirring up too much resistance.

Over the centuries muslims became a greater proportion of the total population and the tolerance disappeared.

Pretty much exactly what is happening in the west except much faster. Their demands increase with numbers.

The Poster Formerly Known as Gordon said...

Interesting historical thesis.

The main problem of which is that Islam remained a dominant world civilization for about 1000 years, from the 7th century through its last great gasp with the 1683 Siege of Vienna.

That's a long time to be parasitic and running on the fumes of past civilizations.

And on that historical fact I think Fjordman's analogy falls like a house of cards.

Bela said...

Our resident Bolshevik "known as gordon" now is presenting his accolades for the purported greatness of the Muslim civilization. I digress, I don't like to be personal but I resent when somebody spewing unsubstantiated, pure demagoguery into the air: he-she complained about the loss of his-her civil rights because of the evil-Bush-Rightwing cabal.
Still he-she owes one, one sample of the terrible predicament he-she suffered.
I am desolate to contradict your astute praise of the Muslims: my native Hungary was under Turkish occupation for 150 years after the defeat at Mohacs in 1526.

Read more, wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Moh%C3%A1cs

Buda (my birthplace) was the capital city of the European Ottoman empire so we have more authentic info than "gordon" the contrarian.

A very good interesting reading on the Muslim life in Hungary in English.

" The Turkish occupation changed everything. The forests were cut down or burned. The ponds became unhealthy swamps. The rivers spread unrestrained over the Plain and roads were slowly covered by thick brush. The peaceful little villages disappeared and the Plain became a scene of desolation.

The Turks constructed no new buildings in the territories they occupied except for baths and religious houses. Instead, they converted existing structures into churches, barracks, offices or prisons. This policy of conversion condemned many valuable works of art to destruction, since Islam does not tolerate altars or statues, nor indeed the reproduction of any living thing. The "idols" were therefore thrown out, the walls of the churches whitewashed and souras of the Koran painted over them."

Read more at:
http://www.hungarian-history.hu/lib/hunspir/hsp25.htm

Graham Dawson (Archonix) said...

Interesting historical thesis.

The main problem of which is that Islam remained a dominant world civilization for about 1000 years


Well it's a simplification to say so. Parts of the Islamic world were quite impressive at one time or another, but you neglect two things: first, that for the majority of that millennium Islam was expanding at a fair clip, which will always create a certain amount of dynamism; and second, that it was conquering new territory and absorbing ideas from it. If you examine the farious islamic "golden ages" you'll find that they usually occurred right after a new piece of territory was added to the Islamic sphere. They would take place in the newly converted are and in some central location. Baghdad, for example, where ideas flowed in for a generation and then were promptly squashed.

Rather like the roman empire, Islam was predicated on continual expansion and conquest. Once the siege of Vienna halted that expansion, Islam became stagnant and fell in on itself. No new ideas flowed in. No new "golden ages" occurred. The fact of the matter is that the Islamic world did run on the "fumes", as it were, of past civilisations. Each new conquered civilisation temporarily injected some life into the islamic corpse but then, maybe a generation, maybe a century later, some firebrand cleric would come along condemning the non-islamic ideas from that civilisation as un-islamic, and they would be abandoned, a process that ossified the remnants civilisation in question, destroying everything good and preserving most of the worst aspects for all time.

Simply being dominant isn't enough, you see. Islam was militarily powerful, and so was able to expand and remain dominant for a long time but, when it came to ideas, it was bereft of any sort of creativity. It could take existing ideas and make them more efficient for a while but most concepts it encountered were ultimately rejected as untenable simply because they weren't in the book.

That's the fundamental difference between islam and the west. Our scriptures are said to be inspired by god and written by man, which created a mindset that they were informational but not absolute, for guidance in facing the world rather than as the entirety of existence. As such they were safe to reduce in stature at any point. No priest could come along proclaiming that the book was the be-all and end-all of existence, because the entire hierarchy of western civlisation knew, at a fundamental level, that the book was incomplete and, if not fallible, then at least imperfect, as all things made by man are imperfect. This innate knowledge is what allowed the west to move beyond the boundaries of scripture and explore new concepts and ideas. There is no similar knowledge with islam; their book is written by god and cannot be considered as anything but the entire prescription of existence.

So, whilst Islam can appear to be a dominant civilisation during periods of conquest and absorption, once it hits a barrier that prevents its expansion it ceases to be dominant and stagnates again.

The Poster Formerly Known as Gordon said...

Bela, leaving aside your insults, which are spurious and unfounded, I was aware that the Ottoman conquest and occupation of Hungary was an unmitigated disaster for the Magyars.

But the experiences of other conquered Muslim lands, such as Spain, India, Central Asia, and Asia Minor, was quite different. Your attempt to project what happened to Hungary to all Muslim conquests also falls like a house of cards in the face of such evidence.

Graham Dawson - unlike Bela, you present a cogent counter-argument that's worth contemplating. Thank you.

Homophobic Horse said...

Prove you're not a contrarian Gordon, inform us about Islamic innovation after the year 1300?

whiskey_199 said...

Gordon and the author that Fjordman criticizes fail to grasp the essentials:

1. Why did the ME, North Africa, fall so quickly to Islam?

2. Why did Anatolia resist for centuries even during the weak and corrupt Byzantine Empire (resistance ceasing at the Battle of Manzikert 1071)?

3. Why did Spain and Sicily fall so quickly to Islam, but Sicily be recovered (along with Southern Italy) and Spain very quickly get parts recovered (by 1000 or so parts of Iberia were back in Christian hands).

The answer I think lies in slavery. Much of the ME and North Africa were thinly Christianized, divided places with theological disputes laid over tribal disputes, and much Greek and Roman philosophy on top of older polytheism. With weak kingdoms made up of ... SLAVES and a few aristos. No wonder they fell. Islam offered the slaves a better deal and the ability to cast off slavery.

Spain fell quickly because the Visigoths were divided and fractious. But ... Islam was DECISIVELY REJECTED by both Anatolian peasants and Spaniards, Sicilians, and Southern Italians. Whenever they had a choice they chose AGAINST ISLAM.

Why?

Because of Islam's own slavery. Polygamy and rule of sultans, chiefs, etc. may not have kept people in slavery but prevented men from marrying and having their own family. All/most women belonged to the Sultan. In contrast Christianity put limits on polygamy and harems. In Spain if the Arab nobles had each four wives, that meant for each one three men went without.

It is easy to see WHY Islam failed to gain permanency in the West, when confronted by a superior choice by men (and women). Monogamy beats Polygamy for motivating vast amounts of men to fight for the most basic motivation: reproduction and their own family. It also avoids btw genetic bottlenecks and Islam's cousin-marriage over generations made Muslims STUPIDER than Europeans. Like Hapsburg Emperors bawling for noodles at State banquets.

This is why with both Islam and Christendom in the West having access to Gunpowder, and the concept of printing blocks, the West on it's own, innovated constantly and Islam could not. The West's monogamy led to men on their own families account making constant improvements. While there was no reason to do so for the Sultan.

Eastern Christendom being much more serf-driven, was weaker in resisting Islam. It is worth noting however that Greek Fire was (essentially napalm) and not matched by either the West or Islam until the 20th Century. Greek Fire destroyed the Muslim fleet at Constantinople in the 700's. However the Byzantines lacking the free-holding tradition of Germanic tribes slowly Christianizing and needing freehold warriors against their neighbors in the manner of Classic Greek City States did not continue improvements.

Had Byzantine society taken a "freeholder" turn with monogamy, it would have crushed Islam by superior resource mobilization the way Allenby crushed the Sultan at Meggido.

randian said...

But the experiences of other conquered Muslim lands, such as Spain, India, Central Asia, and Asia Minor, was quite different.

Different how? Muslims murdered 60-70 million Hindus during their rule of India.

Laine said...

I agree with the majority of posters above that Islam is a great motivator for conquest and received undeserved credit for the accomplishments of conquered civilizations. Islam is the religion of brawn, not brains. (Centuries of inbreeding haven't helped either)

Islam is inevitably sterile when it comes to the realm of ideas because Muslims' thought processes are circumscribed by the cynical prescriptions of a greedy narcissistic warlord named Mohammed who pretended that God spoke to him. He invented a religion/ideology that got him enormous power and riches as well as catering to his every sexual peccadillo. Quite clever for a 7th century illiterate, who may have even been visionary for his time. Unfortunately for the world past and present, he made Islam a steel trap; nothing in, nothing out (regardless of lesbian Irshad Manji's fond imaginings...twice cursed in Islam).

Nothing outside Mohammed's limited imagination encoded as sharia law is encouraged or even allowable (such as tapping into the brain power of all your citizens instead of the half with penises).

Look at modern day Islam to derive the truth of their putative ancient accomplishments. After being beaten back militarily, Muslims lapsed into centuries of backwater status. They invented nothing, built nothing, wrote nothing of note. There's a billion of them. Note their pathetic contribution to world knowledge as measured by Nobel prizes won compared to those of six million Jews.

They would still be sitting there in their desert dumps except for the West's technologic progress and need for oil which in a bad cosmic joke sat under Muslim behinds. The West developed the technology that needed the oil, found the oil, extracted and refined the oil, and pays the camel jockeys through the nose for it. That money is now used to fund solid gold palaces and the one thing Muslims and Islam are good at: holy jihad/war.

Profitsbeard said...

The first line of the Koran destroys the critical intelligence:

"This book is not to be doubted."

(Even before you read the text, you are forbidden from considering its merits honestly.)

It's all downhill from there for Muslim believers.

They can parasitize, but not progress.

Until they dare examine their dogmas with human courage.

vera said...

"This was not caused by smallpox or because zebras are more difficult to domesticate than water buffaloes. It was caused by Islam."

In fact, it was caused by the ascendancy of xtianity- and it's viciousnessness in destroying every other belief system, having the nerve to call them Pagans and Heathens. The xtian destructions of public works and towns, the divisiveness of the Western culture, and familites, facilitated its downfall. This happened circa 300 to 500 A.D. When the islamics came along in around the 7th c. - the xtians had already destroyed the Great Romano-Greco-Egyptians civilizations. The entire area was wide open for conquest - all the way across North Africa upwards to Spain. And mind you, we base our culture and laws and architecture and everything, everything on these old civilizations, and yet they're called Pagan. Surely, they were superior.

So, because the xtians had already provided a vacuum - chaos and disorder and division (the church bishops couldn't even agree in the Nicean Council, that they had fistfights in the aisles), into this the islamics rushed in.

VinceP1974 said...

I'm waiting for vera to blame Europe's current ills (re: multiculturalism and all that) on the evillll xiansXxxxxxX.

vera said...

vince: we're talking about how islam got into the Middle East, aren't we? Not MOdern times?

I'm not even using any excuses anyway, it's history...by Historians. It's been recorded. That's data.

But if you want to know about modern times - I'll tell you that there's a wide gap betw. the government and the people. The Elite/rulers/Powers that be, that obviously don't care about the "common" people, Los De Arriba who don't live the problems and allow immigration of "religious nuts" - and the People, who are present and experience those problems - the violence. The People wh are at the point of "I Won't take it anymore!"

And, yes, Vince, I utterly despise islamics!

George Bruce said...

whiskey_199 said...

"Islam offered the slaves a better deal and the ability to cast off slavery."

I don't see the Muslim conquerors as emancipators. Why would they give up valuable property won in battle? No, the effect of Islamic conquest is more slaves, not fewer.

One of the reasons for the military success of Muslims against weak neighbors is that the Koran offers a theological justification for aggression, imperialism, robbery, rape, looting, enslavement and mass murder. It also offers a justification for the powerful in a society to grab as much as possible at the expense of the weak and the poor. In short, it appeals to the worst instincts in powerful and greedy men, and justifies their abuse of other people and their own women. It is a system in which the worst men can act without restrain or opprobrium, and be judged righteous by their religion. The Koran tells them they can attack, kill, steal, rape and enslave and go to heaven when they die. What a deal!

VinceP1974 said...

The goal of the conquests was not to free slaves. However, when people were subjugated into slavery and held by Muslims, then the only way a slave could get free was to convert to Islam (and even then it was the descretion of the slaveholder to free him)

Non-Muslims were not freed unless ransom was paid.

nikolai said...

@Gordon

"The main problem of which is that Islam remained a dominant world civilization for about 1000 years, from the 7th century through its last great gasp with the 1683 Siege of Vienna."

Not in the same place it didn't. Egypt was a centre for a while after conquest, Andalusia the same, Baghdad the same, Constantinople etc. All fizzled out some time after conquest.

Maybe the same would happen in Europe for a while if they win.