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Using the lessons of history, Daniel Blewitt highlights how the Middle East of today could have been extremely different.
There was a time when the balance of power between the Muslim and Christian worlds was strongly inverted.
A vast gap lies between the shining light of the progenitors of Western law and philosophy and the great minds of Galileo and Copernicus, which we do not often discuss beyond the brutal details. During this time, which could have almost simply been the way Western civilisation is remembered, lies a great span where other powers held the mantle the Europeans coveted.
The mantle of the greatest, most advanced civilisation of the time fell not to those who would come to see themselves as natural masters of the Earth, but to those who now are seen with scorn as little more than refugees and backward farmers.
It was the Muslim civilisations of Central Asia and the Middle East that reigned at a much more advanced and powerful level than the Europeans. Literacy, education and civil infrastructure were all of a much higher standard.
In fact, the very memory of the words of those insightful Greeks and Romans is largely attributable to the efforts of those Muslim scholars during this time.
It is entirely possible that after the “Mediterranean Age,” Europe could have faded into religious obscurity and violence, as it did for more than a millennium, but it was the absence of that same vast Muslim civilisation that left a vacuum which was filled by the Europeans.
Why did the great Muslim civilisations of Asia and the Middle East vanish so abruptly, leaving such a vast vacuum of power?
The answer is Genghis Khan and his Mongolian Empire.
In the space of a couple of decades, Genghis Khan swept out of the Eastern plains and brushed aside the vast, structured and wealthy Sultanates that inhabited everywhere from Kazakhstan to Mesopotamia. But for an accident of geography, this infamous horde of warriors could have wiped out Europe instead of the much more developed Muslim civilisations.
It was not to be.
While the Muslim civilisations would see a kind of renaissance of their own (in the form of the Ottoman Empire), it would come much later than it otherwise might have and would face a much more powerful Christian Europe when it did so.
If the Mongol hordes had come from a different direction and wiped out Western Europe instead, we would likely see a vastly underdeveloped Christian Europe along the same vein as the arbitrarily divided Middle East.
We would likely never have seen the slow birth of the new Europe as seen in the Renaissance, but an endless and ever darkening Dark Ages. Not a hiatus from its own assumed greatness, but an outright defeat.
Newton, Einstein and Hawking may well have been Azerbaijani or Uzbeki, instead of Europeans.
The entirety of modern world history, from the United Nations down to “the white man’s burden” (and every other product of Christian Europe) would not have come about if they had been targeted by the Mongolians.
It was not a difference in ability. It was simply a case of who the universally indefatigable Mongolians decided they were to destroy next.
When we look at the world, we see the shining beacon of Western science and philosophy, and many of us imagine that European civilisation was simply superior. When we look at the Central Asian and Arabic lands by contrast we see a land that has undergone continual upheaval and conquest, and interpret that as a native inability to civilise.
We look at ISIS, and we aren’t able to remember that the Christian forces of the Dark Ages would have appeared much the same. Having invaded Jerusalem and Antioch, they butchered Muslim men, women and children simply for being Muslims, enforcing religious law with the same vicious vehemence.
In many ways, Europe was the unstable, religiously fundamentalist neighbour.
What we need to remember is that originally, it was the Europeans that lagged behind the Muslim world – for over a millennium. One thousand years; we were the less advanced partner, until a catalyst destroyed that advantage, leaving Europeans the inheritors of the greatest windfall and power vacuum in human history.
Perhaps instead of chasing the fleeting dream of mastery of others, we should consider an embrace. We should consider sharing the entire planet as one group and entity so the roiling tides of exploitation, misfortune and imperialism might slip into our history with our belief in the geocentric universe.