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Friday, 6 March 2015

How The West Differed From The East

When Islam first arose, many Christian scholars thought that it was some sort of Christian creed ~ possibly heretical, but a creed with which we might have some sort of debate ..... of course they soon found out differently, and in the centuries since, the two civilisations have grown further apart, not closer together, but as we largely didn't inhabit the same space, we rarely clashed anymore ~ except for those poor Christian souls who lived under Muslim domination (won't be any of them left by 2050 AD).

However we are now being forced to share the same space (well in the West), because a generation of Western politicians are too ignorant of Islam to understand that there can be no compromise with it, and that its either Islam, or our secular societies, which will have to break.

Looking back in to antiquity, there was a time when it could be argued that Islam was a coherent civilisation .... but it should also be recalled, that when Islam conquered its way out of Arabia in the 7th century, the ancient civilisations of antiquity were weak ... in the East, Persia had been through another of its civil wars, and followed it up with a war with the Byzantine's over the Middle East. While in the West, apart from the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the old Roman world was in a state of collapse. Pagans ruled in Britain and much of Gaul, while the rest of the old Empire had been overrun by Germanic tribes of varying religious sensibilities, who were now sitting atop the remains of the old imperial civil service. North Africa was under the Vandals, Spain was under the Visigoths and much of Italy had been ruled by the Ostrogoths, who although Christian were also 'Arian' Christians (a heresy to the Catholics), until these were replaced by the Lombards. The Byzantine's were also fighting in parts of Italy, to retain some presence of the 'Roman' Empire in its birth place.

All of these Western states outside of Byzantine control, were either Pagan, or under the rule of a Christian sect that was in conflict with the others ... Catholic versus Orthodox, and both against the Arians and the Pagans. In the East, the state religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism which was largely a religion practised only in Persia (the diaspora only occurred after the Arab invasions eradicated the religion from its homeland).

So they were all, in most cultural and intellectual senses, sterile and or, decaying regimes (although they may have revived later, but for subsequent events), trying hard to come to terms with a world that was overrun with groups they perceived as being barbarians. The Byzantines for example, were already tied to a form of Emperor worship that placed him (or her), above the church and just below Jesus (a form of rule by emperor and church, that survived in Tzarist Russia until the 1917 revolution) ... hence the disagreements with the Bishops of Rome, who didn't hold this view. Certainly the Byzantines had abandoned much of the sciences that their Greek and Roman heritages had bequeathed them, even writing over old science manuscripts to make yet more prayer books, all the while riven by iconoclastic disputes.

Into this arena, the Arabs stormed with their 'one way' religion, and in the main they found the Middle East, North Africa and Spain an easy area to conquer, often with comparatively small armies of between 12,000 and 20,000 men at arms. When you think that the Romans in their pomp had regularly fielded armies of up to 50-60,000 or more men, you can see how things had degraded.

Europe At Start Of 7th Century And Arab Conquests ~ The Visigoths Fell Next.

The Arabs picked up the learning and scholarship of their Roman, Greek, Persian, and even their Hindu subject populations, and to be fair saved much of it, and then went on and actually enhanced on some of it, thus entering the 'Islamic Golden Age', when learning and investigation was allowed. Indeed, compared to the stifling of non religious intellectual thought, that the Christian Orthodox and Catholic religions represented, they appeared to be the successors to the intellectual freedoms and religious tolerance of the great empires that had preceded them.

This Islamic Golden Age was marked by great intellectual and cultural creativity - the Abbasid court in Baghdad valued literature and music, and fostered world-changing advances in medicine, science and mathematics ..... but by the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate with the Mongol invasions and the Sack of Baghdad in 1258, the intellectual freedoms had already been eroded (only in India under the Moghuls did it revive later in the 16th century). The early movements that had encouraged philosophy and scientific enquiry, had, even by as early as by 885 AD, been halted and new intellectual enquiry even reversed, when it even became a crime to copy books of Greek philosophy (which had too many opinions contradicting the Koran).

There was then the rise of the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school of thought, whose increasing dominance is often pointed at as being linked to the decline of Arabic science. The Ash’arites, pushed for an ethos in the Islamic world, that was increasingly opposed to any original scholarship, and in fact frowned severely upon any scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in the religious regulation of private and public life. The high point of this was led by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, who in his book 'The Incoherence of the Philosophers', vigorously attacked all philosophy and philosophers. Not just the Greek philosophers themselves, but their followers in the Muslim world such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Al-Farabi (Alpharabius).

 Ibn Sina (Avicenna) - The Greatest Arab Philosopher.

The Arab / Islamic world then coasted along, largely on what it had gleaned from Western and Eastern antiquity, and what it had added to with its discoveries in its golden period (including some ideas from the distant Chinese, who were intellectually following their own path in science ... much like the Indian world) ... while the West was of course well behind, and still struggling to get out of the scientific rut that the so called 'dark ages' represented. It's sometimes supposed that the 'dark ages' meant no debate or progress in Europe, but in fact there was much intellectual debate in the West, but like the later Arab world, it was largely theological in nature, and restricted to those whose could read and write in Latin.

However with the emergence of natural science philosophers such as Roger Bacon in the 13th century, the signs of Western Europe's revival were there, but it wasn't until the start of the renaissance in 14th century Italy, that the West fully caught up with its own past achievements, and started to surpass the achievements of ancient Rome, and then the Arab world ... this was because in the West, the 'Universal Church' as it was known, was challenged, firstly by the Protestant faith, and then by a scientific community, increasingly protected by the secular authorities, who felt able to challenge church notions, such as the idea that the Earth was the centre of the universe (Heliocentricism).

Giordano Bruno - A Martyr To Progress

Giordano Bruno's burning at the stake in 1600, Galileo's forced recantation in 1616 under threat of the same, and the burning of philosopher Lucilio Vanini in 1619 for being atheistic in his writings, effectively marked the end of the Churches power over science in Western Europe. In the East of Europe the Orthodox world stifled these challenges, and continued with the Emperor as 'anointed one' idea, firstly in the Byzantine Empire until its fall, and then in the Russian Empire of the Tzar's, so no scientific revival occurred until late in the 19th century (much to its cost even up until today).

So while theology had taken a permanent and stifling grip on the intellectual freedom in the Islamic world, the opposite was happening in the West ... and within a hundred years of Galileo's bitter words of recantation, the science of the West had leapt past the Arab world, the Indian world, and was passing the Chinese world by as well. So while it may be correct to concede that for a number of centuries the Muslim world was better organised in both a social and scientific sense, there was a slow but definite strangulation in their intellectual pursuits, as the theologians became the principal source of what was called 'knowledge' in that world ... something that any observer can see is still the case today (except perhaps in an Iran, which is showing small signs of changes, although still pursuing the Shia 'Bomb').

We are now in the 21st Christian century, and in the West anyone from a hundred and fifty, or even a hundred years ago, would struggle to recognise the social layout of society. Universal suffrage for all sexes, Adult literacy rates close to 100%, Women's rights are all but a certainty, Homosexuality and other sexual mores are tolerated or equalised ... but in the Islamic world, women's right are but a strange idea to be resisted ~ often by pretending that they already exist in Islam, so there's nothing to demand ~ homosexuality (although widely practised), is almost always a death sentence, and there is no science worthy of the name (making their own Sunni 'nuclear bomb' in Pakistan was hailed a great achievement, and as already mentioned, is now also Shia Irans aim) ... poverty of ambition, thought, freedom and intellectual pursuits, held that way by massive violence to dissenters, are the hall marks of the Islamic world, and yet, as discussed in an earlier post, they claim they are superior to us.

You need to have a very blinkered view of the world today to see Islam as superior, but then as one of my co-workers proudly told me 'I only have one book in my house, that's all I need to teach my son'.

You can guess what book that was.

4 comments:

  1. Wow! Fantastic summary man. It was kind of inevitable that we are where we are when you look at it like this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, its certainly one explanation. No doubt others could give you alternatives .... but we have to understand that our culture must not back down or humanity may revert back to superstition as its main driver. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  2. Interesting and well compiled, good job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Vroomfondel ... I worry that the longer articles get little attention (except maybe from school kids copying for exams or homework LOL), so its always nice to get a couple of comments.

      Delete

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