The curse of Arabs and Muslims strikes again
A millennium ago, when Europe was plunged in the Dark Ages, Islam flourished and made significant contributions to science, philosophy, mathematics and medicine. There were Muslim philosophers and physicians like Al Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna to the West) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes); there were mathematicians like Al Khawarizmi, considered the father of Algebra; historians like Ibn Khaldoun; and great mystical writers and poets like Rumi and Al Ghazali. Cities like Isfahan and Bukhara, and later Cairo and Cordoba, were centers of scholarship and learning. None was more outstanding than Baghdad, which at the time of the Caliph Harun Al Rashid, in the 9th Century CE, was more advanced than any European city.
Many of these Muslim men of letters wrote impressive commentaries on the works of Aristotle, and sought to reconcile Islam with logic and philosophy. Ibn Rushd insisted that the Koran should be studied on the basis of rational thought. Ibn Sina is said to have memorized the Koran by the age of seven, but also to have read Aristotle’s Metaphysics 40 times as a teen.
Today, the prominent figures of Islam, such as Osama Bin Laden, Ayman Al Zawahiri, and Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, probably never opened a book of Greek philosophy, except perhaps to determine how to condemn it. Their ‘wisdom’ amounts to recognizing the West, and America in particular, as the Great Satan, and all things Western as evil. Ironically (and hypocritically), they use the scientific and technological creations of the West not to better their people through improving science, medicine and the quality of life in Muslim countries, but to bomb innocents in Western cities, from Madrid and London to New York and Washington, as well as innocents in their own countries.
And today, Buchara offers little more than memories of a great past as it languishes under the regime of Uzbekistan’s leader Islam Karimov, a post-Soviet authoritarian; Isfahan is hostage to Iran’s grim ayatollahs; Cairo is home to several universities and has produced four Nobel Laureates (the only Arab winners of that prize) but its citizens are muzzled by another authoritarian regime; Cordoba is long part of a Christian-dominated Spain.
As to Baghdad, today it is the scene of the most barbaric and primitive behavior on the planet. Suicide bombers target fellow Muslims attending prayers at their local mosques, young men lining up to join security forces, a van load of day laborers, hospitals and churches, and women and children trying to live a normal life.
Then there is Lebanon. Long a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional haven of intellectual, religious and political freedom in the Middle East, it has for decades suffered the meddling of various dictators and despots in the area, from the Assads of Syria, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Moammar Qadhafi of Libya to the super-wealthy Arab rulers of the Gulf region.
Its great misfortune is to be located adjacent to Israel, a country ruled by leaders who have no qualms about bombing a neighbor into rubble, again and again, killing hundreds or thousands of innocents in the name of their own national security.
This time around, the curse striking Lebanon’s majority of peace-loving people, who just want to get on with their lives, is Hezbollah. This is a militant group that gains its political strength from Lebanon’s radicalized Shia community, the largest sectarian group in the country, and its financial, logistical and military strength from Syria and Iran.
There will be no peace for Lebanon until Hezbollah is put in its proper place. That means until it is disarmed and its ties with Syria and Iran are cut. Sadly, the Lebanese government and Lebanese army have never had the guts or strength to deal with Hezbollah. Thus we see the tragedy that is unfolding today in Lebanon. Protected by its 33 members of parliament and its ministers in government, Hezbollah is conducting its own war against Israel. But Lebanon is paying the price.
Hezbollah’s leader is Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, a man credited with leading Hezbollah in driving Israel from Lebanon after its 1982 invasion. Its “spiritual” leader is Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. Both were educated at Shia institutions in Iraq. Both look to Iran as their model for Islamic revolution and their primary source of support.
Fadlallah is credited with this statement: "What martyrdom is greater than making yourself a human bomb [and] detonating it among the enemy? What spiritualism is greater than this spiritualism in which a person loses all feeling of his body and life for the sake of his cause and mission?"
He says his mission is to create an Islamic state in Lebanon, modeled after Iran: “Politically, my primary objective is to see the Islamic revolution in Lebanon brought to fruition. The newly dissolved and recreated Lebanese government… is clearly an obstacle in the path to revolution.” And: “The United States and Israel are full partners in a war against the people of the Middle East. Therefore, we must secure their departure from Lebanon as a precursor to Israel's obliteration from existence, and as the first step towards liberating our people from the talons of Western imperialism. Only then may we begin to construct a political system favored by the people based upon the teachings of the holy Quran.”
Most of the luminaries of Islam’s golden era were Persians, including the majority of the figures mentioned at the beginning of this article. The most prominent modern Persian is the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of Iran’s Islamic revolution, whose glowering visage continues to inspire Shia radicals in their violent attacks, from Baghdad to Beirut.
The curse of the Arabs and Muslims in general is that truly great men of science and religion in their faith have been replaced by false spiritual leaders who preach evil and killing instead of good, authoritarian leaders who cloak their oppression of others in the robes of Muslim authority, and terrorists who commit unspeakable crimes in the name of God and Islam.
This curse cannot be lifted by anyone other than the Arabs and Muslims themselves. Only when they rise up against false teaching, oppressive leadership and terrorism will they finally be free to live good lives in peace and security. And only then will they gain the moral authority and credibility to deal rationally and effectively with Israel, the West and the rest of the world.
Thomas Cromwell is the managing editor of DiplomaticTraffic.com and the president of East West Communications. He spent 25 years in the Middle East, 18 of them as publisher and editor of the Middle East Times.