Fjordman Obama's Cairo Speech

Fjordman: To President Obama: Regarding Islam and Science…….

Just doing a bit of catching up

The Tundra Tabloids has been away at the summer cottage, hammering and painting and yes, warming up the sauna while enjoying a few brews. So much missed in so short of a time, my apologies…but I can’t swear that it won’t happen again!

This time around, the Counterjihad’s most famous voice of reason and articulation, Fjordman, easily takes to task Obama’s errors in his now infamous ‘Cairo Speech’, debunking the ”half-truths, distortions or plain lies” that were used to protray Islam’s supposed contributions to Western civilization. Take it away Fjordman. KGS

US President Barack Hussein Obama’s speech delivered at Cairo University in Egypt on June 4 2009 contained so many half-truths, distortions or plain lies that it is almost impossible to deal with all of them adequately in a single essay. I will concentrate on the science part in particular here. Take this quote:

“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.”

Is there even a single truthful statement in this entire paragraph? Perhaps Muslims had some decent calligraphy, and a few of their scholars made contributions to algebra, but apart from that it’s almost total nonsense. The magnetic compass was invented by the Chinese, and possibly by Europeans independently. Printing of books, too, was invented by the Chinese, and was stubbornly and persistently rejected by Muslims for a thousand years or more due to Islamic religious resistance. They liked the Chinese invention of gunpowder a lot more.

No direct link has ever been proven between Gutenberg’s printing press and printing in East Asia, although it is conceivable that the basic idea of printing had been imported to Europe. In contrast, we know with 100% certainty that Muslims were familiar with East Asian printing but aggressively rejected it. Scholar Thomas Allsen in his book Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia has described how the authorities in Iran under Mongolian rule in 1294 attempted to introduce Chinese-style printed banknotes but failed due to popular resistance:

“Certainly the Muslim world exhibited an active and sustained opposition to movable type technologies emanating from Europe in the fifteenth century and later. This opposition, based on social, religious, and political considerations, lasted well into the eighteenth century. Only then were presses of European origin introduced into the Ottoman Empire and only in the next century did printing become widespread in the Arab world and Iran. This long-term reluctance, the disinterest in European typography, and the failure to exploit the indigenous printing traditions of Egypt certainly argue for some kind of fundamental structural or ideological antipathy to this particular technology.”

It is likely that due to trade, Middle Easterners were familiar with printing centuries before this incident, yet because of Islamic religious resistance they did not adopt this great invention until a thousand years or more after it had been invented in China. Minorities such as Jews or Greek and Armenian Christians were the first to use printing presses in the Ottoman realms. The first book printed in the Persian language was probably a Judaeo-Persian Pentateuch.

As for music, Greek theory on the subject evolved from Pythagoras before 500 BC. The Church was the dominant institution in post-Roman Europe and drew on Greek philosophy and musical theory. Some elements of Christian observances may derive from Jewish tradition, too, chiefly the chanting of Scripture and the signing of psalms, poems of praise from the Book of Psalms. Christians integrated music into their liturgy. In the Western Church, Gregorian chant and the development of polyphonic music was valued as decoration, a concept central to medieval art and architecture.

According to A History of Western Music, Seventh Edition, by Donald J. Grout, Peter J. Burkholder and Claude V. Palisca, “Polyphonic performance heightened the grandeur of chant and thus of the liturgy itself.” This gave rise to a musical tradition which led to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Nothing similar happened in the Islamic world, despite the fact that Muslims initially had access to much of the same material.

I have described this in my essay Why Muslims Like Hitler, but Not Mozart.
Historian Bernard Lewis writes in The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years:

“Since Muslim worship, with the limited exception of some dervish orders, makes no use of music, musicians in the Islamic lands lacked the immense advantage enjoyed by Christian musicians through the patronage of the Church and of its high dignitaries. The patronage of the court and of the great houses, though no doubt useful, was intermittent and episodic, and dangerously subject to the whims of the mighty. Muslim musicians devised no standard system of notation, and their compositions are therefore known only by the fallible and variable medium of memory. There is no preserved corpus of classical Islamic music comparable with that of the European musical tradition. All that remains is a quite extensive theoretical literature on music, some descriptions and portrayals of musicians and musical occasions by writers and artists, a number of old instruments in various stages of preservation, and of course the living memory of long-past performances.”

There are those who are critical of Mr. Lewis as a scholar and consequently believe that he shouldn’t be quoted as an authority. You should always maintain a healthy criticism of any writer, but I know from other sources that the above mentioned quotes are largely correct.

Many forms of music are banned in Islam. The Reliance of the Traveller by Ahmad Ibn Lulu Ibn Al-Naqib and Noah Ha Mim Keller has been formally approved by al-Azhar in Egypt, the highest institution of religious learning among Sunni Muslims. It quotes a number of ahadith, authoritative sayings of Muhammad and his companions which form the core Islamic texts next to the Koran, among them one which says that “There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful …” Another quote says that: “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.”

The scholarly conclusion is that “All of this is explicit and compelling textual evidence that musical instruments of all types are unlawful.” Another legal ruling says that “It is unlawful to use musical instruments – such as those which drinkers are known for, like the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute – or to listen to them. It is permissible to play the tambourine at weddings, circumcisions, and other times, even if it has bells on its sides. Beating the kuba, a long drum with a narrow middle, is unlawful.”

While I certainly do disagree with Mr. Lewis sometimes, in my experience he occasionally errs by being too positive when writing about Islamic culture, not too negative. If you believe Lewis, “The earliest specifically anti-Semitic statements in the Middle East occurred among the Christian minorities, and can usually be traced back to European originals.” This view fits well with the anti-European, Multicultural bias of modern media and academia, yet it is completely and utterly wrong, as Dr. Andrew G. Bostom has conclusively demonstrated in his extremely well-researched book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.

I wouldn’t say that absolutely no scholarly achievements were made in the medieval Islamic world, only that they are greatly exaggerated for political reasons today. Let us divide scholars into three categories: Category 1 consists of those who make minor contributions, category 2 medium-level ones. Category 3 consists of scholars who make major, fundamental contributions to an important branch of science or found an entirely new scholarly discipline. Examples of the latter would include Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Nicolaus Copernicus, Aristotle, René Descartes or Galileo Galilei. Not a single scholar of this stature has ever been produced in the Islamic world even at the best of times. Finding some medieval Muslim scholars who made minor contributions to mathematics or alchemy is not very difficult, and I can probably name half a dozen to a dozen individuals who might qualify under category 2.

The highest-ranking contribution of any Muslim scholar in my view came from Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) in optics. The mathematician Muhammad al-Khwarizmi did not “invent” algebra; the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Indians, Chinese and others had early forms of algebra; the most important pre-modern scholar was arguably Diophantus of Alexandria in the third century AD, and modern algebra was created in Europe. Nevertheless, just like you cannot write a history of optics without mentioning Alhazen, you cannot properly write a history of algebra without mentioning al-Khwarizmi.

In historiography, Ibn Khaldun could be mentioned, although he shared the contempt for all non-Muslim cultures which hampered the growth of history, archaeology and comparative linguistics in the Islamic world. Muslim scholars did not seriously study other cultures with curiosity and describe them with fairness, al-Biruni’s writings about India being one of very major few exceptions to this rule.


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