Islam and the West: Recognition, Reconciling, Co-existence or Collision

Summary: Chapter 18 of new e-book examines the relationship between Islam and the West from first encounters to the Libyan revolution, and calls for dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.

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2 thoughts on “Islam and the West: Recognition, Reconciling, Co-existence or Collision”

  1. The larger argument fascinates me. However, one statement in this current comment provoked mirth:
    “This may or may not have been so. I am not aware of any other “misinformation, distortion or manipulation” involved in the crusades. The object was to retake the holy land and assist the Byzantine emperor who had just been defeated at Manzikert and lost Antioch.”
    Read the Alexiad. The Crusaders raped and pillaged their way across the Empire enroute to Constantinople. They all proffered allegiance to the Emperor Alexios in return for Imperial help. They then broke their vows of allegiance to the Emperor as soon as they crossed the Bosporous. Later the Crusaders again betrayed their vows, and betrayed Christianity, by the utter destruction of Constantinople in the 4th Crusade in 1204. Is it any wonder that Lucas Notaras, the equivalent of PM to the last Emperor Constantine II, urged his monarch to reject Union with the Latin Church with the statement: “Better the Turban of the Sultan than the Tiara of the Pope?” In fact, despite its caprice and cruelty, the Muslim Ottoman Empire did far less damage to the Orthodox inhabitants of Greece and the Balkans than did the Franks.

  2. 1. In the section headed “a new power is born” he suggests that there was an almost peaceful expansion. It was not peaceful, it was a very violent and successful invasion by force of arms of countries which had nothing to do with the Arabs or Islam, including enslavement of part of their populations.
    2. Correct that Islam was adopted, by some of those under Arab military occupation, so as to avoid religious discrimination against them including payment of a tax imposed on non-Muslims.
    3. To the reasons for civil strife within the caliphate, he should add the schism between Sunni and Shia, which happened in the c7-8.
    4. It is correct that Arabic translations of the classics were very important, and it is said that some of Aristotle would have been lost without them. In the middle ages Cordoba was the greatest centre of learning in Europe, and up to about 1700 most agree that Muslim civilisation and culture was more advanced than ours. This is very important and the author could have made more of it. However to regard Muslims as having assisted the Renaissance (save by causing migration of scholars to the west from countries they conquered), the Reformation or the Enlightenment is simply ludicrous. I doubt very much they assisted the scientific revolution of c17-18 which required new work in the west in place of the works of antiquity which Muslim scholars had preserved. By the time of the industrial revolution, the Muslim world had been left well behind.
    5. The Reformation totally divorced from the church? The study in the west of Arabic texts was a feature of the middle ages. I would be interested to hear of any Islamic influence on eg Newton (save in his studies of alchemy). I have certainly never heard of any. He certainly studied Euclid, which may have been one of the works preserved by the early Muslims but it is not an Arabic text.
    6. The crusaders were told that the Muslim occupiers of Jerusalem were interfering with Christian pilgrims. This may or may not have been so. I am not aware of any other “misinformation, distortion or manipulation” involved in the crusades. The object was to retake the holy land and assist the Byzantine emperor who had just been defeated at Manzikert and lost Antioch. I think the author of this article should not suggest that the Arab conquest was in any way morally superior to the crusades. The Arab conquest was an aggressive war with no provocation. The crusades could be seen as a defensive strategy against Muslim aggression. To modern eyes the Arab conquest was unjustifiable and the crusaders should have stopped at Antioch. However, and paradoxically, the kingdoms of Outremer were an opportunity for cultural exchange between Christian and Muslim. Though understandably I don’t think the Muslims were too interested in Frankish culture they had a big influence on our literature, giving us eg the idea of courtly love.
    7. More double standards shown in the description of the Muslims pursuing their goals and expanding far and wide.
    8. The article suggests that the decline of the Muslim world started in the lace c19. In fact the relative decline of Islam is generally thought to have begun in about 1700, after the failed second siege of Vienna. It was not caused by any occupying western powers, because for 200 years there were none. The reasons for it are complex. Candidates (among others) are: the stultifying effect of the religion, failure to adopt the joint stock company, autocratic rule which discouraged individual initiative and the accumulation of wealth. It is comforting for Muslims to blame the west for their situation, however it might be more helpful for them to examine the internal reasons for it.
    9. The author states that “divisions, foreign interference and chasms” have been forced upon the Arab world. Divisions and chasms were not forced upon it, they were produced by it, and if it had been able to govern itself then probably there would have been much less foreign interference. As to the division of the Ottoman empire after WW1, its foreign occupation was very short, apart from Palestine and Lebanon which were occupied for about 30 years. Obviously the west bank is still occupied now but that is not an excuse for problems elsewhere.
    10. The author calls WW1 and 2 the “European wars” however Turkey was an enthusiastic participant in WW1.
    11. It is completely untrue that church officials and the political elite have been fuelling aversion to Islam. On the contrary they have consistently and sensibly done their best to reconcile the communities. Speaking for the UK, I doubt that aversion to Islam exists to any great extent. If it does, it is only recent and because of the activities of political Islamists. Muslims like to believe there is some clash of civilisations or was of attrition. There is not, save for the small minority of Muslims who say they want a world caliphate. It is correct that the west needs oil (though the US is now self-sufficient) however all that requires is stability in the producer countries.
    12. Under the head “the Kipling paradigm” the Author suggests that the Muslim world has a monopoly of “morals, durability and resilience”. It does not.
    13. Under the head “a sleeping giant” the Author states correctly that we must cherish the relationship with Muslims in the west. He also says that the media should not publicise the acts of the anti-social elements. I agree with that. It is a serious problem because those acts and the effect on the victims is news. The government cannot tell journalists what to write. However he goes on to say that in the c7 the Muslims went “out and offered their human resources”. A novel description for fighting an aggressive war for loot, slaves and territorial expansion. You could equally say that the crusaders offered their human resources to the holy land.
    14. I believe that if all Muslim countries were able to govern themselves decently, there would be no need or desire for intervention by the west. A large section of humanity has not been bereft of the ability to determine its future. It has shown itself up till now as being incapable of doing so.
    15. Afghanistan (no mention of 9/11), Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen were not colonial wars. Afghanistan and Iraq have their own democratically elected governments, whether they are effectual or not is another matter. The west did not intervene in Syria or (recently) Yemen, and Syria goes to show what happens when it does not intervene. As to Libya, I note that (paradoxically) in the next section the Author’s main complaint is that the west did not occupy the country but unfortunately “left the Libyans to their own devices”. In fact the west elicited an agreement from Libyan politicians that they would govern the country, but they disappeared a few days later. Occupation of Libya by the west, if that is what the Author is suggesting, is not practical.
    16. It is difficult to argue with the proposition that talks between Christians and Muslims are a good idea. However I do not believe he is addressing the main problem which is not misunderstandings between East and West, it is failure of governance in some (not all) Muslim states. If I knew the answer to that I would be famous. However part of it must be education (not just religious education) particularly of girls (Afghanistan); encouragement of good relations between communities in countries where there has been violence (Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Bosnia); assistance to refugees in or near their own country so they can go back including particularly continuance of education (Syria). All things which Firefly is doing.
    Sorry this is so long

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