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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Turnbull’s Islamic Howlers

Agility and innovation? Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s version of history is all that and more. Leaping facts in a single bound, he ducks and weaves though a thicket of politically correct cliches to land effortlessly upon the desired conclusion: the West owes everything to Mohammad.

Back in 2011, on 28 February, Malcolm Turnbull, now Australia’s Prime Minister, had this to say about Islam on Q&A (excerpted here):
Islam is an ancient religion, of great scholarship. I mean — for heavens sake — much of our learning and culture came to us from the Muslims, just like, you know, our whole system of numbers and much of the learning of the ancient Greeks only survived because of the Arab scholars and the Islamic scholars. So, you know, the idea that Islam is antithetical to learning or culture or scholarship is absurd. Now, you know, it’s a great tradition. It is important for us that we promote and encourage Islam and Islamic traditions which are moderate, which support freedom, which support democracy and which support Australian values — not in the sense of “Aussie values” — but in the sense of democracy, rule of law, tolerance, freedom. That's what we’re talking about and they are universal values.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull made this statement in order to dismiss a suggestion he considered absurd, namely that Islamic schools in Australia promote extremism.  He intended the argument he put forward to be evidence for the inherent moderation of Islam.

The idea that Western people should feel indebted to Islam for keeping Greek and Hindu learning alive is common enough.  But does it make any sense at all?

Consider the case of the Hindu number system.  Muslim conquests of the Indian subcontinent commenced in the 7th century and by the early 9th century Muslim scholars had learned about the Hindu numbering system and adopted it.  Use of the system then spread rapidly across the Arab world, and by the early 10th century it had reached Spain.

The Hindus were quite capable of preserving their intellectual achievements without the dubious benefits of Islamic conquest. Indeed Hindu societies have preserved the use of the number system they invented right down to the present day.

The fact that this excellent system passed into Europe via Arab colonies stretching around the Mediterranean cannot justify a claim that the Hindu system of numbers ‘only survived’ because of Muslims or Islam.  Nor does it imply that the Arabs who passed on this numbering system to the West were – to use Turnbull’s words — ‘moderate’ or supportive of freedom and democracy.  It is not possible to work out whether a society is moderate from the numbering system it uses.  Even the Islamic State uses the same numbering system as Malcolm Turnbull.

Concerning Greek learning I had this to say in my book, The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom:
A repeated theme in ... school texts is that the West should be grateful to Islamic civilization for preserving Greek philosophy. The narrative offered to justify this gratitude is that during the Dark Ages the Islamic world underwent a golden age of cultural and scientific development, preserving Greek learning, which then kick-started the Western Renaissance.
Of course Greek civilization did not need ‘rescue-by-conquest’: in fact it continued in Constantinople all through the European (so-called) dark ages. It is true that when the Europeans translated Arabic texts into Latin, this did stimulate the development of Western philosophy and science. Many terms passed over from Arabic into European languages as a result, including sherbet, zero and zenith. However the fact that elements of Greek philosophy and science were transmitted to Europe via Arabic is not something for which Western children should be schooled to feel grateful. If Arab conquest had never happened, we can assume that Greek culture and philosophy would have continued to develop in Alexandria, Damascus and Constantinople to the present day.

In reality, as Crombie pointed out in The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo, the conquest of the heart of the Greek-speaking world by Islam, and resulting Arab control of the Mediterranean, stunted scientific progress in Europe:
… it was the eruption of the Mohammedan invaders into the Eastern Empire in the 7th century that gave the most serious blow to learning in Western Christendom. The conquest of much of the Eastern Empire by the Arabs meant that the main reservoir of Greek learning was cut off from Western scholars for centuries …
Islam’s disruption of Mediterranean civilization ushered in the so-called European ‘Dark Ages’, as historian Henri Pirenne concluded in his classic study, Mohammed and Charlemagne:
The cause of the break with the tradition of antiquity was the rapid and unexpected advance of Islam. The result of this advance was the final separation of East from West, and the end of the Mediterranean unity. … The Western Mediterranean, having become a Musulman lake, was no longer the thoroughfare of commerce and of thought which it had always been. The West was blockaded and forced to live upon its own resources.
It is disappointing that today history books are teaching a dhimmified version of history, according to which children are schooled in feeling grateful to Islam for rescuing Western and Christian culture from Islam itself. This is exactly the dhimmi condition, and the essential meaning of the jizya payment ritual: to render gratitude to Islam for being rescued by conquest.
Malcolm Turnbull’s comment on Q&A illustrates the hole the West is falling into.  It risks being buried alive by the weight of bad ideas about its own identity and history.

In the face of escalating Islamic terrorism, it is reasonable to inquire into the contribution schooling may or may not make to the ideological formation of jihadis.  However the way to make that inquiry is by examining what people are saying and doing today, not by making grandiose appeals to a mythical history.

To learn from history is wisdom.  To abuse it is folly indeed.

This article first appeared with Quadrant Online.
Mark Durie is a Shillman-GinsburgWriting Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Founder of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness.


  1. Thank you Mark for your excellent analysis of this particular popular myth that the West owes its intellectual advancements in the Renaissance to Islam. My own independent studies have been fortified by your comments here with regard to my examination of the Byzantine Empire. It was the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire that preserved not only the Christian Scriptures and way of life, but also the Greek classics putting paid to the highly propagated notion that the medieval church universally deliberately destroyed the works of pagan Aristotle and the like. They actually preserved them. The Renaissance as far as I could see took place because scholars in Constantinople fled Islamic conquest in 1453 and took their learning and art to the West. If they had not done this, the Islamic conquest would have crushed learning rather than promoted it in Western Europe as has been relentlessly claimed by certain academics and uninformed politicians.

    1. Yes, that's absolutely correct. I suspect renaissance was triggered off in Venice and Florence because of their proximity to Constantinople: there were the nearest safe havens for refugees from Constantinople to flee to.

    2. So glad to read informed accounts of this history in a time of politically correct superficialities.

    3. I wonder what Dr. Durie thinks of Emmet Scott's book, Muhammad and Charlemagne Revisited. It updates and somewhat alters Pirenne's thesis, and via and elaborate consideration of historical evidence concludes that the European Dark Ages did occur, but did not start till some time in the seventh century, and were probably caused by the Islamic conquests cutting Western Europe off from the main centers of Christian civilization in the East and in North Africa. I don't feel competent to judge Scott's case.

      Anyway, I appreciate Dr. Durie's discussion of all this.

  2. Absolutely correct Mark and very temperately expressed.

    Emmet Scott's revisiting of the work of Pirenne in 'Mohammed and Charlemagne' says that the Arab Muslims CAUSED the Dark Ages. This is the essence of what he writes:

    "After Mohammed died in 632AD the Arab Muslims exploded out of the Arabian peninsula to conquer the neighbouring lands. Archaeology of the coastal lands around the Mediterranean sea and on the sea bed produces powerful evidence that it was Islam that plunged Europe into the Dark Ages by about the fourth decade of the seventh century.

    "Muslim historian ibn Khaldun boasted that “the Christians could not float a plank on the inland sea”. In other words, Islam had stopped all trade with Europe, which included:

    1) Papyrus for writing from Egypt
    2) Grain for food from Egypt
    3) Soda for glass making from Syria
    4) Learning and science from Syria
    5) Spices from the Syrian region
    6) Fine red slip pottery from North Africa.

    "In addition, the Arab invaders grazed their animals on pastures eating the crops and destroying the Roman irrigation channels. When the rains came, heaving silting occurred along the coastlands which the archaeologists call the “Younger Fill”.

    "The constant raiding and looting, the taking of sex slaves for harems and women and children for slavery forced the population to retreat to hilltops behind walled towns.

    "Food production was affected and the population declined.

    "Europe slipped into the Dark Ages which would last until about 950 AD."

    Game, set and match. The Islamophilic narrative swallowed and peddled by Turnbull is garbage.

    1. I've read both "Mohammed & Charlemagne Revisited" and "The Impact of Islam" by Emmet Scott.

      Excellent books.

      Found them both very heavy-going, but worth persevering with.

      Exposing the lack of archaeological evidence between 711 & 911 AD for an Islamic Golden Age in Cordoba was devastating.

      I recalled it when the "Ahmed the Clockboy" controversy hit the media since -- like the Islamic Golden Age -- Ahmed's alleged brilliance consisted of ripping out the guts of an already existing clock, sticking it into a threatening container, then claiming he invented it all.

  3. Islamic peoples were indeed scholarly centuries ago; unfortunately for them and the world at large, their fervent belief in primitive nonsense retarded their development to the point where they are now a virtual intellectual wasteland, and one which seeks to drag the world back to the middle ages.

    1. Dear Mark, in Australia so far, not one terrorist has come from an Islamic school, only secular state schools. What are your thoughts on this? Thank you

    2. There is zero evidence of this claim.

    3. First, my post was not about Islamic schools. Second, while a number of the IS recruits have been public schools, I have seen no comprehensive list of all those involved in terrorism to document which schools they attended. Third I would not be surprised public school students were more susceptible to recruitment. It's a complex subject - perhaps for another post! My point was that if we are to consider the influence of schooling, let's look at the actual evidence, and not make grandiose claims without any basis in fact.

    4. Are we not to consider that a mosque is a school a place of alleged learning, as all religious places of worship are places of learning then it can be said clearly if the radicalisation is initiated from a mosque, the ideology learned in a Mosque then the all terrorists in Australia have sporn from Islamic schools, its simply an interpretation of what is a school. I believe a school is a place of learning, that doesn't mean learning facts or things that are beneficial or real just a place where you learn something and that something may just be HATE, and to say that the only Terrorists from Australia come from state schools is nonsense, especially when it is accepted that Terrorists generally spawn from a place where belief in an alternative is not present, therefore the culture of a state school promotes the void to be filled, but the Islamic scholars at the mosques who one might say come from Islamic schooling facilitate the education of Terrorists therefore confirming that these Islamic Schools are educating the terrorists by default and with intent.

    5. I've worked for nearly 20 years with Muslims at village and town level. Most go to Islamic classes daily if not weekly (Saturday and Sunday school) Here they learn Islam in full. These are those who attend government schools.

  4. My understanding is that when the Muslim conquest swept through northern Africa and into Spain, the existing cultures were systematically crushed. It has only been by the brave resilience of the Coptic church in Egypt that some of it remains. As you have said in another article Mark, Muslims and Christians were not existing in some sort of harmonious relationship in Spain and it was only that Charlemagne stopped their aggressive advance through there that they returned to focusing on Constantinople as an entry point to Europe. What Mr Turnbull has said is at best revisionist in nature or at worst it is fanciful and yes his comments are politically motivated.

  5. Thank you Mark for this article. Have you read "God's Battalions" by Rodney Stark? The book appears to present facts similar to your research & presentation. It's important to combat the widespread ignorance (whether unintended or willful) that Mohammed & his successors loved peace & were tolerant. Stark points out that the Crusades (which I think are indeed a 'black-eye' on Christianity) were a response to the Muslim invasion of the Holy Land. The crusaders were not the initial aggressors.
    That's not to say that justifies the Crusades, but just that it was Islam who are provocateurs - not the innocent, peace-lovers that our current 'historians' like to present.

    1. Thanks DynoMark - I was aware of that book, but have not read it, though it is on my bookshelf! The Crusaders included a lot of Nor(se)man knights, who were just a generation of two away from Viking pursuits. It's hardly surprising they took their marauding ways with them into the Middle East.

      BTW the Muslims' account of the rape of Christian women in Jerusalem under Saladin is very reminiscent of the Islamic State's abuses.

    2. We need to ask why our Prime Minister feels such a pressure to produce such a beige revision of history. It sounds like the psychology of appeasement.

    3. The Crusaders also massacred and raped the people of Jerusalem (whether Jews or Muslims) when they seized it.

    4. Yes mcc1789 you are correct - and also Christians were raped by Crusaders.

    5. Yes, I'm sure there was little distinction made. Unfortunately that was typical in the wake of sieges.

    6. Actually the rape of Christian women in Jeruslem was discriminating and organised. It involved not just rape in the heat of conquest, but the sexual enslavement of non-Muslim women, complete with slave markets where the women were bought and sold by the victors. Here is the record of Imad ad-Din al-Osfahani: “Women and children together came to 8,000 and were quickly divided up among us, bringing a smile to Muslim faces at their lamentations. How many well-guarded women were profaned, how many queens were ruled and nubile girls married, and noble women given away, and miserly women forced to yield themselves, and women who had been kept hidden stripped of their modesty, and serious women made ridiculous, and women kept in private now set in public, and free women occupied, and precious ones used for hard work, and pretty things put to the test, and virgins dishonoured and proud women deflowered, and lovely women’s red lips kissed, and dark women prostrated, and untamed ones tamed, and happy ones made to weep!”
      How many noble men took them as concubines, how many ardent men blazed for one of them, and celebates were satisfied by them, and thirsty men sated by them, and turbulent men able to give vent to their passion. How many lovely women were the exclusive property of one man, how many great ladies were sold at low prices, and close ones set at a distances, and lofty one abased, and savage ones captured, and those accustomed to thrones dragged down!"

    7. He seems to be talking about Christian women being raped by Muslims here. I was only talking about the massacres and rapes in the wake of Jerusalem falling to the Crusaders. This is a new historical event I'm glad to have learned about though (despite it being horrendous).

    8. My point - made in the comments - was that the process applied to non-Muslim female captives by the Islamic state is reminiscent to the treatment of women after the capture of Jerusalem under Saladin. In both cases the process was regulated by principles found in the Islamic sharia. I'm not sure how Crusader atrocities are relevant to this point, though.

    9. Ah, I see. I didn't realize the connection at the time without knowing of this event. I pointed out the Crusaders' atrocities in case the use of war rape was deemed unique.

  6. Mark please ignore my previous comment as I sent it incomplete by mistake. Instead please publish the one below which is the complete and corrected version.

    Thank you very much Mark. As usual, you have once again given a very good answer to the lies of political correctness, that is in absolute contradiction of facts. North African and Mediterranean civilisations were not preserved by the conquest of the barbaric Muslim armies. Instead Muslims came and destroyed those civilisation systematically over the centuries. What was past down to Western Europeans centuries later was not what Muslims preserved, but they they were what Muslims failed to destroy. Islamic doctrine, culture, and traditions are not interested in preserving things of Jews and Christian, but are obsessed with destroying everything that originates from or belongs to Jews and Christians.
    Thus, I can only conclude that Islam did not preserve but destroyed all that was good and beautiful. All that has been passed down to us escaped Islamic destruction by God's divine intervention and grace.

  7. This guy has done a lot of his own research from historical records. Mirrors what you guys are saying. The Crusades were defensive actions and were a mere aberration by comparison to the Islamic onslaught.

    In another one of his videos of a presentation to the Czech Republic he refers to some great maritime record that spanned a few hundred years

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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