An excellent article by Fjordman in the Brussels Journal.
A valuable background in analyzing political islam.
This essay was inspired by Joan Acocella's review of David Levering Lewis' book God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215. Lewis is an American historian and two-time winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Acocella's review is not bad, but she reveals little evidence that she has read authors such as Robert Spencer, Bat Ye'or or Andrew G. Bostom. She refers to Edward Said's 1978 book Orientalism, but not Ibn Warraq's excellent criticism of him in the recent book Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism.
According to Acocella, "The Muslims came to Europe, he writes, as 'the forward wave of civilization that was, by comparison with that of its enemies, an organic marvel of coordinated kingdoms, cultures, and technologies in service of a politico-cultural agenda incomparably superior' to that of the primitive people they encountered there. They did Europe a favor by invading. This is not a new idea, but Lewis takes it further: he clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe." This was "one of the most significant losses in world history and certainly the most consequential since the fall of the Roman Empire."
Abd al-Rahman I, a Syrian-born prince who took over in 756, is the hero of "God's Crucible." According to Acocella, "It was he who built the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the most spectacular extant example of Muslim Spain's architectural achievements. He also botanized, and imported to Spain its first date palms, its first lemons, limes, and grapefruit, as well as almonds, apricots, saffron, and henna."
In a digression, I would like to qualify that statement. Apricots were known in the Mediterranean world already in Antiquity. The apricot is called armeniaca vulgaris in Latin because many Europeans thought it originated in Armenia, where it was grown in the Ararat Valley. However, apricots come from China or nearby regions in Central Asia and were cultivated there in prehistoric times. They were later brought to Armenia and the Mediterranean world via Persia through the Silk Road trade.
Citrus fruits originate in south-eastern Asia, and certain types were known in the Mediterranean in ancient times as the Romans did participate to some extent in the Indian Ocean trade. However, the use of citrus fruits was limited at the time and was disrupted after the fall of Rome. It is true that various citrus fruits were reintroduced via Arabs, who brought sour oranges from India. The drink lemonade may have been invented in Egypt.
Sweet oranges had been cultivated by the Chinese for many centuries and were introduced in Europe by the Portuguese, who probably got them from Indians, in the fifteenth century. Sweet oranges quickly replaced sour oranges. Christopher Columbus in 1493 brought with him seeds of orange, lemon and citron from Spain's Canary Islands to Hispaniola in the Caribbean. Oranges were abundant in Haiti by the sixteenth century and were introduced to Florida while the Portuguese brought them to Brazil. Oranges were for many Native Americans one of the more welcome things Europeans brought with them, certainly more so than smallpox. The juice of citrus fruits was used as a cure for scurvy. James Lind of the British Royal Navy conducted the first clinical trial in 1747 to prove this effect.
George Vancouver of the Royal Navy accompanied Captain James Cook, the British explorer and cartographer, on two of his voyages in the Pacific Ocean in the 1770s while exploring the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand. Cook's voyages are often seen to mark the beginning of colonialism in the region, and Cook himself died fighting native Hawaiians in 1779. Captain Vancouver later explored the north-western coast of North America, from California to Alaska. The city of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, is named after him. During a visit to California, then a part of Mexico and thus still a Spanish colony, he mentioned seeing oranges. With the growth of the transcontinental railway in the United States during the nineteenth century production grew, and boomed after the American Civil War. Oranges are still grown in the Mediterranean region, in Spain, Portugal, Israel and other countries as well as in Asia, but the largest production is in Brazil, Florida and California.
David Levering Lewis spends a lot of time demonstrating how the Franks were less civilized than Muslims and that their economy was "little better than the Late Neolithic." Their neighbors were supposedly even worse. The Vikings who invaded Frankland were "the filthiest race that God ever created," according to a Muslim ambassador. Being Scandinavian myself, I have no problems admitting that the Vikings did possess a number of barbarian traits, but history is more complex than that. Scandinavians of this age gradually became integrated into the civilized mainstream of European culture. Christian European culture, that is.
Vikings from Denmark went to England and France, Norwegians went to the British Isles and the North Atlantic and Swedes went east, though there was always considerable overlapping between these nations. Some went via the Volga and other rivers in Russia and the Ukraine to the Black Sea engaged in trade and piracy, and a few even settled in Kiev and Volgograd. They occasionally fought Byzantine forces, but the Byzantines had the advantage of Greek fire. Vikings were still respected for their fighting skills and were employed as mercenaries, even as personal bodyguards for the emperors. The Scandinavians called Constantinople Miklagard, "the Great City."
As Timothy Gregory says in A History of Byzantium, during the eleventh century the Byzantine Empire suffered from a decline in its conscript army. Because of this, "the state had to rely more and more on foreign mercenaries, at first Varangians from Russia but increasingly Normans from Sicily and France, Anglo-Saxons from England, and others. The most famous of these was the Varangian Duzina, attested from 1034 onward, which enrolled Vikings from Russia and eventually Anglo-Saxons. This elite guard, whose members had distinct arms and uniforms, had its quarters in Constantinople but also took part in field campaigns. In addition, Byzantium had to rely more than before on its alliances with foreign peoples who might be used to fight the empire's wars."
The Varangian Guard defended Constantinople against other Westerners during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. One of their most prominent members was the future king Harald Hardråde, "Hard-ruler," from 1035, whose story was told by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson ca. 1230 in the Heimskringla. Harald participated in a number of battles against Muslims and returned to Norway with great wealth. He wasn't the only one to do so. Large quantities of Byzantine gold coins have been found in Scandinavia. He is most remembered, however, for his invasion of England in 1066 with several hundred longships. Harald Hardråde was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England on 25 September 1066, a date which is often seen to mark the end of the Viking Age. The victor Harold Godwinson was himself soon defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings the same year. This remarkable story has been immortalized in the beautiful Bayeux Tapestry.
It is interesting to notice, though, that much of the contact that did take place between the Byzantine Empire and north-western Europe at this point happened through backdoor channels like the rivers of Eastern Europe, linking the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. The Mediterranean was still plagued by Muslim pirates.
Women enjoyed greater freedom in the Norse society than they did in Islamic societies even then, and this continued into Christian times. In What went Wrong?, historian Bernard Lewis writes: "The difference in the position of women was indeed one of the most striking contrasts between Christian and Muslim practice, and is mentioned by almost all travelers in both directions. Christianity, of all churches and denominations, prohibits polygamy and concubinage. Islam, like most other non-Christian communities, permits both.... Muslim visitors to Europe speak with astonishment, often with horror, of the immodesty and frowardness of Western women, of the incredible freedom and absurd deference accorded to them, and of the lack of manly jealousy of European males confronted with the immorality and promiscuity in which their womenfolk indulge."
Bernard Lewis has also, in my view correctly, suggested that the concept of "Holy War" was originally alien to Christianity and was imported to Europe after Europeans had been confronted with Islamic Jihad. The Reconquista, the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from Islamic rule, is traditionally seen to have begun with Pelayo in 718. Although initially slow, it speeded up from the eleventh century onwards. The Portuguese had been liberated in 1249 under King Afonso III.
As Joan Acocella says, "Toledo fell to Alfonso VI of León and Castile, a Catholic king, in 1085. Four more centuries passed before the expulsion of the last emir from Granada, in 1492, but [David Levering] Lewis gets through them fast. He doesn't want to talk about it."
Lewis also fails to explain why Spaniards and Portuguese repeatedly rebelled against this glorious Islamic culture in favor of an "almost Neolithic" culture. He writes that Muslims did not enslave their co-religionists, only infidels. Yes, but exactly why is that better?
As Robert Spencer writes in Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't: "The Qur'an says that the followers of Muhammad are 'ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another' (48:29), and that the unbelievers are the 'worst of created beings' (98:6). One may exercise the Golden Rule in relation to a fellow Muslim, but according to the laws of Islam, the same courtesy is not to be extended to unbelievers. That is one principal reason why the primary source of slaves in the Islamic world has been non-Muslims, whether Jews, Christians, Hindus, or pagans. Most slaves were non-Muslims who had been captured during jihad warfare."
Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history. When it was finally abolished this was due to Western pressure, especially through the efforts of the British Empire: "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."
Indian historian K. S. Lal states that wherever Jihadists conquered a territory, "there developed a system of slavery peculiar to the clime, terrain, and populace of the place." When Muslim armies invaded India, "its people began to be enslaved in droves to be sold in foreign lands or employed in various capacities on menial and not-so-menial jobs within the country."
The most comprehensive book on the subject to date, The Legacy of Jihad, was published by Dr. Andrew G. Bostom. Bostom writes about how Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, then serving as ambassadors, met in 1786 with the Tripolitan ambassador to Britain. These future American presidents were attempting to negotiate a peace treaty which would spare the United States the ravages of Jihad piracy – murder and enslavement emanating from the so-called Barbary States of North Africa, corresponding to modern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. However, the spirit of the young Republic came to be embodied in the slogan "Millions for defense, not a penny for tribute." Bostom notes that "By June/July 1815 the ably commanded U.S. naval forces had dealt their Barbary jihadist adversaries a quick series of crushing defeats. This success ignited the imagination of the Old World powers to rise up against the Barbary pirates."
Robert Davis' methodical enumeration in Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters indicates that perhaps one and one-quarter million white European Christians were enslaved by Barbary Muslims from 1530 through 1780. In his book White Gold, Giles Milton describes how regular Jihad razzias in Europe extended as far north as Iceland. Even during the time of Queen Elizabeth I, while William Shakespeare was writing his plays and poems, young Englishmen risked being surprised by a fleet of Muslim pirates showing up at their village, or being kidnapped while fishing at sea:
"By the end of the dreadful summer of 1625, the mayor of Plymouth reckoned that 1,000 skiffs had been destroyed, and a similar number of villagers carried off into slavery." Such events took place across much of Europe, also in Wales and southern Ireland: "In 1631…200 Islamic soldiers…sailed to the village of Baltimore, storming ashore with swords drawn and catching the villagers totally by surprise. (They) carried off 237 men, women, and children and took them to Algiers…The French padre Pierre Dan was in the city (Algiers) at the time…He witnessed the sale of the captives in the slave auction. 'It was a pitiful sight to see them exposed in the market…Women were separated from their husbands and the children from their fathers…on one side a husband was sold; on the other his wife; and her daughter was torn from her arms without the hope that they'd ever see each other again'."
Englishman Thomas Pellow was enslaved in Morocco for twenty-three years after being captured by Barbary pirates as a cabin boy on a small English vessel in 1716. He was tortured until he accepted Islam. For weeks he was beaten and starved, and finally gave in after his torturer resorted to "burning my flesh off my bones by fire, which the tyrant did, by frequent repetitions, after a most cruel manner."
Scholar Bat Ye'or is an expert on dhimmitude, the oppressive system for non-Muslims under Islamic rule, described in the book Islam and Dhimmitude. She writes this about the Jihad slave system: "When Amr conquered Tripoli (Libya) in 643, he forced the Jewish and Christian Berbers to give their wives and children as slaves to the Arab army as part of their jizya. From 652 until its conquest in 1276, Nubia was forced to send an annual contingent of slaves to Cairo. Treaties concluded with the towns of Transoxiana [Iranian central Asia], Sijistan [eastern Iran], Armenia, and Fezzan (Maghreb) under the Umayyads and Abbasids stipulated an annual dispatch of slaves from both sexes. However, the main sources for the supply of slaves remained the regular raids on villages within the dar-al-harb [non-Islamic regions] and the military expeditions which swept more deeply into the infidel lands, emptying towns and provinces of their inhabitants."
According to Sir Jadunath Sarkar, the pre-eminent historian of Mughal India, "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…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."
As Robert Spencer says: "Although the strictness with which the laws of dhimmitude (the subservient status of Jews and Christians) were enforced varied, they were never abolished, and during times of relaxation the subject populations always lived in fear that they would be enforced with new stringency. Muslim rulers did not forget that the Qur'an mandates that both Jews and Christians must 'feel themselves subdued.' One notable instance is recounted by Arab historian Philip Hitti: 'The caliph al-Mutawakkil in 850 and 854 decreed that Christians and Jews should affix wooden images of devils to their houses, level their graves even with the ground, wear outer garments of honey color, i.e., yellow, put two honey-colored patches on the clothes of their slaves...and ride only on mules and asses with wooden saddles marked by two pomegranate-like balls on the cantle.'"
In 1888, a Tunisian Jew noted: "The Jew is prohibited in this country to wear the same clothes as a Muslim and may not wear a red tarbush. He can be seen to bow down with his whole body to a Muslim child and permit him the traditional privilege of striking him in the face, a gesture that can prove to be of the gravest consequence. Indeed, the present writer has received such blows. In such matters the offenders act with complete impunity, for this has been the custom from time immemorial."
Maimonides, the renowned Jewish philosopher and physician, stated that "the Arabs have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us...Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they." Jews could teach rabbinic law to Christians, but Muslims he said, will interpret what they are taught "according to their erroneous principles and they will oppress us. [F]or this reason.....they hate all [non-Muslims] who live among them." But the Christians "admit that the text of the Torah, such as we have it, is intact."
Richard Fletcher states in his book Moorish Spain that: "Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch."
In the essay Andalusian Myth, Eurabian Reality, Bat Ye'or and Andrew G. Bostom examine the myth of the supposed "tolerance" enjoyed by Christians and Jews in the Iberian Peninsula: "Segregated in special quarters, they had to wear discriminatory clothing. Subjected to heavy taxes, the Christian peasantry formed a servile class attached to the Arab domains; many abandoned their land and fled to the towns. Harsh reprisals with mutilations and crucifixions would sanction the Mozarab (Christian dhimmis) calls for help from the Christian kings. Moreover, if one dhimmi harmed a Muslim, the whole community would lose its status of protection, leaving it open to pillage, enslavement and arbitrary killing."
This humiliating status provoked many revolts, punished by massacres. Insurrections erupted in Saragossa in 781 and 881, Cordova (805, 818), Merida (805-813, 828 and the following year, and in 868), and again in Toledo (811-819). Many of the insurgents were crucified, as prescribed in the Koran 5:33:
"The revolt in Cordova of 818 was crushed by three days of massacres and pillage, with 300 notables crucified and 20 000 families expelled. Feuding was endemic in the Andalusian cities between the different sectors of the population: Arab and Berber colonizers, Iberian Muslim converts (Muwalladun) and Christian dhimmis (Mozarabs). There were rarely periods of peace in the Amirate of Cordova (756-912), nor later. Al-Andalus represented the land of jihad par excellence. Every year, sometimes twice a year, raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. Andalusian corsairs attacked and invaded along the Sicilian and Italian coasts, even as far as the Aegean Islands, looting and burning as they went. Thousands of people were deported to slavery in Andalusia, where the caliph kept a militia of tens of thousand of Christian slaves brought from all parts of Christian Europe (the Saqaliba), and a harem filled with captured Christian women."
In Granada, up to five thousand Jews perished in a pogrom by Muslims in 1066. The Berber Almohads in Spain and North Africa (1130-1232) wreaked enormous destruction on the Jewish and Christian populations. Suspicious of the sincerity of converts to Islam, Muslim "inquisitors" (i.e., antedating their Christian Spanish counterparts by three centuries) removed children from such families, placing them in the care of Muslims. A prominent Andalusian jurist, Ibn Hazm of Cordoba (d. 1064), wrote that Allah has established the infidels' ownership of their property merely to provide booty for Muslims.
According to Joan Acocella, "In view of Lewis's high opinion of learning in Al Andalus, it is amazing how little space he gives it." In the twelfth century, Averroes (Ibn Rushd) wrote his commentaries on Aristotle, and Moses Maimonides produced his Aristotle-inflected Guide to the Perplexed. However, both these men had to flee Andalusia. Averroes, despite being an Islamic judge, was banished, his books burnt, and he was forced to emigrate to Morocco (in 1195) where he died in 1198. Maimonides had to flee in order to escape the Almohad Jihad.
It is true that the highly influential Christian scholar St. Thomas Aquinas in the late thirteenth century quoted both these men, but he was critical of the way Averroes used Aristotle and had at his disposal a more complete body of Aristotelian writings than any of the Muslim philosophers ever did. Another Catholic, the Flemish Dominican Friar William of Moerbeke, was heavily involved in translating Byzantine manuscripts into Latin. According to scholar John Dunn in his book Setting the People Free, the word demokratia entered modern Western discourse in the 1260s in William of Moerbeke's Latin translation of Aristotle's Politics, "the most systematic analysis of politics as a practical activity which survived from the ancient world."
Iranian intellectual Amir Taheri states that: "There was no word in any of the Muslim languages for democracy until the 1890s. Even then the Greek word democracy entered Muslim languages with little change: democrasi in Persian, dimokraytiyah in Arabic, demokratio in Turkish.…It is no accident that early Muslims translated numerous ancient Greek texts but never those related to political matters. The great Avicenna himself translated Aristotle's Poetics. But there was no translation of Aristotle's Politics in Persian until 1963."
Muslims inherited a great deal of accumulated knowledge when they conquered the Middle East, and most of the translations of earlier works were done by non-Muslims.
According to Robert Spencer, "The Christian Huneyn ibn-Ishaq (809-873) translated many works by Aristotle, Galen, Plato and Hippocrates into Syriac [in Baghdad], from which they were translated into Arabic by his son. The Jacobite Christian Yahya ibn 'Adi (893-974) also translated works of philosophy into Arabic, and wrote his own; his treatise The Reformation of Morals has occasionally been erroneously attributed to various of his Muslim contemporaries. His student, another Christian named Abu 'Ali 'Isa ibn Zur'a (943-1008), also made Arabic translations of Aristotle and other Greek writers from Syriac. The first Arabic-language medical treatise was written by a Christian priest and translated into Arabic by a Jewish doctor in 683. The first hospital, another source of pride among Muslims and often a prominent feature of Islamic accomplishment lists, was founded in Baghdad during the Abbasid caliphate by a Nestorian Christian. A pioneering medical school was founded at Gundeshapur in Persia — by Assyrian Christians."
Greek or other pre-Islamic learning was never integrated into the regular curriculum at Islamic schools, as it was in European universities. The German-Syrian writer Bassam Tibi points out that "science" in the madrasa meant the study of the Koran, the hadith, Arab history etc.: "Some Islamic historians wrongly translate the term madrasa as university. This is plainly incorrect: If we understand a university as universitas litterarum, or consider, without the bias of Eurocentrism, the cast of the universitas magistrorum of the thirteenth century in Paris, we are bound to recognise that the university as a seat for free and unrestrained enquiry based on reason, is a European innovation in the history of mankind."
In The Rise of Early Modern Science, second edition, scholar Toby E. Huff warns that if Islam had taken over Europe, later Western scientific achievements would have been impossible: "If Spain had persisted as an Islamic land into the later centuries - say, until the time of Napoleon - it would have retained all the ideological, legal, and institutional defects of Islamic civilization. A Spain dominated by Islamic law would have been unable to found new universities based on the European model of legally autonomous corporate governance, as corporations do not exist in Islamic law. Furthermore, the Islamic model of education rested on the absolute primacy of fiqh, of legal studies, and the standard of preserving the great traditions of the past. This was symbolically reflected in the ijaza, the personal authorization to transmit knowledge from the past given by a learned man, a tradition quite different from the West's group-administered certification (through examination) of demonstrated learning. In the actual event, the founding of Spanish universities in the thirteenth century, first in Palencia (1208-9), Valladolid, Salamanca (1227-8), and so on, occurred in long-established Christian areas, and the universities were modeled after the constitutions of Paris and Bologna."
Apparently, David Levering Lewis doesn't care much about art, as he devotes little space to the subject in God's Crucible. Pictorial arts are banned in Islam. Images have been made at certain times, but paintings, and certainly not sculptures, never had anything remotely resembling the importance they enjoyed in Western art. The Islamic world could produce some good poets, for instance the Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) whose works are still popular, but they tended to be unorthodox Muslims.
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. 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 the region.
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.