Thursday, 6 September 2012

Rise and Fall of Civilizations - Part 1

If you were an alien from outer space, ET species from some distant planet, visiting the earth somewhere in the year 1400 and viewed all the great civilisations, which would you think would eventually dominate the world ? The answer would be quite simple. Any civilisation except for European one.

In the East, this alien would witness the great Chinese Civilisation, which had lasted for millennia. The long list of inventions pioneered by the Chinese is without parallel: paper, the printing press, gunpowder, the compass, giant ships, etc. Its scientists are the best on the planet. Its government is unified and mainland is at peace. 

In the south, the same alien would witness the Ottoman Empire, which came within a hairbreadth of overrunning Europe. The great Muslim civilisation invented algebra, produced advances in optics and physics, and named the stars. Art and science flourish. Its great armies face no credible opposition. Istanbul is one of the world's great centres for scientific learning.

Then you have the pitiful European countries, which are racked with religious fundamentalism, with trials, and the Inquisition. Western Europe, in precipitous decline for a thousand years since the collapse of the Roman Empire, is so backward that it is a net importer of technology. It is a medieval black hole. Most of the knowledge of the Roman Empire has long since vanished, replaced by stifling religious dogma. Opposition or dissent is frequently met with torture or worse. Moreover, the city states of Europe are constantly at war with one another.

So what happened ?

In mythology, the rise and fall of great empires depended on the strength and cunning of ones armies. The great generals of the Roman Empire worshipped at the temple of Mars, the god of war, before decisive military campaigns. The legendary exploits of Thor inspired the Vikings into heroic battles. The ancient built huge temples and monuments dedicated to the gods, commemorating victories in battle against their enemies. But when we analyse the actual rise and decline of great civilisations, we find an entirely different different story.

Decline of Chinese Civilisation
Short answer: a deeply ingrained cultural adherence to Confucianism, which taught (among other things) that a civilised society was one which adhered to ancient traditions with unyielding resolve, and that qualified advisers had to be highly skilled in aesthetic arts. You thus ended up with an ingrained government culture that promoted Ministers and Advisers based not on their technical knowledge or intelligence, but by how well they could compose poetry or paint.

Decline of Islamic Civilisation

The early Muslims accepted the message of Allah in the Qur'an enjoining upon Muslims to read (Iqraq). The verse (the first to be received by the Prophet - an illiterate man) did not specify, much less limit what Muslims should read.There were no books on Islam at that time but there were many books on the Hebrew and the Christian religions. There were also many books or tracts on Greek science and philosophy as well as Indian mathematics. The early Muslims read and eventually translated all the writings of the Greeks, the Indians and others. Obviously they had to learn these languages first. Then they followed up by doing their own research. And so the early Muslims were learned in the subjects pioneered by these other races and this added to the body of knowledge they had acquired. But around the 15th Century of the Christian era, fatwas were made by Muslim Ulamas that "Iqraq" or read was intended for reading and studying religion only. From then on the Muslim scientists, physicians, mathematicians etc stopped their study of these subjects in order to study religion exclusively.

To be continued - Part 2

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