Manual Emir Abd el-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam (Perennial Philosophy)

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This tradition had been interrupted by the inrush of the wild libertarianism of the desert. But the older tendency presently reasserted itself, stimulated as it was by the political transformation of the caliphate from theocratic, democracy to despotism. This triumph of absolutism in the field of government in fact assured its eventual triumph in all other fields as well. For, in the long run, despotism can no more tolerate liberty of thought than it can liberty of action.

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Some of the Damascus caliphs, to be sure, toyed with Motazelism, the Ommeyyads being mainly secular-minded men to whom freethinking was intellectually attractive. But presently the caliphs became aware of liberalism's political implications. The Motazelites did not confine themselves to the realm of pure philosophic speculation. They also trespassed on more dangerous ground. Motazelite voices were heard recalling the democratic days of the Meccan caliphate, when the Commander of the Faithful, instead of being an hereditary monarch, was elected by the people and responsible to public opinion.

Some bold spirits even entered into relations with the fierce fanatic sects of inner Arabia, like the Kharijites, who, upholding the old desert free [Pg 9] dom, refused to recognize the caliphate and proclaimed theories of advanced republicanism. The upshot was that the caliphs turned more and more toward the conservative theologians as against the liberals, just as they favoured the monarchist Neo-Arabs in preference to the intractable pure-blooded Arabs of the desert.

Under the Abbasides the government came out frankly for religious absolutism. Standards of dogmatic orthodoxy were established, Motazelites were persecuted and put to death, and by the twelfth century a. The canons of Moslem thought were fixed. All creative activity ceased.

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The very memory of the great Motazelite doctors faded away. The Moslem mind was closed, not to be re-opened until our own day. By the beginning of the eleventh century the decline of Saracenic civilization had become so pronounced that change was clearly in the air. Having lost their early vigour, the Neo-Arabs were to see their political power pass into other hands.

These political heirs of the Neo-Arabs were the Turks. The Turks were a western branch of that congeries of nomadic tribes which, from time immemorial, have roamed over the limitless steppes of eastern and central Asia, and which are known collectively under the titles of "Uralo-Altaic" or "Turanian" peoples. The Arabs had been in contact with the Turkish nomads ever since the Islamic conquest of Persia, when the Moslem generals found the Turks beating restlessly against Persia's north-eastern frontiers.

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In the caliphate's palmy days the Turks were not feared. In fact, they were presently found to be very useful. A dull-witted folk with few ideas, the Turks could do two things superlatively well—obey orders and fight like devils.

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In other words, they made ideal mercenary soldiers. The caliphs were delighted, and enlisted ever larger numbers of them for their armies and their body-guards. This was all very well while the caliphate was strong, but when it grew weak the situation altered.

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  • Rising everywhere to positions of authority, the Turkish mercenaries began to act like masters. Opening the eastern frontiers, they let in fresh swarms of their countrymen, who now came, not as individuals, but in tribes or "hordes" under their hereditary chiefs, wandering about at their own sweet will, settling where they pleased, and despoiling or evicting the local inhabitants. The Turks soon renounced their ancestral paganism for Islam, but Islam made little change in their natures. In judging these Turkish newcomers we must not consider them the same as the present-day Ottoman Turks of Constantinople and Asia Minor.

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    The modern Osmanli are so saturated with European and Near Eastern blood, and have been so leavened by Western and Saracenic ideas, they that are a very different people from their remote immigrant ancestors. Yet, even as it is, the modern Osmanli display enough of those unlovely Turanian traits which characterize the unmodified Turks of central Asia, often called "Turkomans," to distinguish them from their Ottoman kinsfolk to the west.

    Now, what was the primitive Turkish nature? First and foremost, it was that of the professional soldier. Discipline was the Turk's watchword. No originality of thought, and but little curiosity. Few ideas ever penetrated the Turk's slow mind, and the few that did penetrate were received as military orders, to be obeyed without question and adhered to without reflection. Such was the being who took over the leadership of Islam from the Saracen's failing grasp.

    No greater misfortune could have occurred both for Islam and for the world at large. For Islam it meant the rule of dull-witted bigots under which enlightened progress was impossible.


    Of course Islam did gain a great accession of warlike strength, but this new power was so wantonly misused as to bring down disastrous [Pg 11] repercussions upon Islam itself. The first notable exploits of the immigrant Turkish hordes were their conquest of Asia Minor and their capture of Jerusalem, both events taking place toward the close of the eleventh century [4].

    Up to this time Asia Minor had remained part of the Christian world. The original Arab flood of the seventh century, after overrunning Syria, had been stopped by the barrier of the Taurus Mountains; the Byzantine Empire had pulled itself together; and thenceforth, despite border bickerings, the Byzantine-Saracen frontier had remained substantially unaltered. Now, however, the Turks broke the Byzantine barrier, overran Asia Minor, and threatened even Constantinople, the eastern bulwark of Christendom. As for Jerusalem, it had, of course, been in Moslem hands since the Arab conquest of a.

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    But the Turks changed all this. Avid for loot, and filled with bigoted hatred of the "Misbelievers," they sacked the holy places, persecuted the Christians, and rendered pilgrimage impossible.

    The effect of these twin disasters upon Christendom, occurring as they did almost simultaneously, was tremendous. The Christian West, then at the height of its religious fervour, quivered with mingled fear and wrath. Myriads of zealots, like Peter the Hermit, roused all Europe to frenzy. Fanaticism begat fanaticism, and the Christian West poured upon the Moslem East vast hosts of warriors in those extraordinary expeditions, the Crusades.

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    The Turkish conquest of Islam and its counterblast, the Crusades, were an immense misfortune for the world. In the year a. The hatreds engendered by Islam's first irruption were dying away. The frontiers of Islam and Christendom had become apparently fixed, and neither side showed much desire to encroach upon the other.

    The only serious debatable ground was Spain, where Moslem and Christian were continually at hand-grips; but, after all, Spain was mutually regarded as a frontier episode. Between Islam and Christendom, as a whole, intercourse was becoming steadily more friendly and more frequent. This friendly intercourse, if continued, might ultimately have produced momentous results for human progress. The Moslem world was at that time still well ahead of western Europe in knowledge and culture, but Saracenic civilization was ossifying, whereas the Christian West, despite its ignorance, rudeness, and barbarism, was bursting with lusty life and patently aspiring to better things.

    Had the nascent amity of East and West in the eleventh century continued to develop, both would have greatly profited. But it was not to be. In Islam the refined, easygoing Saracen gave place to the bigoted, brutal Turk. Islam became once more aggressive—not, as in its early days, for an ideal, but for sheer blood-lust, plunder, and destruction. Henceforth it was war to the knife between the only possible civilization and the most brutal and hopeless barbarism. Furthermore, this war was destined to last for centuries. The Crusades were merely Western counter-attacks against a Turkish assault on Christendom which continued for six hundred years and was definitely [Pg 13] broken only under the walls of Vienna in Naturally, from these centuries of unrelenting strife furious hatreds and fanaticisms were engendered which still envenom the relations of Islam and Christendom.

    The atrocities of Mustapha Kemal's Turkish "Nationalists" and the atrocities of the Greek troops in Asia Minor, of which we read in our morning papers, are in no small degree a "carrying on" of the mutual atrocities of Turks and Crusaders in Palestine eight hundred years ago. With the details of those old wars between Turks and Christians this book has no direct concern.