Sunday, November 29, 2009

Islam and civilization

Anyone as ignorant of history as Arthur C. Clark should be more reticent to make statements about it in public. I got this quote from a link at Roger L. Simon:
A Chat With Arthur C. Clarke

FI: What appeals to you in Islam?

Clarke: Historically, Islam had a great deal of tolerance for other views and offered the world its priceless wisdom in the form of astronomy and algebra. And, as you know, Islam helped rescue Western civilization from the Dark Ages by preserving classical texts and transmitting them to the West. We, on the other hand, burned the library at Alexandria. If Islam hadn’t fallen into internecine warfare and had gone on to conquer the rest of Europe, we’d have avoided a thousand years of Christian barbarism.
I thought I would add a few notes from someone (me) who is also ignorant of history, but apparently not so ignorant as Mr. Clark.

1. Muslims never invented anything of note. During their empires, there was some knowledge distributed between Europe, India, and China, but it's not clear who distributed the knowledge (except that we know in one important case it was a Christian, Macro Polo) or how it might have gone if there had been a different empire.

2. Muslims had little to do with preserving Greek writings during the Middle Ages. The influx of Greek writings happened after the fall of Constantinople and the ensuing flood of Christian refugees into Western Europe. It was Constantinople that preserved the Greek writings.

3. No one knows for sure who burned the library at Alexandria, but most likely it was during a Muslim sack of the city.

4. The thousand years of "Christian" barbarism was, more than anything else, just a period of extreme poverty caused by endless invasions from (mostly) non-Christian barbarians and Muslims. And the barbaric activities that Christians are so often accused of were all commonplace in the non-Christian world at the time.

5. Over the centuries of Muslim dominance, some of the most civilized places in the world (Persia and Egypt, for example) were reduced to barbarism --not from wars but just from social failure. The beginning of the downfall was when Europeans found sea routes to Eastern Asia. The Muslims had squandered the accumulated wealth of centuries of pre-Muslim civilization, and without the constant infusion of new wealth from trade between other, more productive areas, the Muslim regions collapsed. Meanwhile, modern civilization grew from the battered survivors of Christianity. With this historical evidence, the idea that Islam could have saved Christian Europe from barbarism is laughable.

No comments: