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December 10th 2015 print

Mark Durie

Turnbull’s Islamic Howlers

Agility and innovation? The PM'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

dhimmies guideBack in 2011, on 28 February, Malcolm Turnbull, now Australia’s Prime Minister, had this to say about Islam on Q&A:

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.

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 endebted 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.

Greek civilization did not need ‘rescue-by-conquest’: indeed it continued in Constantinople all through the European 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 was 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 A.C. Crombie pointed out in 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.

Comments [13]

  1. Bran Dee says:

    When seeking informed opinion on things Mohammedan it will not be to Malcolm Turnbull that one should turn. Rather it is scholars like Mark Durie and Merv Bendle and Babette Francis who have knowledge with experience. The latter wrote earlier this month in The Australian “Islamism has always sought to impose its theocracy by the sword — and retreats [from] engaging with the prevailing culture. An example is the refusal of the Muslim-majority province of pre-partition India to live within a secular democracy. Pakistan was born of this disengagement—-”.

  2. Bill Martin says:

    Thank you Mark Durie for reminding me of what I read in your book The Third Choice. It is most doubtful that Turnbull or any of our “leaders” would have read it. The few that are familiar with its contents, like Tony Abbot, are ostracised for talking about it.

  3. pgang says:

    It was very nice to read this short take on early Medieval history. I’ve recently read a text from the 1960′s (reprinted endlessly since then) that is full of progressive interpretation: subjugation of women (yet presenting an endless parade of successful women), subjugation of Jews (who are now out of PC fashion of course), endless praise for Islamic culture, marvelling at the various barbaric tribes, and a triumphant condemnation of all things Christian.
    It was very trite and I gave it up at the half way mark because of its predictable blandness. Anyway I could sense the illogic of it all, particularly in the ‘Islam as the saviour of culture’ meme, but couldn’t quite grasp the real story.
    I could have saved myself a lot of time by just reading this short article, which was more informative than the entire book.

  4. Keith Kennelly says:

    I do find a ring of truth to the view of the destruction and curtailling of western culture and learning at the hands of the early Arab empires expansion during its first 3 or 4 hundred years but…
    there also was a magnificient age of advancement under the Caliphate during the domination of Islam by the Ancient Persian’s of Iran and Iraq. Their base was in the old Persian empire.

    That period saw the development of great libraries and centers of learning and scholarship until the domination of Islam by the Salafists and Wahhibs. This saw a return to fundamentalism and the centre of islam to the Arab empire and Mecca.

    Such continues today. It is this fundamentalism that is ignored today.

    ‘Malcolm in the shadows’ is plainly ignorant.

  5. hwka says:

    Persians are NOT Arabs.

    Re: Keith Kennelly’s comment @ 3:07 :
    Early Arab Islam result…destruction
    Persian Islamic history…advancement
    Current Arab Islam…destruction

    Q.E.D.

  6. Davidovich says:

    Thank you Mark Durie for this informative article. It continues to amaze me how Turnbull so confidently believes he is right when, obviously, he is very deficient in his knowledge. The man is quite dangerous as a result of this and it is imperative that those with knowledge and courage in the Coalition are supported in order to curb his “progressive” tendencies and keep this country on a sane course.

  7. DRW says:

    Mark Durie you’re a recalcitrant black sliding recidivist trouble maker for daring to critique Dear Helmsman’s selective interpretation of history, it’ll be off to the re-education camps for mate i.e. a university course in journalism.

  8. Keith Kennelly says:

    No of course the Iranians aren’t Arabs [email protected] and of course it is great you showed you understood the point I made.

    It wasn’t Islam that saved and passed on the knowledge it was the secular leaning civilisations which hosted and dominated Islam that achieved that.

    pgang it is probably an analogy to compare the work of all non secular custodians of western knowledge and ask did any if them discover or add anything new?

    I’d reason the knowledge was only advanced by secular thinkers and thought.

  9. Hoppy says:

    What Mark Durie, and all the rest of you, fail to say in this debate, is what would you do if you were PM? Ideological rants aren’t the solution. It’s all very well sitting on the outside lobbing grenades, but if you’re actually responsible it’s quite a different matter. Your collective ad hominem attacks on Turnbull are no better than those the Left mount against Tony Abbott (double T, Bill Martin).
    Try being constructive for once.

    • Simon says:

      What would I do if I were PM? I’m so glad you asked!

      First and foremost, I would kick Hizb ut-Tahrir out of this country so fast it will make their heads spin. Next, I would demand Muslims take responsibility for their idiotic religion. Go on, ask me how!

      Our ‘collective ad-hominem attacks’ on our PM are actually light years ahead of the puerile rubbish thrown at Abbott. And many of us actually also criticized Abbott, for example, on not following through on the repeal of section 18C (again, not on silly, Mama Mia type subjects that is the wont of the left-wing (feux outrage at ‘shirt-fronting’ Putin and so on).

      That’s because we are individual thinkers not the bovine conformists of the left.

      Thanks for asking, really.

  10. Keith Kennelly says:

    Limit Muslim immigration, promote western values and traditions, jail for life any terrorist, round up and deport all extended family members of any terrorist, close an mosque promoting terrorism, carpet bomb Raqqa, Mosel, Aleppo and any other Centre in ISIL and confront Saudi Arabia over its funding of Salafist and Wahabism fundamentalism and finally press Muslims to reform their religion.
    If that fails to stop the murder and carnage and doesn’t see fundamental change in the religion then do as Truman did the the militaristic Japanese who were intending to fight to the death for their God. Pretty simple really.