View Full Version : Never the twain shall meet...


DingBat
Mar 06, 2002, 05:22 PM
I'm reading a very interesting book by Bernard Lewis called "What went wrong?". It's an analysis of how the Islamic world went from the pre-eminent position among civilizations to a chronic trouble spot.

First, I should say that I'm not interested in name calling, blame allocation, or anything like that. As with most westerners, I'm not all that familiar with Islamic history and the book is a really interesting read. I wish merely to discuss, especially as there seems to be many here with some knowledge of Islamic history.

I've not yet read any conclusions, but the points raised in the book so far are very interesting. Some highlights:

1) Secularism is taken for granted in Christianity, yet almost totally alien to Islam. In part, this is because Christianity was a persecuted religion for most of it's first 3 centuries. There was never any chance of an early christian confusing the religion with the state.

Later, the fragmentation of the church, the resulting persecution of alternative forms of worship, and the seemingly endless religious wars in Europe almost forced christians to divorce church and state.

2) There is a very important difference between "modernization" and "westernization" in the minds of many muslims, which sometimes is overlooked by outside observers. For example, adoption of european military organizations, weapons, and uniforms by the Ottomans is modernization. The emancipation of women is westernization. Modernization = good, westernization = bad.

3) Ironically, westernization tends to be more advanced in the less democratic middle eastern states. For example, Attaturk basically forced the westernization of Turkey. Using the example of the emancipation of women again, Shah era Iran, Iraq, and Yemen all are more liberal in this area than, say, Egypt.

Interestingly and not surprisingly, muslim fundamentalists have a special hatred for Attaturk.

4) During the 18th and 19th centuries, as christian Europe was comming into contact more and more with the Ottoman empire, there was natural pressure to give more rights to christians living in muslim lands. Likewise, the British exerted pressure to end slavery in muslim lands. Strangely, there was no corresponding pressure for the emancipation of women.

Note: Obviously, the author considers the emancipation of women to be an important issue in east-west relations. In fact, he states that it is one of the most important issues for islamic fundamentalists.

5) In one of the more interesting points, the author analyses the differences in corruption in east and west. In the west, corruption usually takes place when the wealthy use money to buy power or influence power. In the east, corruption usually occurs when the powerful use their position to make money. Corruption is corruption, but the eastern version can also have harmful effects on the economy.

These are just some of the points in the book. As I said, I've not yet read or reached any conclusions (perhaps there are none) but it's an interesting read and it does open your mind to some of the differences between east and west.

Comments?

/bruce

Vrylakas
Mar 06, 2002, 09:07 PM
Bruce,

Excellent book by an excellent scholar and author. I had to read Lewis' The Muslim Discovery of Europe in Hungary more than ten years ago for a European history class - amd it was eye-opening! Few have explored and explained the cultural gaps between Islam and the West (<<<another name of a more recent Lewis book, Islam and the West) as well as Lewis has. It's odd to see a great but otherwise obscure scholar getting so much airtime since the September attacks...

Lewis was recently at a conference in Turkey on the issues causing friction between Islam and the West, and sadly he was largely ignored by the Moslems there who simply wanted him to chant the matra "West = Devil, Islam = Angel".

Islamic militants want to surpass the West in technology, military and economic power but they want to do so with an 11th century A.D.-style theocratic society.

There have been some bright spots; several of the Gulf States are reforming their way towards much more open, democratic societies (Bahrain comes to mind, as well as Oman), as well as minor improvements in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon. However, these are beacons of light in an otherwise very dark Islamic world.

Oda Nobunaga
Mar 07, 2002, 05:07 AM
I'D tend to disagree on one minor point, which is separation of church and state.


1) Secularism is taken for granted in Christianity, yet almost totally alien to Islam. In part, this is because Christianity was a persecuted religion for most of it's first 3 centuries. There was never any chance of an early christian confusing the religion with the state.

Later, the fragmentation of the church, the resulting persecution of alternative forms of worship, and the seemingly endless religious wars in Europe almost forced christians to divorce church and state.

I'd say that the separation of church and state has little to do with the fragmentation of the church. After all, the 16th century was fraught with religious war just over said fragmentation of the church.

In addition, there are places were the church's *HEAVY* influence (ie, control of education, control of health, control of how mostly everyone behaved especially outside big cities) only died much later - if it is even dead. Québec for one, where the church was much more influential than the government until really what, the Quiet revolution and the sixties?

The fact that the government was not *OFFICIALLY* a religious one shouldn't blind to the fact of who was the real power - nor to the fact that the separation of church and state is not totaly over in christian states.

One other thing of note (though it may be a coincidence) is that roughtly 1300 years after its creation the christian faith was busily having not too long ago fought the Nth crusade for the holy lands which where held by an heaten faith, and were extremely religious.

Interestingly enough, 1300 years after its creation, the muslim faith is busily getting intolved in their Nth Jihad to hand their ass over to the heatens occupying their holy land and those helping them, and are extremly religious.

One might find it interesting to check what the Israeli were up to, 1300 years after that faith was supposedly born...

Jimcat
Mar 07, 2002, 07:39 AM
Originally posted by Oda Nobunaga
One might find it interesting to check what the Israeli were up to, 1300 years after that faith was supposedly born...

I'd be willing to bet that they were either slaughtering and enslaving, or being slaughtered and enslaved by, the other nations in that region. It's been the regional pastime for about six thousand years, regardless of religion.

If it weren't for the huge oil reserves and Western' society's dependence on them, people would probably just say "what the hell, let them keep killing each other".

DingBat
Mar 08, 2002, 08:03 AM
A little update:

The latest issue of MHQ (Military History Quarterly) has an editorial that refers to a recent lecture by John Keegan in which he constrasts the preferred methods of warfare of east and west (which apparently has also received much flak).

Anyway, the gist of the lecture seems to be that:

1) Islamic armies tended to be horse based and preferred mobility to brute strength. This tendency led them to avoid what in the west might be called a "stand up fight" and prefer slashing attacks, ambush, quick strikes, etc.

2) Christian armies tended to direct attacks and were therefore organized and armed to support this method.

Keegan apparently goes on to discuss how the Sept 11 attacks and the American response follow these tendencies.

I'm not sure that it can necessarily be said that the terrorists adopted their plan because they were following age old habits, however, I think the comments are valid when talking about the American response.

/bruce

Btw, I recommend MHQ for any that are interested in military history. For example, some of the features in this issue are an article on the battle of Sedan, and a discussion of early Portuguese expansion in the east. Very broad range of topics.

Alcibiaties of Athenae
Mar 08, 2002, 08:40 AM
Originally posted by DingBat
Btw, I recommend MHQ for any that are interested in military history. For example, some of the features in this issue are an article on the battle of Sedan, and a discussion of early Portuguese expansion in the east. Very broad range of topics. This is a hardcover magazine, for those who don't know.
There is a bookstore here in NY called the Strand that sells back issues very cheaply, and they have mail order service (not web, unfortunatly), but as issues of MHQ are quite expensive, $8 dollars in US currency and up, this is a cheap alternative to getting back issues. ;)

Sodak
Mar 08, 2002, 09:57 AM
Originally posted by Alcibiaties of Athenae
...There is a bookstore here in NY called the Strand
That is the greatest store in the world. I went to NY once, went to the Strand, and didn't bother with the rest of the city.
:love: