Wednesday, 21 October 2009

To President Obama: Regarding Islam and Science; Part II

”By Fjordman”

Continues from Part I

Following the brief Napoleonic expedition to Egypt around 1800, a new fad for ancient Egypt began in nineteenth century Europe. This took the local Muslims completely by surprise, as they could not understand why anybody would be interested in worthless infidel stones. The lavishly illustrated
book Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo elaborates:
 “Initially the Egyptians were unaware of the motives behind the Westerners’ interest in what for them were simply stones emerging from the ground. A rumor then began to circulate that these stones concealed untold treasures. The inhabitants of the villages in the vicinity of archaeological sites began to attack statues, tombs, and temples in the vain hope of extracting jewels and precious objects. Soon, however, Egyptians came to realize that the foreigners were interested in the stones themselves rather than anything they were rumored to contain. While they did not themselves see the attraction of a lump of carved rock, they became masters in the search for and discovery of antiquities. When they were short of authentic relics they had no hesitation in producing fakes, so well made as to fool even the Egyptologists of the era.”

The French expedition to Egypt in 1798-1801 brought many scholars to catalogue the ancient monuments, thus founding modern Egyptology. The trilingual Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799, was employed by the great French philologist Jean-François Champollion to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822. He made use of the Coptic language to achieve this. Arab and Turkish Muslims had controlled Egypt for more than a thousand years, yet had apparently never managed to decipher the hieroglyphs nor for the most part displayed much interest in doing so. Europeans did so in a single generation after they reappeared in force in Egypt, and they did so with the help of the liturgical language of the Copts, the Egyptian Christians, a direct link to ancient Egypt that the Arab invaders hadn't managed to completely eradicate.

The French scholar Auguste Mariette during a stay in Egypt became convinced that the country needed more effective legislation regarding the conservation of its monuments. He was responsible for the constitution of the Egyptian Antiquities Service and the foundation of the first Egyptian Museum in Cairo. He was buried in the garden in front of this museum, and his remains rest within a stone sarcophagus that resembles those of ancient Egypt.

It is not a coincidence that the Islamic world was often slow at adopting cultural inventions from the outside world. Muslims tend to be indifferent at best toward non-Muslim cultures, past or present, at worst actively hostile. An attack on statues at a museum in Cairo in 2006 by a veiled woman
screaming “Infidels, infidels!” shocked the outside world. She had been inspired by the Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, who quoted a saying by Muhammad that sculptors will be among those receiving the harshest punishment on Judgment Day. According to the extremely influential Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi at his website Islam Online, “Islam prohibits statues and three-dimensional figures of the living creatures,” except dolls made for children. “Therefore, the statues of ancient Egyptians are prohibited.”

The great Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan were demolished by the Taliban regime in 2001, aided by Pakistani and Saudi engineers, who decreed that they would destroy images they deemed “offensive to Islam.” It is tempting to conclude that the only reason why the famous pyramids of Egypt have survived to this day is because they were so big that it proved too complicated, costly and time-consuming for Muslims to destroy them. Otherwise they might well have ended up like countless Hindu temples in India and Buddhist statues in Central Asia, or Christian and Jewish places of worship from Indonesia to Kosovo. The smallest of the three Giza Pyramids outside of the modern city of Cairo did in fact suffer visible damage after an attempt by a medieval Muslim ruler to dismantle this infidel monument.

US President Obama claims that “throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.” In reality, it is rather difficult to find such examples from any region in the world with a significant Islamic presence. Islamic doctrines specifically state that Muslims are not supposed to consider non-Muslims to be their equals; they are supposed to wage war against them until they convert or submit. I recommend that Mr. Obama reads the great work of scholar Bat Ye’or on this subject. Sir Jadunath Sarkar, the pre-eminent historian of Mughal India, wrote this about dhimmitude, the humiliating apartheid system imposed upon non-Muslims under Islamic rule:
“The conversion of the entire population to Islam and the extinction of every form of dissent is the ideal of the Muslim State. If any infidel is suffered to exist in the community, it is as a necessary evil, and for a transitional period only.…A non-Muslim therefore cannot be a citizen of the State; he is a member of a depressed class; his status is a modified form of slavery. He lives under a contract (dhimma) with the State.…In short, his continued existence in the State after the conquest of his country by the Muslims is conditional upon his person and property made subservient to the cause of Islam.”

This “modified form of slavery” is now frequently hailed as the pinnacle of “tolerance.” If the semi-slaves rebel against this system and desire equal rights and self-determination, Jihad resumes. This happened with the Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians and other Christian dhimmi subjects of the Ottoman Empire, who were repressed with massacres, culminating in the genocide by Turkish and Kurdish Muslims against Armenians in the early twentieth century.

Even for those regions which were not under Islamic rule, endemic Jihad raids disrupted normal communications between many regions of Europe and the Byzantine Empire, where Classical texts were still preserved. As historian Ibn Khaldun proudly proclaimed about the Early Middle Ages: “The Christian could no longer float a plank upon the sea.” Dr. Mahatir, the outgoing Prime Minister of Malaysia, during an OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) summit in 2003 wished for a return to the glory days when “Europeans had to kneel at the feet of Muslim scholars in order to access their own scholastic heritage.”

Jihad piracy, slavery and attacks on European countries were a constant menace from the seventh century until the Barbary States of North Africa in the nineteenth century. Some would argue that it is resurfacing now. I have explained this in my online
essays Europeans as Victims of Colonialism and Fourteen Centuries of War against European Civilization, which is included in my printed book Defeating Eurabia.

Paul Fregosi in his book Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries calls Islamic Jihad “the most unrecorded and disregarded major event of history. It has, in fact, been largely ignored,” although it has been a fact of life in Europe, Asia and Africa for almost 1400 years. As Fregosi says, “Western colonization of nearby Muslim lands lasted 130 years, from the 1830s to the 1960s. Muslim colonization of nearby European lands lasted 1300 years, from the 600s to the mid-1960s. Yet, strangely, it is the Muslims…who are the most bitter about colonialism and the humiliations to which they have been subjected; and it is the Europeans who harbor the shame and the guilt. It should be the other way around.

If we look at the post-Roman period as a whole, a picture emerges where Europe was under siege by hostile aliens for most of the time, yet succeeded against all odds. Already before AD 1300, Europeans had created a rapidly expanding network of universities, an institution which had no real equivalent anywhere else, and had invented mechanical clocks and eyeglasses. It is easy to underestimate the importance of this, but the ability to make accurate measurements of natural phenomena was of vital importance during the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. The manufacture of eyeglasses led indirectly to the development of microscopes and telescopes, and thus to modern medicine and astronomy. The network of universities facilitated the spread of information and debate and served as an incubator for many later scientific advances. All of these innovations were made centuries before European colonialism had begun, indeed at a time when Europe itself was a victim of colonialism and had been so for a very long time. Parts of Spain were still under Islamic occupation, an aggressive Jihad was being waged by the Turks in the remaining Byzantine lands, and the coasts from France via Italy to Russia had suffered centuries of Islamic raids.

It is true that the transatlantic slave trade is a dark chapter in Western history, but one of the reasons why it was possible to establish this trade was that it could tap into the large and well-established Islamic slave trade in this region. All the way back to ancient Egypt, slavery was an important component of Africa’s trade with other continents. Yet
according to Robert O. Collins and James M. Burns in A History of Sub-Saharan Africa, “The advent of the Islamic age coincided with a sharp increase in the African slave trade.” The expansion of the trans-Saharan slave trade was a response to demand in the markets of Muslim North Africa:
The moral justification for the enslavement of Africans south of the Sahara by Muslims was accepted by the fact they were ‘unbelievers’ (kafirin) practicing their traditional religions with many gods, not the one God of Islam. The need for slaves, whether acquired by violence or by commercial exchange, revived the ancient but somnolent trans-Saharan trade, which became a major supplier of slaves for North Africa and Islamic Spain. The earliest Muslim account of slaves crossing the Sahara from the Fezzan in southern Libya to Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast was written in the seventh century, but from the ninth century to the nineteenth there are a multitude of accounts of the pillage by military states of the Sahel, known to North African Muslims as bilad al-sudan, (‘land of the blacks’), of pagan Africans who were sold to Muslim merchants and marched across the desert as a most profitable commodity in their elaborate commercial networks. By the tenth century there was a steady stream of slaves taken from the kingdoms of the Western Sudan and the Chad Basin crossing the Sahara. Many died on the way, but the survivors fetched a great profit in the vibrant markets of Sijilmasa, Tripoli, and Cairo.

Unlike the West, there never was a Muslim abolitionist movement since slavery is permitted according to sharia, Islamic religious law, and remains so to this day. When the open practice of slavery was finally abolished in most of the Islamic world, this was only due to external Western pressure, ranging from the American war against the Barbary Pirates of Muslim North Africa to the naval power of the British Empire. Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history and lasted longer than did the Western slave trade. Robert Spencer elaborates in
his book A Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t:
“Nor was there a Muslim abolitionist movement, no Clarkson, Wilberforce, or Garrison. When the slave trade ended, it was ended not through Muslim efforts but through British military force. Even so, there is evidence that slavery continues beneath the surface in some Muslim countries — notably Saudi Arabia, which only abolished slavery in 1962; Yemen and Oman, both of which ended legal slavery in 1970; and Niger, which didn’t abolish slavery until 2004. In Niger, the ban is widely ignored, and as many as one million people remain in bondage. Slaves are bred, often raped, and generally treated like animals. There are even slavery cases involving Muslims in the United States. A Saudi named Homaidan al-Turki was sentenced in September 2006 to twenty-seven years to life in prison for keeping a woman as a slave in his Colorado home. For his part, al-Turki claimed that he was a victim of anti-Muslim bias.

There are several names in use for Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. One is the “Near East.” Another is “West Asia,” which excludes Egypt, a country with strong historical ties to this region. I prefer the term the “Middle East” because it is a reminder that this region is in the middle of Eurasia. It was the only region that had regular contacts with all major civilizations in the Old World, from Mediterranean Europe via India to East Asia. The Chinese had little exposure to Greek mathematics and natural philosophy whereas Muslims were well familiar with Greek ideas and geometry. Europe suffered the worst disadvantages by having little direct contact with South, Southeast and East Asia, largely cut off by Muslims. The favorable geographical position of the Middle East is demonstrated by the early access to Chinese paper and the Indian numeral system, to name but two important inventions. Europeans eventually greatly outperformed Muslims in science, despite having a significantly weaker starting point.

In addition to this, the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars of Islam, could have been a great opportunity for exchanging scientific and technological information to and from all regions of the Old World. This did happen occasionally; some inventions were transferred to sub-Saharan West Africa in this way. Primarily, however, it served to spread information on how to conduct Jihad against infidels or to implement sharia law.

Muslims enjoyed a favorable geographical position, ruled over significant numbers of non-Muslims and had access to the accumulated learning of many of the oldest civilizations in the world. The challenge here is not to explain why there was a brief burst of creativity in the earliest centuries of Islamic rule; the challenge is to explain why this didn’t last. Islam's much-vaunted “Golden Age” was in reality the twilight of the conquered pre-Islamic cultures, an echo of times passed in a region that was still, for a while, majority non-Muslim.

The Greater Middle East was 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 civilization in the Indian subcontinent arose in the Indus Valley in the northwest, close to Sumerian Mesopotamia, just as it is no coincidence that literate European civilizations took root in lands that were geographically close to Egypt and the Fertile Crescent: The Minoan civilization of Crete, later Greece and the Balkans, then Rome. Contrast this with modern times, when the Balkans is Europe's number one trouble spot. So is the seat of the first Indian civilization, in Pakistan and Kashmir.

I've recently re-read the bestselling book Guns, Germs, and Steel by the American evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond. What strikes me is how Diamond, with his emphasis on geography and diseases, fails to explain the rise of the West and especially why English, not Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit or Mayan, became the world’s lingua franca. His most important flaw is his failure to explain how the Middle East went from being a global center of civilization to being the global center of anti-civilization it arguably is today. This was not caused by smallpox or because zebras are more difficult to domesticate than water buffaloes; it was caused by Islam, which remains the main cause of the backwardness of this region.



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