The Cat's Book Review:
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary.
A Book Review. Part One. Mr. Ansary's book is a purely secular history---it has nothing to do with religion, and neither does this review. This post is the transcript of a lecture in three parts delivered as a sermon at The Cedar Valley Unitarian Universalists, in Cedar Falls Iowa, in November of 2016.
Note: Just read the first page of Part One. Then, if it looks interesting to you, read the rest.
The book, Destiny Disrupted, is by Tamim Ansary, an Afghan who has lived in the West for 38 years. Mr. Ansary has spent his professional life editing text books, mostly history texts. Once, when Mr. Ansary had just completed a new high school level world history text, his publishers objected to the fact that out of 33 chapters, he proposed 3 chapters on Islamic history. They thought that one chapter should suffice. After all, why should a world history book spend one tenth of its ink on that "Moslem stuff"?
Wait a minute. In a world with 1.5 billion Muslims, who for 1,200 years dominated half of Asia and half of Africa, why would one tenth be too much? Ansary complains that the West has made a deliberate effort to remain as ignorant of the Islamic world as possible--- and this ignorance is mutual. People growing up in Islamic countries know just as little about us as we know about them, and their leaders intend to keep it that way. In the US, high school graduates might have a vague idea who Mohamed was, but have probably never heard of Umar Ibn Al Kathab, Akbar the Great, or Mustafa Kemal. Any high school graduate in the Islamic world would know exactly who these figures were. But although they would be aware of Jesus of Nazareth, most have never heard of Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, or George Washington. For centuries, this mutual ignorance made no difference because the world of East and West would rarely intersect. But the world is getting smaller every day---- so perhaps we should take a better look at each other.
The most amazing thing about the development of East and West, is that until fairly recently, our worlds were nearly parallel. We both have a recorded history that begins in the Fertile Crescent. After that, we both had a bunch of Bronze Age empires that rose and fell, and then we both had a classic period. In the West, it was Rome. In the East, in was the Khaliphate. Both were empires that spanned half the civilized world, and lasted for hundreds of years. Both, at one point, spread a common language and a common faith over the extent of its realm. And both were destroyed by barbarian invasions from the north. In the West, it was Germans. In the East, it was Turks and Mongols. And after the destruction, both had a landscape sub-divided into small kingdoms, but still unified by faith and language. And both had a period of scientific awakening, where they led the world in science and technology.
Originally, Both worlds were built around trade routes. In the West, these were the sea routes of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. To the East, the trade routes were the overland routes-- the caravan routes from Egypt to Mesopotamia or Anatolia, to Persia and India, or across the silk road to Central Asia and China. The one place where these two worlds overlap is Palestine. The Levant had the main trade route in and out of Egypt, and also the easternmost Mediterranean seaport. Since this is where the two worlds collide, it has been a political hot spot for millennia.
(end of page one)
Ansary gives us a few chapters on the early life of Mohamed, and on the early years of Islam. Mohamed was born in Mecca about the year 570 AD, in an area that was on the fringes of two decaying empires----The Byzantines and the Sassanid Persians. The Byzantines would continue in some form till 1453, but even by 600 AD they were well into a long decline. Though there were Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in this area, most worshiped tribal gods, and Mecca was a city of shrines to dozens of them. Mohamed's father died before he was born, and his widowed mother died six years later, so he was raised by an uncle. His uncle was kind to him, but he always felt he was treated badly by the rest of the community. According to Ansary, the first take-away thing to remember about Mohamed is that he grew up feeling that people just don't treat widows and orphans properly.
When Mohamed was 25, a wealthy widowed business woman named Khadija hired him to look after her caravans, and later they married. This marriage lasted 25 years until Khadija died, and during that time Mohamed took no other wives. Mohamed became successful and respected, but at the age of 40, he grew troubled and began to ponder the meaning of life. He wondered, "In a world bursting with wealth, why were there widows and orphans with barely enough to eat." He began spending his evenings thinking about this, usually in a cave near town. And one night he had a vision----he believed that the Angel Gabriel had appeared to him. He ran home frightened and told his wife about it. Khadija believed that the vision was real, and advised him to obey it.
He had many more visions in the same cave, and eventually began preaching the message that he believed he had received: That there was only one God---and you must submit to His will or be condemned to Hell. Now, you may think that this would be a fairly non-controversial idea, and among the Jews and Christians it was, as they were already mono-theists. But Mecca was then a center of shrines to dozens of gods, and the pilgrimage trade was one of the town's two main industries. Then Mohamed began preaching that submitting to the will of God meant giving up alcohol and debauchery. Unfortunately, alcohol, gambling, and prostitution was the town's other main industry, so the city fathers became quite annoyed with Mohamed and tried to shut him up. Mohamed had the protection of his uncle, who was a clan leader. But in 622, his wife died, and so did his uncle. And when another uncle became clan leader, he announced that Mohamed did not have his protection. Still in 622, Mohamed learned of an assassination plot against him-- and left town. This flight from Mecca is called the Hejira, and is the starting point of the Islamic calendar.
When Mohamed left Mecca in the middle of the night with two loyal friends, Abu Bakr, and Othman, he went to a town two hundred miles north called Yathribe, later named Medina. He did not choose this destination at random. In his years at Mecca, Mohamed had acquired a reputation as a skilled negotiator and a fair and impartial arbitrator. Yathribe then had a tribal dispute involving several tribes, and they needed someone to diffuse this dispute before it erupted into open war.
Only an outsider could do this, so a committee of town elders had come to Mecca and begged Mohamed to take the case. They offered him full authority to settle the matter. So when Mohamed and his companions arrived in Yathribe, they were not just weary travelers---they were honored guests. Mohamed immediately sat down with the various tribes and hammered out an agreement that brought a lasting peace. The tribes signed a compact in which they agreed not to attack each other. They also agreed on methods for settling purely internal tribal disputes and for arbitrating inter-tribal matters. And they agreed on religious freedom for all citizens. And everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, agreed to come to the defense of Medina if it should be attacked. This compact was called the Compact of Medina, and is thought by some to be the world's first constitution.
Soon all of Mohamed's followers from Mecca had arrived in Medina, including his huge bodyguard , Omar, and his son-in-law Ali. But they all arrived penniless and homeless. In leaving Mecca, they left behind their land and their businesses, and cut themselves off from their families. (Hejira means the severing of ties.) Mohamed appointed a local Muslim convert to act as a liaison to these displaced Meccans, and help them start a new life. Soon they had founded a community which cared for its members---a collective of sorts. And they called it the Umma. This Umma was the fruit of Mohamed's conscious attempt to form a just community; a community where all members were equal, respected, and protected; and where no member would ever be abandoned. Which brings us to the second take away about Islam: It is not just an individual path to salvation. Its members believe that it is indeed a path to individual salvation. But it is more than that: it's a social contract. From the very beginning, it was intended to be a very specific blueprint for a just community, a just society, and a just world.
So how well did this "Umma" work? For the first 35 years or so, it succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Because of Mohamed's personal charisma, he had been able to bring peace, and had become a local hero in Medina. All of Medina except the three Jewish tribes joined the Umma, and were willing to follow Mohamed wherever he led. But soon the leaders of Mecca decided that something had to be done about Mohamed, so they launched a series of little wars against Medina, and lost every time. In the first battle, the Muslims were outnumbered three to one, but won easily. In the final battle, the Meccans brought 10,000 men and laid siege to Medina, but still lost. So the local folk lore was that Mohamed could not lose because God was on his side. Soon, people from the whole region were converting to Islam.
In a few more years, Mecca surrendered to the Muslim leadership and destroyed their idols. And as the area administered by Muslims expanded exponentially, so did the area that lived in peace, often for the first time in memory. As the energies formerly devoted to war were available for other uses, the prosperity of the Umma increased.
At some point Muslims began thinking of the world as divided into two sectors: The Dar al Islam- --the realm of submission to God-- and the Dar al Harb--the realm of mindless war. And many Muslims still think of the world in those terms today.
After arriving in medina, Mohamed received additional revelations and solidified the Muslim code of conduct---the Five Pillars. To be a Muslim, one must:
Acknowledge that there is only one god, and Mohamed is his prophet.
Say specific prayers five times a day.
Fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan.
Make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if able.
Give to charity according to one's ability.
That last one merits our attention. This is not just encouraged----it is required. If you fail to do this, you are, by definition, not a Muslim.
Mohamed also re-married, to ten women, mostly for political reasons. He married the daughters of his close associates, unless they had already married his. Of his first four successors, all four were either his fathers-in-law or his sons-in-law. In Arab society, one solidifies political alliances by intermarriage. And when polygamy is allowed, this allows room for a lot of politics. By the time he died, Mohamed controlled Mecca, Medina, and a strip along the Arabian coast which connects them. This area is called the Hejaz.
Mohamed died in 632, and was succeeded by Abu Bakr, an old friend, early supporter, and father-in-law. The little empire started to fly apart when Mohamed died, But Abu did a clever job of holding it together. Mohamed's son-in-law Ali had always assumed he would be the successor, and he had a constituency within the Umma who backed him, and there was some resentment about Ali not being chosen. But Ali was still young, and Abu was middle aged. Young Arabs do not order their elders around, so Ali cheerfully accepted the situation. Besides, Abu was doing a good job as Khalif.
And when Abu died in 634, Ali was again passed over and the job went to Omar Ibn al Kathab, another of Mohamed's fathers-in-law. Members of the community had assumed that Omar was just a tough old soldier. But upon becoming Khalif, he proved to be a wise, humble, and compassionate ruler, besides being a military genius. In his ten year reign, he made the Dar al Islam larger than the Roman Empire at its peak. It included Egypt, all of the Arabian peninsula, and all of Persia.
Ali's supporters were again irritated, but who could object to old Omar? He accepted almost no salary, wore old clothes which he patched himself. (Sometimes doing this task during meetings with heads of state.) And when he needed more money, rather than accept a higher stipend, he would hire himself out milking the neighbor's cows. Omar treated all members of the community as his equals; and he referred all local decisions to a committee of elders and had the decisions ratified by the assembly.
And Omar was equally wise in dealing with the newly conquered territories. He forbad his soldiers from seizing property of common citizens, or even buying land from them.
And he ordered absolute religious tolerance. While he did impose a special tax on all non-Muslims (the Jezia ), it was usually less tax than they were accustomed to paying, and they were excused from paying the charity tax imposed on all Muslims. And most of the money squeezed out of the provinces was invested in infrastructure there. Omar built roads, bridges, canals, and over 5,000 mosques.
When Omar died in 644, Ali was again passed over, this time for Othman, another old friend of Mohamed's, and one of his sons-in-law. Many of Mohamed's followers in Mecca had been wealthy, but by coming to Medina had abandoned it all. But when Othman left Mecca for Medina, he did not lose everything. Being of the powerful Umayyad family, he had such widespread holdings that his Mecca interests were only a small part of his estate. In the early years of the Umma, Othman had been very generous and provided the Umma with funds at a time when they were needed. And perhaps the Umma felt they owed him for that.
By the time Othman died in 656, the Dar al Islam extended from Morocco to India, and north into Afghanistan, the Caucasus, and much of Central Asia. And Othman was good at increasing revenue---perhaps too good. He did not want the money for his personal use; he lived on bread and water and wore rags. But his high taxation provoked unrest and a riot in which he lost his life. With angry mobs rioting in the streets of Medina, they finally asked Ali if he would like to be Khalif. He told them to go to hell. But they begged, and he finally relented. Ali did all the right things, but it was too late. Before it was all over, there would be a full scale rebellion, more assassinations, a war of succession with Muslim fighting Muslim and tens of thousands dying, and a bitter split that would persist to this day between what would become the Sunni and Shiite factions.
When the fighting ended, the victor who claimed the title of Khalif was one of Othman's Umyyad relatives, a clever, charming, and utterly ruthless fellow named Mu'ma'wiya, the governor of Damascus. He claimed the title simply because he had the largest army. And he proclaimed that there would be no more wars of succession as his successor would be his son. So what started as a faith-inspired social compact ended as just another imperial bureaucracy headed by hereditary despots. Not that the Umayyads were especially bad despots. Actually, they knew how to run things because, as wealthy businessmen, they had always run things. Mu'ma'wiya moved the capital to Damascus and made Arabic the official language of the whole empire. By giving the empire a common language, trade improved and administration became more efficient.
But Camelot was over. Mohamed had founded a compassionate, democratic society where all Muslims were equal, and where there was a place in public life for everyone, including women. And it was a place where succession was based on merit, and where those seeking high office were not petty thugs jockeying for power or wealth, but honest, humble,
and pious men who believed that God had asked them to build a just society, and that Mohamed had given them the blueprint. And it had actually worked---for about a generation.
As the Umayyad empire grew wealthy, scholarship, art, and literature flourished. Even under Omar, scholars had been hired to begin making an orderly record of the preachings of the Prophet (the Q'uran), and also of statements Mohamed had made in casual conversation, (the Hadith). And from this work, the third Khalif created the single authorized edition of the Q'uran used today. But in 750, there was a revolution against the Umayyads, and the Abbasids seized power and slaughtered the whole Umayyad clan, except for one man who escaped to what is now Spain, and established a separate khaliphate there. A year later the Abbasids pushed into Kazakhstan and fought the Chinese. Two of the Chinese soldiers taken prisoner revealed the secret of paper-making. Within a few years every city in Dar al Islam had a paper mill. With a supply of cheap paper, Islamic scholars were soon cranking out multiple copies of every ancient text they could get their hands on, and sending them to Islamic libraries across the realm. In 859, Fatima al Fihri, a wealthy Muslim widow founded Al Qarawiyyin University (al-Car-a-wee-yen) in Fez, Morocco. This is the world's oldest university, and the first of many excellent Islamic seats of higher learning. As a young man, Pope Sylvester II studied there, and after becoming pope he reformed European education by introducing the decimal system and Arabic numerals, and re-introducing the abacus. Collectively, these institutions also gave Europe Algebra, the astrolabe, and improvements in chemistry, medicine, and astronomy.
In the early Abbasid period, there were three main Muslim intellectual movements competing for influence: the clerical scholars, the natural philosophers, and the Sufi poets. The clerics hoped to find revealed truth, the philosophers hoped to discover scientific truth, and the Sufis hoped to find spiritual truth, through mental exercises aimed toward immediate religious experience, the feeling of God's presence within. And each group had a natural constituency. The common people usually gravitated toward either the clerics or the Sufis. But the Abbasid rulers preferred the council of scientists. Shortly after seizing power, the Abbasids built a new capital city at Bagdad, and within 50 years it became the largest and richest city outside of China. By 1,065, Bagdad was a university town and a center of intellectual ferment. Among the philosophers, the Mu'tazilites claimed that reason could reveal truths that could never be found in scripture, because revelation could not possibly cover the details of every situation. Yet any revealed truth, if really true, could eventually be revealed by reason. So the study of scripture was irrelevant. The Mu'tazilites frequently argued with the clerical Asharites on this point, and they always won because they had studied Greek logic and rhetoric and knew how to argue. Even the Khalifs accepted the Mu'tazilite argument and strongly supported its wide adoption. Then along came al Ghazali, born 1,065. Al Ghazali was probably the most brilliant mind of his age, and we owe a lot to him. He didn't like the Mu'tazilites and decided to beat them at their own game.
He immersed himself in Greek philosophy and wrote a text on Greek philosophy called The Aims of the Philosophers. This book later found its way into Europe and was so lucid an explanation of Aristotle that it became a standard text for centuries. But in his original edition, he added a cover which explained that he did not actually believe any of it; it was all rubbish, and he could prove it and intended to do so in his next book. But the cover letter never made it to Europe, nor did the second book. Europe received it as a strongly pro-Aristotle treatise.
But in his second book, he attacked reason by saying that the presumed relationship between cause and effect cannot actually be proven. We assume that fire burns cotton because whenever we see cotton burning, fire is present. But this only proves contiguity, not causality. What if it burns because God makes it burn, and fire is present because God wills it to be present? (As silly as this sounds, David Hume uses a similar argument.) But many proclaimed that al Ghazali had won the day. If there is no provable relationship between cause and effect, then science is absurd, and we might as well just rely on scripture. Al Ghazali was appointed to head a prestigious institute and showered with wealth. Now, this did not, by any means, put the philosophers out of business, at least, not immediately. But it did make the rejection of science respectable.
Ansary says (and I'll quote the whole paragraph, because I think it speaks a great deal to us today),
"The assumption that many shades of gray exist in ethical and moral matters allows people to adopt thousands of idiosyncratic positions, no two people having exactly the same beliefs. But in times of turmoil, people lose their taste for subtleties and their tolerance for ambiguity. Doctrines that assert unambiguous rules promote social solidarity because they allow people to cohere around shared beliefs, and when no one knows what tomorrow may bring, people prefer to clump together."
And Islam was about to enter an age where no one knew what tomorrow would bring. The empire was at its peak, but was falling apart. Iberia had its own Khalifate since the last Umayyad fled to there. And then the Egyptians founded their own Fatimad Khalifate. And the northern borders were under sporadic attack by Turks---so much so that the Bagdad Khalifate was hiring Turkish mercenaries to repel them. The Umayyads had fallen because, in the end, there were very few left who were willing to fight for them, and a growing number who were willing to fight against them. The Abbasids held power for 500 years, but toward the end, they had the same problem. They were seen as just another corrupt, decadent empire, whose Khalifs lived in luxury, drank wine, and kept concubines. How was this Islam? Finally, a tide of Mongols destroyed the city of Herrat, killing all 1.7 million men, women, and children. And in 1,258, they leveled Bagdad, and killed another 2.5 million. It was a holocaust---a genocide.
In a faith-based society, people naturally assume that their early victories prove that there is a god, and God is on their side. And as long as they continue to win, they can continue believing this narrative. But if victory means that God is on our side, what does defeat mean?
Historically, there have been three possible answers to this conundrum:
(1.) Our God does not exist. Would anyone ever accept such an answer? The Norse apparently did. You don't see a lot of people worshiping Odin these days.
( 2.) We lost, not because God has abandoned us, but because of our own stupidity. We should get better weapons and a better strategy. This would be a typical modern Christian reaction.
( 3.) God is angry, because we no longer serve Him in the correct manner. We must reverse all changes in our society that have occurred since that last time we were winning. This was the story used by the Hebrew prophets, and is the reaction of most faith-based societies.
And this last was the reaction of Islam. In the face of this horrible, genocidal disaster, they turned away from the world and turned inward, back to a simpler faith of an earlier time.
But that was eight hundred years ago. Islam didn't end---there are 1.5 billion Muslims today. So, what happened in that eight hundred years, and how does it affect Islam's modern view of itself and its view of the West? That will be the subject of part two.
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary.
A Book Review. Part Two.
We ended Part One with the destruction of Bagdad in 1258, and the genocidal slaughter of millions of Muslims at the hands of Mongol invaders. And we considered how the Muslims of the 13th century, in the face of this disaster, turned away from the world and retreated into the simple faith of an earlier time. But Muslims had already suffered a humiliating invasion and slaughter 160 years earlier at the hands the Christian Crusaders. Yet even the Crusader invasion was preceded by, and probably caused by a slightly earlier invasion by Seljuk Turks.
So in this part, we'll talk about all three of these invasions, the Seljuk, the Crusaders, and the Mongols, and how they affected the world of Islam and their view of the outside world.
In 1071, a family of Turks called the Seljuk invaded Anatolia and smashed the Byzantine emperor's 100,000 man army and took the emperor prisoner. They later released him, sent him home, and advised him not to be so silly as to attack them again. These Turks had already converted to Islam, but that would in no way dissuade them from conquering Muslim empires, and they immediately moved against what was left of the Abbasid empire. The Seljuks had just emerged from their Central Asian steppe homeland, and were too illiterate to actually manage an empire, so they hired Persian Viziers as administrators, and Arab clerics as religious advisors. They swept through the Abbasid heartland of the Arabian peninsula, taking all except Palestine, which was already in the hands of the Egyptian Fatimid Khalifate. For the Jews and Christians who lived in Jerusalem, being ruled by Fatimids was not unpleasant, as these were the most tolerant Muslim rulers one could hope for. They had learned to be tolerant because in their own realm of Egypt were Jews, two kinds of Muslims, and three kinds of Christians. But the Holy Land soon fell to the Seljuks, who were among the least tolerant Muslim rulers. The Seljuks were recent converts to Islam, and recent converts often tend to be zealots.
Though the Seljuks had smashed the old order, they had not yet replaced it with anything. Like most barbarian invaders, Seljuk kings divided everything they conquered among all their sons, and all of their nephews and all of their cousins. So in the post-Abbasid period, each city might be an independent kingdom.
With a Seljuk administration of the Holy Land, returning pilgrims had complained bitterly at how badly Christians were treated there. And when the Seljuks had invaded Byzantium, both the Emperor and the Patriarch had appealed to the Pope for help. So the Pope was under pressure from both at home and abroad to do something about the Turks.
At this time, Europe had a surplus of unemployed, landless knights terrorizing the countryside, so finding an errand to send them on was an appealing idea. Finally, in 1095, Pope Urban II made an appeal for Christian knights to re-take the Holy land. He offered partial remission of sins for those who would participate.
The first group to arrive in the Middle East were not actually soldiers, but peasants who wanted to get in on the action. In 1096, a Seljuk prince was informed that some ill-equipped group pretending to be soldiers had entered his territory, and announced that they were Franks, and they had come to kill Muslims and conquer Jerusalem. The prince sent out his best troops, who quickly dispatched them, killing or capturing them all. The next year, when the prince heard that more Franks were coming, he was not too worried. But this second wave of crusaders were the real thing----combat-hardened knights, from a land where combat never stopped. The crusaders smashed the Turkish troops defending Nicaea, seized the town and then split up, with some heading toward Edessa, and the rest heading down the Mediterranean coast to Antioch.
The king of Antioch appealed to the king of Damascus for help. The king of Damascus said he would like to help, but he was afraid that his brother, the king of Aleppo would swoop in and grab Damascus if he were to leave it. For Muslims, the early crusades were a tragicomedy of internecine rivalry that prevented any coordinated defense against the Franks. After Antioch fell, the Franks killed townspeople indiscriminately, and then headed for Ma'ara. They laid siege to Ma'ara, and tried to starve the town into submission. But they starved themselves in the process, since they had no supply line and had eaten every scrap of food in the vicinity. Finally, the Franks assured the townspeople that if they would just open the gates, no one would be harmed. But as soon as the Franks gained entry, they not only killed all the Ma'arans, but boiled them and ate them. Ansary says that although this sounds like the kind of propaganda that defeated Muslims might concoct to slander the Crusaders, Frankish sources also confirm the cannibalism, including eyewitnesses Radulph of Caen, and Albert of Aix. Albert wrote, "Not only did our troops not shrink from eating dead Turks and Saracens--- they also ate dogs."
But even at this point, the Muslims could not unite. As the Franks moved down the coast toward Jerusalem, taking city after city, not only did the Muslims fail to mount any unified challenge, but each group or faction tried to enlist the Franks into their own little conflicts against other Muslims. By the time they neared Jerusalem, the city had been taken by the Vizier of Egypt, who thanked the Franks for eliminating some of their rivals, and invited them to come to Jerusalem as honored guests. The Vizier promised that the Franks would be under his protection. They replied that they did not want his protection----they wanted Jerusalem---and would come with lances raised.
After a 40 day siege, the crusaders promised that if the gates were opened, no one would be harmed. But once inside, the blood bath began. They killed every Muslim, about 70,000. Jews had fled to the central synagogue. The Franks surrounded it and burned it to the ground. There were Christians living in Jerusalem, but they were the wrong kind of Christians , being either Byzantine, Coptic, or Nestorian. So as "Heretics," their property was confiscated and they were expelled. Jerusalem was then proclaimed to be a kingdom. In all, four "crusader kingdoms" were proclaimed: Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli, and Jerusalem.
At the time of the crusades, the whole Arabian peninsula was brimming with Turkish and Arab warriors, and they were all competent warriors. Any unified group of them could have swatted the Franks like a bunch of flies. Arabia would have been a fortress. But there was no unity to be had, so instead of a fortress, Arabia was a plum ripe for whoever cared to pick it. And someone in Europe probably knew this, which may explain why Frankish princes were so eager to come. The Pope had given this adventure a cloak of respectability, but it was partly a land grab.
Today, the crusades are represented as a "clash of civilizations," but no Muslims at the time saw it as such. Because of the breakdown of communication caused by the Seljuk invasion, only local Muslims even knew about it. And they saw it as just one more local disaster. As for a "clash of civilizations," it would not have occurred to any Muslim that Franks actually had a civilization.
Jerusalem would remain in Western hands for 88 years, till a Kurdish general known in the West as Saladin would re-take it. Saladin was able to do this because in the previous generation, his clan had consolidated control over all of Syria, and he himself had taken control of Egypt and most of Palestine. Starting with Edessa, all of the Crusader states fell, and in 1187, so did Jerusalem. Upon taking Jerusalem, Saladin offered the same terms that Omar had offered: foreign soldiers would be held for ransom, but no one would be killed. Christians would be free to leave or stay, as they chose. No place of worship would be molested, and pilgrims could come and go as they pleased, and Jews were welcome to return.
But in spite of these amicable terms, Western leaders were shocked that Jerusalem was again in "heathen" hands, and organized another crusade. Three western kings led a crusade. The German king died on the way, the Frenchman helped with one battle, and then went home, leaving Richard of England to fight alone. Richard did not take to the climate well, and was sick most of the time. Saladin was quite chivalrous throughout the whole affair. When Richard was unhorsed in one battle, Saladin sent him two fine replacement horses. And when Saladin heard that Richard had a fever, he sent his personal physician and fresh fruit and ice water. Richard was less chivalrous, always breaking truces and butchering civilians. They fought a few battles, and Richard won one battle, but was unable to change the situation on the ground, and went home.
Richard announced that he had won a sort of a victory, because although he did not take Jerusalem, he forced Saladin to agree to let Christians worship unmolested. But, of course, Saladin had offered this from the beginning. Even though Christians controlled Palestine for a century, it's amazing how little long term effect this had on the Muslim world; the Christians left, and the Muslims just got on with their lives. But the reverse was not true. During the Crusader states era, Western traders had access to Palestinian ports, and began hauling back to Europe all sorts of silks, satins, and exotic spices. And this fact would have world-altering consequences later on. But as the plague of Christian knights subsided, a far worse threat to Muslims erupted.
Born in 1165, a Mongolian warrior named Temugin began uniting the various factions and clans under a single leadership. Known as Chengis Kahn, he built the largest contiguous empire in history---- one stretching from Poland to Korea. In 1211, He attacked and took over the old Sung empire in China. He then began attacking parts of Afganistan and Persia, killing over a million in Naishapur, and another million in Herat, and destroying crops and livestock along the way. His aim was to select a few cities for total destruction to make an example of them. This allowed him to exact tribute from all other cities without having to bother fighting them. Chengis Kahn died in 1227, and his grandson, Hulagu Kahn, took the conquest south into the Muslim heartland. In 1258, he stormed Bagdad and gave an ultimatum: total surrender-- or every man, woman, and child would be killed. The Khalif refused---and Hulagu kept his promise. But the Mongols were stopped in 1260, and it was Muslim Mamluks that stopped them.
At Ayn Jalut in Palestine, an army of Mongols on their way to Egypt was totally routed by Egyptian Mamluk defenders. This was the first major battle the Mongols had ever lost. The Mamluks used a new secret weapon----guns. The Chinese may have invented gunpowder, but Arabs and Turks gave us guns. Once in use, the gun technology spread to all parts of the Muslim world, including Muslim Iberia, and from there, on into Europe. As the Mongols advanced into Persia and Arabia, they installed their own regime, a Khanate, over Persia, Afghanistan, and part of Iraq. By the 1290s, these Mongol overlords began converting to Islam, and their rule conformed more to Muslim law than Mongol. The Mongols never went into Seljuk Anatolia because the Sultan there had become a Mongol vassal.
About the time the last crusaders were leaving, a small group of Turks left Central Asia to escape the advance of Mongols, and entered Anatolia. They offered to take their 400 horsemen to the western frontier and help the Sultan fight the Byzantines, if he gave them land there. The Sultan was weak and needed all the help he could get, so he agreed. These new Turks had already converted to Islam, and they were not Seljuks. They were led by a chieftain who, in 1258, had a son named Othman, later called Ottoman.
Ottoman and his descendants chipped away at what was left of the Byzantine Empire, completely surrounding Constantinople, and then expanding into the Balkans. And in 1453, they attacked Constantinople's 16 ft thick granite walls with the largest cannons ever built.
After taking all of the Byzantine Empire, they took all of Anatolia, then Arabia, Egypt, and North Africa. Ironically, while it was a Turkish invasion that originally disintegrated the Muslim empire, it was another group of Turks, the Ottomans, who re-united most of it few hundred years later.
But while Arabia, Egypt, and Anatolia suffered two hundred years of chaos and invasions, other parts of the Muslim world flourished, especially India and Iberia. Christian Iberia was first invaded by North African Muslims in 711. By 720 they controlled most of what is now Spain, and by 732 they were within 20 miles of Paris. But there, at Tours, they were badly beaten and pushed back into Spain by Charles Martel. Christian knights eventually re-took all Spain except the southern third, but this part remained in Muslin hands for hundreds of years, and was called Al Andaluse. The Capital city of Andaluse was Cordoba, easily the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Europe. It was also the most tolerant city, with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traders and scholars working side by side. The Muslim Khalif was clearly in charge, but his khalifate hired both Christian and Jewish administrators and artisans.
No one knows when Muslims first began migrating into India, or started making converts to Islam there. But about 1495, a Moghul prince north of Afghanistan, Prince Babur, put together a small empire, and in 1505 moved into India. By that time, there were already a fair number of Muslim dominated states there, and through conquest, he united them all under his command. His grandson, Akbar the Great, understood from the beginning that as a Muslim minority trying to dominate a non-Muslim majority, Moghuls would have to be extremely tolerant to succeed. He invited religious scholars of all kinds to discuss and debate matters of common interest, and he decided that all religions contains some truths, but no religion contains every truth. He proclaimed that the best religion was just "God religion," and suggested that people of all faiths could emulate the lives of those "exemplary individuals" who can be found in every religious tradition. He married a Hindu princess, repealed the Jezya tax on non-Muslims, and ordered his soldiers to protect shrines and pilgrims all faiths. He was wildly popular with Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and his reign marked the beginning of a golden age for India. Akbar's descendents continued this tolerance and India continued to flourish, especially in art, literature, and architecture. It was Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan, who designed and built the Taj Mahal. But Jahan's son, Aurangzeb, was not happy with all this inter-faith cooperation, and led a rebellion to overthrow his father.
Jahan spent the rest of his life in prison, while his son quickly dismantled the culture of trust and cooperation that five generations of his family had carefully constructed. He taxed Hindus and destroyed their shrines, and plunged the sub-continent into a hell of suspicion, hatred, and economic stagnation from which it never quite recovered. And this left a once proud and united India ripe for exploitation by any foreign power that wanted to come there; and just about then, there was a power that wanted to come there.
About 1500 AD, ships from European countries began trading in Islamic ports. And over the next few centuries, it became increasingly difficult for local Muslim industry to compete, because the West had begun a scientific and technological revolution. Most of the knowledge that provided the starting point for this revolution had come from the Islamic world. So why did this knowledge spark a revolution in the West but not in the East? Ansary says that the outcome in the West was not due to a single reason, but a combination of factors--a "perfect storm" of factors.
Most of the important breakthroughs that fueled these revolutions in the West happened first in the East, over several centuries, and were then dumped onto the West all at one time. This may have amplified their effect. Also, in the East, many discoveries happened just as these societies were about to be overrun by invaders and plunged into a dark age. But in the West, this information came to light just as Europe was emerging from a dark age. Yet there were other factors. Because every European country was competing to find a sea route to "The Indies," they were willing to finance voyages of exploration. Europe has a long coastline, and long history of seafaring. By the year 1,000, the Vikings had crossed the Atlantic, and by the 1,400s, Europeans had ships that could withstand an Atlantic storm and sail into the wind. With this technology, they discovered America. The Muslims could easily have developed this technology---but had no reason to. They already had access to the Indies.
As soon as the Spanish gained a foothold in the new world, they enslaved the natives and forced them to mine gold and silver. Hundreds of tons gold and silver would be shipped to Spain, and be spent all over Europe, and every country in Europe would be overflowing with excess gold---enough gold to finance any adventure the country cared to embark on.
Another development that altered Europe's history was the Protestant Reformation. Originally, the Reformation was about whether each person had the right to read his own Bible and draw his own conclusions. After the Protestants won the Thirty Years War, it was pretty well established that they did. But an unintended consequence of this outcome was that if every man had the right to draw his own conclusions about matters of faith, then why would he not have the same right to draw his own conclusions about all other matters? This new kind of thinking had two results: a new academic freedom, and a new spirit of economic individualism. And this new freedom hit Europe at a time when the accumulated knowledge from the Islamic world, the knowledge that triggered the Renaissance, had already become widely available due to the invention of the printing press.
Another factor that would set Europe apart from the rest of the world is that as a consequence of the 100 Years War, England and France became the world's first modern nation-states. And with the nation-state comes nationalism, and with nationalism comes mercantilism. So when the first European traders arrived in the ports of India, Persia, or the Ottoman Empire, they came with ships that could take them anywhere in the world, and with enough gold to buy anything they found when they got there. They also had superior technology, including arms technology. Guns and cannons were a Muslim invention, but by the late 16th century European arms were better and cheaper. And every European nation arrived with a fierce nationalistic pride and a mercantilist spirit, each trying to out-compete the others.
Whenever any society with more gold or more technology, or more anything, penetrates the economy of another, it can be disruptive. Ansary says, "Forget the Battle of Lepanto; forget the Second Siege of Vienna. It was foreign traders, not soldiers who took down the Ottoman Empire." All Ottoman manufacturing was controlled by the guilds, who established minimum prices to protect their workers. But maximum prices were imposed by the state, to protect the public. In fact, in every aspect of Ottoman life, there was a system of checks and balances. Every strand of the social fabric was protected by some powerful sector of society, yet held in check by another. It worked like clockwork, and it was foreign trade that threw a wrench into that clockwork. When the Westerners came in, they did not attempt to sell products in competition with local producers---the state would not let them. But they were happy to buy raw materials---things like leather, wool, wood, oil, metal etc, and they paid in gold. And the state smiled on this. How could bringing gold into the country not be a good thing? But as the foreigners bought up all the available leather, the shoemakers became unemployed---and no one had any shoes, nor any wool coats, nor metal tools, nor anything. Yet the local craftsmen could not raise their bids on raw materials to bid against the Westerners, as the prices of their end products were fixed by law. The state soon realized it had made a horrible error, so it imposed an embargo on the export of strategic raw materials. But once accustomed to the higher prices offered by foreigners, producers continued to sell---illegally. So smuggling boomed. But for smuggling to work, local officials had to be bribed, which pumped even more gold into the economy. With more money in circulation but less of everything being produced, inflation resulted, which affected mainly people on fixed incomes, including government bureaucrats. They responded by demanding bribes for their services. And since the empire was always a complex bureaucracy, just navigating the simplest transaction now took a dozen bribes and several months. Gradually, the whole state machinery slowed to a crawl. People rioted, so more police had to be hired, but raising taxes to pay them was not an option, so they just printed more money, which caused more inflation. It was a death spiral, but in slow motion. It took a couple hundred years for the empire to completely crash, but once started, there was really no way to stop it.
Ansary goes on to explain how in each of the three main Islamic societies--Ottoman, Persian, and Indian---it was European businessmen, not armies, who dispossessed the local people, destroyed their economy, and corrupted their government---even though in the beginning, no Europeans attempted to take direct political control of any of these societies. And yet, by 1850, Europeans in some way controlled nearly every place that had ever been part of the Dar al Islam.
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary.
A Book Review. Part Three.
We ended our last session by noting that by the middle of the nineteenth century, Europe's traders had penetrated the Islamic economy for a few hundred years. But eventually, the relationship shifted from trade to total military control, even though no one had originally planned it that way. When the British East India Company was chartered by Elizabeth I in 1600, its only hope was to make a profit. And soon its trading posts on the coast of India were making a profit. But it was obvious that when you fill warehouses with shiploads of valuable merchandise, you need to hire security guards to protect this goods. Technically, this police function may have been the responsibility of the local sovereign government, but why should the Sultan spend his subjects' money protecting Englishmen? So the British East India Company hired local guards, called Sepoys, supervised by British officers. As the company's zone of influence expanded, so did the number of native troops employed to protect it. Within this zone, the company became the default government, keeping the peace, settling civil disputes, and even trying criminals and executing them. No one gave them the sovereignty to do this, but England was a long way away.
Eventually, the company's private army became the largest standing army in the world, at 250,000 men. And the area administered by the company was nearly half of India. After 1757, British government troops were sent in to help preserve order, so there were then two British armies in India. But a century later, in 1857, there was a mutiny against the British, and British civilians were massacred. British soldiers retaliated by indiscriminately slaughtering natives. To put an end to the chaos, the British government simply annexed India, making it a crown colony. The government was reluctant to do this, yet by 1876, the British had learned to like being an empire, and began calling India, "The Jewel of the Crown," and Victoria, "The Empress of India".
In 1798, Napoleon had invaded Egypt to deny the British control of the isthmus of Suez. And then the British arrived and sunk the French navy and pushed the French back out. About 1805, a military strongman named Mohamed Ali led a coup and installed himself as king of Egypt. By the 1830s, Ali had modernized Egypt's army and built it into a formidable force, so that Egypt would never again have the humiliation of being invaded by Europeans. But in 1858, Ali's descendant, Said Pasha, happened to sign an agreement allowing the French build the Suez canal. Most of the canal would be financed by French investors, but Egypt would have a 22% stake, and put up 22% of the cost. The canal was a success, and opened in 1869. But there were delays and cost overruns, which left the Egyptian government bankrupt and deeply in debt. The British helped pay off these debts in exchange for Egypt's share of the canal. Later, Britain and France made additional loans, but with the proviso that they would oversee all Egyptian government spending until the debts were re-paid. Every Egyptian official had to answer to his British or French counterpart, and the king had been reduced to a powerless old pensioner. Upon discovering that their government had become nothing more than a puppet regime, the Egyptian Army staged a protest in 1879, which gave Britain an excuse to send in troops. By WWI--- several uprisings and several regimes later---the British Army was still there, and so were the British financial regulators. Then, at the start of WWI, Britain proclaimed Egypt to be a British protectorate, and a part of the British Empire. Once again, what started as economic interaction ended as total military domination.
The 19th century was when European powers began to shift from using economic influence over the Dar al Islam to outright political and military control. In 1884, the European powers met in Berlin and carved up Africa among themselves. Their justification was that this would bring civilization to Africa. Never mind that a lot of Africa already had a civilization. Never mind that in the 14th century, European royalty had sent their kids to the University of Timbuktu. Yes, the Africans had a civilization, but it was all Islamic civilization, which wasn't quite the right kind.
In 1830, the French invaded Algeria, killed off as many Algerians as they could, and then opened Algeria to French colonization. But as soon as the French had installed themselves in Algeria, an Arab liberation movement led by El Kader began. Was this the same El Kader that the little town in Clayton County, Iowa is named after? Yup. Same fellow. At the same moment that Chief Black Hawk was leading his people in a war against Europeans over his tribal lands in western Illinois, El Kader was doing the same thing in Algeria. They both lost. But in the Muslim world, Europeans would lose in the 20th century all of the influence they gained in the 19th.
In WWI, an Arab revolt aided by the British pushed the Turks out of Arabia----only to be replaced by the British and French. But this would prove to be a very temporary arrangement. The British invasion of Turkey at the end of WWI spawned a revolution that left Mustafa Kemal in charge in Turkey, and in 1924 he ended the Ottoman Empire and founded the modern Turkish Republic. By ending that empire, he ended all claims by Turkey's creditors. In 1946, the French left Syria and Lebanon, in 1947, the British left Palestine, in 1948, they left India, and in 1952, they left Egypt. The Dutch left Indonesia in 1950, and in 1962, the French finally left Algeria. And in the 1960s, Europe withdrew from Africa as newly independent nations emerged there.
Today, no large Muslim country is controlled by a European power. But Ansary asks us to consider why the Europeans were ever able to assert their control in the first place. The obvious answer is that the industrial revolution occurred first in the West. But why did it? Ansary points out that the steam engine was discovered at least two hundred years earlier in the East than in the west. It was used for rotating a lamb roasting on a spit. And that's all they ever did with it. It is described in a 1551 book by Turkish engineer Taqi al-Din. The Chinese had also developed the pre-requisite technology for an industrial revolution but never acted on it. Instead of inventing labor saving machines, one of the geniuses of the Chinese, according to Ansary, was inventing massive make-work projects to soak up excess labor, such as the Great Wall and the Great Canal.
In trying to discover why certain inventions led to a revolution in the West but not in the East, I started by looking for some flaw in Islamic culture that would explain why the West had this revolution and Islam did not. And then it dawned on me that the explanation is not a flaw in their culture, but a flaw in ours.
Ansary explains that Muslim inventors didn't think of using steam power to make devices that would mass-produce goods, and neither did the Chinese, because they lived in a society already overflowing with an abundance of consumer goods, often unsold consumer goods, hand-crafted by millions of artisans. The inventors themselves worked for an elite class whose lot in life did not require them to produce anything at all. But this class was required to worry about the welfare of those who did produce things, and serious unemployment was not an option.
In short, in most societies, authority is exactly paired with responsibility. Anyone in a position to command the massive resources required for mechanizing an industry is also usually positioned to bear total responsibility for the consequences of that mechanization. Now, when an operation is mechanized, money is borrowed for that investment. The income stream that pays back that loan is the cost savings, that is, the money that won't have to be paid to certain workers because this machinery has replaced them. Suppose you are the Amir of some village whose main source of income is producing hand-made shoes. And suppose that someone offers to build machinery that would allow 100 workers to produce as many shoes as all 300 shoemakers now produce, and offers a bank loan to finance it. Those 300 shoemakers are all members of your tribe, and if you cause 200 of them to be laid off, you could be expected to support them for the rest of their lives, which would cost you precisely as much as they are now paid. So where is the cost savings to pay off the loan? Ansary says, "It wasn't some dysfunction in these societies that generated their indifference to potentially world-changing technologies." Quite the opposite, it was something working too well that led them into what Ansary calls a "high level equilibrium trap."
Many of you are probably thinking, "For the rest of their lives? Why would they have to be supported for the rest of their lives? Wouldn't they eventually assimilate into some other sector of the economy?" Well, perhaps eventually. But eventually can be a long time. When the South Side Iron Works closed in Chicago, someone did a study 20 years later, and found that of those laid off, almost none of them ever found a job that paid over half of what they had earned at South Side, and almost no one over fifty ever found a job at all.
So, if the Islamic leadership originally held back from aggressively pursuing industrialization for fear of social disruption, then how did the West avoid this problem? Quite obviously, they didn't. Ansary only briefly mentions Marx and Engels in England, but I think it merits a closer look, so I'm going to digress a bit:
When Marx and Engels wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, they wrote of a sickly, desperate population whose short and brutal lives came as close to a hell on Earth as any society has yet constructed. A government commission was formed there to study the problem of child labor. What they found was that children as young as ten years old were being sold to factories and, for 16 hours a day, were locked inside a factory and whipped if they could not work fast enough. But none of this was supposed to happen. When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776, he assured us that if free enterprise and free trade were released from government regulation, the magic of the market would create a utopia for all of us. Workers wages would naturally rise as the boom created by free enterprise forced factory owners to bid against one another for labor, and consumer prices would fall as specialization and mechanization lowered the cost of production and the free market forced competition in prices.
But, for a variety of reasons, that's not what happened. Sometimes mill owners formed gentlemen's agreements and set the prices of both goods and labor, so that the workers were squeezed to near starvation form both sides. Couldn't Smith have foreseen this? He not only foresaw this, he complained about it. At one point he complains that although competition is the key to free enterprise, whenever three or more businessmen get together, they talk about how to fix prices.
Wealth of Nations was not so much a description of how capitalism actually worked, as it was a theory about how it was supposed to work. But the British bought the whole package and enacted it without restriction, and the result 70 years later was the England that Marx and Engels saw.
Yet there was another thing that Adam Smith objected to----the joint stock company (what we call corporations). Smith thought they should be severely restricted if not outlawed entirely. Why?
Because, he claims, "They concentrate vast amounts of wealth into the hands of a few individuals who did not earn it and are not responsible for it." Think about it. What Smith is objecting to is the divorce between power and responsibility. Remember Ansary's observation that in Islam, and in most societies, there is no separation between authority and responsibility? If you wish to pinpoint the one reason that the industrial revolution happened in England first, it is that. By the ingenious invention of the joint stock company, the English created an organ that neatly separates power from responsibility. And they turned it loose in a country with such an extreme cult of individualism that the new owners of this organ could use it to work their fellow Englishmen to death and feel no guilt about it.
Don't industrialization and free enterprise eventually produce a world that is better for both workers and owners? Yes, if properly regulated, they certainly do. There is no doubt that the British working class was far better off in 1976 than they had been in 1776. But they surely weren't in 1846, and that was 70 years into the project. Does every society that industrializes have to endure a century of hardship for their workers? No, England is the egregious case. The Germans did not start industrializing till about 1840, and they had the benefit is seeing all that went wrong in England. They accepted industrialization, but rejected free trade. They negotiated a tariff zone which allowed free movement of goods and capital within the zone but had a high tariff wall to everything outside the zone, including movements of capital. In 1840, they produced only insignificant amounts of most industrial commodities, but by the eve of WWI, they produced more steel than England and also more coal, chemicals, food, transport, and just about everything else. And this, incidentally, was one of the main causes of the First World War. And of course, the Soviets had yet another plan for industrializing.
Now, to get back to Ansary: Ansary explains that the Islamic leadership has spent 200 years watching the West and its experiments with this problem, and for 200 years, there has been an ongoing debate as to just which parts of the West's experiment they might wish to replicate, and which parts they don't.
Ansary says, "No one looking at machine-made consumer goods said, "Gee, we too should have a Reformation and develop a cult of individualism and then undergo a long period of letting reason erode the authority of faith while developing political institutions that encourage free inquiry so that we can happen onto the ideas of science while at the same time evolving an economic system built on competition among private businesses so that when our science spawns new technologies we can jump on them and thus, in a few hundred years, quite independently of Europe, we can make the same sorts of goods ourselves." No, people just said, "Nice goods. Where can we get some?"
Do Muslims from non-industrialized countries even grasp that if their country were to adopt all the western technology required to mass-produce these goods, such a change might carry a high price in social disruption, cultural conflict, and economic chaos? Some probably do and some do not. And if those who do not grasp this were to suddenly appreciate the price tag attached to such modernization, would they still want the goods? Some probably would, and some would not.
When confronted with these choices, most of the answers offered come from three sources: First: The Secular modernists, inspired by people like Sayyid Ahmed Aligarh: They accept both Western technology and Western culture.
Second: The Islamic Modernists, inspired by Sayyid Jamaluddin-i-Afghan: They accept modern Western science and technology yet wish to keep most of Islamic culture.
Third: The Religious Conservatives, inspired by Mohamed Ibn abd al Wahhab: They reject both Western technology and Western culture.
All three of these philosophies were fully developed in the 18th or 19th centuries, and drew on ideas hundreds of years older. And each has millions of adherents in every major Muslim country. In the last few hundred years there have been three revolutions in the West that have spilled over into the world of Islam: The Industrial Revolution, as muscle power has been replaced by steam power, the Democratic Revolution, as kings have been replaced by parliaments, and the Nationalist revolution, as empires have been replaced by independent nation-states. And every major Muslim society has three main power blocks: The Nationalists, who want a strong, independent nation-state, the Constitutionalists, who want a democratic state, and the Modernists, who want an industrially developed state. Standing against this onslaught of Western ideas are the religious scholars (the Ulama), who are adamant that whichever way their society heads, it remains Islamic. They don't really care which way the bus is headed as long as they get to drive. But past experience has shown that when they get to drive, the bus often doesn't go anywhere at all. None of these political blocks is a majority, but a coalition of any two of them can usually unseat whoever is in power. And governments change hands as these alliances shift, so each of these blocks has had its day in the sun.
So let's take a closer look at each of these three main movements:
First, The Religious Conservatives, (especially the Wahhabis):
In 1744, in a remote part of the central desert of Arabia, at the oasis town of Diriyah, a radical Muslim preacher named Mohamed Ibn abd al Wahhab begged the protection of the local Amir, Mohamed bin Saud.
Wahhab urgently needed protection, because his highly intolerant preaching had made him pretty unpopular. He and Saud were both Sunni Muslims, and both were Salafis, that is, they believed that the correct form of Islam was the kind practiced just after the death of the Prophet, and all innovations since then were in error. But Wahhab also belonged to the ultra conservative Hanbali school of Sharia law, and Wahhab's own interpretation of that law had become more radical and intolerant than any form of Islam ever practiced. He believed that all Muslims had fallen into heresy and idolatry and it was his calling to set them right.
Muslim idolaters? Sounds pretty unlikely. But Wahhab claimed that any respect or veneration shown to anything but God was idolatry. Visiting a sacred shrine? Idolatry. Putting flowers on a grave? Idolatry. And the Heretics? All Shiites, Sufis, and basically, anyone who disagreed with him. And Wahhab taught that all Muslims had a duty to wage Jihad against all the enemies of Islam, and that included foreign enemies, idolaters, and heretics---and the penalty for heresy was death. Wahhab was immediately seen as a dangerous man, and that's why he needed protection. But bin Saud liked Wahhab, and converted to his philosophy. They signed a pact: Saud agreed to protect the Wahhab family and accept them as the sole spokesmen of Islam, and Wahhab pledged all of his followers to serve the Saud family as the sole political authority. The pact was sealed by the marriage of bin Saud's son and al Wahhab's daughter.
After 1744, bin Saud embarked on a military campaign to subdue all of the central desert. It was a long, bloody war, and thousands of Shiites were killed, but the area was so remote that no one in the outside world even knew about it, nor would they have cared. But in 1803, the Saudis seized Mecca and Medina, and the Ottoman Sultan cared a great deal. Aided by his vassal, the king of Egypt, he re-took Mecca and also Diriyah, and all the Wahhabi religious leaders were sent to Constantinople and executed. And that was the end of the First Saudi State. The rest of the Saudi/ Wahhabi clan just melted back into the desert and were forgotten.
But by the beginning of WWI, they had again become a power to be reckoned with, and in 1924, they seized Mecca and Medina, and in 1932, they gained recognition as the state of Saudi Arabia. In 1945, when Roosevelt was on his way back from Yalta, he met with Aziz Ibn Saud. The two leaders made a handshake deal that the Saudis would keep the oil flowing and the U.S. would defend the Saud family. There was no formal treaty, but neither side has ever broken this deal. Not all who live in Saudi Arabia are Wahhabis---only 23%. And there are 45% in the United Arab Emirates. But prior to 1980, there were no Wahhabis outside the Arabian peninsula. But now, backed by Saudi oil dollars, Wahhabi groups have gained influence in every Islamic country, especially Afghanistan, Egypt, and Syria. Through American military and financial backing, we have helped the Saudis to unleash upon the Muslim world the most intolerant and violent form of Islam that has ever existed. .
Next: The Secular modernists: The most radical and successful of the modernist reformers was Mustafa Kemal. At the end of WWI, Turkey was invaded by Britain, France, Italy and Greece. As a young Army officer, Kemal organized a resistance that pushed the invaders out and forced them to accept a peace that left Turkey intact. And he convened an assembly that proclaimed Turkey a republic---a republic which endures to this day---and Kemal was elected president. He became known as Ataturk---the father of Turkey.
His extreme popularity allowed him to put into law his own vision of a modern Turkey, which was a totally secular country with no public role for the clerics or even for Islam. To break the power of the Ulama, the clerics, he closed the religious schools, and required a dress code that banned head scarves for women and the fez, turbines, and beards for men. He gave women the right to vote and hold office, he outlawed polygamy, and he reformed the divorce laws. And he made Turkish the official language and required it to be written in the Latin alphabet, and even required that public reading of the Qur'an be in Turkish only. As a final coup, he introduced ballroom dancing as the official entertainment at state functions.
In spite of the clerics, he was able to do all this because he had the strong support of all factions except the clerics. Besides the support of the modernists, he had the support of the nationalists because he had thrown the foreigners out of Turkey and the constitutionalists because they wanted his parliamentary democracy to succeed. And Ataturk was not the only modernizer.
Between 1919 and 1929, King Amanulla in Afghanistan was trying to do the same thing as Ataturk, and would have succeeded, but he was overthrown by religious fanatics, with the help of the British. The British did this because Afghanistan shared a border with British India, and they wanted someone they could control. British India is gone, but the fanatics, now called Taliban, are still there.
Finally, the Islamic Modernists. Present day Iran would be a good example of Islamic Modernism. The Ayatollahs want a combination of Islamic society and Western technology. This would seem like a compromise between Modernism and Wahhabism, but it is probably the worst of all possible worlds. Followed to its logical conclusion, it leads to a nuclear armed medieval theocracy run by a dictatorial Ayatollah and the "Party of God."
In 1953, Iran had a democratically elected government headed by Mohammad Mossadegh. But a military coup orchestrated by the CIA and Britain's MI6 removed all power from this government and gave it back to the Shah, Reza Pahlavi. Britain's reasons for doing this was that Mossadegh had threatened to nationalize Iran's oil, and the Americans had cold war motivations because Iran shared a border with the Soviet Union. The present Iran regime dates to a cleric-backed revolution in 1979, which got rid of the Shah. The Shah was a modernizer but was very brutal, so the movement to get rid of the him had broad popular support. But if the U.S. and Britain had not toppled the Mossadegh government in 1953, there would have been no Shah to get rid of. What did the U.S. and Britain gain from this? Nothing. The Shah nationalized the oil anyway, and the Soviet Union no longer exists.
The entire modern history of Western interference in the Dar al Islam is one of Western governments interfering in pursuit of some short term goal, but creating problems that persist long after these goals have become irrelevant. The Muslim Brotherhood came into existence in Egypt in 1928, in reaction to British influence there. British Egypt has not existed since 1952, yet this organization is still with us and has been an influential player in every Middle Eastern war, including the war in Syria. We cut the deal with the Saudi/Wahhabi regime because we wanted the oil. But one of these days, the world will have to quit using oil anyway, but the Wahhabis will still be there.
This is not to say that if no Western power had ever intervened in the Dar al Islam, everyone would be at peace. The three major power blocks plus the Ulama would still be there in continual contention. But to the degree that we actually had any influence---we have used it pretty irresponsibly.