Saturday, October 27, 2007

It could be worse for Gaza Christians...

Rami Ayyad, owner of a Christian bookstore was kidnapped and murdered. This was the latest in a series of incidents since the Hamas took power in Gaza, yet the news agency stories keep repeating the litany that there is "no tension" between Muslims and Christians in Gaza. This refrain is apparently not warranted by the facts. For example, an earlier news item about Christians in Gaza stated:
Christians living in Gaza City on Monday appealed to the international community to protect them against increased attacks by Muslim extremists. Many Christians said they were prepared to leave the Gaza Strip as soon as the border crossings are reopened.

The appeal came following a series of attacks on a Christian school and church in Gaza City over the past few days.

Father Manuel Musalam, leader of the small Latin community in the Gaza Strip, said masked gunmen torched and looted the Rosary Sisters School and the Latin Church.

"The masked gunmen used rocket-propelled grenades to storm the main entrances of the school and church," he said. "Then they destroyed almost everything inside, including the Cross, the Holy Book, computers and other equipment."

According to the story, following the murder of Rami Ayyad, owner of a Christian book store:
Spared by the summer's fierce factional clashes in which the Islamist Hamas movement seized power by routing their secular Fatah party rivals, Christians began to worry they too might be driven from the volatile coastal strip.

What scares them is a new generation of shadowy extremist movements that have crept from the rubble of a seven-year uprising, months of internal bloodletting and decades of conflict with Israel.

"We are not afraid of Hamas because as a government they are responsible for protecting people," Ayyad's brother Ramzi says. "We are afraid of
those who are more extreme than Hamas."

Palestinian Christians number around 75,000 but there are only 2,500 -- most of them Greek Orthodox -- living in the Gaza Strip among nearly 1.5 million Muslims, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Gaza has no history of tensions between the two communities and Christians say they are bound to their Muslim neighbours by shared suffering.

But fears peaked on October 6 when Ayyad was kidnapped, tortured and shot dead, his body dumped in a field outside Gaza City. No one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

Ayyad ran a bookshop affiliated with the United Bible Societies, a worldwide organisation that tries to help people "receive the Word of God and see the true light in Jesus Christ", according to its website.

The shop -- the only Christian bookstore in Gaza -- was firebombed in April, and Ayyad's family members said he was threatened several times.

"Three months before Rami was killed a man came into the office," Ayyad's mother told AFP. "He said to Rami, 'What do think about converting to Islam?'"

"Rami said, 'If you convert to Christianity, I'll become a Muslim.' Then the man said, 'I know how to make you a Muslim'. It was a threat."

The Hamas-run government has vowed to find and punish Ayyad's killers, and senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar and former prime minister Ismail Haniya attended his wake, along with several of the family's Muslim neighbours.

But many Christians, frightened of the new extremist groups and desperate to escape the worsening economic situation in the Gaza Strip, are seeking to emigrate, sparking fears for the future of the community.

The beleaguered coastal strip has been largely cut off from the rest of the world since March 2006, when Hamas -- which Israel and the West consider a terrorist group -- emerged victorious in Palestinian parliamentary elections.


On a breezy Sunday morning around 50 people gathered in the Catholic Church of the Holy Family for a weekly mass.

In a rousing sermon, Musallam -- an ardent Palestinian nationalist from the West Bank who Israel has only allowed out of the Gaza Strip twice
since he assumed his post in 1995 -- called on his weary flock to remain strong.

"The Church has always been under threat, and it has always endured. Rami was not the first martyr and in the life of the Church he will not be the last," he said, his soaring baritone voice echoing off the stone walls.

"To those who are scared, to those who want to flee Gaza, we must open our hearts, our doors, and our pockets... And we must always remember the sacrifice of Christ on the cross."

Many Christians defend Gaza's record.

"I hate discrimination, and here there is no discrimination between Christians and Muslims," Musa Saba says as he sits in the quiet courtyard of the Gaza City Young Men's Christian Association, playing dominos with friends.

The spry 81-year-old Greek Orthodox was one of the founding members of the association in 1952, two years before the Egyptian government, which then controlled the Gaza Strip, granted the land on which it now stands.

Today the YMCA provides a rare recreational haven for the residents of Gaza City. In the 1980s and 1990s Hamas held party elections here, and the vast majority of the young people who play on the outdoor courts are Muslims.

"There are very few Christians in Gaza but they live right next to us on our streets. They live exactly as we do, with the same habits, the same customs," says Ban al-Hussein, a Muslim university student sitting nearby.

But if their small numbers have helped the Christians better blend in among their Muslim neighbours, it has also given rise to rivalries between different denominations.

Many in the Catholic and Orthodox communities believe Ayyad and his book store were targeted, not for being Christian, but because they were carrying out missionary activities aimed at Christians and Muslims alike.

"There are many different armed groups in the Gaza Strip, but they are not interested in fighting Christians. What happened (to Ayyad) was an exception, because of the silliness of the Baptists," Saba says.

But Hanna Massad, the pastor of Gaza City's main Baptist Church, insists the Bible Society in Gaza is primarily focused on charity, providing aid to Christians and Muslims, and offering free courses in computers and English.

"Here in Gaza, if someone wants to buy a Bible he can. If they ask for one we will provide it. But we don't force books on anyone and we don't try to convert people," Massad says.

Massad, like others, blames Ayyad's death on the rise of extremist groups bourne by the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region in recent years.

"The extremist groups have started to appear in the last six years because of the political atmosphere in the Middle East and because of the economic blockade of our country," he says.

As the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, with Israel declaring it a "hostile entity" last month and hinting at launching a major
operation, Christians and Muslims are, together, preparing for the worst.

"After (Rami's murder) 70 percent of Christians want to leave Gaza, because they are very afraid," Ramzi says. "But we love Gaza, it's our country, we have roots here, homes here. We will not know anyone if we go somewhere else."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Seeing beyond the headlines

A New Kind of War?

In the current issue of Azure, the Israeli intellectual quarterly, Noah Pollak studies the campaign of hoaxes and falsehoods that have done so much damage to Israel's image abroad since 9/11:

On June 9, 2006, a beach in Gaza was rocked by an explosion that killed seven members of a Palestinian family. Shortly afterward, Palestinian Authority television released a horrific video showing a 10-year-old girl shrieking amidst the dead bodies on the beach, and Palestinian hospital workers and spokesmen angrily blamed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) artillery fire for the deaths—even though no investigation had been conducted, and the Palestinian accusers had no way of knowing what caused the explosion. The exultant declarations of an Israeli massacre were reported as fact in newspapers and television broadcasts around the world; human rights groups joined in the condemnations; and once again Israel found itself the object of international outrage over the issue of civilian casualties.
If this story and its origins fit a predictable pattern, so did Israel's reaction to the crisis: The IDF immediately ceased military activity in Gaza, and Israeli officials at the highest levels reflexively assented to the IDF's culpability and promised an investigation of the incident.

The last chapter of the story is equally familiar: It was ultimately determined that the Palestinians on the beach were not killed by the IDF. Rather, Hamas had mined the section of beach where the explosion occurred, hoping to defend their arsenal of Kassam rockets against Israeli commando missions. After the explosion, Hamas men combed the beach, removing shrapnel that could be used as evidence. The sensational video that captured the sympathies of credulous journalists and set off a wildfire of opprobrium turned out, upon objective evaluation, to be a mangled skein of spliced footage and puzzling anachronisms. It was, in other words, a fake. The explosion itself occurred some ten minutes after the last IDF artillery shell had been fired into the area, and the shrapnel found in the victims' bodies was not from Israeli munitions. Hamas, in a sloppy attempt at defending Gaza, had almost certainly killed its own citizens.

In the end, none of the exculpatory evidence mattered in the least: Israel had been tried and convicted in the court of world opinion in the first few days after the incident.

Pollak recapitulates other such incidents: the "fauxtography" of the Hezbollah war, the Muhammad al-Dura fabrication, and so on. Pollak does not enter into this discussion to belabor media bias, but rather to draw an extraordinarily important national security lesson:

Israeli strategists and spokespeople must come to understand the immense influence of symbolism, theater, and the repetition of defining anecdotes in modern warfare. This means that Israeli war planners must consider the role played by those NGOs and news organizations engaged in deliberate false reporting. These actors can no longer be conceptually grouped as third parties or neutral observers during conflicts; they are deeply implicated in the warfare itself, and as parties to a conflict their presence must be treated with the utmost seriousness.

The United States is failing equally badly in its own counterterrorism operations, as Andrew Garfield argues in a very important essay in the Middle East Quarterly.

In Iraq, while the coalition fumbles its information operations, the insurgents and militia groups are adept at releasing timely messages to undermine support for the Iraqi government and bolster their own perceived potency. They are quick to exploit coalition failures and excesses; they respond rapidly to defend their own actions, often by shifting blame to the authorities; and they hijack coalition successes to argue that change only occurs as a result of their violence. The slow speed of the U.S. military's clearance process—typically it takes three to five days to approve even a simple information operations product such as a leaflet or billboard—creates an information vacuum that Iraqis fill with conspiracy theories and gossip often reflecting the exaggerations or outright lies of insurgents and extremists.

One might almost say, to adapt von Clausewitz, that modern warfare is PR by other means. And war-winning strategies mean that modern armies most stop treating their communications operations as secondary assignments or (as still too often happens) dumping grounds for officers who have failed at everything else - but as missions absolutely essential to success.

David Frum is a senior foreign-policy adviser to the Rudy Giuliani presidential candidate.,


Self-hating Jews

The pathological nature of certain self-hating Jews is difficult to fathom. Of all people, Jews seem to take the lead in inventing falsehoods about Israel and the Jewish people. It is fair to say that a lot of the most vitriolic propaganda and outrageous falsehoods about the Middle East have been produced by Jews who are against the existence of the state of Israel.  A review of Jewish Israel hate by Carlos is a bit dated, but covers the ground. It doesn't answer the question of "why?" but it details some of the lesser and greater problems. Some of the most egregious examples - Jewish Holocaust deniers for example, seem to be missing. .
Ami Isseroff

Another peace thug exposed

This little article about Mazin Qumsiyeh from CAMERA is actually pretty mild. Qumsiyeh is a professor of genetics at Yale university. He uses his academic standing for a variety of racist activities, including publishing a Hitlerite-type "genetic analysis" of the Jewish question. In the past, he also had pretensions to "dialogue." He is only interested in "dialog" with people who agree with him. Qumsiyeh is one of those who markets genocide under the guise of "peace and humanitarianism." The performance below is relatively mild.  
October 4, 2007 by Steven Stotsky
The following guest column was printed in the Brookline Tab on October 4, 2007.
Facts are the only path to peace.
The controversy over Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh's recent appearance at Brookline High School reinforces once more the importance of hewing to factual accuracy and avoiding propaganda in discussions about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many in the community were outraged that the town offered the use of its facilities to Qumsiyeh so that he could present his erroneous account of the conflict. He has all too often resorted to false claims in order to cast Israel in the most vicious terms while absolving the Palestinians of any responsibility for their current circumstances. The facts matter in any worthwhile exchange of views and they do not support his many extreme contentions. As Alan Dershowitz has stated, "Peace can't be built on a foundation of lies."
People listening to Qumsiyeh should remember that there could have been a Palestinian state today about to celebrate its 60th anniversary. But in 1947, the Palestinians rejected a two-state solution proposed by the UN in which they would live side-by-side in peace with Israel. In 2000, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat again rejected Israel's offer to hand over 95 percent of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to form a Palestinian state. Instead he unleashed the deadly second Intifada.
Regrettably, Palestinians have been taught such rejection of compromise by their schools, media, mosques and political leadership, which paint the Jewish people as interlopers in the region to be expelled. Nowhere has the Palestinian political leadership sought to convey to its constituency that the Jewish state is a legitimate nation with deep historical and religious roots in the region.
In characteristically loaded language, Qumsiyeh accuses Israel of "ethnically cleansing" the Palestinians to make room for Jews, but demographic realities reveal the absurdity of this charge. The Palestinian population growth rate has been among the highest in the world since Israel's founding. Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza have grown from 947,000 in 1967 when Israel took control to a current figure approaching four million.
One reason for the striking growth is the dramatic improvement in living standards since Israel began administering these territories. In 1967, few Palestinians had access to clean water. Today, 96 percent do. Since 1967, the average Palestinian life-span has increased from 48 to 72 years. According to the World Health Organization, Palestinians enjoy better health than their fellow Arabs in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Infant and maternal mortality rates as well as childhood disease levels are among the lowest in the region. Literacy rates are the highest among Arab states.
Palestinians have repeatedly sacrificed positive economic developments in the battle against Israel, making choices that have brought hardship. This is evident in their resorting to violence in the second Intifada in September 2000. Just as the economy of the West Bank and Gaza appeared to be recovering once more from the effects of the second Intifada, in January 2006, Palestinians gave a plurality of votes to the Islamist terror group Hamas, again sacrificing prospects for improved living conditions to uncompromising ideological goals.
All too many Palestinians cling to absolutist demands that would place the survival of Israel in jeopardy. For instance, Qumsiyeh disingenuously insists that Israel shed Zionism and "become a country for people of all religions rather than a country for and by Jews." Yet, Israel allows all its citizens the most freedoms of any state in the region. Its Arab citizens are the only Arabs in the Middle East to participate in free elections unfettered by religious stipulations. He makes no similar demand on the 22 Arab nations, most of which elevate Islam above other religions and frequently discriminate against non-Muslims.
Qumsiyeh denies established historical facts. In an article published for the World Economic Forum in 2006, he claimed Israel "initiated the 1967 Six-Day War in order to acquire more land," a view at odds with the historical record of Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian belligerence. He also accuses Israel of building its security barrier to cut-off Palestinian towns. In reality most of the barrier lies close to the line dividing Israel and the West Bank where it has served to block terrorist infiltration, reducing the number of Israelis killed by terrorists from 452 in 2002 to 27 in 2006.
So deceptive was Qumsiyeh's article that the Forum's executive director Klaus Schwab felt compelled to publicly repudiate it, stating: "This article is totally in contradiction to my own and the Forum's mission and values."
Those who deplore offering public facilities to Mazin Qumsiyeh and others who promote misinformation and propaganda are not, as he claims, simply refusing to engage in dialogue or seeking to silence opposing viewpoints. Rather they recognize that dialogue is futile if one side relies on falsehoods to advance its arguments.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New US Sanctions on IRAN

From the Jerusalm post...
The Bush administration slapped serious sanctions on Iran Thursday, designed to isolate it from the world economy, escalating the pressure to stop its nuclear defiance and on allies to comply with the US stance.
The new measures designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics proliferators of ballistic missile technology, and the Quds Force off-shoot of the IRGC a terrorist organization.
The classification means any US assets would be frozen and Americans would be barred from doing business with them. Most significantly, US officials said, foreign firms would be subject to American sanctions should they engage with the designated entities.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the new steps as ways "to increase the costs to Iran of its irresponsible behavior." She cited Iran's ongoing pursuit of nuclear technology, missile buildup, support for terrorist groups in Iraq and the Palestinian territories and calls to wipe Israel off the map in explaining the administration's decision.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry welcomed the US decision, saying it represented "an important contribution through international means to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear program."
A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said, "We totally and absolutely back and support it, and hope other countries will take similar steps."
The move comes at a time when international diplomatic efforts to convince Iran to stop enriching uranium have been stalled. It has been seven months since the passage of the last UN Security Council resolution, which imposed limited sanctions on Iran and the IRGC. Efforts at a third such resolution have been hindered by Russia and China. The Europeans have also been less supportive of broad punitive financial measures.
Rice expressed some frustration at the pace of those efforts during testimony before Congress Wednesday.
"I have preferred a voluntary effort rather than secondary sanctions on foreign companies," she said. "But I've also been very clear to our allies that this is not something that can go on endlessly, that there is urgency to this issue."
Diplomacy, she said needs "teeth" to cut Iran off from the financial system and make it "difficult for Iran to do its business."
A former US government official said frustration with the Security Council process "definitely" was a factor in the decision to impose unilateral sanctions. "Not a lot has happened in a while," he said. "You have to do a lot more to move the ball forward."
At the same time, he said except for the Quds Force the IRGC was spared a blanket designation as a terrorist group, instead being labeled as a weapons proliferator. That reflected that there was greater international consensus on the proliferation charge, he said. When it comes to terrorism, the EU has been reluctant to take steps such as designating the Iran proxy Hizbullah as a terrorist group.
The test of success for these measures would be how successful they were in gaining traction from other governments and financial institutions, the former official said.
One sign of unease among other nations to go along with such designations is the reports that suggested the IRGC designation - first reported over the summer - was postponed, after it was first raised as a possibility, due in part to the objections of some European and other allies, as well arguments from some quarters of the administration.
But since then, little diplomatic progress with Iran has been made, and Europe has indicated willingness to go along with further action on Iran with steps such as the Financial Action Task Force, which counts Europeans among its member states and issued a warning on the risk of doing business with Iran.
"It's likely to get a mixed reaction," with countries like the UK and France supportive but others less enthusiastic, according to Michael Jacobson, a senior fellow of the Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Even if there are foreign governments that don't like it, you still hope the private sector, especially those companies that want to do business with the US, heeds it."
But Russia on Thursday already reacted negatively to the American announcement. Speaking in Lisbon, Portugal, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "Why worsen the situation by threatening sanctions and bring it to a dead end? It's not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand."
In Teheran, the Guards' leader, General Muhammad Ali Jafari, shrugged off increased US pressure on the force.
"Today, the enemy has concentrated the sharp point of its attacks on the Guards," Jafari told a military ceremony in Mashhad, east of Teheran, according to the state news agency IRNA. "They have applied all their efforts to reduce the efficiency of this revolutionary body. Now as always, the corps is ready to defend the ideals of the revolution more than ever before."
Some in America have questioned the efficacy of the sanctions.
Anthony H. Cordesman, the chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies's Arleigh A. Burke, questioned the move, saying the Bush administration "has not provided any analysis to show how the new sanctions are justified, how they would actually work, or what effect they should have."
"There has been no mention of how they relate to US efforts to work with Britain, France and Germany, or in the context of the UN," he said. "There has been no explanation of why and how these sanctions would be enforced when in so many previous cases the US has taken no action or made empty threats."
US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, however, defended the move.
"It is plain and simple: reputable institutions do not want to be bankers to this dangerous regime," he said. "We will continue to work with our international partners to prevent Iran from abusing the international financial system and to advance its illicit conduct."
Paulson also warned: "In dealing with Iran, it is nearly impossible to know one's customer and be assured that one is not unwittingly facilitating the regime's reckless behavior and conduct."
The Revolutionary Guards organization, formed to safeguard Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, has pushed well beyond its military roots, and now owns car factories and construction firms and operates newspaper groups and oil fields.
Current and former members now hold a growing role across the country's government and economy, sometimes openly and other times in shadows. The guards have gained a particularly big role in the country's oil and gas industry in recent years.
The small Quds Force wing is thought to operate overseas, having helped to create Hizbullah in 1982 in Lebanon and to arm Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan wars.
Rice repeated earlier offers of the opportunity for negotiations with Iran should it comply with international demands regarding its nuclear program.
Other officials echoed that sentiment, maintaining the announcement was not a prelude to armed conflict with Iran despite concerns from some allies that the administration is building a case for war.
"In no way, shape or form does it anticipate the use of force," said Nicholas Burns, the State Department's No. 3 diplomat.
Herb Keinon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rabin took responsibility for a failed mission

(Cross-posted from Israel: Like this, as if)

Israel's media are busy reminiscing about Yitzhak Rabin.

Today (Oct. 24) on our Hebrew lunar calendar is 12 Heshvan, the 12th anniversary of the assassinated Prime Minister's death. (On the Gregorian calendar, the assassination took place Nov. 4.)

One Rabin memory which stays with me is hearing the rumble of his deep voice in a television broadcast that echoed from open windows along the silent streets of Tel Aviv on Sabbath Eve, October 14, 1994.

Rabin had gone on the air to announce the failure of a rescue mission. A Sayeret Matcal commando force acting on precise intelligence had raided a house north of Jerusalem in an effort to free Nahshon Wachsman, a young Israeli soldier who was being held hostage by Hamas. The hostage died in the rescue attempt, which also took the life of the Israeli mission commander, Capt. Nir Poraz, 23.

Today in a radio interview one of his aides recalled that Rabin insisted that night on publicly taking responsibility for the failure of the mission. Ehud Barak, who was then the military chief of staff, was ready to go on the air with the announcement, the aide said, but Rabin emphasized, "I was responsible."

Rabin later said that approving this rescue operation was one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

Taking responsibility is a quality for which people remember Rabin. How many other heads of government can you recall going on national television to take responsibility for a mission that failed?

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv, October 24, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Annapolis prospects: Bad vibes for Israeli-Palestinian agreement

The future of the Middle East may reach a crucial junction at the Annapolis meeting planned for November. Looking at the different actions and statements of leaders, and at reactions of analysts  Eran Lerman, Oded EranYossi AlpherDaoud Kuttab and Ghassan Khattib, we are forced to conclude that prospects for success are dismal, and at the same time, nobody seems to realize the stakes
The Palestinians are still stuck on making making unrealistic demands and not even considering that they need to think about concessions. The Palestinian rhetoric of 2007 doesn't sound much different from the rhetoric of 2000.  Alone among the Israeli analysts,  Yossi Alpher seems to realize the consequences that may ensue if the negotiations fail. Eran Lerman and Oded Eran, like the Israeli government, seem to be counting on coming up with some meaningless bumph that will give the conference an artificial flavor of "success." The conduct of the negotiations is reminiscent of the Lebanon war, when Ehud Olmert and his cohorts continued to make bombastic statements about war aims up to the last minute, and then tried to sell the meaningless UN resolution as a successful solution. For Americans, failure of this meeting may seal the fate of their position in the Middle East. Since they could not mop the ocean of Iraq, the Americans proposed instead that they could dry it up by squaring the circle of Israeli-Palestinian peace. When they can't do that either, they will lose the confidence of every state in the region, except possibly Israel, which can't be choosy about allies. For Palestinians, failure of the Annapolis meeting will probably mean failure of the government of Mahmoud Abbas. That would leave them with two possibilities: utter chaos or rule by the Hamas. Failure of the Abbas government would be disastrous for Israel. The nightmare of missiles launched against aircraft at Ben Gurion airport, is forecast by those who don't want to make concessions, but it could well be braought about by failure of this meeting.
Israeli analysts are right that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems to have had no clue what she was risking when she proposed this conference. Yossi Alpher's assessment that she is out of her depth is unfortunately correct. She made a mistake, and she has no clue now about how to fix it. Someone had better do some hard thinking, before it is too late.
Ami Isseroff

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Islam and the scientific revolution - a critique

This is the last of Fjordman's three articles about Islam, Greeks and the Scientific revolution that are supposed to represent the Wisdom of the West about the East.
The other parts are here:
I am sorry for the size of this magnum opus, which will discourage those used to brief Web logs and articles. It is bad manners to pour out so many words in Web log.  
I confess that I have reproduced these three articles out of the duty to consider views with which I disagree, so that I understand why I disagree. If you find them a torture, comfort yourself that such intellectual exercises are "good for the soul," like learning to conjugate Latin verbs. If you are looking for profound intellectual stimulation, you might do better watching Southpark.
They look like important intellectual documents. They mention important people like Pirenne, and Aristotle, and Martin Luther and even Albert Einstein. They remind us of things we know or ought to know: the invention of printing is related to the invention of paper, but printing was perfected only in the West; the Chinese and Arabs invented many things, but the inventions were only used by the West, and the like. We know all that, and we should not forget it. But do they tell us anything new, or anything about Islam?
As a brief review of the history of the rise of technology, they are not entirely without merit, though there are surely better ones (H.G. Wells Outline of World History for one). I won't comment much on Fjordman's views on the diffusion/importation of printing, gunpowder and the compass as opposed to their independent invention. I am not qualified to do so, and Fjordman, if he relies on sources like Wikipedia, may not be qualified either. In any case, if there was a reason for his discussion of that issue, it escapes me entirely. These three essays are mostly about Islam versus the West and specifically, why Islam failed to modernize, and that is what concerns us.
As an account of the fact that Muslim society failed to undergo modernization, whether it is called reformation, scientific revolution or industrial revolution, they pale beside Bernard Lewis's lucid and detailed accounts in numerous books and articles. A thesis doesn't qualify as worthy of intellectual merit just because it mentions a great many facts or quotes from intellectuals, or even because it is boring. An essay can be excruciatingly pedantic and chock full of minutiae and yet have less explanatory merit than an episode of The Simpsons. But Lewis, while he doesn't ever tell us why it went wrong, gives, in his earlier books, an erudite chronicle both of the glories of Muslim and the fact of its eventual failure. And Lewis is never boring.
As an explanation of why Muslim society failed to industrialize, or "What Went Wrong," Fjordman's trilogy is lacking. As I wrote in the introduction to the first installment of this work, nobody really knows what causes differences in development between human civilizations, or really what "causes" any history. Fjordman tells us that Islam failed to modernize because Allah is an illogical God, whereas Jehovah and the Christian Trinity are logical gods (or a logical God). He writes:
In my view, this failure to see the connection between cause, science and a free society, and effect, technological progress, stems from a fundamental flaw in the Islamic way of looking at the universe: They see no connection between cause and effect because their entire religious world view is based on the notion that everything is subject to the whims of Allah, and that there is no predictable logic behind anything. As Hugh Fitzgerald frequently says, this resigned Inshallah-fatalism ("If Allah wills it, it will happen") greatly inhibits progress of any kind. The ultimate irony and tragedy is that Muslims move to infidel societies in order to enjoy the commodities and consumer goods produced there, yet immediately set out to destroy the conditions which created these advances in the first place, political freedom and manmade laws.
Indeed! Ignoring the syncretic fallacies of the above logic, let's consider the empirical facts only. A visitor from Mars to the planet Earth about 700 AD would have had a quite different impression of the relative merits of Western and Muslim civilizations and their theologies. In the north of the British isles, he would have met the ancestors of James Watt, not thinking of inventing any steam engines, mostly naked and illiterate. Had he been lucky, he would have enountered the cream of British intellect: the Venerable Bede, writing his history, in which he chronicles all the instances in which holy water calmed angry seas, the bodies of dead saints did not decay, and sinners were punished by the plague. Bede's chief concern was that Easter must be celebrated at the proper time, since celebrating it at the wrong time would most certainly lead to hellfire and eternal damnation. Likewise, if priests got the wrong sort of haircut, according to Bede, they would be denied afterlife. This was the sort of "causality" beloved of Christian Europe until the modern age. At least, Bede was literate, a rare accomplishment.
As for natural phenomena, such as plagues, earthquakes, famines and eclipses - - these were all the works of an inscrutable God. Had he ventured further north, our visitor would have encountered the ancestors of Fjordman, in their skins and Viking boats, getting ready to plunder England and Ireland and everywhere else. Thus England and Scandinavia. In continental Europe proper at this time, there was more or less utter chaos, slightly better than Scandinavia only because of the remnant of Roman civilization left there. It was so desperately bad that even the reign of the illiterate Charlemagne, yet to come, was to be considered a great improvement.
This same visitor, had he chanced upon Muslim Spain, or visited the Caliphate in Baghdad, would have found physicians, mathematicians, philosophers, literati, comparative cleanliness and great buildings. Very likely he would have attributed this difference to the logical nature of the Muslim religion as opposed to the illogicality of the Nicene creed and its insistence that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son, and also was the progenitor of the Son, that there are there three Gods, but only one God and so on.
Fjordman tells us:
"Certainly the Muslim world exhibited an active and sustained opposition to movable type technologies emanating from Europe in the fifteenth century and later. This opposition, based on social, religious, and political considerations, lasted well into the eighteenth century. Only then were presses of European origin introduced into the Ottoman Empire and only in the next century did printing become widespread in the Arab world and Iran. This long-term reluctance, the disinterest in European typography, and the failure to exploit the indigenous printing traditions of Egypt certainly argue for some kind of fundamental structural or ideological antipathy to this particular technology."
Our Martian visitor, had he come back to Europe a few centuries after Bede, could disabuse Fjordman of his enthusiasm for European culture. Had printing been introduced in Europe much before it emerged, the practitioners would most certainly have been hanged, especially if books had been printed in a language that people could understand. The distribution of a vernacular Bible by Wycliffe and his followers was quickly stamped out by an act of Parliament: De Heretico Comburendum. People who possessed such bibles were burned at the stake. Could our Martian have predicted that within 300 years, this nightmare of medieval bigotry would give birth to Newton and the scientific revolution? The arithmetic manipulations that Jewish rabbis had invented to calculate the end of days according to the mysteries of the Kabala, with the help of Arabic digits, would gradually be transformed into a workable system of arithmetic operations. Anyone who has seen what long division looked like in the Middle Ages.
That was not all, for many other wondrous transformations were to take place. The ancestors of Einstein believed that the seat of the conscience was in the kidneys and that study of anything but Talmud was sinful. But in the nineteenth century, Jewish society too was to undergo its own partial reformation and produce a series of intellectual giants.  
Our understanding of all these currents and processes is poor enough, but Fjordman is triply and unnecessarily handicapped. As he is a conservative, he is careful not to come to close to anything that might smack of Marxist analysis. There is no mention in these essays of the rise of the middle class, for example (only a passing reference below to a "merchant class" - not the same thing), which would appear to be a necessary part of modernization. It is difficult to write about the modernization of Europe without writing about the emergence of the middle class. It is so difficult, that Fjordman deserves great credit for that alone. Like one who succeeded in making a bridge without steel, using only cheddar cheese, his achievement is at most an admirable effort, but it can hardly be expected to support any automobile traffic.
Fjordman also has a rather interesting view of the history of science in Europe. He writes of Islam:
This failure was intimately linked to the Islam's hostility towards innovation and freethinking. In contrast, the Christian and Jewish religions proved more receptive towards new ideas. At the very least they were not as aggressively hostile to logic as was Islam, and in certain situations even facilitated it.
Why then, if Christianity was not aggressively hostile to logic (actually - presumably Fjordman means to empiricism - not the same thing) was Galileo forced to recant the heliocentric thesis?
Judaism had no political power, though they managed to persecute Spinoza. But as long as Catholicism had political power, all such heresies as heliocentricism and evolution would be banned, and Christian fundamentalism is still warring with scientific research. In some places, science is still fighting - and not necessarily winning - a battle for evolution and big bang theory versus Christian fundamentalist creationism.
Fjordman's third great handicap is what makes these essays popular among a certain political element. He is not writing to explore the truth. He is writing because he believes he can prove some point about the inherent inferiority of Islam. That appeals to many people, but essays and researches written "to prove a point" never really do that. They just keep the crowd happy. 
Science must serve truth and art must serve art. When either tries to serve politics, they suffer. That is, obviously  equally true of "scholarship" that attempts to justify the opposing viewpoint. 
Islamophobes will find much satisfaction in Fjordman's work. The conclusion of these three essays pours out indictment after indictment on the hapless followers of the prophet. Some of it follows in some sense from the groundwork laid in previous essays, but some is just gratuitously chauvinistic generalization:
Muslims failed to develop clocks and eyeglasses and were actively hostile to printing, yet immediately embraced gunpowder and firearms (though the development of the latter soon stagnated, too). I think this highly selective view of technology tells us something about their mentality: They didn't see the value in printing, but they liked gunpowder since it could be used to terrorize and intimidate non-Muslims. Infidel technology is primarily interesting if it can be used to blow up other infidels. Sadly, I'm not so sure Islamic mentality has changed significantly in the 800 years since then. During the past few decades, globalization, Muslim immigration to the West and the massive influx of petrodollars to Muslim nations with huge reserves of petroleum have enabled Muslims to acquire or buy technology they are unable to develop themselves. The result, along with a huge demographic increase in Muslims which is again caused by infidel advances in medicine, has been a tidal wave of Jihad sweeping across the world. The lesson for non-Muslims should be: If you provide Muslims with technology and know-how, this will not be used to create peaceful and prosperous societies; it will be used to kill or subjugate you.
Actually, Muslims "embraced" gunpowder and modern weaponry because they perceived that they were about to be wiped out by the West. The stimulus for modernization of the Turkish army was the landing of Napoleon in Egypt, not any Jihad on the West. It was the "Saracen" infidels who were about to be wiped out. Defensive weaponry is always a priority in societies. It will be remembered that the United States government was completely uninterested in German rocket technology until the Soviets started sending up satellites. Congress, uninterested in financing a trip to the moon, asked Edward Teller what scientists expected to find there. Teller's answer was to the point:
America sent men to the moon. If stem cell research could be used for a new weapon, President Bush would allow it. As it can only save lives, it is banned as sinful in the West, while Iran is free to forge ahead in this field. So much for logical and peaceful and tolerant Western Christianity versus illogical, bellicose and fanatic Islam.
Following Commodore Perry's visit, the Japanese, like the Muslims after Napoleon, perceived that they were hopelessly behind the West. The Japanese, like the Muslims, quickly learned to make weapons before just about anything else. But unlike the Muslims, the Japanese had iron and coal and could make steel. The Muslims had neither, and the use of oil was as yet unknown. That is more likely the explanation of the great difference between Islamic society and modern industrialized societies.
In a more or less non-sequitor, Fjordman marches to his inevitable conclusions:
"The problems faced by the West now in confronting Jihad have been facilitated by a failure of our education system, our media and indeed our entire society to uphold the ideal of critical thinking. If the rise of the West was linked to political liberty, rational thinking, free speech and universities championing free enquiry, the decline of the West can be linked to the decline of the same factors."
After explaining the infallible superiority of the West for three long articles, Fjordman now tells us the system is no good after all. For all their faults, the evil and narrow minded Muslims may triumph over the liberal and tolerant West:
I'm also not convinced Europe's Islamization is inevitable, yet, but if present trends continue, maybe we will see a reversal of roles in the twenty-first century: China will prosper and Europe will disintegrate. In the meantime, however, when Muslims get their hands on Western technology and Europe's accumulated wealth, the world from Britain to Thailand could be plunged into a new age of Jihad.
It is not clear how any of this relates to what came before. How can the Muslims, who don't "get" science according to Fjordman, harness it to their Jihad? That is, assuming all Muslims want a Jihad, in the bad sense of Jihad?
If the Muslims are to conquer Europe, won't they need modern societies, with compulsory education and mass literacy? And won't that, inevitably, lead to the downfall of extremist religious ideas, if not to democracy? If Americans adopt the credo of Fjordman's conservative allies in the United States, and ban the teaching of evolution, will that serve progress and science?
Can anyone be blamed for suspecting that the man began by writing the conclusion, "Islam is no good, but it is going to take over the world," and then wrote three essays full of verbiage to try to justify the conclusion?
Here then, is part three. Caveat Lector. Don't take any wooden intellectual nickels from neo (or paleo-) conservative theorists.
Ami Isseroff

The great British expert on Chinese science history Joseph Needham has written about how the "four great inventions of China," the compass, printing, papermaking and gunpowder, were exported to the rest of the world. Although Needham is good at writing about technology, he doesn't always provide sufficient evidence of transmission for these inventions. Only one of them, paper, can be said with absolute certainty to have reached the West as a fully developed product. According to Professor T.F. Carter, "Back of the invention of printing lies the use of paper, which is the most certain and the most complete of China's inventions."
As Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin write in The Coming of the Book, "It would have been impossible to invent printing had it not been for the impetus given by paper, which had arrived in Europe from China via the Arabs two centuries earlier and came into general use by the late 14th century." In the period from 1450 to 1550, Europe was becoming covered with paper mills. The traditional parchment was expensive and not well suited for mass production.
During the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the reformers wanted the Bible to be available in the common language, not in Latin. Martin Luther thus helped shape the modern German language. As scholar Irving Fang states in the book A History of Mass Communication, "Vernacular printing also led French readers to think of themselves as being part of France, and English readers to regard themselves as part of England."
In some ways, we are witnessing a reversal of this trend towards nationalization now with global communications and the rise of English as an international lingua franca. Febvre and Martin believe, though, that about 77% of the books printed before 1500 were still in Latin, with religious books still predominant. This gradually gave way to secular books and other languages, but "it was not until the late 17th century that Latin was finally overthrown and replaced by the other national languages and by French as the natural language of philosophy, science and diplomacy. Every educated European then had to know French." They estimate that about 20 million books were printed in Europe before the year 1500, and that "between 150-200 million copies were published in the 16th century. This is a conservative estimate and probably well below the actual figure." This is even more impressive if we remember that Europe of that day was far less populous than it is now and that only a minority could read. There was obviously a change then, and a swift one, compared to the slow, expensive and sometimes inaccurate process of copying each individual book by hand.
Printing did have a major impact in East Asia, but it didn't trigger quite the same revolution as it did in the West. Buddhism came to Japan via China and Korea, and Buddhist monks also brought with them, in addition to tea and thus the basis for the elaborate Japanese tea ceremonies, other aspects of Chinese civilization, among them printing in the eight century. Yet until the late sixteenth century the Japanese printed only Buddhist scriptures. Europe also benefited from having a more diverse book trade than China and from having more competition in general.
As Irving Fang states, "Printing had not disturbed the monolithic Chinese empire. The introduction of printing in mid-fifteenth century Europe might also have made little headway if Europe were not ripe for change." According to him, the "establishment of European universities from the twelfth century onward marked the end of the 700-year-old Monastic Age. The more secular age that followed saw the emergence of a literate middle class and a rising demand for books of all kinds."
Movable type printing had been invented in China by Bi Sheng around 1040, but it never gained widespread popularity. The nature of the Chinese language with its nonalphabetic script presumably didn't help. To solve this dilemma, in the first half of the 1400s the Korean King Sejong the Great encouraged book production and ordered his scholars to create an alphabet for the common people as opposed to the complicated Chinese script with its thousands of characters. They produced hangul, "Korean letters," a phonetic system inspired by other alphabetic scripts, among them Sanskrit.
Movable type printing with metal types and an alphabetic script was thus in use in Korea before Gutenberg began printing Bibles in Germany, but there are no indications of a connection between what happened in Korea and what happened in Europe. The geographical distance is too big and the time difference too small to make such a connection likely. The Chinese used baked clay for their characters, and only started employing metal types after their use in Europe. Gutenberg was a goldsmith and naturally created his letters out of metal.
According to Fang, "What Gutenberg produced that did not exist in Asia was a printing system. Most obvious among its elements were controlled, exact dimensions of alphabet type cast from metal punches made of hardened steel. These were not unlike the dies, stamps, and punches that were well known to European leather workers, metalsmiths, and pewter makers."
Although possible, no link between the Eastern and the Western printing traditions has ever been conclusively proven. The different nature of the systems involved has caused many historians to believe that printing was developed in Europe independently of Asia. In contrast, we know with 100% certainty that Muslims were familiar with East Asian printing. The Mongols left a trail of devastation across much of Eurasia in the 1200s, but their vast empire did open up unprecedented opportunities for cultural exchange. As scholar Thomas T. Allsen shows, however, being exposed to foreign ideas doesn't necessarily mean that you will adopt them. Local scholars often clung to the inherited tradition. He uses Russia at the time of Peter the Great as an example where some elements of that society were fanatically opposed to all innovation while others enthusiastically embraced all things foreign. Allsen has described how the authorities in Iran under Mongolian rule in 1294 attempted to introduce Chinese-style printed banknotes, but failed, despite severe threats, due to massive popular resistance:
"Certainly the Muslim world exhibited an active and sustained opposition to movable type technologies emanating from Europe in the fifteenth century and later. This opposition, based on social, religious, and political considerations, lasted well into the eighteenth century. Only then were presses of European origin introduced into the Ottoman Empire and only in the next century did printing become widespread in the Arab world and Iran. This long-term reluctance, the disinterest in European typography, and the failure to exploit the indigenous printing traditions of Egypt certainly argue for some kind of fundamental structural or ideological antipathy to this particular technology."
I am definitely not a believer in technological determinism, but some technologies do have a greater impact than others. One of the most important inventions ever made has to be printing. Surely it is no coincidence that the Scientific Revolution decisively took off in Europe after the introduction of printing, just as it is not a coincidence that the one civilization that came closest to a similar breakthrough, China, was the one where printing had first been invented. It is likely that the rejection of printing alone set the Islamic world back centuries vis-à-vis non-Muslims.
As David Crowley and Paul Heyer write in Communication in History: Technology, Culture, and Society, "Traditionally, the view has been that printing, along with numerous other developments, marked the transition between the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern era. However, the more we study this remarkable invention, the more we realize that it was not just one factor among many. Although we hesitate to argue for historical 'prime-movers,' certainly the printing press comes close to what is meant by this term. It was a technology that influenced other technologies - a prototype for mass production - and one that impacted directly on the world of ideas by making knowledge widely available, thereby creating a space in which new forms of expression could flourish. The repercussions of the printing press in early modern Europe did not come about in an inherently deterministic manner. Rather, they resulted from the existence of conditions whereby print could enhance a context receptive to its potential."
The spread of printing in East Asia was intimately connected to the Buddhist religion, just as it was used in Europe to print Bibles. Yet while Buddhists, Christians and Jews eagerly embraced this new technology, Muslims stubbornly rejected it. The contrast is striking if we compare this to how eagerly Muslims embraced another Chinese invention: gunpowder. Gunpowder wasn't the first chemical substance used in warfare.
According to legend, "Greek fire," a feared weapon in its time, was invented in the seventh century by Callinicus, a refugee from the Arab conquest of Syria. It was successfully used to defeat sieges by Arab Muslims of Constantinople in 674 and in 718, and helped the Byzantine Empire to survive for as long as it did. Its qualities appear to be somewhat similar to modern napalm. James R. Partington suggests in his book A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder that it consisted of a mixture of "sulphur, pitch, dissolved nitre, and petroleum." The term "Greek fire" is a misnomer as the Byzantines called themselves Romans. The greatest revolution in the history of warfare, however, came with the introduction of gunpowder. According to Dr James B. Calvert, professor of engineering, "The fundamental inventions of gunpowder and cannon had been made by 1300, but the sources are rare, difficult to interpret, hard to date, and often contradictory. The best guess is that gunpowder followed quickly after saltpetre was discovered (that is, a process for its purification was developed) by Chinese alchemists around AD 900 and introduced to Europe via trade routes and travellers around AD 1225, and that cannon were invented in southern Europe just before AD 1300."
One of the problems in determining this accurately is that Chinese writers can be just as ethnocentric as Western ones, sometimes more so. There is some debate whether gunpowder was invented independently in several regions, but most historians have settled for the explanation that it was first manufactured in China. Gunpowder (black powder) consists of charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, and was impossible to create until you could manufacture saltpeter with a high degree of purity. This was a specialty of Chinese alchemists quite early. The discovery reached the Middle East and Europe, probably via the Silk Road, and became known as "Chinese snow." Black powder remained the principle explosive until the nineteenth century, when the invention of unstable nitroglycerine made it possible for Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel to patent the more stable version of dynamite in 1867, and accumulate the great wealth which was later used to fund the various Nobel Prizes.
In the thirteenth century, the English Franciscan friar Roger Bacon, as well as the German Dominican friar Albertus Magnus, both theologians and scientists with an interest in alchemy, mention a recipe for gunpowder. The Mongol conquests spread the knowledge of the fire-lance, a gunpowder-filled tube made of bamboo which could fire various projectiles, across Eurasia. The development of this weapon stagnated in China proper. According to James B. Calvert, "The place and time of the invention of the cannon is unknown, but its evolution from the fire lance among the Turks, Arabs and Europeans can hardly be doubted. (…) The earliest use of cannon is not definitely known, but occurred sometime between 1300 and 1350. The use of cannon spread rapidly between 1350 and 1400."
Cannon were used during the Hundred Years' War between France and England, and Turkish Muslims successfully employed prolonged bombardment by massive Hungarian-made cannon during the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to breach the walls of the city. Joel Mokyr, professor at the Department of Economics at Northwestern University and author of The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy, writes about innovation and economic history. According to him (pdf), glass, although known in China, was not in wide use as tea was drunk in porcelain cups and the Chinese examined themselves in polished bronze mirrors. Islamic countries had a significant glass industry, yet they never came up with spectacles: "Tokugawa Japan had a flourishing industry making glass trinkets and ornaments, but no optical instruments emerged there either until the Meiji restoration [from 1867]. Not having access to the Hellenistic geometry that served not only Ptolemy and Alhazen, but also sixteenth century Italians such as Francesco Maurolico (1494-1575) who studied the characteristics of lenses, made the development of optics in the Orient difficult." The earliest known lenses were made of rock crystal, quartz, and other minerals, and have been used in Eastern and Western lands since ancient times. There is evidence that lenses were known in the Greco-Roman world. They have been used as burning glasses and magnifying glasses for centuries, and so-called reading stones were in common use during the Middle Ages, for instance the Visby lenses, lens-shaped rock crystals of high quality from in a Viking grave in Gotland, Sweden. The oldest one we know of is the Nimrud lens, found in modern Iraq. Estimated to be almost three thousand years old, it indicates that the ancient Assyrians did have some basic understanding of optics. Iraq, seat of the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian kingdoms, is home to one of the world's oldest astronomical traditions. Babylonian astronomy greatly influenced many subsequent cultures, Middle Eastern, Greek and Indian, and the sexagesimal (based on the number sixty) numeral system of the Sumerians is still with us today, in the form of sixty minutes to the hour and 360 degrees in a circle.
The Iraqi-born scientist Ibn al-Haitham, known in the West as Alhacen or Alhazen, had a powerful influence on several Western scientists. Alhazen was a pioneer in the scientific method by basing hypothesis upon systematic observation. He is most commonly remembered for his great contributions in the field of optics, where he pondered the nature of light, speculated on the colors of the sunset and described the qualities of magnifying lenses. His eleventh century Book of Optics was translated into Latin during the late twelfth century, and left a significant impact on Roger Bacon and others in the thirteenth century.
Bacon was educated at Oxford and lectured on Aristotle at the University of Paris, the intellectual center among the small, but growing number of European universities. His teacher, the English bishop and scholar Robert Grosseteste, was a proponent of validating theory through experimentation. Roger Bacon wrote about many subjects, including optics, and was among the first persons to argue that lenses could be used for the correction of eyesight. He asserted that "philosophy is the special province of the unbelievers," and urged scholars to learn Arabic.
The Chinese experimented with lenses and mirrors, too, and produced a type of sunglasses, or eyeglasses with colored lenses. However, these appear to have been mainly for decorative purposes and possessed no corrective properties. The science of optics stagnated in China after initial advances. The first fully developed spectacles were made in Europe, in Northern Italy from the late thirteenth century onwards. The American scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals in the eighteenth century, during the early years of the United States.
In 1572 Freidrich Risner printed some of Alhazen's work on optics, as well as a work by the thirteenth century Polish friar Witelo which was similar to it, and thus made Alhazen widely known to new generations of scholars. Notable among them was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who died in 1601, was perhaps the most meticulous astronomer of the pre-telescopic era. During the final year of his life, Brahe passed on his observations of Mars to Kepler. These precise notes were important for Kepler's work on planetary motion, but another breakthrough that could verify his thesis was soon to come.
As corrective lenses for near-sightedness became more sophisticated, the demand for high quality glass lenses grew. In the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Baruch Spinoza could make a decent living as a skilled lens grinder while working on his philosophical theories. This was during the Dutch Golden Age when the country was a refuge for many groups suffering from religious persecution, for instance Huguenots (Protestants) from France. Spinoza descended from Jews who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal following the Reconquista. The production of spectacles opened up new arenas for optics. A Dutch eyeglass maker, Hans Lippershey, is said to have created the first practical telescope and made it publicly available in 1608.
Within a few months of the news, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei had made his own telescope, and became the first person to turn the new invention towards the sky, discovering the four major moons of Jupiter in 1610. Kepler developed the Galilean telescope further by 1611 and described the theoretical basis for telescopic optics, in part inspired by Alhazen's work. The telescope had traveled from the Netherlands via Italy to Kepler in Prague within three years of its invention and had been improved along the way, a remarkable pace of innovation and diffusion of knowledge. Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica from 1687 and his laws of motion and gravity were derived from, among other things, Galileo's telescopic observations and Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion.
Dutch eyeglass maker Zacharias Janssen and his father Hans are usually credited with inventing the first microscope in the late 1500s. The microscope was improved in the seventeenth century by their countryman Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who was the first to spot bacteria and thus opened up an entirely new field of microbiology. This in turn led to great advances in the natural sciences. The German physician Robert Koch and the French chemist Louis Pasteur founded the science of bacteriology in the nineteenth century. The understanding that disease is caused by bacteria and microscopic germs produced the greatest strides in medicine in history.
According to the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, reading stone lenses were invented by polymath Armen Firman (Abbas Ibn Firnas) in Córdoba in Islamic-occupied Spain in the ninth century, and later spread throughout Europe. Wikipedia embodies both the good and some of the problematic aspects of the Internet. I have found useful information there more than once, but it can also be notoriously unreliable on certain subjects due to its numerous editors and lack of professional oversight. Let's assume for a moment that this information is correct. If so, how come lenses weren't developed further by Muslims? The telescope and the microscope were by-products of advances in the production of glass lenses. They made possible, for the first time ever, the study of what is not visible to the naked human eye and radically altered our understanding of the universe, both in the realms of the very small and the very big. All of this could have happened in the Islamic world. So why didn't it, despite the fact that lenses were know there at least as early as in Europe, and despite the fact that the region produced a gifted optical scientist, Alhazen?
Alhazen personally should be credited with being one of the greatest scientists of his age in any discipline, Eastern or Western, yet his inquisitive attitude and scientific mindset wasn't always appreciated by his contemporaries. Here is how his writings were received by fellow Muslims, as quoted in Ibn Warraq's book Why I Am Not a Muslim: "A disciple of Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, relates that he was in Baghdad on business, when the library of a certain philosopher (who died in 1214) was burned there. The preacher, who conducted the execution of the sentence, threw into the flames, with his own hands, an astronomical work of Ibn al-Haitham [Alhazen], after he had pointed to a delineation therein given of the sphere of the earth, as an unhappy symbol of impious Atheism."
Alhazen made numerous books, many of which are lost today. His groundbreaking Book of Optics survives to us in Latin translation. Muslims thus had access to ideas, but they failed to appreciate them and exploit their potential. This pattern was repeated on several occasions. The first windmills were probably made in Persia prior to the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. Windmills were introduced in Europe during the High Middle Ages, at least from the twelfth century onwards, and spread rapidly across Western Europe during a prolonged period of great improvements. Persian-style windmills spread from Central Asia to China following the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century, yet in 1206 the leading Arab engineer of the day observed to his readers that the notion of driving mills by the wind was nonsense.
Sundials have been used in Egypt and other civilizations since prehistoric times. Water clocks, too, date from ancient times and had reached a certain level of complexity in the Greco-Roman world. The ancient Greeks created devices resembling clock-work, for instance the Antikythera mechanism (second century B.C.) which has been called a mechanical computer. Early clocks (though not fully developed) were made in Asia, especially China, and could have been known in the Middle East. Around the year 800, Caliph Harun al-Rashid from Baghdad presented Charlemagne with the gift of a complex water clock which struck the hours. In 850 the three Persians Banu Musa, as part of the translation efforts undertaken at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, published The Book of Ingenious Devices describing many mechanical inventions developed by earlier cultures. They were interested in the work of Greek engineer Hero of Alexandria who made the first known steam-powered device. Again, there is plenty of evidence that Muslims had at their disposal both the theoretical knowledge and the practical examples necessary to create mechanical clocks.
Despite having access to much of the same knowledge as did Christian Europeans, Muslims didn't develop fully mechanical clocks. This happened in Europe in the thirteenth century. The invention spread rapidly throughout Italy, France and England. One was installed in the Old St Paul's Cathedral in London in 1286. The fourteenth century English author Geoffrey Chaucer mentioned a clock, apparently meaning one with a bell which struck the hour. Salisbury cathedral is thought to have the oldest functioning clock in existence, dating back to the year 1386. Clocks were initially large and were used to decorate public buildings. By the year 1500, the coiled spring had been invented, paving the way for smaller clocks. The first portable timepiece was created in Nuremberg, Germany by locksmith Peter Henlein in 1505 in the shape of a sphere worn as a jewel. Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, by employing Galileo's law of the pendulum, in 1656 made the first pendulum clock, which was much more accurate than previous models. He also invented the balance wheel and spring assembly underlying many modern watches. French mathematician Blaise Pascal is said to have made a wristwatch by attaching his portable clock to his wrist with a string.
I'm not suggesting that no scientific achievements were made in the Islamic world. Avicenna's Canon of Medicine was translated into Latin in the twelfth century, and as late as the sixteenth century, Vesalius wrote a thesis commenting on Rhazes. It is impossible to write the medical history of the West during this age without mentioning Middle Eastern physicians such as Avicenna and Rhazes. What I am suggesting is that the number of achievements steadily declined, and I'm not sure how much Islam should be credited with those achievements that were actually made.
Muslims failed to develop clocks and eyeglasses and were actively hostile to printing, yet immediately embraced gunpowder and firearms (though the development of the latter soon stagnated, too). I think this highly selective view of technology tells us something about their mentality: They didn't see the value in printing, but they liked gunpowder since it could be used to terrorize and intimidate non-Muslims. Infidel technology is primarily interesting if it can be used to blow up other infidels. Sadly, I'm not so sure Islamic mentality has changed significantly in the 800 years since then. During the past few decades, globalization, Muslim immigration to the West and the massive influx of petrodollars to Muslim nations with huge reserves of petroleum have enabled Muslims to acquire or buy technology they are unable to develop themselves. The result, along with a huge demographic increase in Muslims which is again caused by infidel advances in medicine, has been a tidal wave of Jihad sweeping across the world. The lesson for non-Muslims should be: If you provide Muslims with technology and know-how, this will not be used to create peaceful and prosperous societies; it will be used to kill or subjugate you.
As writer Bassam Tibi notes, Muslims today tend to view science as something that is separated from society, and believe they can adopt or appropriate modern science and technology but not the wider framework that goes with them.
I agree with Tibi. Muslims have no understanding of science as the basis of technological progress, and free speech and rational criticism of everything, including religious doctrines, as the basis of science. They talk about science as if it were a commodity, a television or a personal computer, something which Muslims "had" earlier, then "lost" or handed over to Westerners who "took" it from them. Hence, Muslims shouldn't feel grateful for anything infidel science provides them with, since science was really "theirs" in the first place and they're just taking back something which rightfully belongs to them. But science isn't a commodity; it is a method, a way of looking critically and rationally at the world.
In my view, this failure to see the connection between cause, science and a free society, and effect, technological progress, stems from a fundamental flaw in the Islamic way of looking at the universe: They see no connection between cause and effect because their entire religious world view is based on the notion that everything is subject to the whims of Allah, and that there is no predictable logic behind anything. As Hugh Fitzgerald frequently says, this resigned Inshallah-fatalism ("If Allah wills it, it will happen") greatly inhibits progress of any kind. The ultimate irony and tragedy is that Muslims move to infidel societies in order to enjoy the commodities and consumer goods produced there, yet immediately set out to destroy the conditions which created these advances in the first place, political freedom and manmade laws.
At least two conditions are necessary for the creation of a successful nation: The ability to produce talented individuals with great ideas, and the cultural and structural ability of society to recognize the full potential of these ideas and utilize them. The Islamic world, for a while, performed reasonably well at the former task, but failed miserably and consistently at the latter. Even if it could occasionally give birth to gifted individuals they tended to be unorthodox Muslims or, in the case of Rhazes, outright hostile to Islam. The frequency of thinkers of Avicenna's and certainly Alhazen's stature also steadily declined. This strongly indicates that "Islamic science" had little to do with Islam, but was the amalgam of pre-Islamic knowledge, Greek, Indian, Persian, Jewish, Assyrian Christian and other. As Muslims gradually became numerically dominant and Islamic orthodoxy more firmly established, this pre-Islamic heritage was slowly extinguished, hence science declined and never recovered. This failure was intimately linked to the Islam's hostility towards innovation and freethinking. In contrast, the Christian and Jewish religions proved more receptive towards new ideas. At the very least they were not as aggressively hostile to logic as was Islam, and in certain situations even facilitated it.
Europe did produce many talented individuals, yet what ultimately set it apart from the Islamic world, and even from non-Muslim Asians at this age, was the remarkable pace of diffusion of new ideas, home-grown or imported, and the speed with which further improvements were made once an idea had been introduced. This was due to a combination of factors: A successful marriage between Christian doctrines and the Greco-Roman heritage during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the ability to continuously generate new knowledge and put it into practical application through the accumulation of capital and a dynamic merchant class, an institutionalized framework for scholarly debate through universities with a significant degree of free enquiry, the adoption of printing, which made communication easier and facilitated the accumulation of ever-more accurate knowledge, and last, but not least, a higher degree of individualism and political liberty, which encouraged freethinking, a non-traditionalist outlook and by extension innovation.
Upon saying this, I must confess that I cannot say with a straight face that these are hallmarks of Europe today. We have always been told that there is a basic conflict between religion and reason, which would presumably mean that the less religious we become, the more rational we should become. Western Europe is currently less religious than we have ever been, yet I see no indication that we have become more reasonable because of this. We may not have a formal index of forbidden books, as did the Catholic Church for centuries, but we do have an informal index of forbidden topics which can be equally effective in suppressing free enquiry and stifling debate. This is now done in the name of tolerance and Multicultural diversity, not God, but the result is much the same. The end of religion, thus, didn't herald an age of reason; it led to a new age of secular superstition and new forms of witch-hunts. Bad things can be said about medieval Europeans, but at least they didn't import Muslims in large numbers and congratulate themselves for their tolerance. Secular Europeans do.
Andrew G. Bostom keeps referring to Julien Benda and his 1928 book The Treason of the Intellectuals, about how the abandonment of objective truths abetted totalitarian ideologies, which led to World War II. Bostom identifies a similar failure of Western intellectuals to acknowledge the history of Jihad today. From what I gather, Benda was a bit too anti-religious and anti-nationalist for my taste, but otherwise I agree: The problems faced by the West now in confronting Jihad have been facilitated by a failure of our education system, our media and indeed our entire society to uphold the ideal of critical thinking. If the rise of the West was linked to political liberty, rational thinking, free speech and universities championing free enquiry, the decline of the West can be linked to the decline of the same factors.
Author V.S. Naipaul thinks Islam is parasitical by nature and preys upon the pre-Islamic culture in the conquered lands. I will add that it is also the kind of parasite which kills its host. I have no doubt that if Muslims should succeed in conquering Europe, this will in the future be hailed as a Golden Age of Islam. But it wouldn't be a Golden Age of Islam, it would be the twilight of Europe, just as the previous Golden Age was the twilight of the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Buddhist cultures from North Africa to Central Asia, and the much vaunted accomplishments of "Islamic medieval science" were echoes of the heritage of Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians and Greeks.
Yes, I know Mughal emperors could create magnificent architecture such as the Taj Mahal in India, but this was still a slave-state based upon the exploitation and persecution of non-Muslims. And yes, there can be rulers such as Akbar the Great, with his religious tolerance and imperial garden with thousands of cheetahs, but he was tolerant precisely because he was a Muslim in name only. Any such ruler will be succeeded by more pious Muslims, as was the case with Aurangzeb who reinstated the Jizya tax for infidels and destroyed Hindu temples. Anything good that happens in countries under Islamic rule generally happens in spite of Islam, not because of Islam, and the good parts will soon be reversed in the name of sharia. There will always be at least a dozen Aurangzebs to every Akbar.
We are currently witnessing major global shifts in power. In a macrohistorical perspective, China was the leading civilization a millennium ago but was surpassed by Europe. I firmly believe free speech and political liberty have long-term effects, and I'm not convinced China can keep up her economic progress unless she undertakes reforms. I'm also not convinced Europe's Islamization is inevitable, yet, but if present trends continue, maybe we will see a reversal of roles in the twenty-first century: China will prosper and Europe will disintegrate. In the meantime, however, when Muslims get their hands on Western technology and Europe's accumulated wealth, the world from Britain to Thailand could be plunged into a new age of Jihad.
Fjordman is a noted Norwegian blogger who has written for many conservative web sites. He used to have his own Fjordman Blog in the past, but it is no longer active.

"Another Voice" Against OneVoice

"Another Voice" Against OneVoice

October 21, 2007 - Who speaks for the Palestinians? A Palestinian group calling itself "Another Voice" claims that they do. They do not like OneVoice trying to sound like one voice of moderate Palestinians and Israelis. Another Voice's purpose for existing is to undermine the work of One Voice and to present "peace" on their terms only, which means unconditional surrender to Palestinian demands.  
Right now they are crowing with pride over the cancellation of the OneVoice peace concert. Their web site boasts: "Another Voice is proud to have contributed towards the grassroots mobilization that has resulted in the cancellation of OneVoice's event in Jericho on October 18th." They are thrilled that "most of the Arab artists have withdrawn their participation from the concert," and are planning their own concert in Ramallah later this month.
Continued at: "Another Voice" Against OneVoice




Part II of Islam, the Greeks and the Scientific Revolution

Here is some more of Fjordman's speculations concerning the reason for failure of the Scientific Revolution in the Islamic lands (his version of "What Went Wrong") -- and its 'retardation' in the west. Can we really take this sort of reasoning seriously? For example:

The reason why the Christian West for centuries didn't have easy access to the Classical learning of the Christian East was because Muslims and Jihad had made the Mediterranean unsafe. It has to be the height of absurdity to block access to something and then take credit for transmitting it, yet that is precisely what Arabs do. As stronger states slowly grew up in the West, regular contact with their Eastern cousins was gradually re-established, starting with the Italian city-states. And as soon as direct contact was established, Western Europeans gained access to the original Greco-Roman manuscripts preserved in Constantinople.

Firstly, can we really believe that the physics of Newton or the steam engine of James Watt were inevitable children of Aristotelian logic? Newtonian physics owes a tiny bit to Pythogoras, but nothing to Aristotle certainly. The modern atom, which devolved from the rediscovered ideas of Democritus, was still well in the future when the steam engine was invented. Second, let's face facts. Charlemagne, mentioned below in this context, was illiterate. If he got an Aristotelian manuscript, he would not know which end was right side up. The classical wisdom of the ancients was burned and pillaged by Fjordman's Teutonic and Gothic and Vandal kinfolk. There is a reason why it is called "vandalism." Whatever was left, was systematically suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church. Ancient manuscripts that were not burned were "recycled" for pious purposes such as copying over the Nicene creed or a book of hours, or a hymn to Mary Mother of God.
This is part II, or Islam and the Greek returns, as it were. Part 1 is here:
Ami Isseroff

Islam, the Greeks and the Scientific Revolution, part 2
Fjordman - 10/7/2007
According to scholar
Lynda Shaffer, "Francis Bacon (1561-1626), an early advocate of the empirical method, upon which the scientific revolution was based, attributed Western Europe's early modern take-off to three things in particular: printing, the compass, and gunpowder. Bacon had no idea where these things had come from, but historians now know that all three were invented in China. Since, unlike Europe, China did not take off onto a path leading from the scientific to the Industrial Revolution, some historians are now asking why these inventions were so revolutionary in Western Europe and, apparently, so unrevolutionary in China."

The Song dynasty, from the tenth to the thirteenth century, was arguably the most dynamic period in Chinese history. Although printing "was invented by Buddhist monks in China, and at first benefited Buddhism, by the middle of the tenth century printers were turning out innumerable copies of the classical Confucian corpus."

According to Shaffer, "The origin of the civil service examination system in China can be traced back to the Han dynasty, but in the Song dynasty government-administered examinations became the most important route to political power in China. For almost a thousand years (except the early period of Mongol rule), China was governed by men who had come to power simply because they had done exceedingly well in examinations on the Neo-Confucian canon. At any one time thousands of students were studying for the exams, and thousands of inexpensive books were required. Without printing, such a system would not have been possible."

As she explains, "China developed the world's largest and most technologically sophisticated merchant marine and navy." The Chinese "could have made the arduous journey around the tip of Africa and sail into Portuguese ports; however, they had no reason to do so. Although the Western European economy was prospering, it offered nothing that China could not acquire much closer to home at much less cost."

In contrast, the Portuguese, the Spanish and other Europeans were trying to reach the Spice Islands, what is now Indonesia. "It was this spice market that lured Columbus westward from Spain and drew Vasco da Gama around Africa and across the Indian Ocean." In Shaffer's view, technologies such as gunpowder and the compass had a different impact in China than they had in Europe, and it is "unfair to ask why the Chinese did not accidentally bump into the Western Hemisphere while sailing east across the Pacific to find the wool markets of Spain."

Yes, Asia was the most prosperous region on the planet at this time. Europeans embarked on their Age of Exploration of the seas precisely out of a desire to reach the wealthy Asian lands (and bypass Muslim middlemen), which is why Christopher Columbus and his men mistakenly believed they had arrived in India when they reached the Americas. Asians did not possess a similar desire to reach Europe. But this still doesn't explain why the Chinese didn't embark on the final and most crucial stage of the Industrial Revolution in the West: Harnessing the force of steam and the use of fossil fuels to build stronger, more efficient machinery, faster ships and eventually railways, cars and airplanes.

Printing and literacy greatly expanded during Song times; the world's first printed paper money (bank notes) was introduced and a system of canals and roads was built, all facilitating an unprecedented population growth. Iron smelting and the use of coal multiplied several times over as China reached a stage sometimes called "proto-industrial." And yet China produced no Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomen or James Watt to develop successful steam engines, nor a George Stephenson to build railway lines or a Karl Benz to make the first gasoline-powered automobile. Although experiments with flying had been undertaken in many nations around the world, the airplane was made possible only with the invention of modern engines, which is why China didn't produce the Wright brothers.

For thousands of years, human beings were limited by their ability to harness muscle power, of men and animals. This was later supplemented with windmills, watermills and similar inventions, which could be important, but in a limited fashion. The harnessing of steam power for engines and machinery was a revolution which provided the basis for enormous improvements in output and efficiency. For some reason, China never did take this final step, and although the country remained prosperous for centuries, later dynasties never quite matched the dynamism under Song times. Emphasis was on cultural continuity, and China experienced no great cultural flowing or event similar to the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment in Europe. China was in its own eyes the Middle Kingdom. It had some annoying barbarians at its frontiers, but no immediate neighbors to rival its size and power, and thus little incentive for improvement. The result was relative (though not necessarily absolute) scientific stagnation. China could afford to grow self-satisfied, and she did. In contrast, Europeans, who were divided into numerous smaller states in a constant state of rivalry instead of one, large unified state, had stronger incentives for innovation, including in weapons technology.

The Mongol invasion, which ended the Song dynasty, is sometimes blamed for this loss of impetus. After the conquest of Beijing in 1215 the soil was greasy with human fat for months. According to Genghis Khan, "The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters." He believed in practicing what you preach. DNA studies indicate that he may have as many as 16 million descendants living today.

The Mongols were notorious for their brutality, but they had a particular dislike for Muslims. Hulagu Khan led the Mongol forces as they completely destroyed Baghdad in 1258, thus ending what remained of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Christian community was largely spared, allegedly thanks to the intercession of Hulagu's Nestorian Christian wife.

The irony is that many Mongols soon adopted Islam as their preferred creed. Maybe the warlike nature of this religion appealed to them. It is possible to make a comparison between Muhammad and Genghis Khan. Temüjin, who gained the title Khan when he founded the Mongol Empire in 1206, did believe he had received a divine mandate to conquer the world, and he created an impressive military force out of nothing by uniting scattered tribes and directing their aggressive energies outwards. He created a Mongolian nation where no nation had existed before, similar to what Muhammad did with the Arabs. The difference is that the Mongols didn't establish a religion of their own throughout their empire which outlasted their rule. We should probably be grateful for that, otherwise the Organization of the Mongolian Conference would be the largest voting bloc at the United Nations today, our schools would teach us about the glories of Mongol science and tolerance and our media would constantly warn us against the dangers of Genghisophobia.

In Europe, the Mongol conquests had the most lasting impact in the Ukraine and Russia. The city of Kiev was devastated while a new Russian state slowly grew out of Moscow. Ivan the Great in the 1400s expanded the Russian state and defeated the Tatar yoke, as the now Islamized Turko-Mongols of the Golden Horde were called. The Mongols invaded Eastern Europe and in the course of a few years attacked Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Serbia. They had reached as far as Vienna in 1241 when the Great Khan suddenly died and the commanders had to return to elect a new leader.

The Black Death, the great Eurasian plague pandemic, swept from Central Asia along the Silk Road through the Mongol Empire, reaching the Mediterranean and the Middle East in the 1340s. The disease, which killed at least a third of the population and more than 70% in some regions, probably reached Europe after the Golden Horde used biological warfare during a siege of the Black Sea port of Caffa, catapulting plague-infested corpses into the city. It was then carried to the European continent with fleeing Genoese traders. The Mongols thus didn't invade Western Europe, but at least they gave us the plague.

Many historians place great macrohistorical importance on the Mongol conquest. It certainly had a disruptive impact, and the trail of devastation it left behind severely depopulated regions from China and Korea via Iran and Iraq to Eastern Europe. It ended the dynamic Song dynasty, yet even before the Mongol conquest, there were few indications that a development towards modern machinery was about to take place in China. Japan, which has always learned a lot from China, escaped unscathed. A series of typhoons, dubbed kamikaze or "divine wind" by the Japanese, saved the country from the Mongol fleets in 1274 and 1281, but they, too, didn't develop a fully fledged industry until they adopted a Western model during the Meiji Restoration in the late nineteenth century.

Moreover, even if Western Europe escaped the Mongols, we should remember that Western Europeans had recently experienced centuries of political disintegration and population decline, longer than in any period in Chinese history for several thousand years. Europe also had to face a much more prolonged assault by Islam. Belgian scholar Henri Pirenne in his work Mohammed and Charlemagne asserted that the definitive break between the Classical world and the Middle Ages in the West was not the downfall of the Western Roman Empire following the partition in 395, but the Islamic conquests in the seventh century.

In Pirenne's view, although the Germanic tribes caused imperial authority to collapse in the fifth century, Western Europe was not totally cut off from the Eastern Roman Empire. The Mediterranean, Mare Nostrum or "Our Sea" as the Romans called it, still remained a Christian lake. This changed decisively during the seventh century when North Africa came under Islamic rule, as did the Iberian Peninsula. Although the Arab conquest was halted by the forces of Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in France in 732, arguably the most important battle in Western history, Islamic attacks continued for centuries since Jihad is a permanent obligation and should be carried out on regular intervals. Jihad piracy, slave trade and looting across the Mediterranean accompanied by inland raids, occasionally as far north as the Alps in Switzerland, made normal communication between the Christian West and the Christian East extremely difficult. In fact, Jihad piracy and slavery from North Africa remained a serious threat to Europeans for more than a thousand years, even into the nineteenth century. As historian Ibn Khaldun, a devout Muslim and therefore anti-Christian, proclaimed: "The Christian could no longer float a plank upon the sea."

This was certainly true in the West, though the Byzantines still held their ground in the Aegean Sea. The Eastern Roman Empire was attacked by Arab Muslims in the 630s and quickly lost Syria, Palestine and Egypt, but managed to survive. Only a few years earlier the official language had been changed from Latin to Greek. It is custom to call the remaining, smaller and Hellenized state the Byzantine Empire.

The Carolingian Empire, named after Charles Martel (Carolus in Latin), was the "scaffold of the Middle Ages." Although it didn't survive for long, the structures put in place by Charles Martel and his grandson Charlemagne were to shape Western Europe for centuries. While civilization in Europe had always been centered on the Mediterranean, the center of power in the West was now north of the Alps. The Carolingian capital was established in Aachen in present-day Germany, as Muslims made access to the sea difficult. Charlemagne held his imperial coronation by Pope Leo III in Saint Peter's Basilica in the year 800, yet already in the year 846 Muslims sacked Rome and stole every piece of gold and silver in Saint Peter's. Arabs also occupied Sicily for several centuries, and attacked Naples, Capua, Calabria and Sardinia repeatedly. As Pirenne says, "the coast from the Gulf of Lyons and the Riviera to the mouth of the Tiber, ravaged by war and the pirates, whom the Christians, having no fleet, were powerless to resist, was now merely a solitude and a prey to piracy. The ports and the cities were deserted. The link with the Orient was severed, and there was no communication with the Saracen [Muslim] coasts. There was nothing but death. The Carolingian Empire presented the most striking contrast with the Byzantine. It was purely an inland power, for it had no outlets. The Mediterranean territories, formerly the most active portions of the Empire, which supported the life of the whole, were now the poorest, the most desolate, the most constantly menaced. For the first time in history the axis of Occidental civilization was displaced towards the North, and for many centuries it remained between the Seine and the Rhine. And the Germanic peoples, which had hitherto played only the negative part of destroyers, were now called upon to play a positive part in the reconstruction of European civilization."

Pirenne's thesis has been debated for generations, and new archaeological evidence has been uncovered since it was published in the 1930s. I personally think he underestimated the extent to which civilization collapsed in the West after the Germanic raids, but he is right that the Mediterranean was still open for communication, and that this changed dramatically after the Arab conquest. Though contacts between the Byzantines and Western Europe were limited during this time period, we should remember that they were never zero. Findings from Viking graves indicate that there was trade between the Baltic Sea and Constantinople even at this point, but trade was greatly diminished compared to what it had been previously.

The reason why the Christian West for centuries didn't have easy access to the Classical learning of the Christian East was because Muslims and Jihad had made the Mediterranean unsafe. It has to be the height of absurdity to block access to something and then take credit for transmitting it, yet that is precisely what Arabs do. As stronger states slowly grew up in the West, regular contact with their Eastern cousins was gradually re-established, starting with the Italian city-states. And as soon as direct contact was established, Western Europeans gained access to the original Greco-Roman manuscripts preserved in Constantinople. They didn't need to rely on limited translations in Arabic, which were anyway made from the same Byzantine manuscripts in the first place, and frequently by Christians. Moreover, Muslims have spent more than one thousand years systematically wiping out Greek culture in the Mediterranean region, a process which continues at Cyprus even into the twenty-first century, which makes it patently ridiculous when they now brag about how much we owe them for their efforts at "preserving the Greek heritage." The efforts of Arabs are, in my view, as overrated as those by the Byzantine Empire are underrated.

John Argyropoulos, who was born in 1415 in Constantinople and died in 1487 in Italy, was a Byzantine expert on Greek history who played an important role in the revival of Classical learning in the West. He lectured at the universities of Florence and Rome. Among his students was Lorenzo the Magnificent from the influential Medici family, who sponsored Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and others. Sandro Botticelli was working under the patronage of the Medicis when he in the 1480s painted The Birth of Venus. Pagan motifs inspired by the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome were widely popular at this time. Apparently, Leonardo da Vinci, too, attended the lectures of Argyropoulos. The universal genius was passionately interested in Classical learning, perhaps especially in science and mechanical engineering, a field in which he created numerous inventions. He was certainly familiar with the Ten Books on Architecture by the Roman engineer Vitruvius, the only major work on architecture and technology to survive from the Greco-Roman world, which was also a vital inspiration for Renaissance architects Brunelleschi and Alberti. Leonardo's famous drawing the Vitruvian Man was inspired by Vitruvius' writings about architecture and its relations to the proportions of the human body.

In the words of Deno Geanakoplos, Professor of Byzantine History, "We know that until the ninth century the patron saint of Venice was not Mark but the Greek Theodore, and that in the eleventh century Byzantine workmen were summoned by the Doge in order to embellish, perhaps entirely to construct, the church of St. Mark. Venetian-Byzantine contacts became more frequent in the twelfth century as a result of the growth of the large Venetian commercial colony in Constantinople." These contacts continued to grow during the High Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, and "In the half century or so before Constantinople's fall in 1453, a gradually increasing number of refugees from the East poured into the West. Venice, as lord of important territories in the Greek East, especially the island of Crete, and as the chief port of debarkation in Italy, received the major part of these refugees. This stream quickened rapidly after 1453."

He stresses that it is a mistake to believe that all Greek texts were transported out after the fall of Constantinople. Most of the refugees fleeing the Turkish Jihad could carry few possessions with them. The process of transferring Classical knowledge to the West took generations, even centuries, but was now greatly aided by Johannes Gutenberg's movable type printing press, introduced around the year 1450 in Mainz, Germany.

It was a major stroke of historical luck – a religious person would probably say divine providence - that printing was reinvented in Europe at exactly the same time as the last vestige of the ancient Roman Empire fell to Muslims. The texts that had been preserved by the Byzantines for a thousand years after Rome collapsed could now be rescued forever instead of quietly disappearing. This ensured that the Renaissance marked a permanent infusion of Greco-Roman knowledge into Western thought, not just a temporary one.

As historian Elizabeth L. Eisenstein says in her celebrated book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: "The classical editions, dictionaries, grammar and reference guides issued from print shops made it possible to achieve an unprecedented mastery of Alexandrian learning even while laying the basis for a new kind of permanent Greek revival in the West. (...) We now tend to take for granted that the study of Greek would continue to flourish after the main Greek manuscript centers had fallen into alien hands and hence fail to appreciate how remarkable it was to find that Homer and Plato had not been buried anew but had, on the contrary, been disinterred forever more. Surely Ottoman advances would have been catastrophic before the advent of printing. Texts and scholars scattered in nearby regions might have prolonged the study of Greek but only in a temporary way."

According to Deno Geanakoplos, in the late fifteenth century "only one city in Italy, Venice, could fulfil all the complex requirements of a Greek press. Venice possessed a class sufficiently wealthy to buy, and the leisure to read, the printed classics. Venice was less subject to papal pressures than other Italian cities. Important too in [printer] Aldus' thinking must have been Venetian possession of the precious collection of Greek manuscripts bequeathed by Bessarion — manuscripts which could serve as paradigms for his books. And hardly less significant for him must have been the presence in Venice of a large, thriving Greek community. (…) By the time of Aldus' death in 1515, his press had given to the world practically all the major Greek authors of classical antiquity."

Historian Bernard Lewis writes in his book What Went Wrong?: "In the vast bibliography of works translated in the Middle Ages from Greek into Arabic, we find no poets, no dramatists, not even historians. These were not useful and they were of no interest; they did not figure in the translation programs. This was clearly a cultural rejection: you take what is useful from the infidel; but you don't need to look at his absurd ideas or to try and understand his inferior literature, or to study his meaningless history."

Muslims who wanted translations of Greek or other non-Islamic works were primarily concerned with topics of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. As Lewis says, they usually ignored playwrights and dramatists such as Sophocles and Euripides, historians such as Thucydides and Herodotus and poets such as Homer. This entire corpus of literature could only be saved from the Greek originals preserved in Constantinople. Moreover, in addition to being selective about Greek works, Muslims showed little interest in Latin writers, for instance Cicero. There was thus a large body of Greco-Roman learning and valuable literature that was never available in Arabic in the first place.

It is true that a number of Greek works were translated to Arabic, especially in the ninth century when a group called Mu'tazilites attempted, without lasting success, to reconcile Islamic with logic. As Ibn Warraq writes about them:

"However, it is clear now that the Mu'tazilites were first and foremost Muslims, living in the circle of Islamic ideas, and were motivated by religious concerns. There was no sign of absolute liberated thinking, or a desire, as [Hungarian orientalist] Goldziher put it, 'to throw off chafing shackles, to the detriment of the rigorously orthodox view of life.' Furthermore, far from being 'liberal,' they turned out to be exceedingly intolerant, and were involved in the Mihna, the Muslim Inquisition under the Abbasids. However, the Mu'tazilites are important for having introduced Greek philosophical ideas into the discussion of Islamic dogmas."

According to writer Patrick Poole, "Western Christianity's rational tradition developed in the Medieval era precisely as a result of the outright rejection of the irrationalism inherent in Islamic philosophy, not the embracing of it." As he states, "a rationalist philosophy had begun to develop under the Mu'tazilite school of interpretation, which advocated for a created, as opposed to an uncreated, Quran. But Caliph al-Mutawakkil [reign 847-861] condemned the Mu'tazilite school, which opened the door for the rival Ash'arite interpretation, founded by al-Ash'ari (d. 935), to eventually take preeminence within Sunni Islam." Rationalism also faced an uphill battle because of the view of Allah as an unpredictable and whimsical deity, since "only Allah truly acts with real effect; all seemingly natural observances of causation are merely manifestations of Allah's habits, for Allah simultaneously creates both the cause and the effect according to his arbitrary will. This view is best expressed by one of the Islamic philosophers cited by [Tariq] Ramadan, al-Ghazali (1059-1111), in his book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers."

The Koran is, structurally speaking, deeply inconsistent and almost incomprehensible to an average reader. One verse says one thing, the next verse contradicts this. The notion that Allah as incomprehensible and provides no correlation between cause and effect had a serious impact on the development of empirical sciences in the Islamic world. In contrast, for Jews and Christians, God has created the universe according to a certain logic, which can be described and predicted. Kepler firmly believed the solar system was created according to God's plan, which he attempted to unlock. Sir Isaac Newton was passionately interested in religion and wrote extensively about it. Even Albert Einstein, who was certainly not an orthodox, religious Jew, still retained some residue of the idea that the universe was created according to a logic which is, to a certain extent, comprehensible and accessible to human reason: "I believe in Spinoza's God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."

The Caliph al-Ma'mun (reign 813 - 833), who was influenced by the Mu'tazilite movement, created the House of Wisdom, a library and translation office. The Baghdad-centered Abbasid dynasty, which replaced the Damascus-centered Umayyad dynasty in 750, was closer to Persian culture and was probably inspired by the Sassanid practice of translating works and creating great libraries. Alkindus (Al-Kindi) was appointed to participate in the undertaking. Philosophical and scientific texts were translated into Arabic from Persian and Indian (Sanskrit) sources, but above all from Greek ones. Great efforts were made to collect and buy important Greek works and manuscripts from the Byzantines and have them translated.

In the book How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs, De Lacy O'Leary states that "Aristotelian study proper began with Abu Yusuf Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (d. after 873), commonly known as 'the Philosopher of the Arabs.' It is significant that almost all the great scientists and philosophers of the Arabs were classed as Aristotelians tracing their intellectual descent from al-Kindi and al-Farabi."

At the heart of these efforts was a Nestorian (Assyrian) Christian named
Johannitius (Hunayn ibn Ishaq). He had studied Greek by living in Greek lands, presumably in the Byzantine Empire, and was put in charge of translations at the House of Wisdom. Soon, he, his son and his nephew had made available in Arabic and Syriac Galen's medical treatises as well as Hippocrates and texts by Aristotle, Plato and others. In some cases, he apparently translated a work into Syriac and his son Ishaq translated this further into Arabic. All senior medical doctors in the Islamic world, including Avicenna and Rhazes, were later influenced by these translations of Greek medicine.

In 431 Nestorius, a Christian Patriarch, was expelled from Constantinople for heresy. The so-called Assyrian Church of the East thus split from the Byzantine Church. Their followers found a new home in the Syriac-speaking world and were welcomed in the Sassanid Persian Empire, the rival of Byzantium. They brought with them a collection of Greek texts, among them medical works of Galen and Hippocrates. It was these texts, aided by other manuscripts acquired and bought from Constantinople later, which provided the basis for translations of Greek texts into Arabic. The followers of this Eastern church, usually called Nestorians in the West, had communities spread out across much of Iraq, Iran and Central Asia, and were respected for their medical skills.

According to scholar Thomas T. Allsen, "Nestorians in the East were closely associated with the medical profession. A considerable body of Syriac medical literature, some in the original and some in translation, has been recovered in central Asia. This is hardly surprising, because Eastern Christians were an important fixture in West Asian medicine." Western medicine in Yuan (Mongol ruled) China, often characterized as "Muslim," was almost always in the hands of Nestorians, a situation that Western travelers found worthy of note.

Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. It was once the lingua franca of the Middle East and was widely used among Christians and also Arabs and to some extent Persians. It had a major impact on the development of Arabic, which later replaced it following the Islamic conquests. The Nabataeans, a Semitic people associated with the famous rock city of Petra close to the Dead Sea in present-day Jordan, were greatly influenced by Aramaic, and the Arabic alphabet developed out of their alphabet. The most unorthodox scholars even suggest that the Islamic religion itself may have developed closer to this region, at the northern fringes of Arabia, than around Mecca in central Arabia.

Some researchers believe that Syriac, or Syro-Aramaic, was also the root of the Koran. When it was composed, Arabic was not fully developed as a written language. Syriac, however, was widely used in the region at the time. Ibn Warraq estimates that up to 20% of the Koran is incomprehensible even to educated Arabs because segments of it were originally written in another, related language before Muhammad was born. A German professor of ancient Semitic and Arabic languages writes about the subject under the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg. If you believe Luxenberg, the chapters or suras of the Koran usually ascribed to the Mecca period, which are also the most tolerant and non-violent ones as opposed to the much harsher and more violent chapters from Medina, are not "Islamic" at all, but Christian:

"In its origin, the Koran is a Syro-Aramaic liturgical book, with hymns and extracts from Scriptures which might have been used in sacred Christian services. (…) Its socio-political sections, which are not especially related to the original Koran, were added later in Medina. At its beginning, the Koran was not conceived as the foundation of a new religion. It presupposes belief in the Scriptures, and thus functioned merely as an inroad into Arabic society."

Monte Cassino
is a monastery in southern Italy, founded by Saint Benedict in the sixth century, which was sacked and burned and its monks killed in 883 by Arabs in one of their countless Jihad raids in Western Europe. It was later rebuilt, and from here the monk Constantine the African in the eleventh century translated medical texts from Arabic into Latin, including those of Hippocrates and Galen done by Johannitius in Baghdad. Constantine also translated medical treatises written in Arabic by the Egyptian Jew Isaac Israeli ben Solomon. He was influenced by Hippocrates, Galen, Aristotle and Plato.

It is easy to track how Arabic translations of Greek texts from Byzantine manuscripts, often done by Christians, made their way from the Islamic East and ended up in the Iberian Peninsula in the Islamic West, where some of them were translated by Christians, for instance in the multilingual city of Toledo in central Spain, back to Latin. It is thus true that some Greek texts were reintroduced in the West via Arabic, sometimes passing via Syriac or Hebrew along the way, but this was always based, in the end, on manuscripts from the Byzantine Empire.

The work led by Johannitius in Baghdad preserved via the Arabic translation some of Galen's works lost in the Greek original. The Greek physician Galen worked in the second century A.D., systematized medical knowledge in the Greco-Roman world and supplied this with his own research. He lamented the fact that he couldn't perform dissection of human corpses, but this wasn't allowed during Roman times so he based his studies of human anatomy on dissections of animals such as dogs, apes and pigs. This is funny if you are familiar with the low status dogs, apes and pigs have in Islam, and know that all subsequent medicine in the Muslim world was inspired by Galen. Since dissection of human corpses was taboo in the Islamic world, too, Galen's errors remained unchallenged for centuries, until the Renaissance in Christian Europe. Leonardo da Vinci made numerous accurate anatomical drawings but didn't share this knowledge much at his time. The final breakthrough came with the anatomist Andreas Vesalius from Brussels, who published his book On the Workings of the Human Body in 1543 based on observation through autopsy. He is considered the father of modern anatomy in the Western world.

Fjordman is a noted Norwegian blogger who has written for many conservative web sites. He used to have his own Fjordman Blog in the past, but it is no longer active.