Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fjordman: A Critical Look at “The House of Wisdom”

Fjordman’s latest essay has been posted at Jihad Watch. Some excerpts are below:

This text is written in response to the book The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization by Jonathan Lyons, which was published early in 2009. I have made a brief, early review of this book at the Gates of Vienna blog and will expand upon this here. Thematically related to this is John Freely’s Aladdin’s Lamp, which I have also evaluated. I don’t recommend buying either of these books, but Freely’s work is the least bad of the two because he has a better grasp of the history of science than Mr. Lyons does.

Lyons’ work is 200 pages long, Freely’s 255 pages. Neither of them mentions the terms “Jihad” or “dhimmi” even once in their accounts of Islamic culture. This says a great deal about the current intellectual climate. I didn’t notice these words while reading the books and they are not listed in the indexes. The authors certainly don’t devote much time to debating the violent aspects of Islamic expansionism through the Islamically unique institution of Jihad or the fates of the conquered peoples, as documented by Bat Ye’or and others. Is it a coincidence that whatever useful scholarly work that was done in the Middle East happened during the first centuries of the Islamic era, while there were still many non-Muslims living in the region? The question is never debated by these authors, but in my view it deserves to be.

Stephen O’Shea of The Los Angeles Times in a very positive review claims that “Dust will never gather on Jonathan Lyons’ lively new book of medieval history.” I disagree. I consider The House of Wisdom to be a bad case of poor scholarship. The best thing I can say about it is that it is not as bad as God’s Crucible by the American historian David Levering Lewis, which I have written about previously. Lewis says in more or less plain words that it would have been better if Islam had conquered all of Europe and wiped out Western civilization. Incidentally, another person who believed this was Adolf Hitler, who lamented the fact that he had to deal with Christianity, with its nonsense about compassion and love, rather than Islam, which would have been a better match for his Nazism. The feeling was apparently mutual, as Adolf Hitler is still a bestselling author in the Islamic world, including in “moderate” Turkey.
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Practically nothing of what Shakespeare used as a literary inspiration was available in the Islamic world at any point, despite the fact that much of North Africa and the Middle East had for centuries been a part of the Roman Empire. Latin writers were completely ignored by Muslims whereas the Roman writer Cicero had a huge impact on Western political thought, from Machiavelli and Montesquieu to the American Founding Fathers (see my essay The Importance of Cicero in Western Thought). While many Greek works on science and philosophy were translated into Arabic, often by non-Muslims, works on history, drama, art or politics held no interest for Muslims at all. Many central works of Greek or other literature are still not available in Arabic, Persian or Turkish translations to this day, yet can be read in the languages of European nations that were never a part of the Roman Empire, for instance Norwegian, Finnish or Polish. So much for our “shared Classical heritage.”

The great Spanish novelist, playwright and poet Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and his novel Don Quixote or Don Quijote from the early 1600s pioneered that genre in Europe. Tradition has them dying within a day of each other, Cervantes on April 22 in Madrid and Shakespeare on April 23 in 1616. They both created a fascinating and expansive literary world of morally and psychologically complex characters. Cervantes affected the development of the Spanish language almost as much as Shakespeare influenced the English one. He personally participated in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 to prevent the Ottoman Turks from advancing further into Europe. He fought bravely and due to wounds he received lost his left arm to amputation, but nevertheless proceeded to write his greatest works after that. He survived years of Islamic captivity as a slave after having been captured by Algerian Muslim corsairs. I am fairly certain that Cervantes would have challenged Mr. Lyons to a duel had he been alive and heard that Lyons used his name to praise Islamic culture. I feel equally certain that Cervantes would have won that duel.

Read the rest at Jihad Watch.


Profitsbeard said...

"Scholarly" books on Islam~ (unless they are on some specific sub-topic like: "Animal Imagery in Calligraphy: the hidden, forbidden in iconoclastic Mohammadism")~ which are only 200-250 pages long, are not likely to be serious, but simply polemical.

Any claims Islam makes for advancement needs to be counterbalanced with a documenting of its retrograde, intolerant core.

And a noting of the bloody depredations which have marked Islam's spread, and whose murderous excuse is based in the Koran's "sacred" dogmas.

That these "scholars" turn a blind eye to the fuller, darker reality of Mohammadism betrays the truth that the study is mere propagandizing.

History which is selectively slanted is worse than ignorance.

It is aggressive delusion.

One is merely stupid; the other, a suicidal sickness.