An alternative view of east-west history

The following is part of a series of articles from Chris Tolworthy reposted here with kind permission. The articles together ask many questions about the September 11 atrocity and its aftermath, as well as looking into it from numerous angles. The articles are split into a number of pages on this site (which you can follow using the links at the bottom).

An alternative view of Islamic history.
Chris Tolworthy
March 2002

Do Arabs always blame the west? Maybe they have good reason to.

In the west we are familiar with a one-sided view of culture. This page is also one-sided, but looks at the other side for a change...

Oh, that God would give us the very smallest of gifts To be able to see ourselves as others see us!

Robert Burns
  • Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was born around the year 570, in the city of Mecca. The defining moment in his family's life of the young Mohammed was "the year of the elephant." In the year of Mohammed's birth, a local Christian ruler (known as Abraha or "scarface") decided to invade Mecca. He was only defeated by the hand of God - his elephant refused to enter the city.
  • Before that time, the Arabs had watched the violence and extremism of Justinian, the demonic(1) ruler of the Roman Empire (then based in Constantinople).
  • Since that time, the Arabs made various attempts to conquer the city, this being the only way to begin to civilize Europe, as they saw it(2).
  • Mohammed was born into a world that was in decline - the Dark Ages were beginning. Through his efforts he created a world that was more advanced and more civilised than the west.
  • I am not trying to justify his "holy wars" but please note that there was no international law then, and the alternative was worse. His wars were no worse than those waged by the late Roman empire. The difference was that late Roman conquests brought decline(3) and the Moslems brought advancement.
  • The "holy war" period ended, and Islam settled down. Compared with the backward westerners, it encouraged learning and enlightenment. Until
  • Pope Urban II, needing to strengthen his precarious position, encouraged a crusade against the Middle East. The crusades were a distraction that drew Islam's armies to the west.
  • This weakened the eastern defences of the Islamic world, and the Mongols invaded.
  • The Moslems needed to become more war oriented again. The Turks rose to power, and drove out the replaced them. But the Turks, being war-oriented, spent less time on the finer things of Islam. They did not understand its depth.(4)
  • The Turks finally ended the western threat by capturing Constantinople. As a side effect, Islamic learning flooded into Europe and created the renaissance.
  • The two civilisations lived more or less apart for a while. In later centuries, as the Turks came into more contact with the west, they realised that the west had overtaken them - the east had lost the plot. They worked hard to return to the pure Islam that encouraged learning(4).
  • But by then the west was too powerful. It sent its armies to conquer the world: it became "the colonial era."
  • The west caused two world wars.
  • As part of this it interfered with and eventually (after World War I) carved up of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire.
  • Western interests in the Ottoman empire led them to first encourage fanatics who should have been defeated (e.g. the Ikhwans and later the neo-Wahhabi movements) and then enrage these fanatics by meddling in Arabian affairs.(5)
  • These groups provided the roots of modern Arab terrorism.
  • This pattern has been repeated in recent years. We interfere, they are confirmed in their hatred. A few fanatics try to attack us. We invade them (or encourage them to invade each other), and continue to promote injustice.

So, if they hate us, perhaps they have good reasons?

In summary, I am not arguing for Western guilt. I am arguing for justice for both sides. The only way to obtain justice is to uphold international law, and no longer see ourselves as the innocent judge, jury and executioner.

Footnotes

Please note: HTML links were created between January-March 2002. Some of these links may have expired when you read this.

1. For an eye witness account by the greatest historian of the age, see the "Secret History" by Procopius.

2. From "The Liberation of Constantinople" at Islam.org

3. When Belisarius and Narses liberated Rome from the barbarians in the sixth century, the Romans decided that life had actually been better under the barbarians. For more about who were the barbarians in the late Roman period, see Gibbon's "Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire."

4. For this period, see the speech by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (1875-1936). Picthall was an Englishman, an orientalist, and a Muslim who translated the meaning of the Holy Qur'an. His translation was first published in 1930 partly through the patronage of the Nizam of Hyderabad, ruler of Deccan in south India. Pickthall traveled to several Muslim countries, including Syria, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt, Arabia and India. He spent fifteen years (1920-35) in India, initially as Editor of the Bombay Chronicle beginning in 1920, then for the Nizam of Hyderabad Deccan during 1925-35. His comments are especially interesting because they were made in 1927, before Israel and America began to dominate the middle east. His main conclusion, concerning the decline of Islam, was that the Turks, being always preoccupied with foreign threats, never understood the finer depths of the religion. There are those who say the same today about fanatics who use Islam as an excuse to hate the west.

5. See "Origins of Middle East terrorism" at eastwestrecord.com

Where next?

This article is part of the following collection:

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  • Posted: Friday, March 29, 2002

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