In his speech today in Cairo, President Barack Obama made the following statement:
As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.
This statement is completely false. The president’s error is in attributing “Islam” to the accomplishments of the Arab world of a thousand years ago. The president couldn’t be more wrong.
It was Arabs qua Aristotelians and not Arabs qua Islamists who are responsible for the accomplishments described by the president.
In “A History Of Knowledge” (p. 103), Charles van Doren writes:
It was in Alexandria, that the Arab Muslims first came into close contact with Greek culture. They fell under its spell at once. They soon became noted mathematicians, astronomers, and physicists, and they continued the work begun even before the fall of Rome of codifying and interpreting Greek scientific thought.
Please note the context of van Doren’s use of the phrase “Arab Muslim”. While these Arabs were Muslim in name, they were Greek in thought — at least to the extent they used Aristotelian reason. No doubt these were men of mixed premises.
In “A History Of Philosophy” (p. 316), Wilhelm Windelband says:
(W)e must not…overestimate the independent achievements of the Arabs in medicine and natural science. Here, too, mediaeval science is essentially learned tradition. The knowledge which the Arabs were later able to deliver to the West had its origin, in the main, in the books of the Greeks. Nor did even experimental knowledge experience an essential extension through the Arabs’ own work; only in some fields, as, for example chemistry and mineralogy and in some parts of medicine, e.g. physiology, do they appear more independent. In their method, however, in their principles by which they apprehend the universe, and in their entire system of philosophical conceptions, they stand, so far as our information on the subject reaches, entirely under the combined influence of Aristotelianism and Neo-Platonism…
The Arabs of that time period should be praised for their translation of Aristotle’s works. As a result of their support of Aristotle’s ideas, the Arab world prospered.
The eventual consequence was the spread of Aristotle and reason to Europe. The spread of reason in Europe led to the demise of the Dark Ages, and the emergence of the Renaissance and of the Enlightenment.
It led to the science of Galileo and Newton and to Renaissance art. The Enlightenment also provided the proper philosophical and cultural atmosphere for the political formation of the United States of America. Dr. Leonard Peikoff:
(T)he United States with its unique system of government could not have been founded in any philosophically different period. The new nation would have been inconceivable in the seventeenth century, under the Puritans, to say nothing of the twelfth–just as, the power of tradition apart, its selfish, absolutist individualism would never survive a vote today (which is why a second Constitutional convention would be a calamity). America required what the Enlightenment alone offered: enlightenment.
[The Duel Between Plato and Aristotle, Objectivism: The Philosophy Of Ayn Rand, p. 453.]
This is the common ground between the Arab world of one thousand years ago and the United States of America. It is the common ground of transmitted Greek thought (reason) taken from idea to action. And for this, we should be thankful to certain Arabs of that time period. We should be thankful for many pro-Aristotelian Arab philosophers including Averroes. From Windelband (p. 317):
But the most important and independent among Arabian thinkers was Averroes…He treated in paraphrases and longer or shorter commentaries, which were printed in the older editions of Aristotle, almost all the didactic writings of Aristotle, who was esteemed by him as the highest teacher of truth.
So while Greek thought was highly influential in medieval Arabia, the Arab culture was not completely Aristotelian. As Burgess Laughlin wrote in “The Aristotle Adventure” (p. 112):
Aristotle’s logic entered the Arabic-Islamic cultural stream beginning c. 850. Conflicts appeared quickly between theologians who disavowed all philosophy, and the theologians who wanted both revelation and reason. The struggle between them continued for centuries.
This was clearly a culture of mixed premises. And it is now that we are able to see Islam’s true affect upon the Arab world. Continues Laughlin (p. 117-119):
For 200 years after the introduction of ancient Greek philosophy into Arabic culture…Islamic theologians reacted against it. Their strength grew slowly and steadily like an avalanche of mud. At the peak of that reaction, Al-Ghazali of Khurasan began his scholarly career by studying philosophy and logic…To attack philosophy, Al-Ghazali picked three targets. His first target was Aristotle (the master of philosophy)…Al-Ghazali’s and other scholars’ persistent attack on philosophy (and on philosophy’s tool, logic) weakened support for philosophy in Arabic culture in the east for the next 200 years. [There was a minor revival around 1200]…For the Arabic culture in the east, Islam (that is, submission to God), not philosophy (with logic as its tool), was to be man’s guide in this world.
Windelband provides further evidence of the battle between the Aristotelian and Islamic thinkers. (p. 317)
…Avicenna, whose “Canon” became the fundamental book of medieval medicine in the West, as well as in the East, and who also exercised a powerful influence by his extremely numerous philosophical writings, especially his Metaphysics and Logic. His doctrine comes nearer again to pure Aristotelianism, and perhaps the nearest among all the Arabians.
But the extension of these philosophical views was regarded with jealous eyes by Mohammedan orthodoxy, and the scientific movement experienced so violent persecution in the tenth century that it took refuge in the secret league of the “Pure Brothers”. Avicenna himself was also persecuted.
Did you catch that? “The scientific movement experienced so violent persecution” by the Mohammedan orthodoxy that they had to go into hiding. Mr. President, this is not “peaceful contemplation”.
Burgess Laughlin concludes his section on Aristotle in the Arab lands (p. 124):
After the two contemporaries, Ibn Rushd [Averroes] and Ibn Maimun, no significant Arabic philosophers (Aristotelian or otherwise) appeared in Islamic culture – ever. In Islamic-Spain, the study of logic and philosophy (as parts of “alien learning”) became extinct, extinguished by popular and theological hostility to non-Islamic culture.
The consequence of this was the complete lack of progress in the Arab world for the next eight hundred years. With the vanquishing of Aristotelian logic and the rise of Islamic ideology and theocracy, most of the Arab world stood in a primitive state. The only advancement in the Arab world occurred in the last 50 to 100 years — due to the re-introduction of Aristotelian logic via Western engineering in the oil fields made productive by American and European corporations. The current accomplishments in Arab lands, as with the accomplishments of one thousand years ago, are due to Greek thought. They are possible, not because of, but in spite of Islamic thought.
For Barack Obama to deny the reality of medieval Arab history by praising Islam as the tool of modern progress when in fact it is the consistent killer of human thought and action is a disgrace. It is a disgrace because it attacks not only the true tool of human progress (reason), but it attacks the philosophical and historical roots of the country of which he is president.
There are few greater scams or sins ever committed by an American president than the one committed by President Barack Obama today. The United States of America is at war. At war, not just on the battlefield, but in the realm of ideas. We are in the ongoing war between reason and faith. An American president has just yielded to the enemy.