by Peder Jensen, a.k.a. Fjordman


Researcher Vidar Enebakk from the University of Oslo wrote an essay for VG this autumn regarding the articles I have published on the Internet about the history of science, from astronomy and geology to quantum physics. According to him, the range of my writings is impressive, their contents "frighteningly good." This is of course nice to hear.

I deal among other things with myths about how the Greco-Roman cultural heritage is supposedly shared by both Europeans and Muslims. The fact is that Muslims rejected most of it, from wine and theater via sculpture and visual arts to Greek democracy and secular Roman law. The only aspect of the Classical heritage that proved more compatible with Islamic culture than with European Christian culture was slavery.

The word algebra itself can be traced back to Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, but basic algebra already existed in ancient Mesopotamia. Algebraic symbolism was employed by Diophantus in Greco-Roman times. Muslims never made use of such symbols. These were developed by Europeans, from Viète to René Descartes in the 1600s who, together with Fermat, established analytical geometry. This had repercussions right up until Einstein's general theory of relativity in 1915.

It was also Descartes who established the convention in which letters at the beginning of the alphabet represent known quantities (a, b, c), whereas those towards the end of it symbolize unknown quantities (x, y, z).

Our present numerical system was introduced to Europe via the Middle East in the Middle Ages, and the numbers are therefore often known in the West as Arabic numerals, yet Arabs themselves admit that the system came from India. The zero as a proper number was probably invented by Indians (and possibly by Mayans in Central America independently of Eurasia) perhaps because the concept of "nothing" found a greater resonance in a culture dominated by Buddhism and Hinduism than in a Christian or a Muslim culture.

After praising a few thinkers such as Alhazen or the Persian mathematician Omar Khayyam, a wine lover who could at best be described as an extremely unorthodox Muslim, I conclude in my book The Curious Civilization which will be published in 2012:

"Advances made during the Middle Ages in the Islamic-ruled world were relatively modest even at the best of times and declined to almost nothing thereafter. Those contributions that did exist were made primarily by non-Arabs, generally by unorthodox Muslims who were often harassed for their freethinking ways. Their scholarly contributions were primarily based on ancient Greek or other non-Islamic works and rarely moved much beyond these conceptually. They were made predominantly during the early centuries of Islamic rule, while large non-Muslim communities still existed in these countries, and normally in centers of urban culture that predated Islam by thousands of years. The Arabian Peninsula, the cradle of Islam, has contributed next to nothing of value to human civilization throughout Islamic history. Persians, who retained a few links with their pre-Islamic heritage after the conquests, produced some decent scholars, whereas Turks, who identified almost entirely with Islam after their conversion, produced practically none of any significance. If we combine these various factors, a very clear picture emerges: The rather modest — now often exaggerated — contributions made by certain Middle Eastern scholars during the Middle Ages were generally made in spite of Islam, not because of it. Orthodox Muslims rejected the Greek heritage."

The medieval historian Ole Jørgen Benedictow from the University of Oslo debunks the myth about Europeans' so-called cultural debt to Arabs, pointing out that "the Arab-Muslim conquest of the Eastern Roman Empire spelled the downfall of Classical civilization. It is absurd, to put it mildly, to claim that it was saved by the Arab-Muslim conquest." Saladin's son fortunately failed in his attempt at dismantling the Gaza Pyramid in Egypt.

Some Multiculturalists have claimed that "Santa Claus was a Turk." The Christian Saint Nicholas, who partly inspired the tales about Santa Claus, lived in Anatolia. This area is now known as Turkey, but there were no Turks there in the fourth century. They originated in Central Asia. In the elevenths. They have since then become victims of a brutal ethnic cleansing, a process still going on in Cyprus today.

Muslims have spent 1400 years trying to eradicate Greek societies all over the Eastern Mediterranean. Now they want to take the credit for saving the Greek cultural heritage.


I should thank the pro-Israeli, Islam-critical blog Document[1] for bringing this to my attention. The two Norwegian essays cited here were written by Ole Jørgen Benedictow,[2] a professor emeritus at the University of Oslo[3] specializing in the history of the Middle Ages. The translations were made by me, and the shorter excerpts should capture the spirit of the texts.

Benedictow, as an expert in the field, has tried to influence the public debate on issues related to Islam vs. Europe in the Middle Ages, but has repeatedly experienced being rebuffed in favor of young Marxists with little knowledge of the period. He[4] is annoyed by the fact that people who know very little about this era and its complexities have easy access to the mass media and can spread falsehoods virtually unchallenged. "Revolutionary Socialists" — that is, Communists — have no problem promoting their propaganda in major newspapers despite representing a totalitarian ideology that caused the deaths of tens of millions of people — 100 million if you believe The Black Book of Communism — during the twentieth century alone.

For some reason, allegedly "anti-imperialist" Marxists in the Western world just love brutal, aggressive and oppressive imperialism — as long as it comes in an Islamic shape.[5] There is no hint of an understanding of why the Spanish and Portuguese fought so many centuries for their liberation, nor of the plight of the Balkan Christians or those who suffered under Muslim rule elsewhere in the world, for example following the extremely bloody Islamic conquest of India. Islamic advances must be celebrated; the West demonized and ridiculed. European medieval peoples are invariable portrayed as barbarians with no culture of their own.

Yet the Middle Ages represented a creative growth period where we find the seeds of a new civilization — the European one — which replaced that of Greco-Roman Antiquity but also carried with it a number of Classical elements, albeit often in a somewhat altered form.

The French professor of medieval history Sylvain Gouguenheim has published a book titled Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les Racines Grecques de l'Europe (Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel: The Greek Roots of Europe), triggered by a recommendation from the European Union that schoolbooks should give a positive rendering of Islam's part in the European heritage. Europe, he says, "became aware of the Greek texts because it went hunting for them, not because they were brought to them." He attacks[6] the thesis advanced by historians such as Edward Said of an enlightened, refined and spiritual Islam against a brutal and ethnocentric West. Apart from a tiny handful of freethinkers, the scholars of the Islamic Middle East retained from the ancient Greeks only what they considered to be compatible with the Koran.

The Western Church and its monks contributed to the preservation of many Classical texts. In addition to this, professional scribes could sometimes be found outside of the monasteries, catering to kings and nobles. A hallmark of the Western peoples was respect, even admiration, for different cultures and a willingness to seek out creative impulses from other civilizations. Muslims have historically exhibited little creativity in important forms of artistic expression such as painting or sculpture. In Benedictow's view, "no[7] cultural sphere with more than a billion people contributes so little to the development of science or the arts in our time."

The Ottomans used a centralized power structure to extract a large proportion of the resources of the empire to use for military aggression, but they were successfully rebuffed by European states. The problem with an overly centralized power structure with high tax rates is that over time it will lead to economic and technological stagnation. Successful innovation requires some degree of decentralization, which could be found in regions of Western Europe with many free cities, from northern Italy via the Netherlands and Flanders in the Low Countries to England and northern Germany. This is where we encounter the development of capitalism.

Respected scholar Joseph Schacht states in An Introduction to Islamic Law that "The concept of corporation does not exist in Islamic law." In addition to this, "There is also no freedom of association." This legal defect had serious implications for Islamic societies, not least in the sphere of economic development, as Timor Kuran has made clear. The economic growth and social developments of modern Europe partly had medieval roots, as Avner Greif and others have shown. By contrast, Islamic culture was based on a very different mental outlook.

As the ex-Muslim Wafa Sultan[8] says in her excellent book A God Who Hates, the raids Muhammad and his companions carried out, which amounted to at least twenty-seven if you believe Islamic sources, occupy a major part of his biography. They were intended to acquire booty and to inflict harm upon rival tribes in order to deprive them of their ability to resist Islam. A philosophy of raiding "has rooted itself firmly in the Muslim mind. Bedouins feared raiding on the one hand, and relied on it as a means of livelihood on the other. Then Islam came along and canonized it. Muslims in the twenty-first century still fear they may be raided by others and live every second of their lives preparing to raid someone else. The philosophy of raiding rules their lives, the way they behave, their relationships, and their decisions."

According to Benedictow, "Like[9] other great conquering peoples, from Romans to Mongols, the Arab-Muslim conquerors took over landed property and political control and established a tax regime that benefitted the small, but superior warrior elite. For many centuries this was the essence of the Arab-Muslim presence, the imperialist exploitation model. But since Muslims didn't pay taxes there was also no great urge to do Muslim missionary activity. This is among Western, pro-Islamic left-wing political ideologues, social anthropologists and historians of religion characterized as tolerance. As long as this remained the case, however, the culture of Antiquity could continue to exist, now as a strong undercurrent that allowed for continued work on the Classical texts, translations and commentaries included. The ability of Classical civilization to nourish human ingenuity lived on. Many of those who contributed were Christians and Jews or converts to Islam; rather few were Arabs. As the Muslim religious oppression increased and permeated society and intolerance grew, these Classical civilizational elements withered away. What is actually the case is that the Arab-Muslim conquest of Eastern Roman lands led to the destruction of the civilization of Classical Antiquity. Claiming that the Arab-Muslim conquest saved it is backwards to say the least."












Fjordman is a Norway-based writer. He is a noted blogger who writes analytic and original essays on Islam, Scandinavian affairs and global politics. He is a frequent contributer to Brussels Journal, Gates of Vienna, Faith Freedom International, Jihad Watch and Think-Israel, among other websites.

Part 1 and 2 were published as independent essays, Part 1 on November 17, 2011 on the Gates of Vienna website
( islam-and-greco-roman-cultural-heritage.html) and Part 2 on February 21, 2011 in Jihad Watch
( fjordman-medieval-myths.html).

Note: Interesting additions on the history of Zero are to be found among the comments on Part 1.

Note: The first essay was refused publication at the Norwegian newspaper VG. Many thanks to Cecilie for the English translation.

go back_________________________End of Story___________________________Return