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Islam, the Greeks and the Scientific Revolution, part 3

By Fjordman

October 4, 2007

Here is the third and final part of Fjordman's essay on Islam and the Greek heritage. Part two is here, and part one is here. Says Fjordman: "Anybody who wants to can republish any of my essays on his own website as much as he wants to, as long as I am credited as the author. It would be nice, though, if a link was provided to the website where it was first published."

The great British expert on Chinese science history Joseph Needham has written about how the "four great inventions of China," the compass, printing, papermaking and gunpowder, were exported to the rest of the world. Although Needham is good at writing about technology, he doesn't always provide sufficient evidence of transmission for these inventions. Only one of them, paper, can be said with absolute certainty to have reached the West as a fully developed product. According to Professor T.F. Carter, "Back of the invention of printing lies the use of paper, which is the most certain and the most complete of China's inventions."

As Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin write in The Coming of the Book, "It would have been impossible to invent printing had it not been for the impetus given by paper, which had arrived in Europe from China via the Arabs two centuries earlier and came into general use by the late 14th century." In the period from 1450 to 1550, Europe was becoming covered with paper mills. The traditional parchment was expensive and not well suited for mass production.

During the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the reformers wanted the Bible to be available in the common language, not in Latin. Martin Luther thus helped shape the modern German language. As scholar Irving Fang states in the book A History of Mass Communication, "Vernacular printing also led French readers to think of themselves as being part of France, and English readers to regard themselves as part of England."

In some ways, we are witnessing a reversal of this trend towards nationalization now with global communications and the rise of English as an international lingua franca. Febvre and Martin believe, though, that about 77% of the books printed before 1500 were still in Latin, with religious books still predominant. This gradually gave way to secular books and other languages, but "it was not until the late 17th century that Latin was finally overthrown and replaced by the other national languages and by French as the natural language of philosophy, science and diplomacy. Every educated European then had to know French." They estimate that about 20 million books were printed in Europe before the year 1500, and that "between 150-200 million copies were published in the 16th century. This is a conservative estimate and probably well below the actual figure." This is even more impressive if we remember that Europe of that day was far less populous than it is now and that only a minority could read. There was obviously a change then, and a swift one, compared to the slow, expensive and sometimes inaccurate process of copying each individual book by hand.

Printing did have a major impact in East Asia, but it didn't trigger quite the same revolution as it did in the West. Buddhism came to Japan via China and Korea, and Buddhist monks also brought with them, in addition to tea and thus the basis for the elaborate Japanese tea ceremonies, other aspects of Chinese civilization, among them printing in the eight century. Yet until the late sixteenth century the Japanese printed only Buddhist scriptures. Europe also benefited from having a more diverse book trade than China and from having more competition in general.

As Irving Fang states, "Printing had not disturbed the monolithic Chinese empire. The introduction of printing in mid-fifteenth century Europe might also have made little headway if Europe were not ripe for change." According to him, the "establishment of European universities from the twelfth century onward marked the end of the 700-year-old Monastic Age. The more secular age that followed saw the emergence of a literate middle class and a rising demand for books of all kinds."

Movable type printing had been invented in China by Bi Sheng around 1040, but it never gained widespread popularity. The nature of the Chinese language with its nonalphabetic script presumably didn't help. To solve this dilemma, in the first half of the 1400s the Korean King Sejong the Great encouraged book production and ordered his scholars to create an alphabet for the common people as opposed to the complicated Chinese script with its thousands of characters. They produced hangul, "Korean letters," a phonetic system inspired by other alphabetic scripts, among them Sanskrit.

Movable type printing with metal types and an alphabetic script was thus in use in Korea before Gutenberg began printing Bibles in Germany, but there are no indications of a connection between what happened in Korea and what happened in Europe. The geographical distance is too big and the time difference too small to make such a connection likely. The Chinese used baked clay for their characters, and only started employing metal types after their use in Europe. Gutenberg was a goldsmith and naturally created his letters out of metal.

According to Fang, "What Gutenberg produced that did not exist in Asia was a printing system. Most obvious among its elements were controlled, exact dimensions of alphabet type cast from metal punches made of hardened steel. These were not unlike the dies, stamps, and punches that were well known to European leather workers, metalsmiths, and pewter makers."

Although possible, no link between the Eastern and the Western printing traditions has ever been conclusively proven. The different nature of the systems involved has caused many historians to believe that printing was developed in Europe independently of Asia. In contrast, we know with 100% certainty that Muslims were familiar with East Asian printing. The Mongols left a trail of devastation across much of Eurasia in the 1200s, but their vast empire did open up unprecedented opportunities for cultural exchange. As scholar Thomas T. Allsen shows, however, being exposed to foreign ideas doesn't necessarily mean that you will adopt them. Local scholars often clung to the inherited tradition. He uses Russia at the time of Peter the Great as an example where some elements of that society were fanatically opposed to all innovation while others enthusiastically embraced all things foreign. Allsen has described how the authorities in Iran under Mongolian rule in 1294 attempted to introduce Chinese-style printed banknotes, but failed, despite severe threats, due to massive popular resistance:

"Certainly the Muslim world exhibited an active and sustained opposition to movable type technologies emanating from Europe in the fifteenth century and later. This opposition, based on social, religious, and political considerations, lasted well into the eighteenth century. Only then were presses of European origin introduced into the Ottoman Empire and only in the next century did printing become widespread in the Arab world and Iran. This long-term reluctance, the disinterest in European typography, and the failure to exploit the indigenous printing traditions of Egypt certainly argue for some kind of fundamental structural or ideological antipathy to this particular technology."

I am definitely not a believer in technological determinism, but some technologies do have a greater impact than others. One of the most important inventions ever made has to be printing. Surely it is no coincidence that the Scientific Revolution decisively took off in Europe after the introduction of printing, just as it is not a coincidence that the one civilization that came closest to a similar breakthrough, China, was the one where printing had first been invented. It is likely that the rejection of printing alone set the Islamic world back centuries vis-à-vis non-Muslims.

As David Crowley and Paul Heyer write in Communication in History: Technology, Culture, and Society, "Traditionally, the view has been that printing, along with numerous other developments, marked the transition between the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern era. However, the more we study this remarkable invention, the more we realize that it was not just one factor among many. Although we hesitate to argue for historical 'prime-movers,' certainly the printing press comes close to what is meant by this term. It was a technology that influenced other technologies - a prototype for mass production - and one that impacted directly on the world of ideas by making knowledge widely available, thereby creating a space in which new forms of expression could flourish. The repercussions of the printing press in early modern Europe did not come about in an inherently deterministic manner. Rather, they resulted from the existence of conditions whereby print could enhance a context receptive to its potential."

The spread of printing in East Asia was intimately connected to the Buddhist religion, just as it was used in Europe to print Bibles. Yet while Buddhists, Christians and Jews eagerly embraced this new technology, Muslims stubbornly rejected it. The contrast is striking if we compare this to how eagerly Muslims embraced another Chinese invention: gunpowder. Gunpowder wasn't the first chemical substance used in warfare.

According to legend, "Greek fire," a feared weapon in its time, was invented in the seventh century by Callinicus, a refugee from the Arab conquest of Syria. It was successfully used to defeat sieges by Arab Muslims of Constantinople in 674 and in 718, and helped the Byzantine Empire to survive for as long as it did. Its qualities appear to be somewhat similar to modern napalm. James R. Partington suggests in his book A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder that it consisted of a mixture of "sulphur, pitch, dissolved nitre, and petroleum." The term "Greek fire" is a misnomer as the Byzantines called themselves Romans. The greatest revolution in the history of warfare, however, came with the introduction of gunpowder. According to Dr James B. Calvert, professor of engineering, "The fundamental inventions of gunpowder and cannon had been made by 1300, but the sources are rare, difficult to interpret, hard to date, and often contradictory. The best guess is that gunpowder followed quickly after saltpetre was discovered (that is, a process for its purification was developed) by Chinese alchemists around AD 900 and introduced to Europe via trade routes and travellers around AD 1225, and that cannon were invented in southern Europe just before AD 1300."

One of the problems in determining this accurately is that Chinese writers can be just as ethnocentric as Western ones, sometimes more so. There is some debate whether gunpowder was invented independently in several regions, but most historians have settled for the explanation that it was first manufactured in China. Gunpowder (black powder) consists of charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, and was impossible to create until you could manufacture saltpeter with a high degree of purity. This was a specialty of Chinese alchemists quite early. The discovery reached the Middle East and Europe, probably via the Silk Road, and became known as "Chinese snow." Black powder remained the principle explosive until the nineteenth century, when the invention of unstable nitroglycerine made it possible for Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel to patent the more stable version of dynamite in 1867, and accumulate the great wealth which was later used to fund the various Nobel Prizes.

In the thirteenth century, the English Franciscan friar Roger Bacon, as well as the German Dominican friar Albertus Magnus, both theologians and scientists with an interest in alchemy, mention a recipe for gunpowder. The Mongol conquests spread the knowledge of the fire-lance, a gunpowder-filled tube made of bamboo which could fire various projectiles, across Eurasia. The development of this weapon stagnated in China proper. According to James B. Calvert, "The place and time of the invention of the cannon is unknown, but its evolution from the fire lance among the Turks, Arabs and Europeans can hardly be doubted. (…) The earliest use of cannon is not definitely known, but occurred sometime between 1300 and 1350. The use of cannon spread rapidly between 1350 and 1400."


Cannon were used during the Hundred Years' War between France and England, and Turkish Muslims successfully employed prolonged bombardment by massive Hungarian-made cannon during the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to breach the walls of the city. Joel Mokyr, professor at the Department of Economics at Northwestern University and author of The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy, writes about innovation and economic history. According to him (pdf), glass, although known in China, was not in wide use as tea was drunk in porcelain cups and the Chinese examined themselves in polished bronze mirrors. Islamic countries had a significant glass industry, yet they never came up with spectacles: "Tokugawa Japan had a flourishing industry making glass trinkets and ornaments, but no optical instruments emerged there either until the Meiji restoration [from 1867]. Not having access to the Hellenistic geometry that served not only Ptolemy and Alhazen, but also sixteenth century Italians such as Francesco Maurolico (1494-1575) who studied the characteristics of lenses, made the development of optics in the Orient difficult." The earliest known lenses were made of rock crystal, quartz, and other minerals, and have been used in Eastern and Western lands since ancient times. There is evidence that lenses were known in the Greco-Roman world. They have been used as burning glasses and magnifying glasses for centuries, and so-called reading stones were in common use during the Middle Ages, for instance the Visby lenses, lens-shaped rock crystals of high quality from in a Viking grave in Gotland, Sweden. The oldest one we know of is the Nimrud lens, found in modern Iraq. Estimated to be almost three thousand years old, it indicates that the ancient Assyrians did have some basic understanding of optics. Iraq, seat of the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian kingdoms, is home to one of the world's oldest astronomical traditions. Babylonian astronomy greatly influenced many subsequent cultures, Middle Eastern, Greek and Indian, and the sexagesimal (based on the number sixty) numeral system of the Sumerians is still with us today, in the form of sixty minutes to the hour and 360 degrees in a circle.

The Iraqi-born scientist Ibn al-Haitham, known in the West as Alhacen or Alhazen, had a powerful influence on several Western scientists. Alhazen was a pioneer in the scientific method by basing hypothesis upon systematic observation. He is most commonly remembered for his great contributions in the field of optics, where he pondered the nature of light, speculated on the colors of the sunset and described the qualities of magnifying lenses. His eleventh century Book of Optics was translated into Latin during the late twelfth century, and left a significant impact on Roger Bacon and others in the thirteenth century.

Bacon was educated at Oxford and lectured on Aristotle at the University of Paris, the intellectual center among the small, but growing number of European universities. His teacher, the English bishop and scholar Robert Grosseteste, was a proponent of validating theory through experimentation. Roger Bacon wrote about many subjects, including optics, and was among the first persons to argue that lenses could be used for the correction of eyesight. He asserted that "philosophy is the special province of the unbelievers," and urged scholars to learn Arabic.

The Chinese experimented with lenses and mirrors, too, and produced a type of sunglasses, or eyeglasses with colored lenses. However, these appear to have been mainly for decorative purposes and possessed no corrective properties. The science of optics stagnated in China after initial advances. The first fully developed spectacles were made in Europe, in Northern Italy from the late thirteenth century onwards. The American scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals in the eighteenth century, during the early years of the United States.

In 1572 Freidrich Risner printed some of Alhazen's work on optics, as well as a work by the thirteenth century Polish friar Witelo which was similar to it, and thus made Alhazen widely known to new generations of scholars. Notable among them was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who died in 1601, was perhaps the most meticulous astronomer of the pre-telescopic era. During the final year of his life, Brahe passed on his observations of Mars to Kepler. These precise notes were important for Kepler's work on planetary motion, but another breakthrough that could verify his thesis was soon to come.

As corrective lenses for near-sightedness became more sophisticated, the demand for high quality glass lenses grew. In the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Baruch Spinoza could make a decent living as a skilled lens grinder while working on his philosophical theories. This was during the Dutch Golden Age when the country was a refuge for many groups suffering from religious persecution, for instance Huguenots (Protestants) from France. Spinoza descended from Jews who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal following the Reconquista. The production of spectacles opened up new arenas for optics. A Dutch eyeglass maker, Hans Lippershey, is said to have created the first practical telescope and made it publicly available in 1608.

Within a few months of the news, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei had made his own telescope, and became the first person to turn the new invention towards the sky, discovering the four major moons of Jupiter in 1610. Kepler developed the Galilean telescope further by 1611 and described the theoretical basis for telescopic optics, in part inspired by Alhazen's work. The telescope had traveled from the Netherlands via Italy to Kepler in Prague within three years of its invention and had been improved along the way, a remarkable pace of innovation and diffusion of knowledge. Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica from 1687 and his laws of motion and gravity were derived from, among other things, Galileo's telescopic observations and Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion.

Dutch eyeglass maker Zacharias Janssen and his father Hans are usually credited with inventing the first microscope in the late 1500s. The microscope was improved in the seventeenth century by their countryman Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who was the first to spot bacteria and thus opened up an entirely new field of microbiology. This in turn led to great advances in the natural sciences. The German physician Robert Koch and the French chemist Louis Pasteur founded the science of bacteriology in the nineteenth century. The understanding that disease is caused by bacteria and microscopic germs produced the greatest strides in medicine in history.

According to the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, reading stone lenses were invented by polymath Armen Firman (Abbas Ibn Firnas) in Córdoba in Islamic-occupied Spain in the ninth century, and later spread throughout Europe. Wikipedia embodies both the good and some of the problematic aspects of the Internet. I have found useful information there more than once, but it can also be notoriously unreliable on certain subjects due to its numerous editors and lack of professional oversight. Let's assume for a moment that this information is correct. If so, how come lenses weren't developed further by Muslims? The telescope and the microscope were by-products of advances in the production of glass lenses. They made possible, for the first time ever, the study of what is not visible to the naked human eye and radically altered our understanding of the universe, both in the realms of the very small and the very big. All of this could have happened in the Islamic world. So why didn't it, despite the fact that lenses were know there at least as early as in Europe, and despite the fact that the region produced a gifted optical scientist, Alhazen?

Alhazen personally should be credited with being one of the greatest scientists of his age in any discipline, Eastern or Western, yet his inquisitive attitude and scientific mindset wasn't always appreciated by his contemporaries. Here is how his writings were received by fellow Muslims, as quoted in Ibn Warraq's book Why I Am Not a Muslim: "A disciple of Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, relates that he was in Baghdad on business, when the library of a certain philosopher (who died in 1214) was burned there. The preacher, who conducted the execution of the sentence, threw into the flames, with his own hands, an astronomical work of Ibn al-Haitham [Alhazen], after he had pointed to a delineation therein given of the sphere of the earth, as an unhappy symbol of impious Atheism."

Alhazen made numerous books, many of which are lost today. His groundbreaking Book of Optics survives to us in Latin translation. Muslims thus had access to ideas, but they failed to appreciate them and exploit their potential. This pattern was repeated on several occasions. The first windmills were probably made in Persia prior to the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. Windmills were introduced in Europe during the High Middle Ages, at least from the twelfth century onwards, and spread rapidly across Western Europe during a prolonged period of great improvements. Persian-style windmills spread from Central Asia to China following the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century, yet in 1206 the leading Arab engineer of the day observed to his readers that the notion of driving mills by the wind was nonsense.

Sundials have been used in Egypt and other civilizations since prehistoric times. Water clocks, too, date from ancient times and had reached a certain level of complexity in the Greco-Roman world. The ancient Greeks created devices resembling clock-work, for instance the Antikythera mechanism (second century B.C.) which has been called a mechanical computer. Early clocks (though not fully developed) were made in Asia, especially China, and could have been known in the Middle East. Around the year 800, Caliph Harun al-Rashid from Baghdad presented Charlemagne with the gift of a complex water clock which struck the hours. In 850 the three Persians Banu Musa, as part of the translation efforts undertaken at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, published The Book of Ingenious Devices describing many mechanical inventions developed by earlier cultures. They were interested in the work of Greek engineer Hero of Alexandria who made the first known steam-powered device. Again, there is plenty of evidence that Muslims had at their disposal both the theoretical knowledge and the practical examples necessary to create mechanical clocks.

Despite having access to much of the same knowledge as did Christian Europeans, Muslims didn't develop fully mechanical clocks. This happened in Europe in the thirteenth century. The invention spread rapidly throughout Italy, France and England. One was installed in the Old St Paul's Cathedral in London in 1286. The fourteenth century English author Geoffrey Chaucer mentioned a clock, apparently meaning one with a bell which struck the hour. Salisbury cathedral is thought to have the oldest functioning clock in existence, dating back to the year 1386. Clocks were initially large and were used to decorate public buildings. By the year 1500, the coiled spring had been invented, paving the way for smaller clocks. The first portable timepiece was created in Nuremberg, Germany by locksmith Peter Henlein in 1505 in the shape of a sphere worn as a jewel. Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, by employing Galileo's law of the pendulum, in 1656 made the first pendulum clock, which was much more accurate than previous models. He also invented the balance wheel and spring assembly underlying many modern watches. French mathematician Blaise Pascal is said to have made a wristwatch by attaching his portable clock to his wrist with a string.

I'm not suggesting that no scientific achievements were made in the Islamic world. Avicenna's Canon of Medicine was translated into Latin in the twelfth century, and as late as the sixteenth century, Vesalius wrote a thesis commenting on Rhazes. It is impossible to write the medical history of the West during this age without mentioning Middle Eastern physicians such as Avicenna and Rhazes. What I am suggesting is that the number of achievements steadily declined, and I'm not sure how much Islam should be credited with those achievements that were actually made.

Muslims failed to develop clocks and eyeglasses and were actively hostile to printing, yet immediately embraced gunpowder and firearms (though the development of the latter soon stagnated, too). I think this highly selective view of technology tells us something about their mentality: They didn't see the value in printing, but they liked gunpowder since it could be used to terrorize and intimidate non-Muslims. Infidel technology is primarily interesting if it can be used to blow up other infidels. Sadly, I'm not so sure Islamic mentality has changed significantly in the 800 years since then. During the past few decades, globalization, Muslim immigration to the West and the massive influx of petrodollars to Muslim nations with huge reserves of petroleum have enabled Muslims to acquire or buy technology they are unable to develop themselves. The result, along with a huge demographic increase in Muslims which is again caused by infidel advances in medicine, has been a tidal wave of Jihad sweeping across the world. The lesson for non-Muslims should be: If you provide Muslims with technology and know-how, this will not be used to create peaceful and prosperous societies; it will be used to kill or subjugate you.

As writer Bassam Tibi notes, Muslims today tend to view science as something that is separated from society, and believe they can adopt or appropriate modern science and technology but not the wider framework that goes with them.

I agree with Tibi. Muslims have no understanding of science as the basis of technological progress, and free speech and rational criticism of everything, including religious doctrines, as the basis of science. They talk about science as if it were a commodity, a television or a personal computer, something which Muslims "had" earlier, then "lost" or handed over to Westerners who "took" it from them. Hence, Muslims shouldn't feel grateful for anything infidel science provides them with, since science was really "theirs" in the first place and they're just taking back something which rightfully belongs to them. But science isn't a commodity; it is a method, a way of looking critically and rationally at the world.

In my view, this failure to see the connection between cause, science and a free society, and effect, technological progress, stems from a fundamental flaw in the Islamic way of looking at the universe: They see no connection between cause and effect because their entire religious world view is based on the notion that everything is subject to the whims of Allah, and that there is no predictable logic behind anything. As Hugh Fitzgerald frequently says, this resigned Inshallah-fatalism ("If Allah wills it, it will happen") greatly inhibits progress of any kind. The ultimate irony and tragedy is that Muslims move to infidel societies in order to enjoy the commodities and consumer goods produced there, yet immediately set out to destroy the conditions which created these advances in the first place, political freedom and manmade laws.

At least two conditions are necessary for the creation of a successful nation: The ability to produce talented individuals with great ideas, and the cultural and structural ability of society to recognize the full potential of these ideas and utilize them. The Islamic world, for a while, performed reasonably well at the former task, but failed miserably and consistently at the latter. Even if it could occasionally give birth to gifted individuals they tended to be unorthodox Muslims or, in the case of Rhazes, outright hostile to Islam. The frequency of thinkers of Avicenna's and certainly Alhazen's stature also steadily declined. This strongly indicates that "Islamic science" had little to do with Islam, but was the amalgam of pre-Islamic knowledge, Greek, Indian, Persian, Jewish, Assyrian Christian and other. As Muslims gradually became numerically dominant and Islamic orthodoxy more firmly established, this pre-Islamic heritage was slowly extinguished, hence science declined and never recovered. This failure was intimately linked to the Islam's hostility towards innovation and freethinking. In contrast, the Christian and Jewish religions proved more receptive towards new ideas. At the very least they were not as aggressively hostile to logic as was Islam, and in certain situations even facilitated it.

Europe did produce many talented individuals, yet what ultimately set it apart from the Islamic world, and even from non-Muslim Asians at this age, was the remarkable pace of diffusion of new ideas, home-grown or imported, and the speed with which further improvements were made once an idea had been introduced. This was due to a combination of factors: A successful marriage between Christian doctrines and the Greco-Roman heritage during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the ability to continuously generate new knowledge and put it into practical application through the accumulation of capital and a dynamic merchant class, an institutionalized framework for scholarly debate through universities with a significant degree of free enquiry, the adoption of printing, which made communication easier and facilitated the accumulation of ever-more accurate knowledge, and last, but not least, a higher degree of individualism and political liberty, which encouraged freethinking, a non-traditionalist outlook and by extension innovation.

Upon saying this, I must confess that I cannot say with a straight face that these are hallmarks of Europe today. We have always been told that there is a basic conflict between religion and reason, which would presumably mean that the less religious we become, the more rational we should become. Western Europe is currently less religious than we have ever been, yet I see no indication that we have become more reasonable because of this. We may not have a formal index of forbidden books, as did the Catholic Church for centuries, but we do have an informal index of forbidden topics which can be equally effective in suppressing free enquiry and stifling debate. This is now done in the name of tolerance and Multicultural diversity, not God, but the result is much the same. The end of religion, thus, didn't herald an age of reason; it led to a new age of secular superstition and new forms of witch-hunts. Bad things can be said about medieval Europeans, but at least they didn't import Muslims in large numbers and congratulate themselves for their tolerance. Secular Europeans do.

Andrew G. Bostom keeps referring to Julien Benda and his 1928 book The Treason of the Intellectuals, about how the abandonment of objective truths abetted totalitarian ideologies, which led to World War II. Bostom identifies a similar failure of Western intellectuals to acknowledge the history of Jihad today. From what I gather, Benda was a bit too anti-religious and anti-nationalist for my taste, but otherwise I agree: The problems faced by the West now in confronting Jihad have been facilitated by a failure of our education system, our media and indeed our entire society to uphold the ideal of critical thinking. If the rise of the West was linked to political liberty, rational thinking, free speech and universities championing free enquiry, the decline of the West can be linked to the decline of the same factors.

Author V.S. Naipaul thinks Islam is parasitical by nature and preys upon the pre-Islamic culture in the conquered lands. I will add that it is also the kind of parasite which kills its host. I have no doubt that if Muslims should succeed in conquering Europe, this will in the future be hailed as a Golden Age of Islam. But it wouldn't be a Golden Age of Islam, it would be the twilight of Europe, just as the previous Golden Age was the twilight of the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Buddhist cultures from North Africa to Central Asia, and the much vaunted accomplishments of "Islamic medieval science" were echoes of the heritage of Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians and Greeks.

Yes, I know Mughal emperors could create magnificent architecture such as the Taj Mahal in India, but this was still a slave-state based upon the exploitation and persecution of non-Muslims. And yes, there can be rulers such as Akbar the Great, with his religious tolerance and imperial garden with thousands of cheetahs, but he was tolerant precisely because he was a Muslim in name only. Any such ruler will be succeeded by more pious Muslims, as was the case with Aurangzeb who reinstated the Jizya tax for infidels and destroyed Hindu temples. Anything good that happens in countries under Islamic rule generally happens in spite of Islam, not because of Islam, and the good parts will soon be reversed in the name of sharia. There will always be at least a dozen Aurangzebs to every Akbar.

We are currently witnessing major global shifts in power. In a macrohistorical perspective, China was the leading civilization a millennium ago but was surpassed by Europe. I firmly believe free speech and political liberty have long-term effects, and I'm not convinced China can keep up her economic progress unless she undertakes reforms. I'm also not convinced Europe's Islamization is inevitable, yet, but if present trends continue, maybe we will see a reversal of roles in the twenty-first century: China will prosper and Europe will disintegrate. In the meantime, however, when Muslims get their hands on Western technology and Europe's accumulated wealth, the world from Britain to Thailand could be plunged into a new age of Jihad.

Posted by Robert at October 4, 2007 2:50 PM



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