Why not Judeo-Christian-Muslim?

Middle East
on 8 Comments

Nice piece by Rick Salutin in the Globe and Mail:

In an interview published last week, Peter Kent, the junior foreign affairs minister, said “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada.” It sounded like the guns of August, 1914. It was ridiculous. The Canadian Forces are overstretched, and Israel has perhaps the fourth strongest military in the world. Is this kind of myopic focus on one country and knee-jerk support for all it does appropriate to any government’s foreign policy – except Israel’s own? Surely it’s about more than buying a few Jewish votes.

So I’m grateful to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney for casting light on this behaviour. At a Jerusalem meeting, he said: “The existential threat faced by Israel on a daily basis is ultimately a threat to the broader Western civilization.” Aha! Then what we have here is a clash of civilizations, a new version of old dualisms such as Us/Them, East/West, commies/capitalists. That’s how foreign policy was often justified in the past. But why code it in terms of Israel? Because the old dualisms aren’t what they used to be.

They frequently carried, for instance, racist baggage: the white races against savages etc. Racism was official ideology back then. You caught a whiff of it last week when a British commander in Afghanistan told his troops they were going into “the heart of darkness.” Now anti-racism is official ideology. The clash of civilizations sounds like a less vile dualism, even if it’s kind of stupid.

But what civilizations? How do you separate them? A few decades ago, ours was a Christian civilization, and Jews were the designated Others. Now it’s Judeo-Christian. Why not Judeo-Christian-Muslim? Muslims lived and warred in the European “West.” Spain was largely Muslim for 700 years. The Greek classical tradition was transmitted to Europe via the Muslim world, in Arabic. Western civilization, whatever it is, includes Muslims.

Simplistic dualisms such as the clash of civs respond to some primitive human need for a reassuring division into us and them. The trouble is, they don’t work as well any more. The world has got too scrunched up, populations are intermingled and in touch. The lines blur, then fade. I mean, why does Jason Kenney refer to broader Western civilization? Is he trying not to offend Canadian voters of Chinese or Indian origin by including them as “Western”?

8 Responses

  1. sky7i
    February 19, 2010, 9:01 pm

    There’s plenty of academic support for this already, most notably (in recent memory) by Richard Bulliet, history professor at Columbia:

    link to cup.columbia.edu

    And of narrower interest:
    77 N.C. L. Rev. 1635 (1998-1999)
    Islamic Origins of the Common Law, The ; Makdisi, John A.
    link to heinonline.org

  2. sky7i
    February 19, 2010, 9:08 pm

    And on the Judeo-Islamic aspect:

    The Great Islamic Rabbi
    link to washingtonpost.com

    Two ironies emerge from Kraemer’s book. First, that the great architect of medieval and modern Judaism seems to have lived for a time, at least outwardly, as a Muslim; whether this was a feigned or true conversion, he was an insider in Muslim culture. And second, that what is often considered original in Maimonides is not very original at all. Throughout the book, Kraemer shows how many of Maimonides’ contributions are derivative, not just of Aristotle and Plato, but also of Muslim thinkers. He notes that Maimonides’s discussion of the five types of speech in Jewish law employs the same five categories contained in Islamic jurisprudence. He shows that Maimonides’s prohibition of using sacred poems for mundane purposes (such as setting them to music at communal gatherings) is taken directly from a commentary on Plato’s Republic by the Muslim philosopher Averroes.

    • RoHa
      April 9, 2012, 9:21 pm

      Mediaeval Jewsih philosophy, from the Karaites onwards, is generally regarded as inspired by Mu’tazilah and the Kalam schools.

  3. syvanen
    February 20, 2010, 12:04 am

    If the British commander was aware of Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness” ( and I presume he was) then this is not a racist comment at all. The dark heart resided in Kurzt, the colonialist responsible for unspeakable cruelties against the Congolese people. I would interpret this comment on the dangers to the souls of the British soldiers as they perform their job in brutalizing the Pashtun people.

  4. Ali Ahmad
    February 20, 2010, 2:29 am

    –“The Greek classical tradition was transmitted to Europe via the Muslim world, in Arabic.”

    There is a common, in many cases unintentional, omission people make when they mention the fact that Muslims preserved and transferred Greek knowledge. Muslims did that, but more importantly, they developed it further and produced so much more, and, additionally, they connected the east to the west and transferred knowledge of other civilizations like the Persian, the Indian and the Chinese. I think it was the Oxford history of Islam that mentioned that the amount of written knowledge that was produced in the Muslim civilization (in the middle ages) is more than what was produced by all of humanity before it. In another work, the suggestion was that the roots of the Western civilization are as Arabic as they are Greek and Latin.

    • laplandian
      April 9, 2012, 3:10 pm

      I would not say only Arabic though. Persians and, to a lesser degree, Turkic peoples played also a huge role in the formation of the Western civilization. In fact, very many classic Muslim authors who wrote in Arabic, were ethnically Persian and Turkic.

  5. laplandian
    April 9, 2012, 3:05 pm

    Not only Spain, but also Belarus, where four religious communities (Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims) lived in peace together for centuries, as well as Turkey, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, which is also located (though marginally) in Europe and played an important role in Russian history and culture.

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