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How did the infidels win?
National Post ^ | June 01 2002 | Bernard Lewis

Posted on 06/01/2002 11:01:44 AM PDT by knighthawk

From the time of Muhammad till the second siege of Vienna in 1683, Islamic civilization regarded the Christian West as a benighted backwater. Then things changed. Historian Bernard Lewis asks:

In the enormously rich historical literature developed during 14 centuries of Islamic history, until very recent times, there were no histories of countries or nations. Rather, there are histories of Islam and histories of particular dynasties or states within Islam. We think, for example, of the long wars involving the Muslims and the Europeans, the Moors in Spain, the Tartars in Russia or the Turks in Europe. But in the Muslim world, they do not describe encounters in these terms. They never use the words "Arab" or "Moors" or "Tartars" or "Turks" in this context. The division is always the wars between the Muslims and the unbelievers.

In the West, the nation is seen as the natural unit of identify and allegiance. But until recently, this was not so in the Muslim world. In modern times, the Arab world has been chopped up into what would apparently seem to be nation-states. But if you look at them closely, you can see their artificiality. Look at the borders. Most of North America's borders are straight lines. That's understandable because they were drawn with pencils and rulers on maps. The borders of Europe are different. They are not straight lines. They are the result of a thousand years of struggle. You would expect the same to be the case in the Middle East, where the entities are even more ancient than those of Europe. But no, their borders are straight lines drawn by Europeans. Perhaps even more remarkably, there is no word in Arabic for Arabia. This is not because Arabic is a poor language. On the contrary, Arabic is an incredibly rich language. It is because the Muslims simply did not think in terms of territorial ethnic identity.

I mention this point because I think it's important in understanding Muslim perceptions of what is going on.

In the Muslim perception, the world took a new turn in the 7th century when Islam was born and spread rapidly in all directions with enormous success. This was seen at the time, with some justification, as a challenge to other faiths. Anyone who has been to Jerusalem will surely have visited the Dome of the Rock. That magnificent structure is the oldest surviving Muslim religious building outside Arabia. If you go inside, you will see inscriptions written on the dome. One says "He is God. He is one. He does not beget. He is not begotten." This is an explicit rejection of certain basic Christian dogmas. By building this structure in Jerusalem of all places, which at that time was not yet regarded as a Muslim Holy City, by putting up this building with these inscriptions in Jerusalem, the Muslims were in effect saying to the Christian world -- and, in particular to the Christian emperor in Constantinople, "Your time has passed. Now we are here. Move over."

There has been a lot of talk of late about the clash of civilizations. Most of the civilizations known to history -- such as those of China, India, Greece, Rome, Egypt and Babylon -- have been regional. Christianity and Islam are different. These are the only two civilizations whose underlying religions claim not only that their truths are universal -- all religions claim that -- but also that their truths are exclusive. Both believe that they are the fortunate recipients of God's final revelation to mankind, and it is therefore their duty to bring it to the rest of the world. It is inevitable that you will have a clash between two religions that are geographically adjacent, historical consecutive, theologically akin.

For a long time, Islam got the better of this clash. For a period of centuries, the civilization of Islam was by far the most advanced and the most creative in the world. It was enormously successful in every material sense. Its armies coming out of Arabia conquered everything across the Middle East and North Africa. They invaded Europe, conquering Spain, Portugal, Southern Italy and even advancing into France. Eastwards, they advanced across to Central Asia and India. Muslims also developed a highly sophisticated economic system of production and exchange with a remarkably advanced system of banking and credit. As far back as the 10th century, a Muslim merchant or a non-Muslim merchant living under Muslim rule could draw a cheque in Southern Iraq and cash it in Morocco.

From the perspective of Muslims, Western Europe was a kind of outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief, a primitive tribe beyond the border to which they gave understandably little attention. There was nothing to fear and nothing to learn. On the contrary, it was the Europeans who went to the great Muslim universities in Spain, in Sicily and in the East. In those centuries, Europe -- meaning Christendom as Muslims saw it -- was a poor benighted backwater.

Then things changed. The change was gradual, and took place over a vast area and a long period. But what brought the change home were rather dramatic single events. One of those events was the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.

It is important to remember that, in the 17th century, Islam was still threatening Europe, not the other way around. Turkish pashas were still ruling in Budapest and in Belgrade. Corsairs from North Africa were still raiding the European coasts, including the coasts of England and Ireland and, on one occasion, even Iceland -- collecting human booty for sale in the slave markets of Algiers.

The first Turkish siege of Vienna ended in a sort of draw. But the second siege, in 1683, was a disaster. A Turkish historian of the time, describing the episode, said: "This is the most calamitous defeat that we have suffered since the foundation of our state." One must admire his candour and regret that similar candour is rarely to be found among present day historians of the region.

The defeat outside Vienna was followed by a headlong retreat through the Balkans and a peace treaty, the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the first ever imposed on a defeated Ottoman empire by victorious Christian European enemies.

The lessons of history are often taught on the battlefield. In this case, the lesson was clear.

Among Muslims, the debate began at the beginning of the 18th century, and has been going on ever since. The main question: What went wrong?

There was a growing awareness that Muslims, who had always been victorious, were now losing on the battlefield, in the marketplace and, in fact, in every significant field of human endeavor. The debate became increasingly agonized, and continues to the present day.

When you become aware that things are going wrong, there are two ways you can approach the problem. First, you can ask "What are they doing right?" There were many Muslims who followed this line of inquiry, and experimented with Western forms of warfare and weaponry, Western-style factories, parliaments and the like.

The second approach is to say "Who did this to us?" This of course leads into a twilight world of anti-Western conspiracy theories and neurotic fantasies. Unfortunately, this approach has prevailed in many parts of the Muslim world to the present day.

In answering the question, "Who did this to us?" Muslims have often blamed "Imperialists." (Of course, when Muslims were invading Europe, imperialist expansionism was seen as natural and good because the invaders were bringing the word of God to the heathens. When the Europeans, after centuries of Muslim domination, counterattacked on the other hand, this was wicked.) In this regard, the United States has now inherited the role of its Christian predecessors. As many Muslims see it, the world continues to be divided between the Islamic world and its age-old imperialist rival, the Christian world. This division is at the heart of the writings of Osama Bin Laden and his complaints about the "crusader" presence in Saudi Arabia and so forth.

- - -

Even after the second siege of Vienna, the Arab world was largely shielded from reality by Ottoman power, even in the era of Ottoman decline and retreat. But eventually, that came to an end.

The modern history of the Arab world is generally held to begin at the end of the 18th century, when the French Republic sent a small expeditionary force commanded by a young general called Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt. To the utter shock and horror of the Egyptians and everyone else in the region, this small army from France was able to invade, conquer, occupy and govern Egypt without the slightest difficulty. The fact that an army from the West managed to penetrate one of the heartlands of the Islamic world -- not just Vienna or the Balkans -- was a terrible shock.

But if the arrival of the French was a shock, their departure was a second and perhaps more salutary shock. The eviction of the French was accomplished not by the Egyptians, nor by the Turks, but by a small squadron of the Royal Navy commanded by a young Admiral called Horatio Nelson.

The lesson was clear: A European power could come to the region and do what it pleased, and only another European power could get them out. Thus began the game, so to speak, of playing European powers off against one another.

For two centuries or more, the scenario remained the same -- though the players were sometimes different. In the final phase, the players were the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States; and Middle Eastern leaders used the skills they had perfected over two centuries in playing them off against each other.

Then, suddenly, it came to an end. The phase in history that had been initiated by Bonaparte and Nelson was terminated by Bush and Gorbachev. Suddenly, there was no rivalry; there were no rival powers. First one and then the other seemed disinclined to play the Imperial role -- the Russians because they couldn't and the Americans because they wouldn't.

Some Muslim leaders are trying to keep playing the old game, and so are seeking another power to play off against the West, as it is embodied by the United States. The prime candidate is the European Union, or at least some parts of the European Union where there is a negative sentiment regarding America. Unfortunately, for those who pursue this policy, even if the Europeans have the will to play this role, they lack the ability.

The other, and at first sightly more promising response to the end of the Cold War, was that of Osama bin Laden. He and his followers make it perfectly clear in their writings that they regard the defeat of the Soviet Union as their achievement -- through their long struggle in Afghanistan. I think you must agree it is not by any means an implausible explanation of what happened.

- - -

Where are we now? Within the Islamic world, more particularly the Middle Eastern world, I think one must divide countries in terms of their attitude to the West into three zones. One zone comprises those countries that have governments that we are pleased to regard as pro-Western and pro-American. These governments are therefore, and I stress the word "therefore," cordially detested by their people. They are detested not because they are pro-West but because they are regarded as Western puppets and therefore the West is held responsible for the corruption and tyranny of these regimes. It is no accident that most of the hijackers and terrorists on Sept. 11 came from countries with Western-friendly governments.

A second group are countries with hostile governments. I am thinking in particular of Iraq and Iran, perhaps also Syria. These are bitterly anti-American and anti-Western; and therefore their peoples are very pro-Western and pro-American. Let me relate an Iranian joke that I heard only last week from an Iranian, which I think captures the mood. (Jokes are often the only uncensored form of comment in these countries.) When American planes began to fly over Afghanistan, many Iranians put out notices over their houses saying, "This way, please."

In these countries whose governments detest the West, all the indications are that there is general goodwill toward the West among the people. In Iran, for example, after 9/11, great numbers of people went out into the streets and lit candles in sympathy vigils. This did not happen in nominally U.S.-friendly countries like Saudi Arabia; quite the reverse.

The third group comprises the Middle Eastern countries where both the government and the people are friendly. There are just two countries in this categories: Turkey and Israel, which happen to be the only two countries with functioning democracies.

- - -

Let me end with a discussion about Western influence in the Middle East. We tend to think of modernization and Westernization as good things. And, in many ways, they have been good things. But they have also done tremendous damage to Muslim societies. They have, for example, strengthened dictatorship to a degree that was never possible previously.

Modernization has strengthened the central power, and given the government new means of surveillance and repression. This has made possible that ultimate example of Westernization -- the one-party dictatorship. It flourishes in Syria and in Iraq at the present time in a way that combines the Nazi and Soviet models.

Westernization also has the effect of enfeebling or eliminating the limiting powers within a society. In traditional societies, there were many limiting powers that acted as constraints on government power. There were the urban patricians, the country nobility, the religious establishment, the military establishment and others. All these were enfeebled or abolished and made subject to the central authority.

There was a time when socialism and nationalism were the two most widely accepted creeds in the Middle East -- particularly after the end of the Second World War, when the Soviets had won great victories in Eastern Europe. The British Labour Party had won a great electoral victory, throwing out the mighty Winston Churchill. Socialism was seen as the wave of the future. So they brought in a whole series of socialist governments all over the Arab world. There was some debate. Some said that we must have Arab socialism; that is to say socialism, but adjusted to the different Arab cultural context. Others said, "No, that's nonsense. We must have scientific socialism," meaning the Moscow Marxists' variety. By now, I think they would all agree that socialism is neither Arab nor scientific.

The other great slogan of the time was nationalism, which was supposed to bring freedom, throwing off the foreign yoke. Unfortunately, there was some confusion between freedom and independence. Indeed, in most of the places that had previously been under Imperial rule, they had less freedom under independence than they had under foreign rule. So you had the two ideas discredited -- socialism discredited by its failure; nationalism discredited by its success. These were the two great movements that dominated public discourse and public life in these countries for half a century. Both are dead. Both are gone. So, where do they turn now?

Basically there are two alternative approaches. One is the approach of those who ask, "What did we do wrong?" and who feel that the way forward is to modernize their societies but to do it properly and, most important of all, with a measure of democratization of their political institutions and liberalization of their economies.

On the other hand you have those who say: "The source of all our troubles was the West" -- either what Westerners themselves did or, more frequently and more importantly, what Westernizing local "puppets" or imitators did. And the remedy, therefore, is to go back to back in time to the true, authentic, original Islam. This is the remedy proposed by the Islamic Republic in Iran and also by the various terrorist movements.

The choice between the two approaches is an awe-inspiring one; and, at this point, I would not like to predict which way it will go. It is, of course, going both ways at the present time.

Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He has written numerous books about Islam, including, most recently, What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. This essay is adapted from a May 30 speech delivered by Prof. Lewis in Toronto as part of the Donner Canadian Foundation Lecture Series.


TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: christianity; clashofcivilizatio; history; historylist; infidels; islam
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1 posted on 06/01/2002 11:01:44 AM PDT by knighthawk
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To: dennisw; OKCSubmariner; watchin; VOA; harpseal; timestax; xJones; justshutupandtakeit; TopDog2...
Infidel ping list

If people want on or off this list, please let me know.

2 posted on 06/01/2002 11:03:54 AM PDT by knighthawk
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To: knighthawk
A must read. I'm sorry, but I think we are going to have to bring them to their knees before we have peace.
3 posted on 06/01/2002 11:07:06 AM PDT by dix
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To: knighthawk
Bernard Lewis bump
4 posted on 06/01/2002 11:13:10 AM PDT by tictoc
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To: dix
I'm sorry, but I think we are going to have to bring them to their knees before we have peace.

Do NOT apologize. You are 100% correct.

Islam is the scourge of the earth.

Edom is intent on having his revenge come hell or high water. And I for one wouldn't mind helping his seed travel to "Allah."

5 posted on 06/01/2002 11:14:31 AM PDT by rdb3
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To: knighthawk
A very interesting post. The Professor shows a more balanced approach than one usually finds among modern day American Academics. Hence, I have for the moment put aside my normal skepticism and desire to point out the errors in Academic offerings, and am seriously considering the man's points.

Thank you for posting this.

William Flax Return Of The Gods Web Site

6 posted on 06/01/2002 11:14:37 AM PDT by Ohioan
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To: knighthawk
bump
7 posted on 06/01/2002 11:14:56 AM PDT by remaininlight
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To: *History_list;*Clash of Civilizatio
Bump list
8 posted on 06/01/2002 11:20:08 AM PDT by Free the USA
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To: knighthawk
The second approach is to say "Who did this to us?" This of course leads into a twilight world of anti-Western conspiracy theories and neurotic fantasies. Unfortunately, this approach has prevailed in many parts of the Muslim world to the present day.

Perfect!

9 posted on 06/01/2002 11:32:16 AM PDT by facedown
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To: knighthawk; Sara Of Earth
Nice, quick historical perspective. ;

Ping

10 posted on 06/01/2002 11:32:37 AM PDT by martian_22
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To: knighthawk
They have, for example, strengthened dictatorship to a degree that was never possible previously.

-----------------------------

I doubt this. Islam is a history of dictatorship.

11 posted on 06/01/2002 11:36:19 AM PDT by RLK
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To: knighthawk
dar al-Harb bump
12 posted on 06/01/2002 11:36:53 AM PDT by My Identity
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Comment #13 Removed by Moderator

To: knighthawk; Nogbad; keri
Look at the following passage in this interesting article:

The lesson was clear: A European power could come to the region and do what it pleased, and only another European power could get them out. Thus began the game, so to speak, of playing European powers off against one another.

For two centuries or more, the scenario remained the same -- though the players were sometimes different. In the final phase, the players were the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States; and Middle Eastern leaders used the skills they had perfected over two centuries in playing them off against each other.

Then, suddenly, it came to an end. The phase in history that had been initiated by Bonaparte and Nelson was terminated by Bush and Gorbachev. Suddenly, there was no rivalry; there were no rival powers. First one and then the other seemed disinclined to play the Imperial role -- the Russians because they couldn't and the Americans because they wouldn't. Some Muslim leaders are trying to keep playing the old game, and so are seeking another power to play off against the West, as it is embodied by the United States. The prime candidate is the European Union, or at least some parts of the European Union where there is a negative sentiment regarding America. Unfortunately, for those who pursue this policy, even if the Europeans have the will to play this role, they lack the ability.

Maybe the prime candidate is not the European Union, but China.

14 posted on 06/01/2002 11:39:43 AM PDT by Mitchell
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To: knighthawk
great read...and bump
15 posted on 06/01/2002 11:41:18 AM PDT by VOA
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To: knighthawk
Let me add my two cents worth:

1.) The "Source of all our troubles was the West" bunch got their foothold as a result of Jimmy Carter engineering the fall of the Shah of Iran.

2.) The only hope for peace between the Moslem world and the West is found in the adoption by the Moslems of the Turkish model of democratic rule.

16 posted on 06/01/2002 11:53:37 AM PDT by Jeff Chandler
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To: knighthawk
From the time of Muhammad till the second siege of Vienna in 1683, Islamic civilization regarded the Christian West as a benighted backwater.

"Islamic civilization" duly added to my comprehensive oxymoron list.

America's Fifth Column ... watch PBS documentary JIHAD! In America
Download 8 Mb zip file here (60 minute video)

17 posted on 06/01/2002 11:54:39 AM PDT by JCG
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To: Mitchell
Maybe the prime candidate is not the European Union, but China.

I think you're right. Playing the US against China makes a lot more sense.

18 posted on 06/01/2002 11:55:14 AM PDT by Doe Eyes
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To: knighthawk
The main question: What went wrong?

Answer: G_d has the same opinion of moslems that I do.

19 posted on 06/01/2002 12:01:04 PM PDT by neutrino
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To: knighthawk
Moslems don't see the validity of borders, boundaries or nations. Their vision is a global one. They want the whole world to look like this:


20 posted on 06/01/2002 12:04:17 PM PDT by samtheman
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