This morning Siggy forwarded his post, “What if the Muslim armies hadn’t been stopped at the French border?”. Siggy refers to Joan Acocella’s review in the New Yorker of David Levering Lewis’s book God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215.
Siggy points out,
It is true that the Arabs oversaw a great advances in medicine, mathematics, philosophy and science. There is no question they were to have a tremendous influence in the world as we know it, but that is not the story.
The Golden Age of the Arabs did not occur in Arab lands.
There would have been no Golden Age for Islam had Muslims not been in contact with Jews and Christians.This glaring truth still holds true today.
I must clarify that I have not read the book, but one statement in the book review stands out:
The Muslims came to Europe, [Lewis] writes, as “the forward wave of civilization that was, by comparison with that of its enemies, an organic marvel of coordinated kingdoms, cultures, and technologies in service of a politico-cultural agenda incomparably superior” to that of the primitive people they encountered there.
As any modern Medievalist will tell you, the Europeans of the period extending from the eigth to thirteenth centuries were not a primitive people. During that period, Europe developed banking, postal systems, many of the techniques presently used in organic farming, textile industries, and a network of monasteries that preserved the knowledge of the Ancient World for all mankind. Two years ago I did a brief debunking of a list of top 20 Muslim inventions, which included the fact that
The first Arabic-language medical treatise was written by a Christian priest and translated into Arabic by a Jewish doctor in 683.
Additionally, during the Middle Ages Europeans developed the creation of the modern state, the Western university, and the concept of reason as a means of developing a moral theology.
If the book review is accurate, Lewis appears to build his thesis on the concept of the European Middle Ages as the Dark Ages of a primitive people, a concept that has been thoroughly debunked by modern historians.
The fact that Medieval Europe was not a primitive society is not a moot issue: it stands as the basis of the concept of modernity with the emphasis on the worth of the individual. During my conversation with Dr John Fleming, Dr Fleming stated on the conflict between a collective “we” and an individual “I”,
Now, that was a tension in Medieval society, but it was resolved at the intellectual level, at least, by the end of the radical freedom of the will that came with Baptism.
F The rise of individualism during the Middle Ages is the start of the Modern Age, as I understand it.
JF: Well, that’s right, and of course we all look in the mirror of history in the sort of way that Narcissus looked in the pool, that is to say, we can always see ourselves, so there is a great tendency to try to impose upon the past those categories with which we’re comfortable, and one of the features of this is that individuality, or as the scholars now prefer to call it, subjectivity, the idea of an I who has a deep personal sense of individuality; one of the current features of scholarship is to keep pushing this back.
It used to be thought that, well, this phenomena appears only in the High Italian Rennaissance, other people said, “oh no, you have it in the 14th Century”, now we find it in Abelard and Heloise in the 12th Century, and so on. But in general terms, what you say is true.
The book review continues,
They did Europe a favor by invading. This is not a new idea, but Lewis takes it further: he clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe. The halting of their advance was instrumental, he writes, in creating “an economically retarded, balkanized, and fratricidal Europe that . . . made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war.”
Present-day Europe has moved well away from all these trends.
My question, then, is what areas in the world are now economically retarded, fraticidal, making virtues of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war?