Jewish success, Islamic stagnation

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2003

Unsurprisingly “Mahathir Mohamad’s speech”: to the Islamic summit has met with outrage in the blogosphere. And quite right too, since his remarks about the Jews are pretty vile. But there’s a kernel of interest in what the bigot has to say. He’s worried about the historical transformation of Islam’s fortunes. After all, as he says:

bq. The early Muslims produced great mathematicians and scientists, scholars, physicians and astronomers etc. and they excelled in all the fields of knowledge of their times, besides studying and practising their own religion of Islam. As a result the Muslims were able to develop and extract wealth from their lands and through their world trade, able to strengthen their defences, protect their people and give them the Islamic way of life, Addin, as prescribed by Islam. At the time the Europeans of the Middle Ages were still superstitious and backward, the enlightened Muslims had already built a great Muslim civilisation, respected and powerful, more than able to compete with the rest of the world and able to protect the ummah from foreign aggression. The Europeans had to kneel at the feet of Muslim scholars in order to access their own scholastic heritage.

But that was then, and this is now. And as Mahathir notices and regrets, the Islamic world has been in a pretty miserable intellectual and cultural condition since the Ottomans. He’s obsessed with the contrast between Muslims and Jews. He may not be right that Jews rule the world, but he is right to notice their extraordinary achievements, and especially their intellectual achievements, and the contrast with the miserable contribution of modern Islam.

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The Micropolitics of Melbourne Cafe Society

by Kieran Healy on October 19, 2003

We go into Trotters on Lygon St (highly recommended, by the way). It’s busy, there’s only one free table, and the middle-aged guy next to it has to tidy up the paper he’s annotating so we can sit down. I’m chatting away to my (American) other half, possibly about the talk she gave at Melbourne Uni yesterday. Messy paper guy gets slightly agitated. He takes a few more notes, rummages in his bag and produces a copy of Why Do People Hate America?, apparently on general principle. It doesn’t seem relevant to his note-taking. He leaves it on display on our side of the table. He doesn’t make eye-contact.