I should thank the pro-Israeli, Islam-critical blog Document for bringing this to my attention. The two Norwegian essays cited here were written by Ole JÃ¸rgen Benedictow, a professor emeritus at the University of Oslo specializing in the history of the Middle Ages. The translations were made by me, and the shorter excerpts should capture the spirit of the texts.
Benedictow, as an expert in the field, has tried to influence the public debate on issues related to Islam vs. Europe in the Middle Ages, but has repeatedly experienced being rebuffed in favor of young Marxists with little knowledge of the period. He is annoyed by the fact that people who know very little about this era and its complexities have easy access to the mass media and can spread falsehoods virtually unchallenged. “Revolutionary Socialists” “” that is, Communists “” have no problem promoting their propaganda in major newspapers despite representing a totalitarian ideology that caused the deaths of tens of millions of people “” 100 million if you believe The Black Book of Communism “” during the twentieth century alone.
For some reason, allegedly “anti-imperialist” Marxists in the Western world just love brutal, aggressive and oppressive imperialism “” as long as it comes in an Islamic shape. There is no hint of an understanding of why the Spanish and Portuguese fought so many centuries for their liberation, nor of the plight of the Balkan Christians or those who suffered under Muslim rule elsewhere in the world, for example following the extremely bloody Islamic conquest of India. Islamic advances must be celebrated; the West demonized and ridiculed. European medieval peoples are invariable portrayed as barbarians with no culture of their own.
Yet the Middle Ages represented a creative growth period where we find the seeds of a new civilization “” the European one “” which replaced that of Greco-Roman Antiquity but also carried with it a number of Classical elements, albeit often in a somewhat altered form.
The French professor of medieval history Sylvain Gouguenheim has published a book titled Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les Racines Grecques de l”Europe (Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel: The Greek Roots of Europe), triggered by a recommendation from the European Union that schoolbooks should give a positive rendering of Islam’s part in the European heritage. Europe, he says, “became aware of the Greek texts because it went hunting for them, not because they were brought to them.” He attacks the thesis advanced by historians such as Edward Said of an enlightened, refined and spiritual Islam against a brutal and ethnocentric West. Apart from a tiny handful of freethinkers, the scholars of the Islamic Middle East retained from the ancient Greeks only what they considered to be compatible with the Koran.
The Western Church and its monks contributed to the preservation of
many Classical texts. In addition to this, professional scribes could
sometimes be found outside of the monasteries, catering to kings and
nobles. A hallmark of the Western peoples was respect, even admiration,
for different cultures and a willingness to seek out creative impulses
from other civilizations. Muslims have historically exhibited little
creativity in important forms of artistic expression such as painting or
sculpture. In Benedictow’s view, “no cultural sphere with more than a billion people contributes so little to the development of science or the arts in our time.”
The Ottomans used a centralized power structure to extract a large
proportion of the resources of the empire to use for military
aggression, but they were successfully rebuffed by European states. The
problem with an overly centralized power structure with high tax rates
is that over time it will lead to economic and technological stagnation.
Successful innovation requires some degree of decentralization, which
could be found in regions of Western Europe with many free cities, from
northern Italy via the Netherlands and Flanders in the Low Countries to
England and northern Germany. This is where we encounter the development
Respected scholar Joseph Schacht states in An Introduction to Islamic Law
that “The concept of corporation does not exist in Islamic law.” In
addition to this, “There is also no freedom of association.” This legal
defect had serious implications for Islamic societies, not least in the
sphere of economic development, as Timor Kuran has made clear. The
economic growth and social developments of modern Europe partly had
medieval roots, as Avner Greif and others have shown. By contrast,
Islamic culture was based on a very different mental outlook.
As the ex-Muslim Wafa Sultan says in her excellent book A God Who Hates,
the raids Muhammad and his companions carried out, which amounted to at
least twenty-seven if you believe Islamic sources, occupy a major part
of his biography. They were intended to acquire booty and to inflict
harm upon rival tribes in order to deprive them of their ability to
resist Islam. A philosophy of raiding “has rooted itself firmly in the
Muslim mind. Bedouins feared raiding on the one hand, and relied on it
as a means of livelihood on the other. Then Islam came along and
canonized it. Muslims in the twenty-first century still fear they may be
raided by others and live every second of their lives preparing to raid
someone else. The philosophy of raiding rules their lives, the way they
behave, their relationships, and their decisions.”
According to Benedictow, “Like
other great conquering peoples, from Romans to Mongols, the Arab-Muslim
conquerors took over landed property and political control and
established a tax regime that benefitted the small, but superior warrior
elite. For many centuries this was the essence of the Arab-Muslim
presence, the imperialist exploitation model. But since Muslims didn’t
pay taxes there was also no great urge to do Muslim missionary activity.
This is among Western, pro-Islamic left-wing political ideologues,
social anthropologists and historians of religion characterized as tolerance.
As long as this remained the case, however, the culture of Antiquity
could continue to exist, now as a strong undercurrent that allowed for
continued work on the Classical texts, translations and commentaries
included. The ability of Classical civilization to nourish human
ingenuity lived on. Many of those who contributed were Christians and
Jews or converts to Islam; rather few were Arabs. As the Muslim
religious oppression increased and permeated society and intolerance
grew, these Classical civilizational elements withered away. What is
actually the case is that the Arab-Muslim conquest of Eastern Roman
lands led to the destruction of the civilization of Classical Antiquity.
Claiming that the Arab-Muslim conquest saved it is backwards to say the least.”