Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On the Eye of Goliath and other tales from long ago...

As always, I have to begin by saying that I'm no historian, but I wonder about the decline of Arabic or Islamic civilization centered in the Middle East and ponder about some of the ideas given sometimes. There seems to be this prevalent idea that somehow, the period saw a stagnation of ideas, the rise of religious fanaticism and an intolerance which eventually lead to the overtaking of the Islamic world by Europe. On closer investigation I've started to disagree. Apart from the plague, which ravaged the Middle East and North Africa a lot worse than Europe, there was another form of problem which ravaged the area. The sack of Baghdad in 1258 is one of the most shocking periods of Islamic history and accounts of the brutality and destruction are truly blood chilling. Can you imagine what impact such a region would have had with repeated invasions and wars, first by the Crusaders, then, once these had finally been weakened, the arrival of a much more powerful and brutal opponent? The sack of Baghdad and Damascus is probably the equivalent of someone sacking New York and London, slaughtering and enslaving the inhabitants and then burning libraries and city landmarks. The impact would truly be catastrophic and such a loss would have been extremely hard to recover from even if all circumstances were ideal afterwards, which they were not in the Middle East, to say the least.

Still, there was still a bit of oomph left in that the Mamlukes of Egypt managed to fight a battle at Ain Jalut (near Gaza) where the Mongols were decisively defeated for the first time ever since their phenomenal expansion. Some take it to be the beginning of the end for the Mongols, yet with their eventual decline, it allowed the Ottomans to eventually take over the region. Andalusia by this time was already close to fragmenting and in no position to help even if the political will was there. The dominance of the Ottomans temporarily brought stability, but with it stagnation and eventual decline as the Europeans, with the wealth of the pillaged "New World" managed to grow stronger and stronger. A series of devastating religious wars eventually bankrupted the Spanish Empire, ironically making it's enemies in the Netherlands much stronger and the hub of a powerful economic system and trade empire. Eventually the torch would move to Britain after the defeat of Napoleon and this torch would remain with her empire until her weakening and fragmentation in two world wars during the Twentieth Century. It was the United States which was able to rise to dominance by bailing out the nearly bankrupt British Empire, ensuring that it's leadership would be secured for the remainder of the Twentieth century, especially in the face of it's last greatest enemy, the Soviet Union. Anyhow, what was I saying? Ah yes, basically I think it's a load of tosh when people tell me that there is some magical wand of enlightenment or secularisation which is needed to bring the Arab world back to par, I doubt it, what we need is to kick out foreign armies and be strong enough to stop invasions. The people are resourceful enough to eventually build a new "civilization". Putting the donkey behind the cart is no solution.

Anyway, that concludes our history lesson from a Maysaloon perspective. I don't even know why I typed this, I've got coursework to do! Maybe I'm just procrastinating as usual. No more posts...

10 comments:

Amre El-Abyad said...

I agree with everything you wrote on this post, especially your final conclusion about how much of a redicolous approach it is to put the donkey behind the cart- while you still expect it to move forward.

Arima said...

It's a pretty accurate assesment. As you say we need to stop being invaeded etc to have a chance at making a new civillisation. However the nature of most civillisations is that they dominate until their collapse so that means we have to wait until the US's 'sun sets'.

poshlemon said...

Wassim,

you say very logical things... but, your conclusion is very utopian.

Wassim said...

Yeah I agree that it's not great. Actually I started typing this up whilst studying and I just wanted to wrap it up. It's just me scribbling thoughts down to take my mind off the books.

Nobody said...

Anyhow, what was I saying? Ah yes, basically I think it's a load of tosh when people tell me that there is some magical wand of enlightenment or secularisation which is needed to bring the Arab world back to par, I doubt it, what we need is to kick out foreign armies and be strong enough to stop invasions. The people are resourceful enough to eventually build a new "civilization". Putting the donkey behind the cart is no solution.

you know, for a person who reads that much you somehow manage to come up with conclusions that are hard to call very elaborate and sophisticated .... what is there ?? yankees go home ??? and then every piece will miraculously fall in its place as our glorious and resourcesfull arab nation builds its new civilization ??? many people can get that smart without polishing their intellect first by kant and hegel ... and some people who did not read one single book in their life are naturally intelligent enough to get that something sucks in such a simplistic reading of the situation ....

Wassim said...

Nobody, yes that's pretty much it I think. Whilst I admit I just hastily wrapped up the post, what is it that so riles you about it? Is it because I consider Israel one of those foreign armies that we need to kick out?

;)

Nobody said...

:D :D

good joke ... but no ... it's not because of israel ... i remember my youth in the former soviet union when i was dead sure that communism was responsible for all the evil of that society ... if only we could get rid of these marxist monkeys, we were thinking ...

the USA is not your worst problem ... and neither us ... i dont want to sound patronizing but the time to get real will come for you arabs too ...

Wassim said...

"get real", such an interesting catch phrase. Is such a state even achievable? Even by your exacting standards? If you think the furthest I can think of is blaming Israel or the USA for the evils that men are capable of then you're mistaken. Then again I've never really articulated what it is that I think have I? It's always flitting in and out of my posts but I never seem to muster enough will to do so. Oh well...

Nobody said...

Wassim said...

"get real", such an interesting catch phrase. Is such a state even achievable? Even by your exacting standards?


you wanted to say "by your not exacting standards" ... by my not exacting standards it's achievable ...

If you think the furthest I can think of is blaming Israel or the USA for the evils that men are capable of then you're mistaken. Then again I've never really articulated what it is that I think have I?

i am long past the stage when i believed that people have so much control of their mental processes as to be able implement principles they proclaim to subscribe to at the thought level ... as far as i am concerned you articulate yourself too well ... after all, what did i do ??? i was almost quoting you word by word ..

michael.di said...

The only way for a a society to flourish is constant self-critism. Thats what democrasy is all about.

While it maybe makes you feel good to blame about everyone except your own societies (including 13th century mongols), it will keep you backward.

I am neither Syrian or arab, so its not my job to conduct selfcritisism. But you are. What are the arab countries doing wrong that makes them so poor?