Archive for August, 2009

Islam’s Legacy: CNN’s ‘Generation Islam’

August 12, 2009

CNN is running a piece this week called ‘Generation Islam’.  While major news agencies are never a great source of insight, the series is done by Christiane Amanpour, whom I’ve come to respect. (Her God’s Warriors series was amazing.)

That said, I think there’s a major piece of the puzzle that is being ignored. Recently, it was reported that Europe was going to be 50% Muslim by 2050. Like Amanpour, this statistic assumes that the trend we see now will continue: Ardent Muslim parents who hate the evil West, training their children to do the same.


Thing is, there was a time when Islam was not the West-hating, fanatic group they are perceived to be today. By the 13th century Muslims were no longer out conquering lands or invading countries. Persia was peaceful (for the most part.) This was a time when Islam was at the forefront of philosophy, architecture, mathematics, and liberal thought. It was the Muslims of that era who first distilled alcohol and created booze as we know it today. It was these Muslims who saved the works of Plato and Aristotle from destruction under Rome, and proliferated thought that eventually became “western philosophy”. In the early 13th century, Islam was way ahead of Rome and Europe in both maturity and intellect.

And now they hate us.

Most blame this anti-Western attitude on American intervention in the Middle East. Me? I blame the Mongols. (Damn you Genghis…)

You see, all these great advances of science and philosophy that Islam had ended abruptly in the 13th century when the Mongols wandered through the area. As happens with wandering bloodthirsty Mongols, the interaction was less-than-idyllic. After raping the cattle and killing the women, the Mongols defeated and took over the once-mighty Abbasid dynasty. The caliphate (Muslim rule by elected leader) came to an end. Mongols controlled the Middle East.

This was a pivotal moment in Islam. Up to this point they’d done great slaughtering and killing their way through the Mediterranean. They’d managed to get filthy rich, control huge portions of land, and were the epicenter of intellect, reason, and philosophy. Except now they were either dead or Mongol slaves. I mean really… who wants to be a Mongol slave? [Andy Dick?]



This whole situation only lasted a couple years. Eventually a bunch of bloodthirsty Muslim guys called the Mamluks went out and killed the bloodthirsty Mongols and everything went back to Muslim control. Sort of.

See, (imho) this is where things went awry in Islam. After this whole destruction and cattle raping bit, the remaining Muslims had to deal with the fact that they might not be as powerful and omnipotent a they’d thought. A philosophy grew out of this that remains in Islam today: the idea that weakness is a sign of God’s disfavor. It was reasoned that all this architecture, deep thought, philosophy, and math had drawn the heart of Muslims away from Allah’s basic teachings in the Koran.

The Mamluks (who had kicked Mongol ass) were decidedly un-thoughtful. They were solidly military and devoutly Muslim. As they had won, everyone agreed that their lifestyle must be blessed by God [Allah]. From that time on education took a back seat to Islamic law and devout prayer. You could still learn stuff, but it all had to agree with the holy books, and you had to strictly obey the mandates of the faith. Gone were the halcyon days of intellectual pursuit and theoretical mathematics.

There’s been a few decent Islamic thinkers that have come and gone since those times, but no matter how persuasive their thought they were still controlled by the Islamic belief that the Koran trumps every revelation, and ingenuity is often at odds with Muslim life.

Had the Mongol invasion never happened the Marluks would never have assumed power, and the engineers and mathematicians would have remained in charge of Islam. As it is, the leadership of the faith fell into the hands of a strict Muslim military that established the modern ethics of Islam. I’d love to see where the faith would be had this not happened…

There’s obviously a lot more to this—I will post again in a bit about how it all came crashing down in the 19th century—but for now I think it’s important to understand that there was a time when Islam had a chance to become a more liberal, modern faith long before the rest of the world caught up with their philosophies and ideals. It didn’t last long, and it ended brutally, but it remains for me one of the great “what ifs” of history.

The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions.NOT FOR SHEEP.