Civil war in the Greater West…

Am I the only one to feel the contraction of Northern Ireland’s political difficulty from the epic to a profoundly local scale? Richard Delevan on Islam, the West and the Irish Saving Civilisation, in which he scratches the surface of what we are regularly invited to believe is a clash two opposing and separate civilisations… Disappointingly for some, we Irish barely feature.

His [Pope Dominic’s] visit has been painted as the peaceful side of a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. This misses two key points.

First, the West as we understand it could not exist without Islam. While Europe devoured itself in centuries of backwards feudalism, economic malaise and theocratic control, the Arab world was buzzing with wealth, power, technology and worldly intellectual rigour.

Muslims ruled the Mediterranean, brought advanced medicine to Muslim Spain. Arab scribes kept alive texts just as sacred to the Western canon as the Bible . . . those containing the thoughts of the philosophers of Greece and Rome. It was from Arab sources that those texts made their way to Thomas Aquinas, and sparked the reinvention of the West.

Second, the very identification of the West with Christendom is only a notion. As Danish historian David Gress sets out beautifully in From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents, the idea of ‘the West’ has been incredibly pliable over the past 3,000 years. And powerful; whoever owns the idea has owned the future.

(Gress, it should be noted, works for the newspaper that published the inflammatory cartoons of Muhammad, and he may disagree with what I’m about to write.) Benedict began his trip by arguing for Turkish accession to the EU. He’s right to do so for a number of reasons, but one above all: the West does not end at the Bosporous; its greater cultural area is centred on the Mediterranean and ends at the Ganges. It can grant space to faith without giving primacy to one in particular and without sacrificing reason as its mode of discourse.

The societies and cultures within this space are impossible to imagine without each other. The supposed clash of civilisations is actually, I would argue, the last civil war of the Greater West. Whether civilisation itself will survive is another question.

  • Pete Baker

    “His [Pope Dominic’s] visit has been painted as the peaceful side of a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. This misses two key points.”

    Hmmm.. arguably it also misses the ideological land-grab.

  • Brian Heron

    “While Europe devoured itself in centuries of backwards feudalism, economic malaise and theocratic control, the Arab world was buzzing with wealth, power, technology and worldly intellectual rigour.”
    If you swap “Europe” with the “Arab World” in this, you get a view of the world that is held by many in the world today. Specifically it may well be the view from the White House. It just goes to show that sweeping historical statements can be just as stupid as simplistic current views. Europe was very far from being the wasteland often portrayed in the early medieval period. Similarly the Arab world was not some lost paradise. What you had were societies with some strengths and some weaknesess.

  • Secur O’Crat

    The key seems to be openess. All this clap trap about the Arabs bringing civilisation is like ascribing it to the Indians, Africans, Egyptians, Greeks. The Dark Ages were a static time, with the knights locked up in their castles. The Irish did transcribe a few documents but so what?

    Islam is today’s driving force on demographic grounds. Ireland’s demographic structure has changed and, as it continues to change, Irelands will continue to transform into nothing more than a minor outlet for Prada, Gucci and cheap cider. For what died the sons of Roisin?

    It is good to put these Irish notions of importance to bed. Ireland was ever a minor satellite to the bigger game plan in Europe. Its only battle, the skirmish at the Boyne, was a trivial affair. Why otherwise fight it on an island behind an island? Empires of the mind indeed.

  • Brian – good to see you got the point.

    The point is, we usually pick the narrative that flatters us most.

  • DK

    Brian – good point. People tend to forget that the Roman Empire that fell in the West in the 5th century, under sustained land grab by assorted barbarians (including the Irish in the case of Britain). But it survived in the East (called Byzantine by others, but always Romans to themselves)and continued until 1453, by which point western states were no longer in the dark ages. So the Romans saved western civilisation, not the Arabs or the Irish.

  • Ulster McNulty

    DK

    “So the Romans saved western civilisation, not the Arabs or the Irish”

    But, taking the longer view into history, the Iraqis and Iranians invented western civilisation, with stuff like agriculture, urbanisation, literacy, monotheism etc. The whole basis of our western culture and way of life has it roots somewhere between Baghdad and Tehran.

  • DK

    “the Iraqis and Iranians invented western civilisation” – not really, the people who lived in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates invented (or rather were forced to resort to) agriculture. They were not “Iraqis”, that being a more modern invention and after considerable movements of people. And agriculture & writing have sprung up independently in other places (meso-america, for example). Probably the Greeks have had more influence with the concept of the individual, rather than the fertile crecent’s system of hierarchies based on priests and kings.