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Emet m'Tsiyon

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sociology of Arab Imperialism (according to Schumpeter) -- Part Five

Schumpeter goes on to offer an explanation of the rise of Islam based on the social traits of Arabian society and of the Arab tribes. He sees their society as part of the phenomenon of "mounted nomads." For Schumpeter, this explains a great deal, in particular, the aggressive, warlike character of Islam. After all, the Arab tribes were aggressive and warlike before Muhammad. Schumpeter insists that the mere preaching of Muhammad alone did not bring about the rise of Islam, but rather that Muhammad's preaching fit Arab tribal society, its values and needs.

What was the role played by the religious element, the commandments of Allah, the docrtrine of the Prophet? These pervaded and dominated Arab life with an intensity that has few parallels in history. They determined daily conduct, shaped the whole world outlook. They permeated the mentality of the believer, made him someone who was characteristically different from all other men, opened up an unbridgeable gulf between him and the infidel, turning the latter into the arch enemy with whom there could be no true peace. These influences can be traced into every last detail of Arab policy. And most conspicuous of all in the whole sructure of precepts is the call to holy war that opens wide the gates of paradise.

Yet if one sought to conclude that the religious element played a causative role in the Arab policy of conquest, that imperialism rooted in religion must therefore be a special phenomenon, one would come up against three facts. In the first place, it is possible to comprehend Arab policy quite apart from the religious element. It rises from factors that would have been present even without Allah's commandments and presumably would have taken effect even without them -- as we saw in the example of the Persians. Some [p59] aspects of Arab imperialism may make sense only in the light of the Word of the Prophet, but its basic force we must clearly place elsewhere. In the second place, it was by no means true that religion was an independent factor that merely happened to be tending in the same direction as the imperialist drive for conquest. The interrelation between the Word of the Prophet and the data of the social environment (that by themselves already explain the drive) is too obvious to be overlooked. It was the Prophet of the mounted nomads who proclaimed war was everlasting --not just any prophet. We simply cannot ignore the fact that such preachments came naturally to the Prophet and his followers. We cannot dispose of the question by positing a theoretical dominance and creative social force somehow peculiar to the religious element --as though some mysterious and unfathomable vision, remote from environmental pressures, had given rise to the Word of the Prophet in a vacuum, as it were, and as though that Word alone had driven the people forward in agmen, in pulverem, in clamorem [in a multitude, in dust, in shouting]. It is pointless to insist that the Word of the Prophet is an ultimate fact beyond which social science analysis cannot go, any more than it can transcend the data of physicial nature --when that fact becomes easily understandable from the very social, psychic, and physical background that is itself quite adequate to explain fully what the Word of the Prophet is otherwise left to explain alone. Quite apart from trying to explain the unknown through the still less known, we would be resorting to a crutch that is quite unnecessary. But suppose we do accept the theory that the Prophet's doctrine existed in vacuo [in a void]. In trying to explain its success, we would --to mention the third point-- inevitably come up against the same situation that confronted us when we sought to grasp its basic spirit.
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Here, Schumpeter makes a comparison with the Christian teachings of peace, humility, etc. Here too he sees the religion, in this case Christianity, as arising from the social background or environment of Jesus' early followers in Judea.

And if, conversely, Mohammed had preached humility and submission to his Bedouin horsemen, would they not have turned their backs on him? And if they had followed him, would not their community have perished? A prophet does more than merely formulate a message acceptable to his early adherents: he is successful and comprehensible only when he also formulates a policy that is valid at the moment. This is precisely what distinguishes the successful --the "true"-- prophet from his unsuccessful fellow --the "false" prophet. The "true" prophet recognizes the necessities of the existing situation --a situation that exists quite independently of him -- and when these necessities subsequently change, he manages to adopt a new policy without letting the faithful feel that this transition is treachery.
I do not think that this view can be disputed. What it means is that even in this highly charismatic case no causative role can be ascribed to the Word of the Prophet and that Arab imperialism must not be looked on as something unrelated to other imperialisms. What is true of Arab imperialism is true of any imperialism bearing a religious "coloration" --as we may now put it. This applies to states and peoples, but not, of course, to the expansive drives of religious communities as such --that of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, for example.
Schumpeter tells us that Islam is warlike in essence, and that this essence derives from the character of its early surroundings, the tribal society of Arabia with its raids, captives, loot, enslavement, blood feuds, etc. This implies that Muhammad's teachings likewise derive from this environment.
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To be continued
Coming soon:
Oppression and exploitation of Jews in 19th century Morocco
Oppression of Jews in Jerusalem in the 19th century


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