According to some reports, Obama said yesterday that Islam has "shaped the world for the better."
Did the "gift of the Arabs" to Iran make Iranian civilization better? Is it not truer to say that despite Islam, Iranian poets such as Sa'adi, Hafiz, Firdowsi, Omar Khayyam, managed to sing unislamically of wine and women? (And they sang of women not as loot, not as slaves, not as inferiors, but as objects of desire and affection in a way that non-Muslim man can understand.) Did they not manage to withstand the cultural and linguistic imperialism of the Arabs, of which Islam has been, is, and always will be a vehicle?
Did Islam's arrival in North Africa, and the disappearance of the rich Christian culture (remember both Augustine and Tertullian were from North Africa, and Monica, Augustine's mother, was a Berber), "shape the world" of formerly Christian North Africa "for the better"?
Did the artistic riches of Byzantium, of Constantinople (for a thousand years the most important city in Christendom), so many destroyed, others vandalized beyond recognition, when the Muslims took over, end up "for the better" when Islam conquered the Byzantine Greeks?
Did the artistic achievements and inheritance, the artifacts and monuments, of Buddhism in Central Asia, did the stupas and the steles of Greco-Bactrian culture in what is now Afghanistan flourish, or disappear forever when Islam "changed for the better" this part of the world?
Did the temple complexes of the Hindus, did the temples of the Jains, did the civilization of India, improve when Muslim conquerors came? Did India change "for the better" because of the arrival of Islam? When Muslims killed 60-70 million Hindus, and forced others to convert if they wished to avoid either immediate death, or the horrors of life as, at best, dhimmis under Muslim rule, was this a change "for the better"?
Did the rich Hindu and Buddhist civilization of the East Indies -- consider Borobudur, for example -- replaced almost everywhere by Islam, and with the consequent esthetic and mental impoverishment that the narrow limiting of artistic expression, and the discouragement of free and skeptical inquiry, that are both such remarkably stable features of Islam, even though so contra naturam, did that Hindu and Buddhist civilization change, under Islam, "for the better"?
Did Greece, did Bulgaria, did Serbia, did the rest of the Balkans, change for the better" when the Ottoman Turks arrived, leading some to convert out of a desire to protect themselves? What are Bosnian Muslims if not the descendants of Serbs who converted, just as Pakistanis and Indian Muslims are merely the descendants of Hindus who sought to escape the crushing conditions of life for non-Muslims during the centuries of Muslim rule, so much more aurangzeb than akbar? Was the child-snatching of the "devshirme" system, where Christian (and Jewish children) were taken to serve as Janissaries, a change "for the better"?
Was the arrival of Islam in Syria-Lebanon for the pre-existing Christians -- Maronites and others -- a change "for the better"?
Was the arrival of Islam in Black Africa, through the Arab slave traders who began their cruel work, seizing black African boys, castrating them on the spot, in the bush, and then bringing them by slave coffle and dhow to the slave markets of Islam, a change, for those black Africans, "for the better"? Islam legitimizes, for all time, in its immutable texts, the rightness, the justness, of slavery. Slavery was only abolished among Muslims by the fiat of outside European powers (as France in Morocco and Algeria, or by the Royal Navy suppressing the Arab slave trade with Africa in the late 19th century, with intermittent booster shots of naval power displayed through much of the early 20th century) or by international pressure from the West, as when Saudi Arabia, but only in 1962, formally abolished slavery -- though of course it continues, informally, right through to today. Did Islam, which allows slavery, and has never experienced a Muslim Wilberforce, change things "for the better"?
Did the arrival of Islam make artistic expression freer? Did the arrival of Islam anywhere make more likely the cultivation of free and skeptical inquiry? Did the arrival of Islam, and its view of men as "slaves of Allah" who must acquire the habit of mental submission, anywhere lead to a cultural flowering that was not present before, or that was not the product of Arabic-speaking Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, or those who were merely a generation away from being Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, and still raised up in, or greatly affected by, such a non-Muslim milieu?
Tell us where, and tell us in detail, about how the arrival and steady spread of Islam, where it did spread, and was not opposed, made the world "a better place"?
We're all ears.