A Brief History of Islam and the West

Around 630 AD, the Arab prophet Muhammad united the Arab people through the founding of a religion called Islam, which means “submission to God.” Muhammad forged these people into a fighting people the destiny of whom was to bring the rule of Islam to humankind.

Within a hundred years, Muhammad and his disciples had conquered all of the Middle East, much of Persia, India, North Africa, Asia Minor, the Asian Interior, Spain, and good part of France. As a matter of fact, had it not been for Charles Martel, who in 732 defeated the Arabs at Poiters, Europe may well have been an Islamic continent today — a piece of history that many in the Arab political culture have never quite been able to forget.

Which is one of the reasons that, 950 years later, much Islamic history is concentrated on the struggle — jihad means struggle — to prevent the reconquest of Muslim lands. Their longing is for a great leader, the caliph, to vindicate this great historic wrong, which prevented Islamic dominance of Europe, and to at last defeat European power. This longing, propelled by religious faith, was strong enough to bring, in 1683, the armies of the Ottoman sultan to the gates of Vienna, where the Muslim push was broken.

The subsequent decline of the Ottoman Empire was protracted and painful.

In 1798, Napoleon seized Egypt with ease.

By 1830, the British had seized control of many Arabian ports, and Algeria had become a permanent French base.

By 1870, much of Persia and virtually all of North Africa had become the possession of British, French, or Italian.

World War I saw the complete dismantling of the remaining Islamic realm. Turkey at that time became Westernized and secular, and much of the Arab world was put under European control — including Iran, which, in the 1930s, was ruled by a pro-Western family.

After fourteen centuries, Islamic dominance and political independence came to a close, thereby thrusting the Muslim world into a state of unmitigated confusion and humiliation. Quoting one Muhammad Nuwayhi, who 100 years ago was a leading Egyptian intellectual:

Anyone who reflects on the present state of the Islamic nation finds it in great calamity … The nation is tormented and resentful, plagued by inner contradictions and fragmentation, its reality is contrary to its ideals and its comportment goes against its creed. What a horrible state for a nation to live in (Muhammad Nuwayhi, Toward a Revolution of Religious Thought, 1907).

The European powers, meanwhile, proceeded to rather arbitrarily divide up the Ottoman Empire, and not long after the establishment of European protectorates (so-called), two strains of thought emerged among the Muslim Arabs to challenge “the horrible state.”

The first: Pan-Arab nationalism between Egypt’s Nasser and the Baath Party in Syria and Iraq. This party was very consciously modeled after Pan-German nationalism, and it accordingly supported Adolph Hitler’s “achievements” and even collaborated with Hitler against Britain during World War II. The Pan-Arab nationalist party explicitly sought a modern unified Arab-fascist nation.

The second strain to emerge was the Muslim Brotherhood which rapidly joined forces with other Islamic fundamentalist organizations, and which initially rejected Pan-Arab nationalism for being too pro-European and heretical. This Muslim Brotherhood organization longed mightily for a “pure Islamic regime.”

These two emergent groups differed, and yet they had a couple of significant things in common: undying hatred of the West, which had “dismembered” Islamic domination, and undying hatred of the “treacherous” Arab monarchies (including of course the Shah’s rule in Iran). Thus, after World War II, these two movements began working in precarious collaboration to dispose of all Arab monarchies and establish Muslim theocratic rule.

And, as everyone now knows, they were largely successful. The monarchies of Libya, for example, as well as Egypt and Iraq, were supplanted by militant Pan-Arabist regimes. Their goal was to dismantle all remaining Arab monarchies and add them to their own militant realm, and also to help the Soviet Union confront the West. They also very strongly believed that the “liberation of Jerusalem” was the key to stirring up ultra-nationalist sentiment against the West, and they made no secret of their willingness to use terrorism to achieve their ends.

Quoting Egyptian President (and Pan-Arab nationalist) Nassar, on the eve of the Six-Day War:

We are confronting Israel and the West as well — the West, which created Israel and despised us Arabs, and which ignored us before and after 1948 … If the Western powers disavow our rights and ridicule us, we Arabs must teach them to respect us and take us seriously.

Yasir Arafat’s PLO was born out of this Pan-Arab movement.

The PLO is essentially a nonsensical melange of Nasserist Pan-Arab fascism and neo-Marxist jargon, the stated purpose of which is to destroy “Western intrusion.”

The crucial point here: it has by now become cliche that if Israel would never have come into existence, the Muslim relationship with the West would be peaceful. And yet the absolutely irrefutable fact of the matter is that the Islamic world has been bellicose and antagonistic toward the West for millennium, since its inception, by definition: all faith must ultimately resort to force in order to persuade; because faith is the opposite of reason.


  • Scott

    January 15, 2015

    As if I didn’t loathe religion/faith enough already … thank you, Ray, for this entry.

    You conclude with faith is the opposite of reason.
    These three Abrahamic faiths are certainly irrational.

    Another case in point: today, the Poop, I mean, Pope complained: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”

    Or else, what? Are we kids in the playground? Teacher says we can’t do that. Oh, yeah? Watch.
    Well, there you have it. Desperation City. Welcome to the Soviet Union. I mean the Vatican.

    Words in the air are all religion has so I guess they think if they take that away from us …
    They are no longer trying to convince us.
    They are just trying to convince themselves.
    Faith remains stupid whether or not it is pointed out.

    Ever hear of “sticks and stones” Pontiff? Don’t worry Islam; the Pope has your back. And we’re not supposed to make fun of any of this? Ban humor. Nice. Good luck with that. Nice that there is an ocean between these cats and the New World. “You can’t make fun of my belief in my imaginary friend and all the old shitty rules we have to live by.” Uh, OK. That doesn’t leave us much. May we offer you a ride in a nice rubber truck? Go ahead, it has your favorite book in there.

    Daniel Denning refers to this as playing the hurt card. Gee, making fun of something baseless is half the fun of getting rid of it. Public ridicule is a time-honored way of disposing a bad idea, or at least casting it aside from clouding real issues at hand. The Pope attacking free speech at this point in history should tell us all we need to know, in general, about religion and its near and longterm future. Religion needs to sit there and take it, rebut it, or simply run away home its mommy, uh, father. Or, as the other two groups did in earlier times and what some Muslims are doing now, simply kill the offender, is certainly another option. Yet, we are supposed to take them seriously. Apparently, dead seriously. Children, leave the room. The adults are trying to have a grown-up conversation about, among other things, how much you suck. Let these three religions continue to go at one another, as they have proven over thousands of years that they are immune to the logic and, as you note, only respond to force.

    As with others of yours, this communiqué provides me areas of enlightenment and further study, such as of Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles Martel, and military forces reaching over the Pyrenees into north central France so incredibly early in the history of Islam. It is notable that the Franks won in the seventh century without a cavalry, but it was a home game.

    The series of Crusades spanning six hundred years prior to the final failed Islamic siege of Vienna were also part of the middle child Christian blowback. The territorial losses of Ummah as well as Hebrew life continue to serve as locker room bulletin board material for the fundamentalists of those two sides, while Christian fundies continue to rub their hands waiting for things to go a certain way in the Holy Land.

    From its formal beginning to now, a Jewish state in Palestine (sans a two-state solution) is very much a source of Muslim angst. War began there before the British could even hand it off , which among other things resulted in a significant refugee problem. The League of Nations and later the UN were not and didn’t have to be friends of those of the deceased Ottoman Empire. Among other things, the Ottomans backed the Germans and are simply having to pay the price. One wonders of the reciprocity if the shoe was on the other foot. Oh, war/skycake. Why are you so delicious?

    This particular conflict seems more over land and political recognition than anything else, but certainly wouldn’t be what it is without religion.

    Would the Muslim radicals now be just as pissed off in general without a post-WWII colonial-driven Jewish state on land they lost from WWI? I agree with you that they have already proven over time what the answer to that question is. It would only be one less thing, albeit a very big one, for them to lose their shit over, which some of them seem wont to do. For anyone to say there would be Islamic peace with the West if it weren’t for Israel, is nuts. As we have been informed by a non-burning Bush, “they hate us for our freedom.”

    However, it has been very interesting to review the history of the Levant, especially that of what is referred to as Palestine. As far as time goes, besides a couple of Crusader bumps in the road “Muhammad” basically didn’t give up that land until WWI. The Jews ruled Jerusalem for around 400 years total and the Christians for far less.

    By the late 1800s, nationalist movements were common almost everywhere. Given the Jewish diaspora, Zionists needed to find a place to be sovereign over. Why not their birthplace? They started buying land and moving in. Longstanding anti-Semitism in Europe elevated again to horrific levels by the 1930s. By the end of WWII the British bestowed some conquered land from WWI in a colonial manner (indigenous considerations are secondary or tertiary at best) to a very desperate, decimated, and vulnerable Jewish population. Oh, you weren’t welcome anymore in Europe? Don’t worry. They will love you guys where you are going now. Given many of the factors, it really didn’t take Israel very long to start sopping up additional territory and displacing non-chosen individuals.

    Viewing it from their perspective, many Palestinians are understandably less than thrilled with was has transpired. Hey, new landlord. What are you going to do? In hindsight, it might have been more favorable to have gone with one of the other Jewish settlement options that were also considered in the mid-1940s, but among other things the end times read better for Christians with the Jewish state where it is while they, Zionists, and others long to see Israel occupy all of Palestine. It seems to be trending in that direction.

    The “coexist” bumper sticker of religious logos is laughable.
    It is rather difficult to attempt to coexist with someone who wants to take your land and/or kill you in the name of his God – who – surprise, doesn’t like you anymore than they do.

    Judaism, Christianity, and Islam comprise a religious axis of evil, each disqualifying itself from our current future thousands of years ago by forming, as Nietzsche pointed out, “before it had learned the obligations to speak the truth.” How is it even possible, Sam Harris has inquired, to convince a man of the Taliban that throwing battery acid in the face of a little girl isn’t good – anymore than we can convince a majority of the American population that evolution is a fact? “A truth is not predicated on convincing anyone.”

    So the Holy War goes on while these religions continue to bask in the exemption of rational thought (and taxation) … in a world still too mentally weak to sufficiently rise above and supplant these forms of very outdated thinking and behavior … and a caliphate emerges in a place we twice invaded in the last twenty five years. Surprise. (Seriously, someone some day has to inform me how guys with box cutters could stand down the air defense of the U.S. Eastern corridor. There were over FORTY minutes between the second tower and the Pentagon. wtf? Regardless, obviously the Holy War got a remarkable shot in the arm. The Bin Ladenists/Saudi Arabia/Carlyle Group/Bush & Co./others appear to have things moving in a desired direction. ISIS has shared a plan that includes going back into Spain. Laugh and cry.

    I am sure I am mistaken on several points, and welcome to be corrected by anyone. Thank you again, Ray!

    As you and others may already be aware, but it is interesting to now review how Hitchens years ago predicted the caliphate that we have emerging today (the video below is set to begin at the 1:10 mark, at 3:55 he loses track of thought, but picks it back up to make the critical point from 5:16 to 5:35) during an interview with a liberal comedian:


    There are probably better examples of this view expressed by Hitchens, but this one works.

  • Ray

    January 16, 2015

    It’s not, alas, just the three Abrahamic faiths that are irrational: any dogma, secular or non-secular, must resort to force, and that’s why some of the greatest atrocities ever committed were committed by (left-wing) atheist — and (remarkably) defended by left-wing atheists.

    In fact, as I’ve said many times before, atheism in and of itself isn’t praiseworthy: any fool can disbelieve. Atheism isn’t a primary. It’s a consequence. There are many, many types of atheism — ethical atheism, metaphysical atheism, psychological atheism, sociological atheism, epistemological atheism, and so on — and only one of them is correct. This is one of the reasons I’m as suspicious of dogmatic atheism as I am of any of the other dogmas.

    Thank you for reading and thank you for dropping by.

  • Scott

    January 21, 2015

    He was dogmatic in his pragmatism.

    newamerican/JBS OK, but pretty far to the right …

    Ah, yes, leftist-atheist atrocities … kind of hard to be a commie and not also be an atheist, but maybe don’t hold that against non-commie atheists.

    Imposed atheism is not much better than imposed theocracy, as they both suck. It is telling that China commie party leaders are so scared of religion. Attempting to squelch it may result in the opposite of the their desired results. I would prefer religion just be ridiculed/laughed out of the room/ignored, like Christians do with Mormons rather than be formally outlawed or physically thrown out. There are always going to be two-digit IQ-ers and others loving it. Yeah, MIT professor emeritus Chomsky can chomp on his own commie dick, or Pol Pot’s.

    To the dismay of some, including pious comedians Steve Harvey and Katt Williams, to be an atheist does not automatically imply that one is immoral or amoral. An atheist can be moral and even non-dogmatic, if not pragmatic. However, it is not possible to have a moral outlook, and be a follower one of these religions.

    As far as morality goes, the last place to look for it is in any traditional dogma, much less within some of the kind found in these ancient and scary compilations. As most are aware, for centuries slavery thrived within the charters of these religions, and the abolishment of slavery exemplifies its horrific moral failing on one of the most fundamental (and easily reconciled) of moral issues (yes, there were some Bible thumpers against slavery, go figure, bowdlerize away), though it certainly had to be pried from the hands of some (0:50).

    The metaphysical claims of these religions are simply untrue, and to believe so does not imply dogmatism, well, anymore than in my belief that a hammer released a few feet above my foot (while I am standing on Earth) has the potential to hurt me.

    I think Hitchens was once a Trotskyite, but he got better over time.
    Sorry to use his quotes so much in these comments.

    As Hitchens once shared while at Martin’s Tavern: ‘ … You can be an atheist and you can be a psychopath. You can be an atheist and be a fascist. But to be a communist you practically have to be an atheist. It doesn’t commit you to anything. But it certainly does not – not commit you to the absurd belief that if you don’t have a supernatural belief you have no morals.’

    He also once said something like: ‘Show me a society based on the beliefs of Paine, Jefferson, Einstein etc., which lead to death and destruction, and we’ll have an equal playing field.’

    Dogma, as it is applied to atheism, to me, is a little odd. It does depend on what kind, I suppose, as you wrote. I defer to your knowledge, as I am not versed in all possibilities. A science-based skepticism towards religion or much anything else allows for change in views (an evolution, if you will) based on new (from the perspective of an individual or a society) and subsequent evidence, which seems to be of a more pragmatic approach than a dogmatic one. A science-based skepticism towards religion may or may not constitute any form of atheism. As human animals, we are limited in how we obtain knowledge; and as I serve as one example, some within that group are more limited than others.

    Religion is designed to withstand reason by serving as a replacement for it. Among other things, too many people like jumping around the fire certain ways and not having to think too much. It is sad to contemplate that by the definition of the scale roughly half the population has an IQ less than 100 (have you met someone with an IQ of 100?, for me, the word ‘idiot’ comes to mind), but it appears to be species we have. Perhaps they will find ways to make people generally smarter. Maybe throw some Adderall in with the fluoride.

    It is interesting to see the dance of these three revealed religions around their single god.

    As far as atrocities go, bad people are going to do bad things – and atheism does allow everyone to be treated the same (in some cases, like dogs), but, as it has been proposed, for good people to do bad things (to everyone, targeted groups, or individuals) you need religion.

    For some others that may have read this entry: someone had fun with
    this video mashup of a Harris speech about Christian morality at Notre Dame University (10:00)

  • Scott

    January 21, 2015

    … forgot to add this brief response (3 minutes) of Harris to “there is this notion that atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes of the 20th century” (and 2001 and North Korea) cued up to that point in the video, in which he mentions Pol Pot/Mao and others:

  • Ray

    January 22, 2015

    No, it’s not just the communists. It’s any sort of dogma. Atheism is a side-effect, a consequence, not a primary. For that reason, I must disagree that for good people to do bad things, you need religion — unless, of course, you count any dogma (including political) as a religion.

  • Scott

    January 23, 2015

    Thank you for your responses, Ray. Yes, I currently continue to have no clue what the primary is.

    Atheism, for me, is a mostly a superfluous label, which is why I didn’t initially utilize that word here.

    The use of the word atheism seems to provide excessive credit to what is being opposed, dismissed, or ignored.

    Instead of a label that is defined by an opposition of something void of evidence (such as the tooth fairy or Gabriel showing up to select individuals), perhaps just an open-ended outlook that facilitates change and progress, such as intellectual honesty and reason.

    Of course, that is not to say such an approach wins the day and everyone sees the light, but as Max Planck has pointed out generations die out and subsequent ones are raised with new truths or systems of living. To overgeneralize, we have convinced the religious (well, you know the ones I am talking about) that the earth is no longer the center of the universe, but it appears to be harder to convince them they are not either.

    The label of atheism is to use the British Red Coat approach and fall into the murder victim “chalk outline” trap that Harris complains about when he talks about the problems utilizing that term.

    I don’t know if I even am an atheist, and if so, what kind, but I do ‘believe’ these Abrahamic doctrines are obvious human creations, and thus not what claimed to be.

    The term “non-dogmatic” could be more appropriate than “atheism,” which you point out can imply dogmatic thinking.
    If Mormons or anyone else provide me evidence, I would be willing to consider adjusting my beliefs.

    Thank you again, Ray!

  • Doc

    June 11, 2015

    “When the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife – or at least he makes sure it is within reach.”

    Frantz Fanon

  • Ray

    June 13, 2015

    Frantz Fanon?

  • father time, PhD

    June 13, 2015

    You know Frantz Fanon don’t you?

    The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks.

    French Dr. exposed to cases of torture in Martinique and Algeria during WWII.

  • Ray

    June 15, 2015

    I’m sorry, no. Once again, you expose my ignorance.

    And yet, and yet … I thank you for dropping by.

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