Sociology of Arab Imperialism (according to Schumpeter) -- Part Four
[Schumpeter, Imperialism, p 37]Schumpeter is talking about the first centuries of Islam before the Crusades, from about 622 till 1099. By the end of the period, the Arab domain was divided between several dynasties, such as Abbasids governing from Iraq [in fact, Turkish officials controlled the state], Umayyads in Spain, Fatimids in Egypt, and dynasties of lesser importance here and there. Dynasties sometimes held power through alliance with specific sects. For instance, the Fatimids were Shiites governing a mainly Sunni empire, etc. Schumpeter stresses the point that the society focussed its energies on war and needed war. It was a society of a master caste of warriors, originally purely Arab, then Turkish tribes and Berber tribes joining in. The master caste lived off the labor of the subject peoples. At the beginning, the subject peoples were non-Muslim and non-Arab. As the Arabs began to admit converts to their ranks at some later point, the master class expanded but the tax base of non-Muslims diminished. Nevertheless, the contempt and hatred for the dhimmis persisted and even worsened, the smaller a part the dhimmis became of the population.
We are here face to face with a "warrior nation" and must explain from its circumstances how it came to be one. We see how internal struggles gave rise to a unified war organization behind which rallied all the popular forces -- including those in the ideological sphere-- a war machine that, once in motion, continued so long as there was steam behind it and it did not run up against a stone wall. War was the normal function of this military theocracy. The leaders might discuss methods, but the basic issue was never in question. This point emerges with particular clarity, since the Arabs, for the most part, never troubled to look for even flimsy pretexts for war, nor did they even declare war. Their social organization needed war; without successful wars it would have collapsed. War, moreover, was the normal occupation of the members of the society. When there was no war, they would rebel or fall upon each other over theological controversies. The older [p38] social doctrine, especially the tendency to guard against merging with the conquered land and to keep the people fixed in the profession of arms, served the needs of this situation. Whenever that failed, whenever a new environment beckoned in another country with a richer background, whenever the Arabs settled down there, especially when they acquired land -- then the impetus of war was spent and there developed such cultural centers as Cordoba, Cairo, and Bagdad. The energies of the best elements were diverted to other goals. We have, then, a typical case of "objectless," violent expansion, born of past necessities of life, grown to the proportions of a powerful drive by virture of long habit, persisting to the point of exhaustion -- a case of imperialism which we are able to view historically, precisely, and completely from its very origins to its death in the functional transformation of its energy.
The status of the Copts in Egypt is probably as bad today as it has ever been, the "democratic" veneer of the 21st century Egyptian state notwithstanding. The new feature in the last century is that the enlightened West does not care what the Arab-Muslims do to their fellow Christians.
As a military society to this day, a society still mentally focussed on jihad, is it any wonder that the Arabs have given little of intellectual or artistic distinction to the world since Ibn Khaldun who died in 1406. The intellectual ferment among Arabs, such as it has been, has been mostly a matter of restoring the antique purity of Muslim society, such as they imagine it, and how to fight a better, more effective jihad, and how to deceive the unbelievers who have waxed strong and militarily proficient, in defiance of Allah's promises to the Muslims. Wilfred Cantwell Smith points out that "apologetics" for Islam and for Arab society are a major part of Arab intellectual output directed toward the West as well as internally.
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to be continued
Coming soon: The Jews' status in Muslim society
Poems of Zion