In debt to Islam? For Western thought?

No, seriously. We have a president who thinks we are in debt. On more than just the economic front.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam - at places like Al-Azhar University - that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment.
So said Barack Obama in a major speech delivered in Cairo.

But was it really "Islam" that carried the light of learning? The Charlotte Capitalist takes historical issue with president's words:

The president's error is in attributing "Islam" to the accomplishments of the Arab world of a thousand years ago. The president couldn't be more wrong.

It was Arabs qua Aristotelians and not Arabs qua Islamists who are responsible for the accomplishments described by the president.

Read it all.

This is not to say that there isn't "common ground between the Arab world of one thousand years ago and the United States of America." There is, but it does not derive from Islam, but classical Greek thought:

It is the common ground of transmitted Greek thought (reason) taken from idea to action. And for this, we should be thankful to certain Arabs of that time period. We should be thankful for many pro-Aristotelian Arab philosophers including Averroes.
Unfortunately for Islam, Islamic theologians eventually rejected it, and ultimately "logic and philosophy (as parts of "alien learning") became extinct, extinguished by popular and theological hostility to non-Islamic culture."

In other words, while Muslims did help transmit classical Greek thought, "Islam" did not originate it, nor did "Islam" seek to preserve it. (Whether the president really believes otherwise, or is merely trying to imply it for political advantage, I don't know.)

Concludes the Charlotte Capitalist,

For Barack Obama to not only deny the reality of medieval Arab history by praising Islam as the tool of modern progress when in fact it is the consistent killer of human thought and action is a disgrace. It is a disgrace because it attacks not only the true tool of human progress (reason), but it attacks the philosophical and historical roots of the country of which he is president.

There are few greater scams or sins ever committed by an American president than the one committed by President Barack Obama today. The United States of America is at war. At war, not just on the battefield, but in the realm of ideas. We are in the ongoing war between reason and faith. An American president has just yielded to the enemy.

He may think that flattery and deceit will work.

I have to admit, thanking Islam for Western civilization is an interesting form of triangulation.

Hmmm...

Should I be glad again that the president was being dishonest?

posted by Eric on 06.04.09 at 03:50 PM










Comments

I would say we owe the preservation of Aristotle et al to the Eastern Roman Empire, which never lost those texts in the first place. Although some texts did reach the West via Islam, I believe they were primarily Arabic translations, not the original Greek. Thus early translators like Michael Scot had to work from the Arabic. Later the West managed to obtain Greek copies. And where did these come from? If you look at modern critical editions, you'll see that our Greek manuscripts come from Greek monasteries. So it would be more appropriate to credit Muslims with introducing the texts to the West, not with preserving them.

In addition, how many texts did they destroy forever by their relentless conquest and pillaging? Byzantine scholars like Photios possessed far more texts than we do today, but now they are lost. How much more would we have, if the Muslims hadn't ravaged Constantinople? And what of the rest of the once-Christian East? Some scholars believe the Library of Alexandria was burned by the Muslims. Islam has caused far more darkness than light.

Paul   ·  June 4, 2009 4:26 PM

Look, you can't blame Obama for the ignorance of his Ivy League educated and/or NEA membership staff. Who knew that history was more nuanced than what you learned in 5th grade?

Why would anyone think that the magnetic compass, algebra, or printing might have been conceived before the 7th century?

JKB   ·  June 4, 2009 4:49 PM

that he's such a smart man proves that if a little knowledge is a dnagerous thing, an Ivy League education makes someone even more dangerous.

Rob   ·  June 4, 2009 5:37 PM

Obama is coming more and more to resemble Lillian Hellman, of whom one critic, while commenting on her defense of Stalinism, said "everything she writes is a lie, including the words 'and' and 'the'."

pst314   ·  June 4, 2009 5:49 PM

From my experience most Arabs understand "Flattery and Deceit".

Hugh   ·  June 4, 2009 6:02 PM

An article I posted here a while back on Muslim rejection of rationality:

http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/2007/01/no_word_for_lib.html

M. Simon   ·  June 4, 2009 6:06 PM

Islam DID destroy what remained of the Great Library of Alexandria though.

Robert   ·  June 4, 2009 6:47 PM

Some very smart Medieval Christians, in the name of Christianity, tried to bring philosophy into the Church, e.g. Thomas Aquinas. Some very smart Medieval Islamists, in the name of Islam, tried to bring philosophy into the mosque, e.g. Alfarabi.
In both cases (as also with the Jews) there was an uphill struggle to convince the orthodox that Aristotle had something to offer. Any explanation of why, ultimately, Aquinas was sainted and Alfarabi shunted aside (not to mention the shunting aside of Maimonides' philosophical discourses by the Jews) is not going to be taken care of by some simplistic blather about Islam as "the consistent killer of human thought and action" (killer of action??). There was certainly no overwhelming historical or intellectual necessity that ensured Aristotle's welcome by the Church. Meantime, if we're going to claim that, "It was Arabs qua Aristotelians and not Arabs qua Islamists who are responsible for the accomplishments described by the president," then we'd better be ready to rewrite that sentence vis-a-vis folks like Aquinas. Or is somebody ready to show that this "saint" stuff was just a dumb mistake—he was actually an Aristotelian 5th columnist? Christian? Not so much.

As for the survival of manuscripts, that's also a long and complicated story. Those monasteries that preserved Greek writings often did so unwittingly or accidentally, as palimpsests, for example—reused parchments, either by writing on the back or by erasing and overwriting. But there was no great love of Greek philosophy or learning that led the monks to preserve these manuscripts. In fact, although Islam may well have put paid to the final remnants of the Alexandrian library, good Christian rulers such as Theodosius had already destroyed whatever they could many centuries earlier.

HMI   ·  June 4, 2009 9:53 PM

"From my experience most Arabs understand "Flattery and Deceit"."

Machiavelli, too! I tell ya, cain't trust them Eye-talians any more than them Ay-rabs.

HMI   ·  June 4, 2009 10:17 PM

Regardless the details of history between then and now, the bright intellectual light of the Arab world no longer shines. I think the Islamic religion put it out and tries very hard to ensure it won't be turned on again.

Christians tried the same thing in the west. Why were they not as successful?

Donna B.   ·  June 5, 2009 12:40 AM

BTW the Jews eventually caught on to Maimonides. It just took a few centuries. They had a foothold on rationality through some being court physicians. And you know - the Great Rabbi M. was a physician.

Hospitals are named after him these days. And other things.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maimonides#Tributes_and_memorials

M. Simon   ·  June 5, 2009 4:38 AM

Maimonides, as M.Simon says, caught on. But that was precisely as a physician and as author of the Mishneh Torah, a kind of commentary and codification of Talmudic law. But his monumental philosophic work, the Guide to the Perplexed, has historically been of comparatively little interest to the rabbis and there were very few who followed in any sort of Maimonidean-Aristotelian tradition. I am very doubtful that there is substantial argument to be made that Judaism or Christianity is somehow inherently more rational or hospitable to philosophy than is/was Islam.

italtrav   ·  June 5, 2009 8:52 AM

Maimonides, as M.Simon says, caught on. But that was precisely as a physician and as author of the Mishneh Torah, a kind of commentary and codification of Talmudic law. But his monumental philosophic work, the Guide to the Perplexed, has historically been of comparatively little interest to the rabbis and there were very few who followed in any sort of Maimonidean-Aristotelian tradition. I am very doubtful that there is substantial argument to be made that Judaism or Christianity is somehow inherently more rational or hospitable to philosophy than is/was Islam.

HMI   ·  June 5, 2009 8:52 AM

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