Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Non-Existent Muslim Roots of Europe


Several French websites are talking about a book by historian Sylvain Gouguenheim entitled Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les Racines Grecques de l'Europe (Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel: The Greek Roots of Europe), published by Univers Historique. French readers might enjoy the book review published by Le Monde. I am presenting the version of the review posted at Le Salon Beige:

The Muslim roots of Europe are as real as its lunar roots. Sylvain Gouguenheim throws a monkey wrench into the pseudo cultural link between the Western world and the Muslim world. This professor of medieval history at the Advanced Normal School of Lyons refutes the preconceived idea that ancient Greek learning (philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy), having completely disappeared from Europe, found refuge in the Muslim world, where it was translated into Arabic, appreciated and extended, before finally being retransmitted back to the West, thus permitting its renaissance and then the sudden expansion of European culture.

This vulgate is nothing but a tissue of lies. Even though they had become tense and rare, the ties with Byzantium were never broken: Greek manuscripts still circulated. During the so-called "dark ages", Greek scholars were never absent, especially in Sicily and Rome. From 685 to 752 there reigned a succession of Popes of Greek and Syriac origin! In 758-763 Pippin the Short had Pope Paul I send him Greek texts, notably Aristotle's Rhetoric. Numerous Church Fathers, who quote Plato, saved entire sections of works of pagan writers. Europe, therefore, always remained conscious of its ties to ancient Greece, and continually exhibited a desire to locate the texts.

It was not the Muslims that did the bulk of the translations of Greek works into Arabic. Even those great admirers of the Greeks - Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averro√ęs - did not read one word of the original texts, but only translations into Arabic made by Christian Aramaens! Among these Syriac Christians, who mastered Greek and Arabic, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq (809-873) forged the essential Arabic medical and scientific vocabulary by transposing 200 works. A speaker of Arabic, he was in no way a Muslim, nor were the vast majority of the first translators of Greek into Arabic. A deformed vision of history causes us to erase the decisive role of Christian Arabs in the transmission of works of Greek Antiquity first into Syriac, then into the language of the Koran.

The adoption of Greek thought by Muslims was selective, limited, and without any major impact on the realities of Islam. Even though it possessed the philosophical works of the Greeks, Islam never became truly Hellenized. The translators of Mont Saint-Michel transmitted almost the complete works of Aristotle directly from Greek into Latin several decades before the same works, in Toledo, were translated from their Arabic version. Instead of dreaming that the Islamic world of the Middle Ages was open and generous, and offered to languishing, ignorant Europe the means of its expansion, it would be better to remember that the West did not receive these works in the form of a gift. It went searching for them, in order to complete the texts it already possessed. And Europe alone made scientific and political use of them, as we all know.

In summary, contrary to politically correct prejudices, European culture owes nothing to Islam.

This is not the first article on this topic to appear at French websites, and I'm glad to have at last posted something about it. The new book by Gouguenheim sounds worth reading. Lack of time prevented me from doing any real research, but those interested in Avicenna (pictured above), who was a Persian, not an Arab, can check out Wikipedia (where the description of his accomplishments would seem to rank him as equal or superior to Leonardo da Vinci), or the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Update: July 6, 2008 - The spelling of Gouguenheim's name has been corrected. Originally, the second "u" was omitted.

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16 Comments:

At April 10, 2008 11:45 PM, Blogger Jerry Haber said...

God, is your post dumb.

I haven't read ARISTOTE AU MONT SAINT-MICHEL, but I can tell you right now that if the thesis of the book is accurately presented in the various reviews, then Gougenheim hasn't "proven" anything unknown to a first year student of transmission of Greek knowledge to the West.

Read D. Gutas's Greek Thought, Arabic Culture, and you will see accurately portrayed the role of the Christian Byzantine scholars(often Nestorians) in the transmission process, which wss largely funded by the Muslim Abbasid caliphs (you don't mention that all these translations had to paid by somebody). As for the Byzantine Greek tradition, yes, it was quite important, especially in the late middle ages, and, yes, the translations of Aristotle's corpus into Latin were often directly from the Greek. Who denies this? But the transmission of knowledge to Western Europe, especially to the new universities in Paris and Oxford, was essentially in philosophy and science via the Arabic-writing, Muslim commentators. Look at Albert and Thomas Aquinas.

I much prefer spending my time reading the medieval Aristotelians, who, unlike, modern-day Islamophobes, didn't care what a person's religion one, as long as they were philosophers. That is why Ibn Rushd (Averroes) was the most influential voice in medieval Jewish philosophy, much more than Aristotle, little of whom was translated into Hebrew (and that includes modern Hebrew).

Yuk

 
At April 11, 2008 12:22 AM, Blogger John Sobieski said...

I would be shocked to read what they have in our history books today in our public schools. I am sure fantasies revolving around Islam and its enlightenment before Europe are all the reage.

 
At April 11, 2008 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We already have 6 or 7 millions of Muslims living in France, and alas, especially scores of anti-white racist Algerians... Go see our site, if you want to get details on their invaders' plots : http://rachidadati.narod.ru/

Ca fait peur, la verite: http://rachidadati.narod.ru/

 
At April 11, 2008 3:31 PM, Anonymous dauphin_b612 said...

@ tiberge

This does sound like an interesting book. As a chance follow-up to the previous post on Ireland, I also recommend "How the Irish Saved Civilization" by Thomas Cahill, which describes how the Irish monks preserved western (Greek/Roman) civilization through the Dark Ages. I hope the Irish can save European civilization again by rejecting the EUSSR! (hommage à Zazie)

 
At April 12, 2008 12:08 AM, Blogger tiberge said...

@ jerry haber

First, I'm glad you agree with the general premise that it was primarily Arab Christians and other Christians who did the translations. The fact that something has been said before by others does not mean it is not worth saying again. If you prefer Gutas or other writers that is fine, but it does not mean that someone else cannot write about the same thing. Since I haven't read Gougenheim's book, I don't know how he deals with all the ramifications of this issue. There is no reason to believe that he does not admire those Muslims who contributed their talents. The point of his book, it seems to me, is not to in any way diminish the Muslim contributions but to place them in their proper context without the "mythologizing" that is prevalent today. Jacques Chirac and other French politicians have forced upon the French people the notion that the Muslim roots of Europe are as real as its Christian roots. This is fantasy. Muslims may have contributed their knowledge but Islam is not one of the foundations of Europe. It is necessary to dispel this myth and for Europeans to at least regain some pride in their cultures, and to recognize rather than reject, their Christian heritage.

If you are a scholar of transmission of Greek knowledge as you seem to imply you are, I would think you would welcome such a book, even if it is not one you need to read. Some people do need to read it. Many students today have no idea what Greek culture is let alone how it was transmitted and saved from extinction. Even in Greece the study of ancient Greek has declined. There are ever greater gaps in the education of people today, whereas decades ago it was common for bright students to study Latin and Greek.

If you think the post is "dumb" I suggest you make your point also at Le Salon Beige and Le Monde, the two links I provide.

 
At April 12, 2008 6:50 AM, Blogger zazie said...

If Jerry Haber hasn't read the book, and does not intend to read it, if he does not want to read anything more than what he has already perused, let him watch "le nom de la rose" ; I guess umberto Eco's book would be too much for him. Through the film, he might have a faint idea of the hard work some monks devoted to the survival of books, in spite of the "bigotry" of the old one who wanted to abolish laughter, and the ancient comedies...

 
At April 14, 2008 12:27 PM, Blogger Jerry Haber said...

I am sorry for the comment "dumb", which I retract.

I did not intend to stick my head into French culture wars. My apologies for not knowing context.

I am against political mythologies, either for or against Islam. My impression from the reviews was that Gougenheim's book tended to magnify the preservation by Byzantine Christians at the expense of Arab tradition and that this was done because of the culture wars. Scholarship in the service of cultural polemics. Yuk.

One could argue just as well that the traditional Christian-centric view, of, say, the history of philosophy and science, sees the "contribution of the Muslim and Jewish philosophers to civilization" to last until 13th century scholasticism got on its feet, and then neglects the subsequent history or considers it "unoriginal." This reminds me of the those Christians who assumed that Judaism ended with the "Old Testament".

In any event, my culture heroes are the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers/scientists/
physicians who searched for wisdom without respect to creed, even though they assumed their religion was true.

 
At April 16, 2008 11:45 AM, Blogger tiberge said...

@ jerry haber

Thank you for your reply. There is no need to apologize. I make no claim to being a scholar of Greek or Islamic or Jewish philosophy. I was taken aback by the unexpectedly indignant tone of your comment. But you were responding out of concern for the book's thoroughness.

The French are indeed in a civilizational crisis, and though it would be wonderful to read and appreciate the philosophers without worrying about their creed, but this is unfortunately not possible when Islam enters into the picture in the way it has. The creed does matter because sharia law and the laws of the French Republic are not compatible. Islam preaches jihad and sharia, and many Muslim leaders and imams in Europe have called for the subordination of Europe to Islam. The Europeans, in their fear of looking like racists, have granted millions of Muslims not only asylum, but full access to all the social benefits of the welfare state. In return Muslims gather in ghettoes, commit crimes, stockpile weapons (some of them war weapons) and demand the building of mosques which the French State has been permitting despite strict laws on separation of Church and State. And that is only the tip of the iceberg...

So it isn't possible for the average citizen who takes the subway to work and who is afraid to go out at night to rise above the creeds and to regard Islam impartially as a scientist studies some natural phenomena. The French citizen has to defend himself because the State is afraid to confront the Muslims. Afraid to to close the open borders that let them in in droves. The fear of being called a racist haunts Europe thoroughly, and the result is a weakened moral fiber, a rejection of patriotic feelings, a rejection of tradition, a rejection of a reasonable immigration policy, and a hypocritical pandering both to Islam and to Jews, strange as that may seem. Europe wants to prove it is not racist, so it lumps Muslims and Jews together as persecuted minorities who have to be granted special privileges. Unfortunately many European Jews of the left-wing variety make the deadly mistake of supporting Muslim immigration and the building of mosques, and in so doing lose the potential support of patriots who would send the Muslims back to dar al-Islam.

Thus a secondary cultural war has been created within the bigger war: a rise in anti-Semitism of the traditional variety, coupled with some justified criticism of current Jewish political choices. The two currents mix together and become difficult to sort out, and the potential for future horrors is great. But many Jews have left France, because of the Muslim presence.

You are quite right - objectivity is necessary to a scholar. And I feel it is necessary to politicians and media today. If they really did look at this objectively they would see that Islam is out to conquer the West and must be repelled.

As I said, I haven't read the book. I don't know if it is skewed. But in the current situation, where there is grave danger to the European nations, information that can enlighten or correct government propaganda is sorely needed. I agree that scholarship should not be in the service of "cultural polemics" because then it is no better than government propaganda, it must correct false notions and restore information that has been suppressed or misconstrued.

 
At April 28, 2008 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jerry haber

2 points short and simple so that it should be clear even for confused brains....

1/It seems obvious that liberal multiculturalists have been/are widely and loudly airing and spreading as an unquestionable "truth" the idea of the determining role of the arabo-muslim societies in the foundations and rising of the western clture and civilization.
The quoted book accurately reminds to a large public(people who will read the book) that the PC mantra is wrong.Arabo-muslims have indeed a role BUT it is only accidental due to the arabo-muslim invasions(curiously never reminded).

2/Averoes was called the "commentator" by Albert AND Thomas.Averoes had no influence and was rejected by arabo-muslim societies on the contrary of the christianity which welcome the greek philosophy through tough debates.
Last but not least Thomas the aquinate made a famous work which title is "Contra Averoes" where he criticized philosophically Averoes....

Curiously jerry haber don't seem to mind and begin by ad hominem attack...How do you explain that?

 
At July 04, 2008 2:24 PM, Blogger Jagged 85 said...

1/It seems obvious that liberal multiculturalists have been/are widely and loudly airing and spreading as an unquestionable "truth" the idea of the determining role of the arabo-muslim societies in the foundations and rising of the western clture and civilization.
The quoted book accurately reminds to a large public(people who will read the book) that the PC mantra is wrong.Arabo-muslims have indeed a role BUT it is only accidental due to the arabo-muslim invasions(curiously never reminded).

2/Averoes was called the "commentator" by Albert AND Thomas.Averoes had no influence and was rejected by arabo-muslim societies on the contrary of the christianity which welcome the greek philosophy through tough debates.
Last but not least Thomas the aquinate made a famous work which title is "Contra Averoes" where he criticized philosophically Averoes....

 
At July 04, 2008 2:34 PM, Blogger Jagged 85 said...

In response to "Anonymous" above:

The Christian Church was also against Greek philosophy for a long time, no less than Islamic theologians like Al-Ghazali. Interestingly, even the works of Al-Ghazali (a critic of Greek philosophy) were deemed heretical by the Christian Church.

Also, philosophy continued to develop in the Islamic world long after Averroes. Just because Aristotelian influence had decreased after Averroes, does not mean Muslim scholars were any less philosophical after Averroes. All that really happened after the 12th century was that Aristotelian philosophy was largely replaced by Avicennian philosophy in the Islamic world.

 
At September 04, 2008 6:41 AM, Anonymous Arthur Borges said...

Very enlightening for me to read and entirely plausible. However, given that cross-border communication lacked the instaneity of today's Internet, is it possible that both theses are correct? That both religions/cultures were actively operating each its own mechanism of curiosity and exploration in a still clumsy attempt at mutual understanding?

 
At September 04, 2008 6:42 AM, Anonymous ArthurBorges said...

OOPS: PLEASE READ instantaneity NOT instaneity (OBVIOUSLY!)

 
At August 08, 2009 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this is nice but does not mention the fact that the Greeks never ceased to exist!! They were there, and they were the ones that were preserving and using their own texts and philosophical works!!It was not the french that went looking for them! The french were ignorant. After Alexandria, the next major destruction of Greek texts took place during the sack of Constantinople by the French/Venetians of the 4th crusade! The French burnt everything there! If they were so enlightened they would be looking for the texts to save them not pillage and destroy everything. As for Renaissance, has anybody heard about the Council of Ferrara? Pletho? Europe owes everything to the Greeks - those Greeks that it has done everything in its power to destroy and continues doing that today. The Arab role in the transmission process was conveninet as it eliminated Byzantium from the picture - until today when Islam took the place of the Greeks as a target of Western European hatred. So they need now a new story as they will never accept their debt to Byzantium (i.e. to the Greeks). So guess what? They dont owe anything to anybody! They started it themeselves in some monastery in france and if there was a text missing they went out looking for it (kinda of medieval interlibrary loasn). Western europeans are like kids. And they would be amusing, if they were not so dangerous.

 
At May 02, 2010 10:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the transmission of knowledge to Western Europe, especially to the new universities in Paris and Oxford, was essentially in philosophy and science via the Arabic-writing, Muslim commentators.



typical islamic bullshit!

 
At May 02, 2010 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this is nice but does not mention the fact that the Greeks never ceased to exist!! They were there, and they were the ones that were preserving and using their own texts and philosophical works!!It was not the french that went looking for them! The french were ignorant. After Alexandria, the next major destruction of Greek texts took place during the sack of Constantinople by the French/Venetians of the 4th crusade! The French burnt everything there! If they were so enlightened they would be looking for the texts to save them not pillage and destroy everything. As for Renaissance, has anybody heard about the Council of Ferrara? Pletho? Europe owes everything to the Greeks - those Greeks that it has done everything in its power to destroy and continues doing that today. The Arab role in the transmission process was conveninet as it eliminated Byzantium from the picture - until today when Islam took the place of the Greeks as a target of Western European hatred. So they need now a new story as they will never accept their debt to Byzantium (i.e. to the Greeks). So guess what? They dont owe anything to anybody! They started it themeselves in some monastery in france and if there was a text missing they went out looking for it (kinda of medieval interlibrary loasn). Western europeans are like kids. And they would be amusing, if they were not so dangerous.


iSLAM DESTROYED ALEXANDRIA!

 

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