Skip to comments.Bedtime Stories for the Islamic World (Stuck on failure without embracing enlightenment)
Posted on 07/09/2010 6:42:41 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
In the 16th century, astronomer Taqī al-Dīn built one of the worlds great observatories in Istanbul. It rivaled that of the pioneering Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe while it lasted.
Taqī al-Dīns observatory was razed to the ground by a squad of Janissaries, by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti, Bernard Lewis writes in his book What Went Wrong? This observatory had many predecessors in the lands of Islam; it had no successors until the age of modernization.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden caused a furor when he revealed that President Obama had directed him to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science . . . and math and engineering.
This shouldnt be hard to do, so long as Bolden is well versed in accomplishments rising out of the Middle East many centuries ago. It gave us what we know as Arabic numerals (although they originated in India). It gave us algebra and the rudiments of trigonometry. It gave us medical pioneers in the tenth and eleventh centuries. (A significant proportion of these scientists and physicians were Christians and Jews, according to Lewis a fact Bolden had best keep to himself.)
Its wonderful to feel good about the work of Ibn Sīnā of Bukhara, who compiled an indispensable medical encyclopedia before his death in 1037, but it implicitly raises the question of what Muslim science has done for us over the last millennium or so. The Muslim world would be better served by a frank discussion of how so much of it came to be sunk in backwardness and ignorance, although NASAs administrator is not the natural person to lead such a discussion (nor, if hes as smart as advertised, will he volunteer for the task).
Historian David Landes puts it starkly: The vast bulk of modern science was of Europes making, especially that breakthrough of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that goes by the name scientific revolution. Not only did non-Western science contribute just about nothing (though there was more there than Europeans knew), but at that point it was incapable of participating, so far had it fallen behind or taken the wrong turning.
The short version of the story is that in the battle between science and religious obscurantism in the Islamic world, obscurantism won in a rout. Landes recounts that when the Muslims conquered Persia in the seventh century, the commander on the ground was forbidden to distribute the vast collection of captured books and scientific papers. Word came down from on high: Throw them in the water. If what they contain is right guidance, God has given us better guidance. If it is error, God has protected us against it.
The West had its own incurious religious authorities, as Galileo could attest. But in the West, the material world slowly became disenchanted, creating an expanded space for rationality. Worldly rulers and the church separated, creating an expanded space for freedom. The countries that were most open to technological advance primarily England at first became the most powerful, in a virtuous circle.
Astonishingly, the regime in which oppression and dogmatism prevailed was not merely wicked, but actually weaker than societies which were freer and more tolerant! the social scientist Ernest Gellner explained. This was the essence of the Enlightenment.
How to react to the Enlightenments absence from parts of the Muslim world is one line of division between George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Bushs freedom agenda aimed to create the predicate for future success in stagnant Muslim countries; Obamas outreach agenda is much more accepting of the Muslim status quo.
Perhaps Bush was too ambitious, or Obama is too complacent. All we can know is that unless it embraces the essence of the Enlightenment, too much of the Muslim world will remain sunk in failure, pitied by the foreign bureaucrats who come to tell it bedtime stories about past glories.
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Islam invents nothing: it has merely appropriated the mathematical and medical work of the Persians/Assyrians.
Islam’s only real innovation has been in treachery - they have more words for different kinds of betrayal and false peace than Eskimos have words for snow.
However they did pioneer the use of Muslim body armor - what the rest of the world calls “women”.
The failed “self esteem” movement gave a whole generation of kids a false sense of importance without any accomplishment. Now O is trying to do the same infantile thing with a whole people. It fits because it appears O has serious self-esteem issues himself. Egads.
RE: Islam invents nothing: it has merely appropriated the mathematical and medical work of the Persians/Assyrians.
Isn’t Persia, Iran and isn’t Assyria, Syria ?
Aren’t these countries Islamic ?
And that, in a nutshell, is why muslime remain mired in 8th-century thinking and barbarism the West long ago outgrew. Their tyrannical theocracy is anathema to progress.
When each one was taken over, it was a thriving country with an impressive history of accomplishment in medicine, astronomy and so forth. Their accomplishments, schools of thought and centers of learning were quickly eclipsed under Islam, dying out or becoming static and introverted in a generation or so.
After Islam set in, all these countries produced was tedious geometric art and repetitive calligraphy. Oh, and hate. Lots of hate, especially for their Jewish populations.
This process of fine institutions becoming recondite, introverted and useless isn't a mysterious one. It can be seen in the present day: just check out what NASA's mission statement has devolved into in just two years.
When Islam overran cultures, those cultures would generally limp along for about 100 years until all the pre-Islamic generation and people influenced by them were dead. That’s the only reason any “Islamic” cultures had anything: it was all remnants of their pre-Islamic civilization.
The only reason culture endured a little longer in the early days of Islam, when it was taking over the much more advanced ME societies such as Persia and Baghdad, was that Islam, which fundamentally rejects reason, was not fully consolidated and didn’t have a firm enough hand to stamp out learning (as it did later).
Interestingly, some of the early Muslims in Spain (whose rulers were mostly not Arabs but were from other parts of the ME) were less harsh in crushing Spanish Christian and Jewish culture, and were therefore considered heretics by subsequent generations of North African Muslims and were actually themselves later overrun by them.
The dynamic of Islam is anti-rational because it is based on a god who is bound by no internal law of his own and has no bond of relationship with his own creation; his adherent’s only hope is to placate him with ritual practices, but even this is not reliable and death and disaster lurk around every turn. Not a creative environment, to say the least.
It took a few centuries for this insane view of life to really consolidate, and now it is the basis of all Islamic society.
These places are Islamic now, but Islam is a relatively new cult that only came along in the 7th century. These places have an intellectual and artistic history that goes back to before 3000 BC. Islam swept in, “claimed” this history, and then destroyed it.
Thanks. Few things annoy me more than when the Muslims claim - or are simply given credit for - things they had nothing to do with and in fact have spent their collective history trying to destroy.
wikipedia must drive you nuts then. Just about any article over there mentions islamic stuff.
A college philosphy course I took touched on Averroes and Avicenna (obviously the Latinized forms of their names), the medieval Muslim philosophers. One of them was more like a Muslim Aquinas or Maimonides; the other one went with the anti-rational, which has apparently been dominant ever since. (Unfortunately, and much to my embarrassment, I never can remember which was which!)
Medieval Muslims did a lot of linguistic study of Arabic and heavily influenced Jewish study of Hebrew at the time (just a nugget I picked up in a Hebrew class).
His philosophy, which is certainly the current model for Islam, is the concept that truth, reality, Allah himself - can contain mutually-exclusive truths.
This 'concept' has been necessary to Islam since Islam's inception - because its belief system was made up on the spot by a murderous lunatic - but it only got enunciated within Islamic thought in Medieval times. Philosophers such as Averroes were the scholars who crystallized this quintessential Islamic idea - that truth can contradict itself.
Which of course has put an intolerable strain on the Islamic psyche.
Imagine that Jesus had said "1 + 1 = 3" in the Sermon on the Mount, and that Christians had to believe that 1 + 1 = 3 because Jesus said it.
And also that Christians were forced to kill people who denied or even examined this novel form of mathematics.
THAT is what being an muslim is like. Such a situation is foreign to the Western mind, thank God, but Islam is not so, ah, constrained.
When dealing with Muslims we always need to remind ourselves that their very concept of truth is broken. Their 'God' is profoundly irrational. After all: He doesn't have to make sense, he's Allah.
Excellent way of putting it!
I think Avicenna must be the Ibn Sina mentioned in the article:
the work of Ibn Sīnā of Bukhara, who compiled an indispensable medical encyclopedia
He was apparently the rational one. If Averroes is counted as the Muslim Aquinas, it must only be because of the influence he exerted on later ages. The philosophy of Avicenna seems to have been the one closer in spirit to Aquinas and Maimonides.
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