Monday, July 4, 2011

You Guys Used to be Cool: A lament for Islam

So, what happened? 

The “Islamic Golden Age” is considered to have run from 750 to 1258 AD.  Music, art, science, medicine, law and philosophy flourished in the rapidly growing Islamic territories while in the west people were still conducting trials in which the accused had to retrieve a stone from a pot of boiling water.  If after three days his wounds weren’t festering, then- yay!- he was innocent.

Rather quickly this academically inclined empire expanded into Central Asia, northern India, eastern Europe, north Africa and southern Spain and Portugal.  They invaded with blood-curdling savagery but treated the conquered with unrivaled kindness for their era.

The natives were free to practice their religion and follow their own laws and customs while enjoying the protection of a military force peopled by men who fought like rabid wolverines.  In return they paid a higher tax than the Muslim subjects to keep the Caliph swimming in jewel-encrusted 13-year-old girls.

But what about the plight of Muslim women, you ask?  Well, yes, they were, as today, still regarded as a Scottish Highlander does his sheep: property to be bought, sold, used and screwed at their owner’s discretion.  But for some time they were considered only slightly less disposable than western women.  A Muslim woman accused of adultery would at least get a trial, though if found guilty would be stoned to death.  Such a punishment might not have been demanded among Europeans, but had the woman’s husband casually beaten her to death, who would object? 
Meanwhile in Europe, a Holy War was declared against these forward-thinking upstarts and unwashed masses of western soldiers began invading and generally defecating all over a hot stretch of sand that no reasonable person could want to inhabit. 

In the 8th century, as the Islamic force grew, the Byzantine empire crumbled, and Jerusalem was taken by the Muslims.  As I previously stated, this was followed by eastern Europe, north Africa and southern Iberia- all formerly Christian ruled provinces.  So it was not at all unreasonable for the Europeans to wish to halt the spread of Muslim authority into their land- to push them back out, even.

But the western forces were rarely state-led soldiers.  A crusader could be anyone: a provincial knight doing what he believed to be God’s will, a treasure hunter out for gold and glory, a flawed man looking for redemption, or an amoral sadist with a Pope-approved license to rape, maim and murder.

And the Popes did approve.  So much so that they equated each slain Muslim with instant removal of sin and a guaranteed ticket to Heaven.  It was open season on men, women and children. 
Houses of higher learning were destroyed, as were libraries which included ancient Greek texts, studies in math, astronomy, medicine, surgery, philosophy and engineering.  Such things were considered heretical by the more zealous invaders.

How the tables have turned.  But why?

Well, here is my interpretation.  Keep in mind, Im no historian- I’d like to be, but Im too busy penning sophomoric treatises on subjects beyond me to go back to school.  Plus its really expensive.

During the period of European crusades in Islam’s west, the eastern portion of the empire was being assaulted by Mongols.  Like Rome nearly one thousand years before, the Islamic empire could only take so many barbarian assaults before it began receding back into itself.  With its withdrawal of power from Spain and Portugal, the Muslims left the Jews who had taken shelter beneath Islamic rule open to the violent paranoia of the Inquisition.

I have tried to decipher what happened in the condensed Muslim community.  A glance at Wikipedia’s page on the history of Islam was boring and it took about two minutes of trying to sound out some guy’s name before the seduction of a can-canning kitten banner lured me away from the site.  The kitten was gray and very fuzzy and wanted to send me free ringtones.

Anyway- before the triumph of my ADD, I did learn that the north African Muslims considered the Spanish Muslims decadent and too preoccupied with secular life.  Perhaps after the decline of the empire these more fundamentalist believers gained power.

The Muslims left in Asia were thoroughly conquered by the Mongols, though the conquerors eventually converted to Islam and became known as the Ottomans.  At the same time a light came on in Europe and people began to trade their witch finders and sawbones for universities and (semi-competent) doctors.  The Renaissance bloomed in the west, while the Ottomans prospered in the east and the Muslims were left with their scorched, decimated swathes of sand and only the memory of greatness. 

Which would piss me off.

But its been more than half a millennium.  The point has been made.  We screwed you over 600 years ago- sorry.  This may be your idea of vengeance, but you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face, which- fun fact- would mark you as a whore in many eastern countries.

Rather than brainwashing those who want to serve God into murdering the infidel, wouldn’t your time be better spent harnessing your natural resources (like oil… and… goats and… um… oil) and using them to rebuild your civilization?

Wouldn’t you rather, when someone spots you on a plane, they think to themselves, “Wow, that guy is Muslim- I bet he’s rich and has lots of low-sitting plush furniture and a cool hookah and a hot wife who looks like Aladdin’s Jasmine” instead of “Oh hell, that guy’s Muslim.  I wonder if the airline will still charge me if I fake a heart-attack and don’t get on the plane”.

The ball is in your court.