January 30, 2008
One wonders what John Zmirak will dream of as jet engines humming incandescently waft him through the Atlantic night on his first pilgrimage to Rome. In the aftermath of jet liners truncating Manhattan’s image of itself, many neoconservatives are rightfully obsessed with the consequences of modern weapons falling into the hands of medieval-minded Islamic fanatics. It is a nightmare that troubles palaeoconservatives and mere Realists as well, but few in any of their camps seem to have considered a worse contingency”Western civilization dropping its guns and abandoning its massive lead in the inter-civilizational arms race.
That’s what happened to Islam some seven centuries ago, when the Arab answer to the Theocons of today took it upon themselves to tar the West Asian technological renaissance with the attainder of godless materialism. Their learned synods barred intellectual investment in science, lest it distract good Muslims from submission to the will of Allah, in Whom the fate of nations rests. Latter day fundamentalists do not like post-Biblical (or post-Koranic, or post-Vedic) history any more than they. If they did, more might use their God given wits to figure out that fears of Islamic terrorism were even more acute in medieval times.
Fanatics were fanatic as ever and the Islamic world more advanced in military technology than Christendom in everything from metallurgy to navigation. Until the Damascus steel and Greek fire armed Saracens were suppressed, not by Byzantines or Crusaders, but the Mongols, they sanctioned al-Qaeda’s distant exemplars, those echt terrorists, the Assassins, who, when not slitting Templar throats, exported jihad to the Franks own turf, slaying royals in France as well as monarchs of the Crusader kingdoms of the Levant.
The Arabs enjoyed centuries of military ascendancy not just because the were fired by their faith, or able to acquire re-enforcements among the conquered- the familiar particulars of Islamic sociology set forth by Ibn Khaldun, but because they were all the while in closer proximity to both the roots of Hellenistic technology, and the greatest source of military innovation of the age.
Tang China was vastly more advanced in its mastery of materials and chemistry, leading the West by centuries in areas ranging from gunpowder and iron casting to porcelain and pharmaceuticals. Until well after Marco Polo, Europe was clueless to this, because, as with the anti-proliferation regime of today, all contact with the Orient was filtered through trade routes utterly controlled by the Caliphate and its Turkic and Persian offspring. Hence, Islam’s centuries of unchallenged military dominance on land. Yet after throwing the Crusaders out of most of their conquered lands in the 13th century, Islam faltered”it never reversed the re-conquest of Spain, and lost its foothold in Italy. What brought Islam’s technology-led Second Millennium advance to a halt?
In a word, religious fundamentalism. Once Islamic theologians in Cairo decided that Koranic exegesis was a done deal, speculation in secular areas became intellectually suspect. No more disputation on the meaning of Greek philosophy, dialog with Jewish, Zoroastrian, Coptic, or Nestorian divines, or pointing to experiments and observations to challenge the Final Word of Allah, as contained in the Al-Azar approved concordance to the Koran and the hadith of God’s Messenger.
The result was stasis, and the strategic timing could not have been worse, for Europe’s long banked intellectual fires were reigniting just as the Fatamid’s were being doused. The Ottomans and the Savafids would experience the Renaissance by contact and osmosis, but the vast Islamic hinterland, from the Mahgreb to Indonesia, would slumber on, clueless through the centuries, until The Age Of Exploration swept over it and that of Empire began.
By then it was too late”allow a one-century deep technology gap to develop, and it may take four to regain the lost ground. That’s why, in 1898, an embedded reporter in the war against Islamic terror in the Sudan could thank more than his God for his survival in a battle fought at odds of five to one, as he observed:
“How dreadful are the curses Mohammedanism lays on its votaries … No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science”the science against which it had vainly struggled”the civilization of modern Europe might fall as did that of Rome.”
Young Winston Churchill’s precocious grasp of technology’s role in the Battle of Omduran explains his willingness for decades after to risk lives and treasure to develop such ungodly manifestations of materialism as alloy steel armor, shaped charge explosives, radar and cybernetics. Had he stopped more often to say his prayers, he would have materially altered the course of history. One possible outcome being Hitler and Stalin gladly providing a present age too deficient in classical liberalism to accommodate any Conservatism we know of today.
It is in the light of this mere history that the mind is repelled when clicking the link on the words “Materialists of the Right” in Mr. Zmirak’s recent article up pops a man of small mind ranting of the ghosts in his gene pool like a dervish drunk on cheap Djinn. If this be materialism, Madonna must be the second coming of Wittgenstein, and the way clear for Jonah Goldberg to write a sequel to Liberal Fascism explaining how, matter being the root of all evil, al-Qaeda draws its inspiration from the cantos of Ezra Pound.
Lord knows, a lot was the matter with him.
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