THE GOLDEN AGE OF ISLAM? A SECOND LOOK: RICHARD BUTRICK
The period from the death of Muhammad through the 13th Century marks the glory days of the Islamic empire. It was a period of commerce, industry and intra-cultural synergies and a flourishing of the sciences, art, medicine and architecture. It was the epitome of what civilization should be. Just ask Obama. In his 2009 Cairo speech the president said that Islam “carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” and praised the “innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.”
While Central Europe languished in the Dark Ages of ignorance, fear and superstition following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century (so the story goes), it was the Islamic world that carried the torch of Classical civilization to a Europe finally stumbling out of the Dark Ages in the 15th century.
By contrast the Islamic world flourished during the Dark Ages: by the 13th century, both Africa and India had become great centers of Islamic civilization, and soon after, Muslim kingdoms were established in the Malay-Indonesian world while Chinese Muslims flourished throughout China.
Islam therefore is a religion for all people from whatever race or background they might be: Islamic civilization is based on a unity which stands completely against any racial or ethnic discrimination. Such major racial and ethnic groups as the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Africans, Indians, Chinese and Malays in addition to countless smaller units embraced Islam and contributed to the building of Islamic civilization.
Moreover, so the story goes, Islam was not opposed to learning from the earlier civilizations and incorporating their science, learning, and culture into its own world view. Each ethnic and racial group that embraced Islam made its contribution to the one Islamic civilization to which everyone belonged.
The global civilization created by Islam also succeeded in activating the minds and thoughts of the people who entered its fold. As a result of Islam, the nomadic Arabs became torch-bearers of science and learning. The Persians, who had created a great civilization before the rise of Islam, nevertheless produced even more science and learning in the Islamic period than before. The same can be said of the Turks and other peoples who embraced Islam. The religion of Islam was itself responsible not only for the creation of a world civilization in which people of many different ethnic backgrounds participated, but it also played a central role in developing intellectual and cultural life on a scale not seen before.
Victor Davis Hanson has taken down Obama’s version of the Golden age of Islam:
In his speech last week in Cairo, President Obama proclaimed he was a “student of history.” But despite Mr. Obama’s image as an Ivy League-educated intellectual, he lacks historical competency in both facts and interpretation. … Obama … claimed that “Islam . . . carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” [In fact] medieval Islamic culture … had little to do with the European rediscovery of classical Greek and Latin values. Europeans, Chinese, and Hindus, not Muslims, invented most of the breakthroughs Obama credited to Islamic innovation. … Much of the Renaissance, in fact, was more predicated on the centuries-long flight of Greek-speaking Byzantine scholars from Constantinople to Western Europe to escape the aggression of Islamic Turks. Many romantic thinkers of the Enlightenment sought to extend freedom to oppressed subjects of Muslim fundamentalist rule in eastern and southern Europe.
Andrew Bostom has skewered the myth that Cordoba was a model of ecumenism:
Expanding upon Jane Gerber’s thesis about the “garish” myth of a “Golden Age,” the late Richard Fletcher (in his Moorish Spain) offered a fair assessment of interfaith relationships in Muslim Spain and his view of additional contemporary currents responsible for obfuscating that history:
The witness of those who lived through the horrors of the Berber conquest, of the Andalusian fitnah [ordeal] in the early eleventh century, of the Almoravid invasion — to mention only a few disruptive episodes — must give it [i.e.: the roseate view of Muslim Spain] the lie.
The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was of tranquility. … Tolerance? Ask the Jews of Granada who were massacred in 1066, or the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 1126 (like the Moriscos five centuries later). … In the second half of the twentieth century a new agent of obfuscation makes its appearance: the guilt of the liberal conscience, which sees the evils of colonialism — assumed rather than demonstrated — foreshadowed in the Christian conquest of al-Andalus and the persecution of the Moriscos (but not, oddly, in the Moorish conquest and colonization). Stir the mix well and issue it free to credulous academics and media persons throughout the Western world. Then pour it generously over the truth … in the cultural conditions that prevail in the West today, the past has to be marketed, and to be successfully marketed, it has to be attractively packaged. Medieval Spain in a state of nature lacks wide appeal. Self-indulgent fantasies of glamour … do wonders for sharpening its image. But Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch.
Serge Trifkovic also has a general take-down of the overblown account of the accomplishments and comity of the Islamic Golden Age in his FrontPage article, The Golden Age of Islam is a Myth.
And now we have Emmet Scott, in a soon to be released study, Mohammed & Charlemagne Revisited: An Introduction to the History of a Controversy, advancing the thesis that Rather than preserving the Classical heritage, the expanding Islamic empire destroyed it and brought about the Dark Ages.
Armed with new archaeological evidence, Scott makes the compelling case, originally put forward in 1920 by Henri Pirenne, a Belgian historian, that Classical civilization did not collapse after the fall of the Roman empire but was gradually attrited by the onslaught of Arab armies and raiders. The Islamic Golden Age came close to permanently destroying the classical humanistic culture of the West.
Hanson has pointed out the factual errors in Obama’s paean to Islam’s Golden Age. Andrew Bostom has skewered the myth that Cordoba was a model of ecumenism Trikovic has shown that the continuation of learning, science, technology of the “Golden age of Islam” prospered in spite of Islam and not because of Islam and now we have Emmet Scott skewering the myth that the Golden Age of Islam saved Classical humanistic Western culture. What is next? The glory of Sharia?
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