Faded-Glorientalism

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If you believe Arabs are too fond of blaming their homegrown woes on foreigners, don't read this article by Alvaro Vargas Llosa at the Independent Institute. Not that Vargas Llosa is an Arab, but here's his thesis: "It was outside interference that destroyed freedom in the Arab lands." I wish the piece were better argued, but he has one great insight—that the difference between Islamic achievement (until the Ottoman Empire) and Islamic decline (during the Empire) is the difference between decentralized and centralized control.

There was no central authority, therefore no empire. There was no politically organized religion, therefore freedom of cult. People went about their business, whether in agriculture, industry, commerce, or science. Under no political mandate, farmers were constantly fertilizing and irrigating land, and rotating crops. The result was an abundance of food. The towns produced everything from tempered-steel and porcelain to cotton and leather goods. Entire cities thrived on commerce, from the Far East to Saracen Italy (the southern tip) and Saracen Spain.

I think it would be more accurate to say "There was no politically organized religion, relative to Europe at the time." You'd be hard pressed to find a more illiberal dynasty than the Almoravids, who forced even men to wear veils and burned every book but the Koran. But it only makes sense that the Arab achievements in math and the sciences and so on could not have happened without a great degree of intellectual freedom. I'm still waiting for Umberto Eco to reheat his Catholic/Protestant/Mac/DOS analogy to describe the Shiites and the Sunnis.

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  1. The article deviates in minor fashion from boilerplate rhetoric about the Golden Age – the mongols were left out of the blame queue. An insignificant flaw in an otherwise unexceptionable analysis. On the other hand, it’s nice to see the turks place ahead of the west as despoilors of glorious Trantor.
    Come to think of it, don’t the hindus and the chinese also need to take their place in line ? Hmm …
    In the real world, it is still the year 2003.

  2. I’ve heard the thesis that Arab achievements in mathematics and science can be attributed in part to the fact that there was little religious or political freedom in those societies, leaving any intellectual freedom in the realm of the sciences, which would little concern clerics or politicians as long as the concept of a supreme creator or ruler wasn’t challenged. This can also be seen in the Aztec and Mayan empires with their achievements in astronomy and, I suppose, architecture.

    This is something like the argument that the Protestant work ethic is responsible for the rise of industrialism. I’m no historian so who knows but it does seem like societies with strong “work for work’s sake” ethics such as Germany, Japan & English-speaking countries have gone further with industrialism than countries with less work-oriented approaches to life.

    But all those pre-industrial “golden ages” didn’t seem to last very long — once the idiot nephews start ascending the throne and the money dries up, poof! the golden age is over and it’s back to hunkering down and hoping you’ve got enough to eat that year.

    I think that any politician who starts talking about bringing back the “golden age” ought to be shot on sight. They don’t have a very good track record — Mussolini, Hitler, Nassar, Saddam Hussein (?), I can think of those guys offhand. All any of them brought was a lot of misery.

  3. Llosa’s thesis is fascinating and worthy of further investigation. (Wish he included a bibliography). There is no doubt about the achievements of Arab learning during the period, particularly in the sciences. It has the ring of truth but inpsires many questions.
    1.) Did Mohammed’s message help liberate the Arab people from existing central authority?
    2.) After Mohammed, there was certainly some certral authority, was there not? What about the Caliphs?
    3.) Some sources cite the decline of this grand era of Arab science at 1100. Could this period of freedom started to decline earlier than the Ottoman crush?
    4.) Did Llosa perhaps extend his thesis chronologically longer than is valid?
    5.) Surely, there were parts of the Muslim and Arab (or if you prefer, as does Llosa, the Saracen) world which succumbed to the killer certralization later than others. If so, which ones?

    At least this whole discussion is a good antidote to the rare (but still shameful) anti-Islam prejudice found occasionally on the right. Daniel Pipes being a prime offender.

    A book hint:
    “The Legacy Of Islam,” by Alfred Guillaume and Sir Thomas Arnold – It lists Islamic achievements in various fields rather than making a grand thesis.

  4. Of course opposition to Communism and Nazism
    is a political position to be proud of. Opposition to Islam and Arabs is not. Pipe’s anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bombast is just pathetic. I was probably unfair to the Right when I implied Pipes belonged on that side of the spectrum. He is popular with the neo-cons which is understandable of course, but placing the neos on the right is itself suspect as many of the their policy prescripions are anything but conservative or libertarian as they actually favor the expansion of the power and size of the state and are hyper-interventionist. Also, Pipes is strongly opposed by some libertarian and paleo thinkers. Pipe’s bigotry not enough to repel you? Check out his book: “Conspiracy” where,in a passage he laments American expansive free speech! BTW, the book’s easy dismission of conspiracy analysis is quite unsholarly.

  5. Rick Barton –
    Would you be OK with opposition to the Jerry Falweel types ?

  6. Rick: Islamism IS political. And not all Arabs are Islamic, so it is rather racist of you to state that.

    “(neocons) favor the expansion of the power and size of the state and are hyper-interventionist”

    Ah yes, the elusive cabel of Neocons. They are the same as the Stonecutters right? Your second point is more or less correct, but please provide proof of the first. The neocon rallying cry is “liberty and equality” which is still 50 percent better than the commie trash the paleos are currently siding with. And how do YOU define Neocon Rick? Please tell me it isn’t “Jewish Conservative.”

  7. “The peak of Islamic mathematics (IMO) occurred around the time of Omar Khayyam and al-Tusi, which I believe was late 14th century.”

    According to “Episodes in the mathematics of medieval Islam” Omar Khayyam (Umar al-Khayyami) was born around 1048. His “Algebra” represents a much more advanced state of the subject then we see among the Greeks. It was 1414 when al Kashi finished the revision of the atronomical tables written 150 years earlier by al-Tusi. In 1424 he did his famous calculation of 2PI then in 1426 compleated a compendium on algebra (an Arab word)
    and measurement.

  8. “Rick: Islamism IS political.”
    The statement about Islam is much to broad to be true. Appending Islam with “ism” won’t help

    “And not all Arabs are Islamic, so it is rather racist of you to state that”
    I never implied they were.

    “The neocon rallying cry is “liberty and equality””

    What nonsense! If the neos cared much about liberty they wouldn’t be so supportve of the well fare state and of the warfare state. If they cared much for equality they wouldn’t be so supportive of Ariel Sharon.

    “…the commie trash the paleos are currently siding with.”
    What universe are you living in?

    “… Please tell me it isn’t “Jewish Conservative.””
    What a stupid, racist comment.

  9. “Your second point is more or less correct, but please provide proof of the first.”
    For Which point do you want proof?

  10. The peak of Islamic mathematics (IMO) occurred around the time of Omar Khayyam and al-Tusi, which I believe was late 14th century. Khayyam’s treatise on cubic equations gives geometric solutions for all such equations, and al-Tusi gives some computational methods that come very close to actually solving the things numerically, almost 200 years before the publication of Cardano’s Ars Magna in 1565. I’m not aware of much original work in Islamic mathematics after Khayyam, and that’s well before the Ottoman incursions.

    If I remember right, Khayyam fell victim to some internal political intrigues, so the notion of “idiot nephews” may be more significant than we give it credit for. On the other hand, it may also serve as a warning about overreliance on the state for support of basic research. 🙂

  11. “Nope, that was bait for you to make your usual paleo-bullshit proclamations against “zionists” running the world. Lucky for all of us, this time you didn’t. Maybe you are getting better.”

    Ive never said and never would say “zionists are running the world”. And, as you are making racist accusations for “bait”, I can only conclude that you have no honor. More later.

  12. Questions like “Was Christianity, on balance, a benefit or a hindrance to human progress?” have been on the table in the Western world for centuries…and while they probably can’t yield a definite answer (and arguably support an affirmative answer), they have been useful– likely indispensible– for our intellectual life. More recently, the same kind of questions have been put concerning Mahayana Buddhism, and I can’t imagine an examination of India’s prospects, which doesn’t question some traditional tenets of Hindu belief and practice…and it is precisely because many feel passionately about it, that it is an important concern.
    Questions about the validity of traditional Moslem belief and practice are timely and legitimate…even if Moslems are touchy about it. Why should the Religion of Peace get a Political Correctness “pass” on critical examination?

  13. “At least this whole discussion is a good antidote to the rare (but still shameful) anti-Islam prejudice found occasionally on the right. Daniel Pipes being a prime offender. ”

    Can you believe it? And the Right is also against Communism and Nazism. Shame shame.

  14. …you forgot to include incest and bestiality…

  15. Oh. Neo-Conservative is hardly a useful label. They are a finite literary set, and you can no more become a Neo-Con, than you could become a member of the Oxford Movement, the Harlem Renaissance or the Bloomsbury Group.
    As for the policy positions held by the neo-cons, they are positions held by most of the adult Americans who would describe themselves as, well…conservative.

    1.) An assertive and, under some circumstances, interventionist foreign policy.
    2.) Support for Israel.
    3.) Military preparedness.
    4.) Resistence to social-engineering Liberalism.

    Run these four points across a sample of adult Americans, and with four hits you’d dredge up a group 98% of whom would describe themseves as conservative. Run the same four points past a sample of self-described “conservatives” and you would likely get 95% concurrence on all four points. That is about as much certainty as inductive reasoning permits.
    At least the neo-cons writers resonate with a sector of American public opinion. The “paleos”, if you distinguish them from Libertarians, are almost purely a literary set– and the libertarians and paleo-conservatives put together couldn’t form a human chain from San Francisco to Walnut Creek.
    The rest of the Peace Movement are the usual suspects: traditional pacifists, the college-town Left, and self-interested ethnic and confessional lobbies.

  16. SM
    If you ran cloning or abortion past a sample of self-described conservatives, you would get a correlation above .5, but it wouldn’t come close to unity…but try Affirmative Action, or school bussing.
    I’m not sure abortion or cloning are even neo-con issues…they are Jewish, remember, not Catholic.

  17. andrew wrote: “Questions like “Was Christianity, on balance, a benefit or a hindrance to human progress?””

    One thing is for sure: In the USA with our good seperation of church and state Christianity (other
    religions as well)has in the past, definatley been benificial as it has provided a countervailing force to the state. The Religios Right provided crtical support and leadership in the victory of Reagan when the Carter regime seemed out of control. Also, critical support in the conservative victory in the off year election, two years into Clinton’s first term and and his attempts to expand the scope and power of government. BTW this is a good reason not to pass the “faith based initiative” as it would give religios groups an interest in expanding the size of government.

  18. amdrew(andrew I assume) wrote:
    “I’m not sure abortion or cloning are even neo-con issues…they are Jewish, remember, not Catholic.”

    Come on they aren’t all Jewish and I’m Quite sure
    some(Jean Kirkpatrick, maybe?) are Catholic. He was probably just jesting.

  19. andrew wrote:”Questions about the validity of traditional Moslem belief and practice are timely and legitimate…even if Moslems are touchy about it.”
    Well, Muslims shouldn’t be touchy about Llosa’s thesis that this great age of learning that they presided over came to an end as the result of imposed centralization and empire. (The Ottoman one in this case). From a political point of view
    I am personaly enthralled as it points to yet another case of coercive state power crushing human progress. I want to explore the history further. Also interesting is the question of what extent the ideas of Islam had in creating this “Golden Age” of which we share
    the benefits all these years later.

  20. andrew wrote:
    “Why should the Religion of Peace get a Political Correctness “pass” on critical examination?”

    No religion should. There is an engaging and well
    argued book “Jewish History,Jewish Religion” that makes the case that while Muslim fundamentalism is vilified in the west, Jewish fundamentalism goes largely unremarked and that classical Judiaism is used to justify Israeli policies that are as racist, as totalitarian and as exonphobic, as the worst excesses of anti-semitism.

    The author, Israel Shahak, a non-leftist (i.e. more rational) human rights activist, makes the case that nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in Jewish attitudes towards the non-Jewish peoples of Israel and the Middle East. I consider the volume indespensible in understanding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
    But it covers the whole sweep of Jewish history and argues that “the roots of Jewish chauvinism and religious fanaticism must be understood before it is to late.”(quote from the cover)

  21. I think it’s time to come up with a cut and paste paragraph on british/french intellectual history and achievement. Maybe french is better since we’ll get slightly unfamiliar & intimidating names (Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, Etienne Bonnot de Condillac etc) to match all the al- this and the other that Rick Barton has been throwing at us. Heck, the section on french mathematicians will be especially impressive.
    We can then claim that since these were civilizations of such high achievement, in my liberal/extropian mind possibly far superior to any before them, therefore colonialism and imperialism were OK and any criticism is racist, anti-intellectual etc etc. And a bonus – it’ll allow linking to portraits of chaps with retro Led Zep hair.
    I’m going to get working on it right away.
    Questions to ponder –
    1. Did Francis Bacon …
    Hmm …

  22. Andrew –
    Gotta say this dude. As one who despise neo-cons and their pre-emptive Mutant Registration Act attempts –

    “4.) Resistence to social-engineering Liberalism”

    C’mon !!!

  23. Andrew – Hear,Hear. Well said and about time too.

  24. As you point out, the openness and tolerance of the Golden Age led to the to the Arab’s encounters with foreign strains of thought such as the ones you describe(thankyou very much for the link SM) that they then expanded upon, sometimes in largely divergent ways. We can learn about and enjoy the Arab contributions to math, astronomy and other fields but the historical riddles remain. Llosa’s thesis, that what percipitated the Golden Age was an expansion of freedom seems very likley. As to his claim that it was the message of Mohammed that had a libertarian component or at least the effect of the message militated against state power that led to this new freedom is something that can be explored. Llosa’s thesis that the good times came to an end with the imposition of the Ottoman empire and the resulting decline of freedom, far from being ridiculous seems entirley plausable as
    that senario has played itsef out so many times before.

    “LLosa’s ridiculous apolegetics dont really help arab liberals who would like to move on”

    Actually Llosa’s thesis might be just what Arab liberals need as their chief nemesis is the state.

    Although, I don’t see it as a refutation of Llosa’s theory of the demise of the Golden Age, its still interesting to explore the genesis of fundementalist Islamics ” who wont countenance the separation of Church & State and would like to restore the Caliphate – MASSIVE GOVERNMENT.”

  25. SM wrote:
    “I think it’s time to come up with a cut and paste paragraph on british/french intellectual history and achievement to match all the al- this and the other that Rick Barton has been throwing at us…”

    (SM is refering to my citation of classical Arab Mathematicians)

    This isn’t a competition of which ethno-religious group has produced the best mathematics!! Arab achievment in this “Golden Age” referred to in the Liosa piece, in this case in mathematics laid the foundation for further achievment in the west. “The rhetorical mode of expressing algebraic relationships was transmitted to western Europe by Arabs” (pg.204 “Mathematics in Civilization”)AS much as anything is this Arab learning is part of our heritage. This Idea isn’t new of course. See “Our Oriental Heritage” by the Durants.(“Oriental” as in near(mid)east rather than Asia in this case)

  26. andrew wrote:
    “A conservative, cicra 2003, is someone who could be told that every “achievment” of Liberalism up until about 1960 was going to endure another thousand years, and he would find himself very little troubled ”

    Well ok, rolling the government back to 1960 levels sounds like a wonderful start! I think though, that thoughtful conservatives would still be troubled as the seeds for the hyper-state we have now were already in place. Social Security being an obvious example.

    ” I mean every regulation, spending program, subsidy, welfare-state entitlement, tax-break and tariff (and most things of the sort added since).”

    Hey wait a minute! I thought we were stopping at
    at 1960 damn it. I can see more conservatives jumping off your ship. And you shouldn’t have included “tax breaks” in your jitney of liberal nonsense as tax reduction is always liberating. No surprise its usually opposed by liberals.

    “because he places great faith in capitalism and the open society.”

    Yes, most who understand freedom, have great faith in capitalism and the open society to generate prosperity and individual liberty. However, there is no reason for faith that capitalism cannot be destroyed, even if only slowly, degree by degree by a growing state. This, of course, was Hayek’s message in “The Road to Serfdom”

    More later.

  27. Another way religion has been a countervailing force to the state has been by providing schools(Catholic, Protastant,Jewish,Muslim and others) as an alternative for parents to government schools. Also, religious tax exemption is wide spread enough that its existance, no dought, has increased general prosperity. Seperation of church and state is a good thing.

    Sorry I misspelled “religious” in an earlier post.

  28. Ah…explaining conservatism to a libertarian!
    A conservative, cicra 2003, is someone who could be told that every “achievment” of Liberalism up until about 1960 was going to endure another thousand years, and he would find himself very little troubled about the prospects for the United States and societies like it. I mean every regulation, spending program, subsidy, welfare-state entitlement, tax-break and tariff (and most things of the sort added since).
    He doesn’t believe these things are important: in part, because he places great faith in capitalism and the open society.
    The other part is just that…the open society. The social engineering-type of liberalism emerged just as what might now be called “traditional” liberalism full-filled its agenda (it never threatened Hayek’s “Serfdom”).
    The new liberalism is about the culture, and it is aimed at the open society.
    Its pet causes are
    Race and Ethnicity
    Gender
    Alternate Life-Styles
    Environment
    …but its object is the attenuation of democratic accountability, the submergence of national sovreignty, the replacement of individual consideration with group entitlements, and the complete conguest of private, voluntary association– a kind of totalitarianism, in principle, and elitism in practice.
    All conservatives resist THIS wholeheartedly. Like I said the welfare-state could endure forever, and capitalism will thrive– but the expansion of social-engineering is at the expense of the Open Society. I am not paranoid, and claiming that some irreversible coup is possible…I am just saying there is an absolute trade-off: more of one, less of the other.

  29. re names

    Neo alludes to a certain pedigree and a Moment in time. Any new writer in about the same place is just a conservative.
    The above statement about what all conservatives believe would be dear to the hearts of most Paleos– perhaps they saw it sooner than most– but some like Buchanan embrace the welfare-state, and others are simply too careless about whom they sleep with.
    (If you are too fastidious to work with old-fashioned liberals, why get in bed with the Radical Left and the fascists…especially when it is so politically ineffectual?)

  30. “This isn’t a competition of which ethno-religious group has produced the best mathematics!!”

    No problem, Rick. But i really thought the French list would be understood as gentle sarcasm. People can be so deliberately obtuse at times.
    Since you are looking for answers to the riddle of the “Golden Age” you can start by learning that arabs built on the shoulders of the Greeks , the Indians, Chinese, Persians etc. There was a NYTimes op-ed about just this recently. Algebra – your example – was elaborated from an Indian treatise, brought to Baghdad by a merchant. For further info –
    http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Brahmagupta.html
    This is not to deny arab achievement or its relevance to science and acholarship today but to suggest that all these occurred in a era that was far more receptive to “foriegn” thought. This is how knowledge is exchanged and grows after all; IMHO, its a better explanation that any supernatural one ie the answers are not going to be found by close reading any book, even a revealed one.
    LLosa’s ridiculous apolegetics dont really help arab liberals who would like to move on, though it had a novel new excuse – the state!! Must be new to Islamists who wont countenance the separation of Church & State and would like to restore the Caliphate – MASSIVE GOVERNMENT.
    Would like to write some more but i’m off to WonderCon to meet the great BRITISH cartoonist Dave Gibbons, the great AMERICAN cartoonist Sergio Aragonnes – though he has a spanish name. What kind of religio-ethnic name is Azzarello ?

  31. “Actually Llosa’s thesis might be just what Arab liberals need as their chief nemesis is the state.”
    If you are suggesting that Arab liberals need to develop a libertarian (previously Liberal …) interpretation to their history, the Koran, etc then great – i hope they do it double quick, because i dont see how they can do it and not separate Church and State; on the other hand, religious sophists can be especially ingenious when it comes to defending dogma, so i dont have high hopes. But i have not seen any work emanating from the region, contemporary or historical, that suggests any great hatred for the State; nothing like that in Mohammed’s message, i would venture, considering the elaborate law code. And that’s why LLosa’s hypothesis is ridiculous. Of course, i am not a scholar – if there is a muslim John Stuart Mill i’d really like to learn about it. I once did read Tariq Ramadan who came highly recommended as the new, new thing but he was same as the old boss.
    Finally – if you are into math, i suggest you stick with the europeans; much more magic there but not much room, given that the Enlightenment worked under the bright lights of Reason, not revelation mumbo-jumbo, for post-colonial theorizing of the LLosa variety.
    BTW : Jill Thompson was hot !!!

  32. And yes, i know that Newton was a fundementalist by the todays standards, which of course are the only ones that matter since we live today. So dont bring that up.

  33. “I mean every regulation, spending program, subsidy,… and tariff (and most things of the sort added since)”.
    “He ( a conservative) doesn’t believe these things are important.”

    What?! As if giving a pass to the Left on the welfare state isn’t bad enough! This stuff goes way beyond the welfare state. Where did you read that letting all this go unchallenged or even just entitlements was a good strategy for the cause of capitalism and other freedoms. The liberals might as well have won without a fight.
    Have you been reading Weekly Standard? Remember the lessons of history: the power to tax and regulate is the power to destroy. What you stated is not a conservative position.

    andrew wrote:
    “…but its (the liberal agenda) object is the attenuation of democratic accountability, the submergence of national sovreignty, the replacement of individual consideration with group entitlements, and the complete conguest of private, voluntary association– a kind of totalitarianism, in principle, and elitism in practice.”

    Unless we are willing to fight the state on more than just racial and gender preference and environmental regulation (that one IS absolutely critical) we will be consigned to the Hell you just described.

  34. SM
    Who’s Jill Thompson?

    “But i have not seen any work emanating from the region, contemporary or historical, that suggests any great hatred for the State; nothing like that in Mohammed’s message,”

    Ive never read anything like that either. But that is Llosa’s claim. Im gonna check it out.

  35. hiii,
    how are u all doing? This is a take care of urself message.U are doing a good job. luv ur work. What are u doing today? do sth +ve. Sth Nice.
    Take Care.
    Be very Law Abiding.
    Best Regards
    Austin

  36. hiii,
    how are u all doing? This is a take care of urself message.U are doing a good job. luv ur work. What are u doing today? do sth +ve. Sth Nice.
    Take Care.
    Be very Law Abiding.
    Best Regards
    Austin

  37. EMAIL: pamela_woodlake@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://digital-photo-restoration.online-photo-print.com
    DATE: 01/20/2004 10:05:22
    ‘Love — a grave mental disease.’ Plato

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