Monday, April 28, 2008

Fjordman: Socratic Dialogue vs. Islamic Dialogue

from Dhimmiwatch:

The European essayist Fjordman, whose work we have featured many times here, contributes this new Jihad Watch exclusive essay exploring more of the differences between Western and Islamic culture:
First of all I'd like to encourage people to republish the essay The Funny Side of Islam: Muhammad and the Hadith, which I have published at the Gates of Vienna blog. As for this topic, I will start with quoting a book called Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization by the French writer Rémi Brague.

According to Brague, Muslims did translate many Greek, Sanskrit and pre-Islamic Persian scientific works. However, one crucial difference between Muslims and Christian Europeans was that Muslims usually didn't preserve the original texts afterwards, since these were now seen as unnecessary. Here is how Ibn Khaldun explains this mentality in his Muqaddimah:
"(The Muslims) desired to learn the sciences of the (foreign) nations. They made them their own through translations. They pressed them into the mold of their own views. They peeled off these strange tongues [and made them pass] into their [own] idiom, and surpassed the achievements of (the non-Arabs) in them. The manuscripts in the non-Arabic languages were forgotten, abandoned, and scattered. All the sciences came to exist in Arabic. The systematic works on them were written in (Arabic) writing. Thus, students of the sciences needed a knowledge of the meaning of (Arabic) words and (Arabic) writing. They could dispense with all other languages, because they had been wiped out and there was no longer any interest in them."

As Brague says, the consequence of this disappearance of the original texts and the neglect of the original languages was that the Muslim world has not been able to return to what it translated and deepen their examination. "In doing this, the Islamized world made the phenomena of 'renaissances' impossible – that is, of a return to the original texts against the traditions that claimed to follow them." In European history, "one witnesses a constant effort to go back up toward the classical sources. One can thus describe the intellectual history of Europe as an almost uninterrupted train of renaissances."

Another crucial difference was that the Islamic world, in sharp contrast to Europe, hardly dreamed of using its knowledge of the foreign as an instrument that would permit it to understand itself better and more critically. According to Rémi Brague:"It may be that its geographers made a eulogy of India and of China in order to address a discreet critique of the Islamic civilization of their time, often compensated in the last instance by an affirmation of the religious superiority of the latter. The examples that one could find of such a vision 'reflected' in the mirror are exceptional and come from marginal or heretical thinkers. Thus, the contact with the Brahmin Hindu thinkers whose religion does quite well without prophecy (which the Islamic religion declares on the contrary necessary to the happiness of man and to a good social order) posed a problem for the Muslim thinkers; the real or fictitious dialogue with the Brahmins was able to serve to mask a critique of the Islamic religion in a free thinker like Ibn al-Rawandi. The only incontestable exception is without doubt the astonishing work of Al-Biruni on India. This universal scholar (973-1048), astronomer, geographer, historian, mineralogist, pharmacologist etc., had taken the trouble to learn enough Sanskrit to be able to translate in both directions between this language and Arabic (for him also a learned language). He presented a tableau of Hindu society and beliefs with perfect impartiality."

John Keay in his book India: A History states that al-Biruni (Alberuni) owed much of his scientific celebrity in the Arab world to his mastery of Sanskrit and access to Indian scholarship. He also notes that in India, Muslims were initially viewed as just another group of foreigners, sometimes annoying, but essentially marginal: "There is no evidence of an Indian appreciation of the global threat which they represented; and the peculiar nature of their mission – to impose a new monotheist orthodoxy by military conquest and political dominion – was so alien to Indian tradition that it went uncomprehended."

Parts of northern India had been invaded by outsiders before, but Muslims represented a very different breed of conquerors. Keay again:
"Unlike Alexander's Greeks, Muslim invaders were well aware of India's immensity, and mightily excited by its resources. As well as exotic produce like spices, peacocks, pearls, diamonds, ivory and ebony, the 'Hindu country' was renowned for its skilled manufactures and its bustling commerce. India's economy was probably one of the most sophisticated in the world. Guilds regulated production and provided credit; the roads were safe, ports and markets carefully supervised, and tariffs low. Moreover capital was both plentiful and conspicuous. Since at least Roman times the subcontinent seems to have enjoyed a favourable balance of payments. Gold and silver had been accumulating long before the 'golden Guptas,' and they continued to do so. Figures in the Mamallapuram sculptures and the Ajanta frescoes are as strung about with jewellery as those in the Sanchi and Amaravati reliefs. Divine images of solid gold are well attested and royal temples were rapidly becoming royal treasuries as successful dynasts endowed them with the fruits of their conquests. The devout Muslim, althoughostensibly bent on converting the infidel, would find his zeal handsomely rewarded."

In his book Technology in World Civilization: A Thousand-Year History, Arnold Pacey writes that after Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258, Delhi became a haven for many Middle Eastern scholars who took refuge there and taught Greek mathematics. According to Irfan Habib, a historian of Indian technology, new techniques spread into the region, including the magnetic compass, which was probably used on Indian ships at this time. Centres for paper-making also developed, but it should be remembered that these inventions were Chinese.
Paper-like fabrics, some made from mulberry bark, were used for clothing and as wrapping material in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands (which were settled by people from Southeast Asia), and in this form paper may have originated as early as 200 BC in China. When it comes to paper used for writing, it definitely existed in China at about AD 100, and was used in Tibet by AD 650 and introduced into the Indian subcontinent by Buddhists at around AD 670, possibly imported from Tibet. However, apparently paper never did come into widespread use there before the Islamic conquests and the Delhi Sultanate. According to Arnold Pacey:
"Indian documents written on paper survive from before this time, but the number is much greater from the thirteenth century onwards. While Islamic domination of North India may have had these positive aspects, the initial conquest by Turkish–speaking armies in the 1190s did great damage to Indian learning, both technical and general. The conquest was particularly destructive in Bihar and Bengal, where Buddhist monasteries were sacked and many monks were killed. One consequence was the virtual elimination of Buddhism in the region, which is where it had originated seventeen centuries earlier. In 1194, the great centre of Indian learning at Benares was attacked, and numerous monuments as well as books, records and probably an astronomical observatory were destroyed. The scale of this vandalism was probably alasting setback for Indian science, and astronomy was not again seriously studied until the fifteenth century. The last celebrated Indian astronomer for a long time was Bhaskara, who was working in the 1150s, and whose writing had some influence in the West."

The knowledge of paper-making also spread west via the Middle East and North Africa and eventually reached the madrasas of Morocco. A paper mill was operating in southern Spain by 1151. Pacey again:
"Paper-making also came to Europe via Spain at this time. The paper was made from the same vegetable fibres as linen cloth, (and usually from linen rags), which first had to be pounded in water until a pulp was formed. The process had been invented in China long before, where it replaced an even older method of making paper-like material from mulberry bark. Knowledge of the technique entered the Islamic world in AD 751 after a battle in Central Asia between Chinese forces and an Arab-led army. Chinese prisoners-of-war skilled in paper-making set up a workshop in Samarqand, and from there other workmen went to Baghdad.

However, paper made by the Chinese method for scribes to write on with brushes was not so good for people who used pens. Thus paper-makers supplying the Baghdad market began sizing their product with starch to achieve a parchment-like surface. The manufacture of paper meant that books became more widely available."

According to Irving Fang in A History of Mass Communication, "If paper made printing effective, it was printing that introduced paper to most Europeans. Ultimately, the printing press won the day for paper. Parchment was too expensive for mass production. It was also not porous enough to absorb printing ink very well."

Paper was thus necessary for the invention of Gutenberg's printing press in Europe. Although it is probably historically accurate to say that Muslims helped spread the use of paper in Europe and India, it is highly doubtful whether this makes up for the lasting destruction they brought to the lands they conquered. It is also likely that this Chinese invention would eventually have been adopted anyway, and it should be mentioned that Islam slowed down the adoption of printing for more than a thousand years after it was initially invented in China, despite the fact that Persians and Arabs were in regularcontact with East Asia through trade.

I would personally rank paper as one of China's greatest gifts to mankind. When the Chinese created the Great Wall of China, they spent enormous financial resources on something that was, in the end, not very effective. When the Chinese created paper and later the printing of books, they changed the course of human history.

I am generally sceptical of using the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia as a source, especially when it comes to politically sensitive matters, but it can be more accurate when it comes to other subjects. Their entry on paper in the English edition is reasonably accurate, so I will quote it here:
"During the Shang (1600 BC-1050 BC) and Zhou (1050 BC-256 BC) dynasties of ancient China, documents were ordinarily written on bone or bamboo (on tablets or on bamboo strips sewn and rolled together into scrolls), making them very heavy and awkward to transport. The light material of silk was sometimes used, but was normally too expensive to consider. While the Han Dynasty Chinese court official Cai Lun is widely regarded to have invented the modern method of papermaking (inspired from wasps and bees) from wood pulp in AD 105, the discovery of specimens bearing written Chinese characters in 2006 at north-east China's Gansu province suggest that paper was in use by the ancient Chinese military more than 100 years before Cai in 8 BC. Archeologically however, true paper without writing has been excavated in China dating to the reign of Emperor Wu of Han from the 2nd century BC, used for purposes of wrapping or padding protection for delicate bronze mirrors. It was also used for safety, such as the padding of poisonous 'medicine' as mentioned in the official history of the period."

When Muslims conquered the Middle East, they conquered some of the greatest centers of learning from the ancient world. As David C. Lindberg writes in The Beginnings of Western Science, second edition:
"The Greeks themselves believed that mathematics originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Herodotus (fifth century B.C.) reported that Pythagoras traveled to Egypt, where he was introduced by priests to the mysteries of Egyptian mathematics. From there, according to ancient tradition, he was carried captive to Babylon, where he came into contact with Babylonian mathematics. Eventually he made his way home to the island of Samos, bearing gifts of Egyptian and Babylonian mathematical treasure to the Greeks. Whether this and similar tales regarding other mathematicians are historically accurate or legendary is less important than the larger truth they convey – namely, that the Greeks were (and knew they were) the beneficiaries of Egyptian and Babylonian mathematical knowledge."

Moreover, "The contemporary mathematical achievement in Mesopotamia was an order of magnitude superior to that of the Egyptians. Clay tablets recovered in large quantities reveal a Babylonian number system, fully developed by about 2000 B.C., that was simultaneously decimal (based on the number 10) and sexagesimal (based on the number 60). We retain sexagesimal numbers today in our system for measuring time (60 minutes to an hour) and angles (60 minutes in a degree and 360 degrees in a circle)."

I disagree with Lindberg's use of the word "Babylonian" here, and would prefer the term "Mesopotamian." The sexagesimal numeral system originated with the ancient Sumerians in the 3rd millennium BC. Like many other Sumerian inventions, it was eventually adopted by the succeeding rulers of Mesopotamia. Nicholas Ostler describes in Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World how Sumerian, the world's first written language, also became the world's first "classical language." In the 2nd millennium BC, although it was no longer spoken, it continued to be studied (like Latin in medieval Europe) as a vehicle of learning. The Sumerian cuneiform script was adapted for writing by the Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and others down to the Persians, which helped European scholars in deciphering cuneiforms in the nineteenth century AD.

Although the Greeks clearly learned much from Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Phoenicians and others, they did some things that no other ancient civilizations in the world achieved. According to Science and Technology in World History, second edition, by James E. McClellan, Harold Dorn, "Several features characterize Hellenic science. The most remarkable was the Greek invention of scientific theory – 'natural philosophy' or the philosophy of nature. Early Greek speculations on the cosmos and the disinterested Hellenic quest for abstract knowledge were unprecedented endeavors. They added a fundamental new element to the definition of science and shifted the direction of its history."

In A History of Mathematics, second edition, Victor J. Katz explains how the development of geometric proof by logical argument was a unique Greek achievement:
"It was Aristotle, however, who took the ideas developed over the centuries and first codified the principles of logical argument. Aristotle believed that logical arguments should be built out of syllogisms, where 'a syllogism is discourse in which, certain things stated, something other than what is stated follows of necessity from their being so.' In other words, a syllogism consists of certain statements that are taken as true and certain other statements that are then necessarily true. For example, the argument 'if all monkeys are primates, and all primates are mammals, then it follows that all monkeys are mammals' exemplifies one type of syllogism, while the argument 'if all Catholics are Christians and no Christians are Moslem, then it follows that no Catholic is Moslem' exemplifies a second type. After clarifying the principles of dealing with syllogisms, Aristotle notes that syllogistic reasoning enables one to use 'old knowledge' to impart new. If one accepts the premises of a syllogism as true, then one must also accept the conclusion."

"One cannot, however, obtain every piece of knowledge as the conclusion of a syllogism. One has to begin somewhere with truths that are accepted without argument. Aristotle distinguishes between the basic truths that are peculiar to each particular science and the ones that are common to all. The former are often called postulates, and the latter are known as axioms."
"Aristotle's rules of attaining knowledge by beginning with axioms and using demonstrations to gain new results have become the model for mathematicians to the present day. Although Aristotle emphasized the use of syllogisms as the building blocks of logical arguments, Greek mathematicians apparently never used them. They used other forms, as have most mathematicians down to the present. Why Aristotle insisted on syllogisms is not clear. The basic forms of argument actually used in mathematical proof were analyzed in some detail in the third century B.C.E. by the Stoics, of whom the most prominent was Chrysippus (280-206 B.C.E.). This form of logic is based on propositions, statements that can be either true or false, rather than on the Aristotelian syllogisms."

According to Katz, "even though Western civilization owes a great debt to the Greeks for their achievements in literature, art, and architecture, it is to Greek mathematics that we owe the idea of mathematical proof, an idea at the basis of modern mathematics and, by extension, at the foundation of our modern technological civilization."

It is easy to underestimate this achievement, but as Toby E. Huff says in The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, "Geometry as a systematic deductive system of proofs and demonstrations was virtually nonexistent in China, as was trigonometry."
The Greeks' basic political organization was the polis, or city-state. Victor J. Katz links their political system to their science, as "citizens were motivated to learn the skills of argument and debate. It was perhaps this atmosphere that promoted the necessity for proof in mathematics." This idea is shared by G.E.R Lloyd in his book The Ambitions of Curiosity: Understanding the World in Ancient Greece and China (Ideas in Context). According to Lloyd, the common, though far from universal, Greek preoccupation with axiomatic-deductive demonstration was indeed linked to the political and ideological atmosphere:
"The great strength of the model was that, given self-evident axioms and valid inferences, it yielded incontrovertible results. That may seem reason enough for the Greeks to have developed it. But when we reflect that neither the Chinese nor any other ancient mathematical tradition did so, there would appear to be more to it than mere intellectual attractiveness. What more may be answered in part, I suggest, by the negative models provided by the styles of argument cultivated in those other peculiarly Greek institutions of the law-courts (dikasteria) and political assemblies. It was dissatisfaction with the merely persuasive arguments used there that led some philosophers and mathematicians to develop their alternative."

"It was success in argument with rivals that secured a reputation, essential not least if you were to make a living as a teacher. In these respects, the tradition of debate itself stands out as the key institution (of a different kind from those of bureaux or courts) in the situation within which most Greek intellectuals operated." G.E.R Lloyd contrasts this with other ancient civilizations, for instance China in the pre-imperial and early imperial age:
"Criticism of your own teacher – rare, if not quite unknown in China – was common in Greece, sometimes as a prelude to the pupil setting up a rival school of his own. The case of Aristotle is just the most famous of many that can be cited. To be sure, the role of text-books in Greece eventually came to be considerable, even though none, not even Euclid's Elements, achieved quite the cachet of a Chinese major canon, at least not in Greco-Roman antiquity. Of course, on the Chinese side, not all instruction was mediated through such texts. In the Lunyu[Analects], Confucius, for instance, is described in dialogue with his pupils in an open situation that might seem reminiscent of the fictional conversations of Socrates in Plato. Yet two differences remain: first Confucius' authority is never challenged by his pupils in the way Socrates is contradicted by some of his interlocutors (however much Plato stacks the cards in Socrates' favour in their eventual refutation). Secondly, Confucius' pupils were not his sole, nor maybe even prime, preoccupation, which was rather, we said, to find a ruler worthy to advise."

The classicist Bruce S. Thornton, author of books such as Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization, places this tradition at the very heart of Western civilization, from ancient to modern times. He defines philosophy as "critical consciousness systematized," and states that "Of all the Greek philosophers, the spirit of critical consciousness is best embodied in the late 5th century BC philosopher Socrates," who was executed in Athens in 399 BC. According to Thornton:
"Socrates's famous method was the 'dialectic,' from the Greek word that suggests both 'discussion' and 'analytical sorting.' The purpose of dialectic was to strip away the false knowledge and incoherent opinion that most people inherit from their societies and unthinkingly depend on to manage their lives. Although Socrates claimed to doubt that he or anyone else could acquire true knowledge about the good and virtue and the beautiful, he nonetheless believed that what he called 'examination,' critical consciousness applied to questions of virtue and the good, could eliminate false knowledge and muddled opinion.

Most important, Socrates saw this activity of rational examination and pursuit of truth and virtue as the essence of what a human being is and the highest expression of human nature. That is why he chose to die rather than to give it up: 'The unexamined life,' he said in his defense speech, 'is no life worth living for a human being.'" This legacy of critical – and self-critical – rational thought is important. Thornton again:
"Western culture has been defined by critical consciousness, the willingness to examine and challenge traditional wisdom and answers in the pursuit of truth, and to stand in opposition to the political and social powers whose authority and legitimacy rest on the unexamined acceptance of received dogma. Science obviously has progressed in this fashion, but even in literature we find an impatience with tradition and a restless searching for ever greater and more finely nuanced explorations of the human condition. A whole genre, the aptly named novel, was invented partly as a vehicle for examining the fluid complexities of human psychology and social relations, a complexity ignored in the stock characters and plots of traditional story-telling. In this sense, Western literature has been the creation of what Lionel Trilling called 'opposing sel[ves],' all those dissidents who, like Socrates, are driven to examine the human condition and probe beyond the traditional answers. The spirit of Western civilization, then, is, as Alan Bloom has suggested, 'Socratic,' a process of raising important questions and examining critically the tradition of answers, as this examination is embodied in works of enduring excellence, starting of course with those of the ancient Greeks."

The Islamic world, too, encountered Greek philosophers and found much to admire in them, especially in Aristotle. Yet the concept of "Socratic method" or "Socratic dialogue" ultimately found little room for growth in the Islamic world. Muslims still understand the term "dialogue" in a way that differs sharply from that of Westerners. For them, "dialogue" does not mean an attempt to rationally debate a topic in order to arrive at the truth. Truth is already given. It's called Islamic sharia, and the only "dialogue" that is acceptable is one that will eventually lead to the implementation of sharia.

Poul E. Andersen, former dean of the church of Odense, Denmark, warns against false hopes of dialogue with Muslims. During a debate at the University of Aarhus, Ahmad Akkari, one of the Muslim participants, stated: "Islam has waged war where this was necessary and dialogue where this was possible. A dialogue can thus only be viewed as part of a missionary objective." When Mr. Andersen raised the issue of dialogue with the Muslim World League in Denmark, the answer was: "To a Muslim, it is artificial to discuss Islam. In fact, you view any discussion as an expression of Western thinking." Also in Denmark, city council member Ali Nuur complained that one of the challenges certain immigrant groups face in the education system is that they are unfamiliar with tests rooted in a rational, critical and analytical way of thinking.
In Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus, Edward Grant states that:
"Not long after the beginnings of science and natural philosophy in Greece, the first known clash between science and religion in the pre-Christian Greek world occurred, producing the first known victim of religious persecution. In the time of Pericles, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (c.500-428 B.C.), the last of the Ionian pre-Socratic philosophers and a friend of Pericles, was apparently persecuted for impiety because he believed the sun was a mass of red-hot metal and therefore, presumably not a divine celestial object. The charge of impiety was probably brought by Pericles' enemies, who apparently saw a good opportunity to attack him, using the pretext of his friendship with the atheistic natural philosopher Anaxagoras. This resulted in the banishment of Anaxagoras from Athens. According to Diogenes Laertius (fl. early third century A.D.), Anaxagoras committed suicide."

According to Grant, "What all this reveals for the relations between science and religion is that the Greeks of Anaxagoras' time believed that the celestial region was divine, and they therefore found reason to persecute Anaxagoras when he dared proclaim the sun a mass of red-hot metal. Another clash between science and religion occurred in the third century B.C., when Aristarchus of Samos became the first to proclaim that the cosmos is really heliocentric rather than geocentric. He displaced the earth as center of the world with the sun, and then set the earth moving around the sun with an annual motion while simultaneously rotating daily on its axis. In reaction to this revolutionary move, Cleanthes the Stoic (263-232 B.C.), the second head of the Stoic school, is reported to have charged Aristarchus with impiety, because he removed the 'hearth of the universe' from the center of the world and set it in motion. Nothing happened to Aristarchus, and no such charge was ever brought officially by any religious or governmental body. To my knowledge, no similar case arose in the Greek world prior to the Christian era."
Edward Grant says, however, that it is noteworthy that these two instances were both relevant to the physical structure of the universe, that is, to cosmology, and that they represent rather isolated and atypical incidents. For the most part, many city-states in Greece enjoyed a remarkable level of freedom of speech by ancient or even by modern standards. The problem for Muslims was that they wanted to expropriate the achievements of infidel science without taking into account the ideological atmosphere of free speech in which these achievements were made. They wanted the golden eggs, but killed the goose that laid them.

In contrast, medieval Europeans institutionalized a degree of free inquiry that was unprecedented by any major civilization on earth at the time. The basis for the Scientific Revolution was laid in the universities, one of the greatest inventions of Christian European civilization.

As Toby E. Huff, says, "In short, the European medievals had fashioned an image of man that was so imbued with reason and rationality that philosophical and theological speculation became breathtaking spheres of inquiry whose outcomes were far from predictable, or orthodox - to the consternation of all. Furthermore, this theological and philosophical speculation was taking place within the citadels of Western learning, that is, in the universities. Christian theology had indeed clothed man with a new set of methods and motivations, but it had also attributed to him a new set of rational capacities that knew no bounds."

Wasn't Socrates eventually killed in Athens for being too troublesome, you say? Yes, he was. This demonstrates that no society in history has ever been perfect. Yet as Henry Bamford Parkes asks in Gods and Men - The Origins of Western Culture, "Why was one relatively small city, during a period of only two or three generations, able to make so many contributions of such lasting importance to human thought?" After all, "There was less accumulated surplus wealth in classical Greece than in the cities of the oriental empires or of the Hellenistic kingdoms of a later period. The Athenian achievement is a permanent refutation of the notion of any close or necessary relationship between economic and cultural productivity. It was the result not of surplus wealth, but of favoring institutions and beliefs." He concludes that "Perhaps the chief reason was that it was sufficiently small to give every individual a sense of responsible participation in public affairs."

The irony is that one of our most important sources regarding the life and teachings of Socrates (who wrote nothing himself) is his pupil Plato, who supposedly wished to see the works of his rival Democritus burned. Plato used the treatment of Socrates in democratic Athens as a proof that democracy was an unjust system. He was certainly correct in pointing out that democracy does not automatically lead to free speech and individual liberty. It did not do so in the ancient world, and it does not do so now. Probably no culture, ancient or modern, has ever enjoyed total free speech in all walks of life, but Athens was still closer to this ideal than any other ancient culture.

The problem with Plato is not that he used the shameful treatment of Socrates to demonstrate flaws in the democratic system and show that it does not automatically lead to individual liberty, freedom of speech and respect for private property rights, which is legitimate criticism. The problem with Plato is that he rejected these goals as desirable to begin with. He embraced what I would call "seductive authoritarianism," where he argued that since democracy isn't perfect, we should passionately embrace an authoritarian or indeed totalitarian system where all aspects of human life are controlled by the state with mathematical precision.

Although he is not uncritical of Sparta, the system Plato praises in The Republic is a lot closer to authoritarian Sparta than to Athens. In doing this, Plato conveniently forgot that there was no Socrates in Sparta, just like there was no Plato or Aristotle. While Plato was free to be in democratic Athens and praise the Spartan system, praising any state or system other than the Spartan one was quite literally a crime in Sparta. They produced good soldiers, but few if any scientists worthy of note. Plato thus praised a system in which no Plato could, or did, exist.
As Henry Bamford Parkes puts it, "Any application of Platonic principles would have destroyed the social milieu that had made such dialogues possible. There could have been no Socratic discussions in the authoritarian state envisaged in the Republic and the Laws." In his view, Plato's influence was primarily negative: "In spite of his contempt for empirical observation, his emphasis on the value of mathematics helped to promote the scientific development of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries." Yet all in all, "his chief importance has been to provide philosophical support for the belief that order requires the denial of freedom."

According to Henry Bamford Parkes, "Sparta represented the totalitarian solution to the political problem, and because of the admiration felt for it by the Athenian aristocrat Plato, it has had a lasting influence on Western thought." One could thus argue that although freethinking is a golden thread running through the history of Western civilization, this legacy gave birth to a radical rejection of freethinking, which is also a part of the Western legacy. It is tempting to view Plato as an early forerunner of modern intellectuals with totalitarian longings, who use their freedom to praise political systems in which no freedom exists, be that Communist, Islamic or other.

When you read essays such as "The Peace Racket" by Bruce Bawer, the author of While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, you get a very strong impression that many Western universities are now dominated by persons, many of them Marxists, who have no interest in using Socratic dialogue in search of truth. They already know the truth, or consider it irrelevant, and simply view the universities as a platform for ideological indoctrination of students. This ideological corruption has been infused with an element of financial corruption as well. As Ibn Warraq says in Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism:
"The West, in giving in to political correctness and in being corrupted by Saudi and other Arab money, is ceasing to honor the original intent of the university. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries (e.g., Brunei) have established chairs of Islamic studies in prestigious Western universities, which are then encouraged to present a favorable image of Islam. Scientific research leading to objective truth no longer seems to be the goal. Critical examination of the sources or the Koran is discouraged. Scholars such as Daniel Easterman have even lost their posts for not teaching about Islam in the way approved by Saudi Arabia. In December 2005, Georgetown and Harvard universities each accepted $ 20 million from Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal for programs in Islamic studies. The Carter Center, founded by former president Jimmy Carter, is funded in part by bin Talal. Such money can only corrupt the original intent of all higher institutions of education, that is, the search for truth."

In abandoning Socratic dialogue and the search for truth, the West has made itself more vulnerable to Islamic infiltration because it has in some ways become more like Islam. Only by insisting on our right to ask questions about anything can we restore what once was the purpose of our education system. We should start with rational criticism of Islam.

Posted by Robert at April 26, 2008 10:53 AM
Print this entry Email this entry Digg this

Comments at

1 comment:

Tom Heneghan said...

You might be interested in Henry Kissinger's new domino theory about Iraq and radical Islam in India. On the FaithWorld blog at