I am so pleased that the most excellent Fjordman has written a brilliant review for Atlas readers of Ibn Warraq's groundbreaking tome, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. The poisonous fruit of Said's mendacious ideas yielded a pervasive reevaluation of the West's perceptions of Eastern cultures. Fjordman's well researched, seminal essay on Said's enormously destructive influence on Western culture, art, music goes a step further and reaches further back in history to provide empirical evidence of Islam's ruinous destruction of myriad cultures and peoples.
Fjordman's money quote (though hesomewhat understates it): "It is one of the sad facts of this age that intellectual frauds like Edward Said get so much attention, whereas true intellectuals such as Ibn Warraq do not get nearly as much as they deserve. If only more people read Ibn Warraq's books, we wouldn't be in as much trouble as we are." It's more than sad, it's a catastrophe.
I had the pleasure of meeting former Muslim Ibn Warraq in Denmark recently, where he received a free speech award for his work from the Danish Free Press Society and gave a speech with quotes from his recent book Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. This essay is inspired by his book. It can be read together with "Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization" by Rémi Brague, which I have discussed at the Gates of Vienna blog. Robert Spencer's Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't and perhaps Global Jihad – The future in the face of Militant Islam by the former Muslim Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo could be added to the list, too.
Ibn Warraq's book was written as a response to Edward Said's deeply flawed, but highly influential Orientalism from 1979. Said chastised Western countries for their supposed racist and stereotypical view of "the Other." Ibn Warraq dubs Said's methods "intellectual terrorism" and demonstrates the logical inconsistencies of his positions:
"To argue his case, Said very conveniently leaves out the important contributions of German Orientalists, for their inclusion would destroy – and their exclusion does indeed totally destroy - the central thesis of Orientalism, that all Orientalists produced knowledge that generated power, and that they colluded and helped imperialists found empires. As we shall see, German Orientalists were the greatest of all scholars of the Orient, but, of course, Germany was never an imperial power in any of the Oriental countries of North Africa or the Middle East. [Bernard] Lewis wrote, '[A]t no time before or after the imperial age did [the British and French] contribution, in range, depth, or standard, match the achievement of the great centers of Oriental studies in Germany and neighbouring countries. Indeed, any history or theory of Arabic studies in Europe without the Germans makes as much sense as would a history or theory of European music or philosophy with the same omission.' Would it have made sense for German Orientalists to produce work that could help only England and France in their empire building?"
Despite its many serious historical and logical shortcomings, Said's thesis was eagerly embraced by many intellectuals:
"Post-World War II Western intellectuals and leftists were consumed by guilt for the West's colonial past and continuing colonialist present, and they wholeheartedly embraced any theory or ideology that voiced or at least seemed to voice the putatively thwarted aspirations of the peoples of the third world. Orientalism came at the precise time when anti-Western rhetoric was at its most shrill and was already being taught at Western universities, and when third-worldism was at its most popular. Jean-Paul Sartre preached that all white men were complicit in the exploitation of the third world, and that violence against Westerners was a legitimate means for colonized men to re-acquire their manhood. Said went further: 'It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.' Not only, for Said, is every European a racist, but he must necessarily be so."
Moreover, "Where the French presence lasted fewer than four years before they were ignominiously expelled by the British and Turks, the Ottomans had been the masters of Egypt since 1517, a total of 280 years. Even if we count the later British and French protectorates, Egypt was under Western control for sixty-seven years, Syria for twenty-one years, and Iraq for only fifteen – and, of course, Saudi Arabia was never under Western control. Contrast this with southern Spain, which was under the Muslim yoke for 781 years, Greece for 381 years, and the splendid new Christian capital that eclipsed Rome – Byzantium – which is still in Muslim hands. But no Spanish or Greek politics of victimhood apparently exist."
Paul Fregosi confirms this in Jihad in the West: "Western colonization of nearby Muslim lands lasted 130 years, from the 1830s to the 1960s. Muslim colonization of nearby European lands lasted 1300 years, from the 600s to the mid-1960s. Yet, strangely, it is the Muslims…who are the most bitter about colonialism and the humiliations to which they have been subjected; and it is the Europeans who harbor the shame and the guilt. It should be the other way around."
Some observers now think Europeans should feel grateful for Muslim colonization of their lands. Joan Acocella wrote a review of David Levering Lewis' book God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215. Lewis is a two-time winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. According to Acocella, he thinks Muslims "did Europe a favor by invading. This is not a new idea, but Lewis takes it further: he clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe." This was "one of the most significant losses in world history."
Warraq explains how Charles Wilkins became perhaps first Englishman to master Sanskrit, and in 1783 translated the important work Bhagavat Gita. Scholar Sushil Kumar De "praised Wilkins for bringing Bengali literature into the era of printing. Wilkins being a 'metallurgist, engraver, founder, and printer' of such elaborate and different alphabets as Persian and Bengali has already been noted. Wilkins's achievements were summed up in 1922 by the Indian scholar Shumbhoo Chander Dey, who highlighted Wilkins's contributions to Indian epigraphy. It must be emphasized that Wilkins was the first European to study Sanskrit inscriptions that had baffled even the Hindu scholars. His introduction of the art of printing to Bengal was also of specific importance, endearing him to thousands of Indians."
A digression: I am under the impression that printing was introduced surprisingly late in India. Islamic religious resistance slowed down the adoption of printing everywhere. However, even prior to the Islamic conquests the spread of printing was slow. Moreover, one of the few good things Muslims did in India was to increase the use of paper. Why were non-Muslims Indians so slow to appreciate the value of paper and book printing, surely two of the greatest inventions China has ever made? This becomes even more puzzling if we remember that the development of printing in China was intimately connected with Buddhism, a religion exported from India. Indeed, printing was so closely associated with Buddhism in Japan that for nearly eight hundred years, until contact with Europeans in the sixteenth century, the Japanese printed only Buddhist scriptures. Was the Indian reluctance caused by caste? Were the Brahmins afraid that their privileged hereditary position would be undermined by the spread of printing? I don't know, but it's an interesting subject.
Sir William Jones was a brilliant linguist who is said to have known thirteen languages well, and twenty-eight fairly well, at the time of his death. According to Ibn Warraq, "With his work on Indian chronology, and having created a solid framework for the understanding of India's past, Jones, in effect, can be considered the father of Indian history. Jones's translation of Sacontala (Shakuntala) had an enormous influence in Europe, inspiring Schiller, Novalis, Schlegel, and Goethe, who used its introductory scene as a model for the 'Vorspiel auf dem Theater' of Faust (1797). But even more remarkably, the collection, printing, and translations of Sanskrit texts by Jones and other Orientalists made available for the first time to Indians themselves aspects of their own civilization, changing forever their own self-image. Until now, these texts had only been accessible to a narrow coterie of Brahmins."
Professor A. L. Basham had praised the small band of Western scholars who labored to reveal India's past. Most of them met the expenses of their research out of their own pockets: "The main motive in most of their minds seems to have been the study of India for its own sake. When Jones translated Sakuntala and thus introduced the Sanskrit drama to the western world, are we to believe that he consciously thought: 'I am doing this in order that my country may dominate a subject people'? Could any such motive have been in the mind of James Prinsep, when he deciphered the inscriptions of Asoka? Was Colebrooke inspired in his pioneering work on the Veda chiefly by motives of patriotism? If these scholars had worked to serve their country or the [East India] Company in their spare time they could surely have found more effective ways of doing so."
Ibn Warraq writes that "As [Professor] Kejariwal laments, Indians, unaware of the importance of historical remains, had left them to crumble and decay, a fact attested to by the British Orientalists. Similarly, many manuscripts would have been lost but for the efforts of scholars such as Charles Wilkins and the German Johann Georg Bühler, who salvaged severely damaged manuscripts of the rare Sanskrit historical work Rajatarangini. Similarly, Prinsep's tenure in the Asiatic Society 'was full of achievements in retrieving, restoring and trying to preserve the ancient historical monuments of the country. Among these were the Sarnath remains and the Allahabad pillar which yielded such significant information about Asoka and Samudragupta – two of the greatest monarchs of India, and in fact, of the world.'"
An emblem associated with Asoka (or Ashoka) the Great is now the national emblem of India, yet he was virtually forgotten until the British got there.
The rise of Buddhism as a major force is often linked to Asoka. As Peter Harvey says in An Introduction to Buddhism, "During the reign of the emperor Asoka (ca. 268-239 BC), Buddhism spread more widely, reaching most of the Indian sub-continent, thus becoming a 'world religion'. The Magadhan empire which Asoka inherited included most of modern India except the far south: the largest in the sub-continent until its conquest by the British."
Moreover, "While Asoka had already become a nominal Buddhist in around 260 BC, the full implications of his new faith do not seem to have hit home till after his bloody conquest of the Kalinga region, in the following year." He gave Buddhism "a central place in his empire, just as the Roman emperor Constantine did for Christianity. Nevertheless, he supported not only Buddhist monks and nuns, but also Brahmins, Jain wanderers, Ajivaka ascetics, in accordance with a pattern that later Buddhist and Hindu rulers also followed." He sent embassies to nations far beyond the borders of India, for instance to Thailand, which has remained a stronghold of Buddhism to this day, and to Ceylon, or Sri Lanka.
Buddhism was virtually wiped out from its cradle in Central Asia and northern India with the arrival of Islam. What is difficult to explain is why neither non-Muslim Indians nor the deeply Buddhist-influenced nations of East and Southeast Asia showed greater interest in excavating monuments related to the Buddha. Why didn't Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean or Vietnamese scholars examine the archaeological sources of early Buddhist history? Why was this done by Europeans, overwhelmingly of Christian or Jewish stock?
Defending the West includes an interesting section on Greeks in India and Central Asia. There were several Indo-Greek kingdoms in the region long after Alexander the Great's invasion, and their cultural importance was anything but marginal. Menander was the greatest of these Indo-Greek kings and the best known in India, where he is remembered as Milinda from the Pali Buddhist work Milindapanha (Questions of King Milinda).
This is the only section of the book where I felt Ibn Warraq's treatment of the subject matter could have been even more thorough. Greek art in the border regions of India had a major influence on Buddhist art during its formative period. As E.H. Gombrich says in his brilliant The Story of Art, "The art of sculpture had flourished in India long before the Hellenistic influence reached the country; but it was in the frontier region of Gandhara that the figure of Buddha was first shown in the reliefs which became the model for later Buddhist art."
Through the vehicle of Buddhist art, Greek impulses spread to distant lands. During the early Tang dynasty, China was unusually open to outside influences, and Buddhism reached the height of its influence there. This was a creative period when tea drinking became popular and when the first books were printed. Japan was in its formative stages as a nation and adopted many ideas from Korea and China. The first Japanese capital (itself a Chinese concept), Nara, was modelled after Xi'an in China. The capital was later moved to Kyoto in 794, where it remained until it was again moved to Edo (Tokyo) in 1868.
Here is Gardner's Art Through the Ages: "The Japanese dependence on China during the seventh and eighth centuries is not confined to sculpture and painting. Buddhist architecture adhered so closely to Chinese models that the lost Tang style can be reconstructed from such temple complexes as the Hōryū-ji or the Todai-ji, which still stand in Japan. The Kondo (Golden Hall) of the Hōryū-ji, which dates from shortly after 670, is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. Although periodically repaired and somewhat altered (the covered porch was added in the eighth century; the upper railing, in the seventeenth), the structure retains the light and buoyant quality characteristic of the style of the Northern and Southern Song dynasties in China. A rather unusual feature of this building is the entasis of its wooden columns. The appearance of this feature here is said to be due to Greek influence, as third-hand knowledge of it may have reached Japan, along with Buddhism, from India by way of China. Although seemingly more appropriate to elastic wood than to brittle stone, entasis was a short-lived feature that soon disappeared again from Japanese architecture."
Greek artistic impulses were admittedly relatively minor and of limited duration in Japan, but the very fact that such impulses, however faint, can be traced at all during this early period is remarkable. Literate civilizations appeared in West, South and East Asia long before they did in Europe, and during most of ancient history, the flow of cultural influence went from east to west. Surely, this must have been the first time any European cultural influence was powerful enough to reach the shores of the Pacific Ocean?
This Greco-Buddhist influence reached Japan via Korea and the Northern Wei in China. It illustrates an intimate connection between Europeans and Asians, both in the formative history of Buddhism and in the modern re-discovery of that history. I don't think most Westerners or Asians are fully aware of this connection, and it deserves to be highlighted. Crucial aspects of Greek culture were never much valued by Muslims. One of them is the concept of free inquiry and nations governing themselves according to man-made laws. The other is the artistic legacy. As the examples of Greco-Buddhist art in Asia illustrate, when it comes to figurative art and appreciation of artistic beauty, Christian Westerners share more of the Greek legacy with Hindus and Buddhists than we do with Muslims.
As Patricia Buckley Ebrey explains in The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, "Buddhism had an enormous impact on the visual arts in China, especially sculpture and painting. The merchants and missionaries from Central Asia who brought Buddhism to China also brought ideas about the construction and decoration of temples and the depiction of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. In this way Greek and Indian artistic influence reached China, travelling via the Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara (in present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan) through the Buddhist centres along the Silk Road to Dunhuang and later to central China."
The world's oldest dated printed book, a Chinese Buddhist text from 868 containing the Diamond Sutra, was discovered by Hungarian archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein in 1907 near Dunhuang. According to Ebrey, "In 460 the Northern Wei court commissioned the carving of cave temples at Yungang, near its early capital in northern Shanxi. Most of the fifty-three caves there were carved out before the Wei moved their capital south to Luoyang in 494."
A huge Buddha stone statue at Yungang (ca. 490), one of the largest among tens of thousands of images carved into the surface of a cliff there, was probably inspired by the colossal Buddha images at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, a magnificent example of Greco-Buddhist art. The great Bamiyan Buddhas were demolished with artillery bombardment by the Islamic Taliban regime in 2001, aided by Pakistani and Saudi engineers.
Saladin or Salah al-Din, the twelfth century general loved by Muslims for his victories against the Crusaders, is renowned even in Western history for his supposedly tolerant nature. Very few seem to remember that his son Al-Aziz Uthman tried to demolish the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, only three years after his father's death in 1193. The reason why we can still visit them today is because the task at hand was so big that he eventually gave up the attempt.
A recent attack on statues at a museum in Cairo by a veiled woman screaming, "Infidels, infidels!" shocked the outside world. She had been inspired by Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, who quoted a saying of the prophet Muhammad that sculptors will be among those receiving the harshest punishment on Judgment Day. The highly influential cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi agreed that "Islam prohibits statues and three-dimensional figures of living creatures" and concluded that "the statues of ancient Egyptians are prohibited."
The legend that the missing nose of the Great Sphinx at Giza was removed by Napoléon Bonaparte's artillery during the French expedition to Egypt 1798-1801 is incorrect. Sketches indicate that the nose was gone long before this. The Egyptian fifteenth century historian al-Maqrizi attributes the act to Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim. The French brought large numbers of scientists to catalogue ancient monuments, thus founding modern Egyptology. The trilingual Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799, was employed by philologist Jean-François Champollion to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822. In this task he made extensive use of the language of the Copts, the Egyptian Christians, a remnant of ancient Egypt that the Arab Muslim invaders hadn't managed to completely eradicate.
European scholars also deciphered the cuneiform writing developed by the ancient Sumerians and employed by successive rulers of Mesopotamia for several thousand years. The cuneiform inscriptions carved into the side of a mountain at Behistun (Bisitun) in Persia had been noticed by several travellers. The German explorer Carsten Niebuhr made copies of some of them, which were used by his countryman Georg Friedrich Grotefend to decipher several symbols of Old Persian cuneiforms. The breakthrough came in the 1830s and 40s when the British soldier Henry Rawlinson, aided by the work of Edward Hincks and others, managed to translate the Old Persian and Babylonian cuneiforms of the Behistun inscriptions.
As Warraq says, "Since by Islamic doctrine, everything – from history to material remains – predating the arrival of Islam was considered of no intrinsic worth, any prehistoric sculptures were to be destroyed as signs of idolatry." Because of this, "Many of the ancient sites were pillaged for their bricks to be used to build or repair the tombs of Muslim saints, and even sculptured heads were broken up for building purposes." According to him, archaeology "was a truly European endeavor, emerging out of English antiquarianism, flowering under the research of Danish and Swedish prehistorians such as C. J. Thomsen, J. J. A. Worsae, Sven Nilsson, L. S. Vedel Simonsen, and H. Hildebrand, and coming of scientific age under Heinrich Schliemann, A. H. Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, and William Matthew Flinders Petrie."
Austen Henry Layard, who was active in Mesopotamia (Iraq) in the mid-nineteenth century, recounts this story of Claudius Rich, a pioneer of field archaeology and British Resident in Baghdad in 1808: "Rich learnt from the inhabitants of Mosul that, some time previous to his visit, a sculpture, representing various forms of men and animals, had been dug up in a mound forming part of the great inclosure. This strange object had been the cause of general wonder, and the whole population had issued from the walls to gaze upon it. The ulema [Muslim religious scholars] having at length pronounced that these figures were idols of the infidels, the Mohammedans, like obedient disciples, so completely destroyed them, that Mr. Rich was unable to obtain even a fragment."
Rémi Brague explains in "Eccentric Culture" that Europeans were keenly aware of the fact that other civilizations were older than their own, and that the roots of civilization were "somewhere else." According to him, "The consciousness that Europe had of having its sources outside of itself had the consequence of displacing its cultural identity, such that it has no other identity than an eccentric identity. It is now fashionable to hurl at European culture the adjective 'eurocentric.' To be sure, every culture, like every living being, can't help looking at the other ones from its own vantage point, and Europe is no exception. Yet, no culture was ever so little centered on itself and so interested in the other ones as Europe. China saw itself as the 'Middle Kingdom.' Europe never did. 'Eurocentrism' is a misnomer. Worse: it is the contrary of the truth."
Amidst the praise he gives the West, Ibn Warraq warns that the "golden threads" running through this civilization - rationalism, universalism and self-criticism – can sometimes turn into liabilities: Rationalism can lead to sterile scientism, universalism to the loss of one's sense of belonging and limitless self-criticism to self-hatred:
"US foreign policy has nothing to do with the deaths of 150,000 Algerians at the hands of Islamic fanatics. The root cause of Islamic fundamentalism is Islam. American foreign policy has nothing to do with the stoning to death of a woman for adultery in Nigeria. It has everything to do with Islam, and Islamic law. The theory and practice of jihad – bin Laden's foreign policy – was not concocted in the Pentagon; it is directly derived from the Koran and the hadith, Islamic tradition. But Western liberals and humanists find it hard to admit or accept or believe this. They simply lack the imagination to do so."
Scholar Toby E. Huff in his excellent book The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West has demonstrated how European universities, which had no real counterpart in any other major civilization, were a critical factor in shaping the Scientific Revolution.
Ibn Warraq agrees, but thinks that the university as a seat of curiosity and free inquiry is being undermined by ideological and financial corruption: "In recent years, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries (e.g., Brunei) have established chairs of Islamic studies in prestigious Western universities, which are then encouraged to present a favorable image of Islam. Scientific research leading to objective truth no longer seems to be the goal. Critical examination of the sources or the Koran is discouraged. Scholars such as Daniel Easterman have even lost their posts for not teaching about Islam in the way approved by Saudi Arabia. In December 2005, Georgetown and Harvard universities each accepted $ 20 million from Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal for programs in Islamic studies. The Carter Center, founded by former president Jimmy Carter, is funded in part by bin Talal. Such money can only corrupt the original intent of all higher institutions of education, that is, the search for truth."
Kari Vogt of the University of Oslo, widely quoted as an "expert" on Islam in her country, has stated that Ibn Warraq's classic Why I Am Not a Muslim is just as irrelevant to the study of Islam as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are to the study of Judaism. Tariq Ramadan is to hold the Sultan of Oman chair of Islamology at the University of Leiden, the oldest university in the Netherlands. His grandfather was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and his father a friend of Sayyid Qutb, the ideological inspiration for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. Ramadan has stated that decadent Europe will give way to an Islamized Europe, while the Islamic world will enter seven centuries of world domination.
In The Suicide of Reason, Lee Harris argues that although the West has enjoyed a uniquely high emphasis in human reason, it is also the first civilization to turn reason into a fetish. He warns that reason may not prevail if the unreasonable are more determinate. I could add that I have always been told that reason and religion are incompatible. Yet when I look at Western Europe today, I notice that while we have never been less religious, we have also never been less reasonable in the policies we pursue. If the ongoing Islamic infiltration continues unabated, maybe at some point in the future Asian archaeologists will piece together the story of the rise and all of Europe. They owe us one. After all, we did the Buddha.
Defending the West is a powerful tour de force through history. It is one of the sad facts of this age that intellectual frauds like Edward Said get so much attention, whereas true intellectuals such as Ibn Warraq do not get nearly as much as they deserve. If only more people read Ibn Warraq's books, we wouldn't be in as much trouble as we are.