A number of books published in recent years have demolished the myth of an allegedly tolerant Islamic culture that preserved the Greco-Roman heritage. Ibn Warraq’s book Why the West Is Best is among the better and more accessible titles in this field. As I concluded in one of my earlier essays, the only part of the ancient Greek heritage that proved to be more compatible with Muslim than with Christian European culture was slavery, and possibly anal sex with young boys in certain parts of the Islamic world.
In early 2012 the historian Emmet Scott published Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy. If you have any interest in the subject of the Greco-Roman legacy and Islam as they relate to medieval Europe, I strongly recommend that you buy this book. For those who are interested, Scott has published some excerpts from this work online at the New English Review.
Many books claim to be groundbreaking, but rather few of them actually are. Emmet Scott’s Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited falls into the latter category.
He shows convincingly that archaeological excavations paint a very clear picture of devastation brought by the Arab conquests throughout the entire Mediterranean region, from Syria to Spain, in the seventh century AD.
The Belgian historian Henri Pirenne in his work Mohammed and Charlemagne, published posthumously in 1937, suggested that Islam and the Arab conquests constituted the real dividing line between the civilization of Greco-Roman Antiquity and that of medieval Europe. Moreover, Islamic raids in the Mediterranean partially cut Europeans off from their Classical roots. Scott supports this hypothesis but goes even further than Pirenne — who focused on Europe — by showing that the Arab conquests and Islamic repression largely destroyed Greco-Roman Classical civilization in North Africa and parts of the Middle East, which were more urbanized than Europe.
In short, rather than preserving the Classical heritage, as their apologists like to claim, Arabs and Muslims did more than anybody else to wipe out Greco-Roman civilization. The modest contributions they made by preserving certain Greek texts through Arabic translations cannot in any way make up for this massive wave of destruction.
Scott demonstrates that by cutting off the normal trade of Egyptian papyrus to Europe, leaving Europeans only with expensive parchment made from animal skins as a viable alternative, the Arabs essentially doomed much of the Classical literature to oblivion due to a chronic shortage of good writing materials. Sadly, the heroic efforts made by medieval Christian monks in Europe for centuries could only partly make up for this loss.
The author also describes how certain ideas such as an early version of the Inquisition, the concept of Holy War and other often negative innovations were spread due to Islam. The first massacres of Jews in Europe were carried out in Spain by Muslim mobs early in the eleventh century; in 1011 (in Cordoba) and 1066 (in Granada).
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