What Islamic Civilization?
This letter by Assyrian scholar Peter BetBasoo was sent to Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett Packard Corporation, in response to a speech she presented in Minneapolis on September 26, 2001, only 15 days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Text from the Letter
3000 Hanover Street
Palo Alto, CA 94304-1185
Dear Madame Fiorina:
It is with great interest that I read your speech delivered on September 26, 2001, titled "Technology, Business and Our way of Life: What's Next" [sic]. I was particularly interested in the story you told at the end of your speech, about the Arab/Muslim civilization. As an Assyrian, a non-Arab, Christian native of the Middle East, whose ancestors reach back to 5000 B.C., I wish to clarify some points you made in this little story, and to alert you to the dangers of unwittingly being drawn into the Arabist/Islamist ideology, which seeks to assimilate all cultures and religions into the Arab/Islamic fold.
I know you are a very busy woman, but please find ten minutes to read what follows, as it is a perspective that you will not likely get from anywhere else. I will answer some of the specific points you made in your speech, then conclude with a brief perspective on this Arabist/Islamist ideology.
Arabs and Muslims appeared on the world scene in 630 A.D., when the armies of Muhammad began their conquest of the Middle East. We should be very clear that this was a military conquest, not a missionary enterprise, and through the use of force, authorized by a declaration of a Jihad against infidels, Arabs/Muslims were able to forcibly convert and assimilate non-Arabs and non-Mulsims into their fold. Very few indigenous communities of the Middle East survived this -- primarily Assyrians, Jews, Armenians and Coptics (of Egypt).
Having conquered the Middle East, Arabs placed these communities under a Dhimmi (see the book Dhimmi, by Bat Ye'Or) system of governance, where the communities were allowed to rule themselves as religious minorities (Christians, Jews and Zoroastrian). These communities had to pay a tax (called a Jizzya in Arabic) that was, in effect, a penalty for being non-Muslim, and that was typically 80% in times of tolerance and up to 150% in times of oppression. This tax forced many of these communities to convert to Islam, as it was designed to do.
You state, "its architects designed buildings that defied gravity." I am not sure what you are referring to, but if you are referring to domes and arches, the fundamental architectural breakthrough of using a parabolic shape instead of a spherical shape for these structures was made by the Assyrians more than 1300 years earlier, as evidenced by their archaeological record.
You state, "its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption." The fundamental basis of modern mathematics had been laid down not hundreds but thousands of years before by Assyrians and Babylonians, who already knew of the concept of zero, of the Pythagorean Theorem, and of many, many other developments expropriated by Arabs/Muslims (see History of Babylonian Mathematics, Neugebauer).
You state, "its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease." The overwhelming majority of these doctors (99%) were Assyrians. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries Assyrians began a systematic translation of the Greek body of knowledge into Assyrian. At first they concentrated on the religious works but then quickly moved to science, philosophy and medicine. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Galen, and many others were translated into Assyrian, and from Assyrian into Arabic. It is these Arabic translations which the Moors brought with them into Spain, and which the Spaniards translated into Latin and spread throughout Europe, thus igniting the European Renaissance.
By the sixth century A.D., Assyrians had begun exporting back to Byzantia their own works on science, philosophy and medicine. In the field of medicine, the Bakhteesho Assyrian family produced nine generations of physicians, and founded the great medical school at Gundeshapur (Iran). Also in the area of medicine, (the Assyrian) Hunayn ibn-Ishaq's textbook on ophthalmology, written in 950 A.D., remained the authoritative source on the subject until 1800 A.D.
In the area of philosophy, the Assyrian philosopher Job of Edessa developed a physical theory of the universe, in the Assyrian language, that rivaled Aristotle's theory, and that sought to replace matter with forces (a theory that anticipated some ideas in quantum mechanics, such as the spontaneous creation and destruction of matter that occurs in the quantum vacuum).
One of the greatest Assyrian achievements of the fourth century was the founding of the first university in the world, the School of Nisibis, which had three departments, theology, philosophy and medicine, and which became a magnet and center of intellectual development in the Middle East. The statutes of the School of Nisibis, which have been preserved, later became the model upon which the first Italian university was based (see The Statutes of the School of Nisibis, by Arthur Voobus).
When Arabs and Islam swept through the Middle East in 630 A.D., they encountered 600 years of Assyrian Christian civilization, with a rich heritage, a highly developed culture, and advanced learning institutions. It is this civilization that became the foundation of the Arab civilization.
You state, "Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration." This is a bit melodramatic. In fact, the astronomers you refer to were not Arabs but Chaldeans and Babylonians (of present day south-Iraq), who for millennia were known as astronomers and astrologers, and who were forcibly Arabized and Islamized -- so rapidly that by 750 A.D. they had disappeared completely.
You state, "its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things." There is very little literature in the Arabic language that comes from this period you are referring to (the Koran is the only significant piece of literature), whereas the literary output of the Assyrians and Jews was vast. The third largest corpus of Christian writing, after Latin and Greek, is by the Assyrians in the Assyrian language (also called Syriac; see here.)
You state, "when other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others." This is a very important issue you raise, and it goes to the heart of the matter of what Arab/Islamic civilization represents. I reviewed a book titled How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs, in which the author lists the significant translators and interpreters of Greek science. Of the 22 scholars listed, 20 were Assyrians, 1 was Persian and 1 an Arab. I state at the end of my review: "The salient conclusion which can be drawn from O'Leary's book is that Assyrians played a significant role in the shaping of the Islamic world via the Greek corpus of knowledge. If this is so, one must then ask the question, what happened to the Christian communities which made them lose this great intellectual enterprise which they had established. One can ask this same question of the Arabs. Sadly, O'Leary's book does not answer this question, and we must look elsewhere for the answer." I did not answer this question I posed in the review because it was not the place to answer it, but the answer is very clear, the Christian Assyrian community was drained of its population through forced conversion to Islam (by the Jizzya), and once the community had dwindled below a critical threshold, it ceased producing the scholars that were the intellectual driving force of the Islamic civilization, and that is when the so called "Golden Age of Islam" came to an end (about 850 A.D.).
Islam the religion itself was significantly molded by Assyrians and Jews (see Nestorian Influence on Islam and Hagarism: the Making of the Islamic World).
Arab/Islamic civilization is not a progressive force, it is a regressive force; it does not give impetus, it retards. The great civilization you describe was not an Arab/Muslim accomplishment, it was an Assyrian accomplishment that Arabs expropriated and subsequently lost when they drained, through the forced conversion of Assyrians to Islam, the source of the intellectual vitality that propelled it. What other Arab/Muslim civilization has risen since? What other Arab/Muslim successes can we cite?
You state, "and perhaps we can learn a lesson from his [Suleiman] example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions." In fact, the Ottomans were extremely oppressive to non-Muslims. For example, young Christian boys were forcefully taken from their families, usually at the age of 8-10, and inducted into the Janissaries, (yeniceri in Turkish) where they were Islamized and made to fight for the Ottoman state. What literary, artistic or scientific achievements of the Ottomans can we point to? We can, on the other hand, point to the genocide of 750,000 Assyrians, 1.5 million Armenians and 400,000 Greeks in World War One by the Kemalist "Young Turk" government. This is the true face of Islam.
Arabs/Muslims are engaged in an explicit campaign of destruction and expropriation of cultures and communities, identities and ideas. Wherever Arab/Muslim civilization encounters a non-Arab/Muslim one, it attempts to destroy it (as the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan were destroyed, as Persepolis was destroyed by the Ayotollah Khomeini). This is a pattern that has been recurring since the advent of Islam, 1400 years ago, and is amply substantiated by the historical record. If the "foreign" culture cannot be destroyed, then it is expropriated, and revisionist historians claim that it is and was Arab, as is the case of most of the Arab "accomplishments" you cited in your speech. For example, Arab history texts in the Middle East teach that Assyrians were Arabs, a fact that no reputable scholar would assert, and that no living Assyrian would accept. Assyrians first settled Nineveh, one of the major Assyrian cities, in 5000 B.C., which is 5630 years before Arabs came into that area. Even the word 'Arab' is an Assyrian word, meaning "Westerner" (the first written reference to Arabs was by the Assyrian King Sennacherib, 800 B.C., in which he tells of conquering the "ma'rabayeh" -- Westerners. See The Might That Was Assyria, by H. W. F. Saggs).
Even in America this Arabization policy continues. On October 27th a coalition of seven Assyrian and Maronite organizations sent an official letter to the Arab American Institute asking it to stop identifying Assyrians and Maronites as Arabs, which it had been deliberately doing.
There are minorities and nations struggling for survival in the Arab/Muslim ocean of the Middle East and Africa (Assyrians, Armenians, Coptics, Jews, southern Sudanese, Ethiopians, Nigerians...), and we must be very sensitive not to unwittingly and inadvertently support Islamic fascism and Arab Imperialism, with their attempts to wipe out all other cultures, religions and civilizations. It is incumbent upon each one of us to do our homework and research when making statements and speeches about these sensitive matters.
I hope you found this information enlightening. For more information, refer to the web links below. You may contact me at [email protected] for further questions.
Thank you for your consideration.Peter BetBasoo
- Library - WikiIslam's online library of books
- Golden Age - A hub page that leads to other articles related to the "Golden Age"
- A version of this page is also available in the following languages: French. For additional languages, see the sidebar on the left.
Web resources provided by Peter BetBasoo:
- Brief History of Assyrians
- Assyrian International News Agency
- Assyrian American National Federation
- Assyrian Academic Society
- Zinda Magazine
- Beth Suryoyo
- Nineveh Online
- World Maronite Union
- World Lebanese Organization
- Coptic Web
- Carly Fiorina - Technology, Business and Our way of Life: What's Next - Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 26, 2001
- Peter BetBasoo - What Arab Civilization? - Nineveh Software Corporation, accessed August 28, 2011