Font of knowledge to font of terror
N.A.de S. Amaratunga
May 9, 2019
Earliest recorded civilization was in Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, developed in 3,500 BC in relation to Euphrates and Tigris river valleys. Ancient man was bewildered by the planets in the sky and fearful of the diseases that afflicted him and wanted to unravel the mysteries in these phenomena. Thus these civilizations in their quest for knowledge had mainly focused on astronomy, mathematics and medicine. Consequently, Mesopotamians had knowledge of the movement of stars, planets and designed the solar year calendar; they developed concepts of numbers, addition, multiplication etc. They developed the method of diagnosing disease based on its history and the treatment based on the diagnosis which is similar to the method used today. Five hundred years later another civilization arose nearby on the banks of river Nile in Egypt.
Islamic Arabs by the 9th Century AD thus had inherited a base on which their scientists could work and create new knowledge and science. These scientists had access to Indian science also as western and northern India was under Islamic rule at that time. Islamic Empire extended from Turkey and North Africa to India. Islamic science had a profound effect on the development of science in the world. Europe, in contrast, was going through its Dark Ages from the 5th to the 15th Century AD and progress in the field of knowledge was dismal. Europeans went in search of knowledge to Spain which was under Islamic rule. They organized a huge project to translate Arabian scientific works to Latin and a vast number of books on physics, chemistry, medicine, philosophy etc. written by Islamic scientists such as Al-Battari, Al-Zahrawi, Avicenna, Ibu Salin and several others were translated. This huge project is known as the Great Latin Translation of the 12th Century. These Islamic scientists had written about the central position of the Sun in the planetary movement, mathematical concepts, gravity and transmission of diseases. It could be said without taking away from their achievements that several European scientists such as Copernicus, Pythagoras, Newton, Galen were consequently benefited and Europe was able to come out of the Dark Ages into Renaissance and Enlightenment.
Hence US President Barack Obama could say in Cairo on the 4th June 2009 “It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra, our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed; our mastery over pen and printing”.
Before Obama, there were other eminent people who had commented on Islamic science. Will Durant American historian and philosopher had said: “Islamic Science laid the foundation for experimental science, scientific method”. Abdus Salam Nobel prize-winning Pakistani physicist said: ” Scientific revolution took place in Arab”. Bertrand Russell the great philosopher said ” Islamic science was the preserver of Ancient Knowledge and transmitter to Medieval Europe”. Russel has used the words preserver and transmitter when referring to Islamic science, obviously, he has the Great Latin Translation in mind.
By the turn of the 20th Century, that font of great civilization and knowledge has been totally brutalized and converted into a font of terrorism. If one is to look for a cause one could see that the creation of Israel without addressing Palestinian concerns had resulted in the birth of anti-western movements in the Arab World. And failure to return the Arab land that Israel had grabbed in the war had worsened the conflict. Further, the US does not appear to be interested in solving the problem. Instead, it had vetoed several attempts by the UN to find a fair solution. Israel is the main US ally in the Middle East and it receives considerable economic and military aid from the US.
There may have been other reasons that made western powers take a more harsh approach towards Arab countries. In several oil-rich large countries, pro-western regimes had been deposed by revolutions and military takeovers and consequently exploitation of these countries was not possible any longer. Iranian revolution in 1979 that got rid of the Shah dynasty was a major set back to the western powers. Before that, in 1958 the Hashemite monarchy had been replaced by fiercely anti-imperialist Saddam Hussein. In 1963 the pro-US puppet regime had been overthrown by Bashar Al Assad. The NATO powers feared a similar situation developing in other oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Emirates. The Arab Spring which occurred in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and 2012 gave much hope for people who wanted their countries liberated from imperialists and their puppet governments but these hopes were dashed to the ground as the uprising was crushed by the state with western assistance.
Thus the burning cauldron kept on burning and both sides hardened their attitudes and stepped up the violence. Of the several resistant movements, the PLO and HAMAS were secular liberation organizations that initially engaged in guerrilla-type attacks. Later they switched over to urban terrorism when they realized that rural-based guerrilla warfare was not effective. These groups had no connection with religion. However, as the Palestine problem dragged on with no solution in sight several radical Islamic movements such as Hezbollah came into being which advocated a more militant approach. When Afghanistan came to be occupied by Russia in 1989 the resistant movements that arose in that country were supported by the US. These movements later developed into the Taliban which turned their guns on US forces which had replaced the Russian. Taliban seemed to be driven by extreme religious fundamentalism as demonstrated in the destruction of the ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues. Al Queda was another religious terrorist organization with a wider network and a stated goal of destroying Israel. The Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the US were attacked resulting in more than 3000 deaths.
The western powers went all out to wipe out terrorism, Bin Laden leader of Al Queda was killed and Iraq was invaded on a trumped-up charge of possessing weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was killed and Libyan leader Colonel Qaddafi was also killed and regime changes effected in these countries. It was attempted in Syria too, which was once a beautiful country now reduced to a pile of rubble. These countries and their priceless monuments received irreparable damage. The Islamic fundamentalist groups became more intransigent and were seeking justification in their religion to retaliate with worldwide terror and groups like the ISIS came into prominence. US President Donald Trump, in turn, took steps to move away from a conciliatory policy and it appears that he may proscribe even moderate movements like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thus it is seen that militancy as a means of forcing a solution had escalated in both sides. Brutal terrorism was practised by both sides. Terrorism of terrorist groups was matched by state terrorism and invasions by the West. Is this the reason why groups like the ISIS could successfully indoctrinate their desperate followers to believe that by dying and killing in the name of god they achieve two goals; the enemy could be destroyed and they could find salvation with god and permanent happiness in his kingdom? Revenge in the name of god was extolled and recommended. The Holy Quran does mention violence as a means of overcoming the enemy but so does the Old Testament. However practitioners of the Abrahamic religions, by and large, do not see violence as a means of settling issues, nor do the high priests of these religions. Hence the questions arise how and why did the ISIS and other Islamic groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria come into being? Do they perceive the west as their prime enemy who is incessantly destroying their people and priceless civilization in the Middle East and also exploiting their oil wealth with the connivance of puppet regimes? How do we explain the phenomenon of educated rich Sri Lankan families travelling to the Middle East to receive training in terrorism and returning to cause senseless massacres and sacrifice their whole family in the process?
All this doesn’t mean terrorism has to be condoned. Whatever form it may take it has to be rooted out for it causes massacre of innocent people who have nothing to do with the cause the terrorist is fighting for. There cannot be a justification in religion or any other moral for such barbaric senseless carnage. Yet the world must find answers to the above-unanswered questions if the problem is to be solved and justice meted out to all concerned.
Anyhow due to all these evil deeds the world has been rendered poor by the total destruction of an ancient font of knowledge, science, art and philosophy that the Middle East was.