World of War

With the two brief exceptions of Baghdad and Spain over a millennium ago, the history of Islam has been that of a long decline without a fall.  What started as a violent creed of invaders from the desert soon ran out of steam, but the collective memory of earlier successes lingered on as proof of divine approval and superiority.  It was not until 1683 that the menace to Europe was finally crushed at the gates of Vienna, but for long before that the Islamic world had little interesting to say or do.  Not even a prime location at the crossroads of the world could act as an antidote to the slow poison of Islamic obscurantism.  The Ottoman interlude concealed and postponed the latent tension between the view of world history as the fulfillment of Islam and its triumph everywhere, on the one hand, and the reality of squalor and decadence, on the other.

The nature of the problem has always been spiritual.  When the Ottomans realized that something went seriously wrong two centuries ago, their view of knowledge remained that of a commodity that could be imported and used.  Western engineers, military officers, and doctors have been training their Muslim students ever since, but the latter never managed to proceed beyond what had been imparted to them.  The problem is insoluble: Muslims want the fruits, but not the culture itself.  Western discipline, cohesion, ingenuity, and prosperity are incompatible with instant...

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