Arab Nationalist Megalomania Endorsed in Paris by the Institut du Monde Arabe
Sometimes Arab nationalist or pan-Islamist claims to greatness are so bizarre that you have to laugh. And laughter is a precious commodity in today's world menaced by terrorism, mass slaughter, and war mongering in the name of "peace."
For those who have not been to Paris in the last twenty years or so, one of the major institutions in the city is the Institut du Monde Arabe. I have no doubt that it occupies less real estate than the palace of Versailles in the Paris suburbs. But it probably holds one of the largest tracts of real estate inside the city. This Institute of the Arab World is a huge complex of buildings on the River Seine taking up acres and acres. It is under French government jurisdiction, as part of the Eurabia policy, but it has also received large donations from wealthy Arabs. The late Rafik Hariri was probably a contributor. The cost was probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It is considered a prestigious location in Paris, a city which already has many fine and splendid museums, while poor citizens line up for a green gruel resembling congealed pea soup that is ladled out to them on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir [while I observed].
I had noticed an effort by the Institut to expand its coverage and patronage to cultures outside the Arab cultural and geographic sphere. It hosted an Armenian exhibition during the past year, a year dedicated in fact to remembering Armenia in many Parisian museums and libraries [such as the modern Armenian art exhibit at the Petit Palais]. Bear in mind that Armenia was attacked, devastated and conquered by Arab forces in the Middle Ages, suffering enslavement, destruction of notable artistic property, humiliation, etc. The Institute also hosted --if I am not mistaken-- an exhibit on Venice and Constantinople. Well, if my memory serves me about the subject matter of the exhibit, then one should recall that Constantinople was twice besieged by Arab forces in the early Muslim-Arab centuries [5 years from 673-678; then 2 years 716-717]. As a Jew, I have my own complaints about the Byzantine Empire. But it was fortunate for civilization that Constantinople withstood the sieges on those two occasions. Now, it seems that an Arab nationalist enterprise, the Institute of the Arab World, is allowed by the French government to host an exhibit devoted to relations between Venice and Byzantium/Constantinople. On the other hand, maybe my memory fails and the exhibit was really about the relations between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, its capital at Constantinople. This still demonstrates the aggrandizing tendency of Arab nationalism.
Now here's a description of the Institut du Monde Arabe and the vast areas that it claims to be within its purview. This description could set you laughing, if you know anything about the history and geography of the places included within the Arab sphere. What makes you feel less like laughing is that it was published by a semi-official French entity, Paris Airports Authority in its magazine Aeroports de Paris [no. 7 / 02/06]:
From the 8th to the 15th century, the Arabo-Muslim civilization stretched from the borders of Central Asia to the slopes of the Pyrenees. This thriving, free-trade, geopolitical zone shared the same langugage, Arabic, and breathed new life into universal science. The Institut du Monde Arabe, in Paris, presents this golden age.
Du VIIIe au XVe siecle, la civilisation Arabo-Musulmane s'etend des confins de l'Asie Centrale jusqu'aux contreforts des Pyrenees. Cet espace geopolitique prospere, libre d'echanges et dote d'une langue commune, l'arabe, donne un nouveau souffle a l'histoire universelle des sciences. L'Institut du Monde Arabe, a Paris, presente cet age d'or.Note that both the English and French texts appear as published in Aeroports de Paris. Further, we are told that the article --and therefore the texts above-- was written in collaboration with Ahmed Djebbar, "commissaire scientifique de l'exposition," in English, "exhibition curator." So the megalomania of the text does not seem to be merely that of a gushing and ignorant, juvenile journalist, but of Ahmed Djebbar, a curator on the staff of the Institute.
We are told about free trade but not about the slave trade, which was one of the factors in the prosperity of the Arab ruling caste in the "golden age," such as it was. We are not told that the many lands conquered by the Arabs had their own languages and were not necessarily eager to be subsumed or submerged into an Arab empire. The conquered subject peoples continued to speak their own languages, although some native languages were wiped out as spoken tongues after brutal Arab suppression of revolts, as in Egypt where two mighty revolts were brutally repressed and the Coptic language vanished as Egypt's vernacular.
There was some flourishing of scientific activity even after the Arab conquests. But it would be interesting to consider whether there would have been more contributions to science from the lands conquered by the Arabs if the conquests had not taken place. Anyhow, the blurb above seems to acknowledge indirectly that any Arab contributions to science died out in the 15th century. That happens to have been the century wherein Ibn Khaldun died. But he died at the beginning of the century, in 1406, and little if anything in science went on after him.
The description implies that Persia and Anatolia were within the Arab empire. This was not true except for short periods. Of course, the description does not report that vast areas in Anatolia [Asia Minor] were devastated and depopulated for decades, if not centuries, by the frequent wars carried out by the Arabs against Byzantium.
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UPDATING: According to the Radio France International and al-Ahram sites, the exhibition was called Venise et l'Orient [Venice and the East] and covered Venice's relations with the Eastern Mediterranean countries from the Middle Ages [9th century] until Napoleon put an end to the Venetian Republic . Of course, for most of that time, Constantinople was outside the Islamic and Arab sphere, although it remained outside so long only by the force of arms. The exhibition was set up in cooperation with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. A previous exhibition at the Institute, very much in the Arab aggrandizement and self-flattery mode, was the Golden Age of Arab Science [L'Age d'Or des Sciences Arabes] in 2005.
UPDATING 1-27-2008: Robert Irwin, Middle Eastern editor of the TLS [Times Literary Supplement], has long been a sympathizer of the Arabs against Israel. But on the issue of Islamic contributions to science he agrees with me, roughly speaking. See link. Here's a previous post on this blog that considers the same problem of "Islamic science" and describes the case of Ibn Rushd [= Averroes].
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Coming: British journalopropagandist praises walt-mearsheimer, James Baker & Israel, US policy on Israel, Jews in the Land of Israel, Jerusalem, Hebron, etc.