View Full Version : What have the Arabs ever done for us?

Thursday, January 15th, 2004, 08:56 PM

What have the Arabs ever done for us?

Zero, just to begin with, and incalculably more than daytime-TV presenters, writes Derek Brown

Thursday January 15, 2004

It is pretty universally acknowledged that an informed world view is not a prerequisite for success in daytime television. Even so, Robert Kilroy-Silk's anti-Arab diatribe is not only offensive and stupid; it also speaks of a startling degree of ignorance.
"We owe Arabs nothing," he wrote. "Apart from oil, which was discovered, is produced and is paid for by the west, what do they contribute?" Arabs, according to the sage of the sob story, are "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors".

It is slightly ironic that, at the time this balderdash was printed in the Sunday Express, Mr Kilroy-Silk was topping up his studio tan in a Spanish beach resort. Had he been in the mood for a slightly more demanding cultural shift, he could have gone to the south of that country, to Granada in the province of Andalucia, where he could have seen some of the most beautiful architecture in Europe. Arab architecture. Planned, built and exquisitely decorated by the ancestors of the people Mr Kilroy-Silk apparently thinks so inferior.

It is not only in Spain that Arab architecture has left a European mark. The pointed arch, so eagerly adopted by medieval builders and known today as gothic, was an idea copied from the east, and brought to the west by the early crusaders. And while those religiously crazed bigots were burning and slaughtering in the holy land, Arab poets, mathematicians, astronomers, philosophers and scientists were advancing human civilisation to unprecedented peaks of sophistication.

The Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad, which flourished for half a millennium from about AD750, was arguably the most dazzling of regimes the world had seen up to that date. Arab scholars picked up from where the Greek ancients had stopped centuries earlier, and extended human understanding in virtually every field. As every schoolboy knows, the mathematical concept of zero was discovered by Arabs, when northern Europeans were still wearing horns on their helmets. In fact, as a Guardian reader pointed out this week, every schoolboy is probably wrong: the zero idea almost certainly came from India, but, crucially, it was first written down by an Arab.

Writing is a key part of the Arab nation's bequest to the world. Paper was introduced from China before the end of the first Christian millennium, freeing Arab writers from the costly straitjacket of parchment and papyrus, some 300-400 years before paper reached western Europe. The result was a torrent of poetry and prose, philosophy and scholarship, learning and entertainment. This was the era of The Thousand and One Nights and of vast public libraries. There were astronomical observatories, pharmaceutical laboratories and medical schools. And most of these were flourishing before England's King Alfred was born.

Mr Kilroy-Silk might argue that these are spent glories, and that the modern Arab culture is debased. He would be compounding his ignorance to do so. More poetry than prose is published in Arabic today. The visual arts are vibrant. Music, both popular and traditional, is flourishing. Calligraphy, that most elegant of arts, continues to fascinate users of the flowing Arabic scripts. Arab cuisine - Lebanese mainly, but increasingly Egyptian and other north African - is being belatedly discovered in the west.

For sure, the Arab world has more than its share of despotic rulers and religious bigots. But to lump everyone together under Mr Kilroy-Silk's puerile labels is not only false, but plain daft. Cultures and their values are not only measured by historical achievement, but also in terms of day-to-day living.

I lived in the holy land for nearly four years as the Guardian correspondent. I was greeted and treated by virtually every Arab I met with the greatest courtesy and grace, even in the most trying and sometimes downright tragic circumstances. Sometimes I would poke a little fun at close friends by making up absurdly flowery compliments in the local style - my best invention was "May the womb of your favourite she-camel never wither!" - and invariably they would giggle helplessly. Indeed, the Arab propensity for laughter and friendship is one of my fondest memories of those times.

The Arab people have been traduced enough in the western world and - let's be honest - the western media. It is perhaps time we poured our collective bile over a more deserving target. Cheap, mindless, voyeuristic, shallow, nasty, lobotomised daytime telly, to take a random example.

Friday, January 16th, 2004, 12:30 AM
Most textiles and paper used by the West during the early Renaissance were from the Islamic world. You can check old paintings of the Virgin Mary et al, and find "Allah Akhbar" embroidered in their robes. Old Papal Bulls for a long time were printed on paper imported from the Islamic world.

Thomas Aquinas' introduction of logical discourse into Christian writings was inspired by (actually provoked by) the logical writings of Avicenna (Ibn Sena) and others from Moorish Andalusia.

The Moors preserved, collected, and improved upon the writings of the ancient Hellenes, and are probably the only reason they survive to this day. That is, the philosophical, cultural, and scientific writings - not the theological writings preserved by Christian churches.
The Renaissance was the direct result of Western contact with the rich, sophisticated Islamic world: in the Crusades, and by the many merchants and travelers (especially from the Italian city-states) who visited the Middle and Far East.

I think the only real way to end this nightmare of stupidity called the War on Terror is to have as many high-quality Muslims immigrate to the USA as possible, so long as they become American and make family and commercial roots here. Then they will tell their friend back home to please not bomb their beloved country, the USA. Most Muslims are Caucasians, and many have a level of cultural and intellectual sophistication far above the current average American white or black, or Latin American immigrants to this country. The key is high-quality immigration, instead of importing ignorant, stupid peasants.

Friday, January 16th, 2004, 04:56 AM
Wow the ancient arabs contributed so much. I bet if they were to see what lingers in the arab world they would shed tears of blood. I have never met an arab that I didn't consider to be human swill. The arabs need to stay in their own place of origins and fix what is broken there. I do not need any more diversity. I do not want any more diversity.

Friday, January 16th, 2004, 09:47 AM

What have the Arabs ever done for us?

QUOTE] well... they copied old Indo European ( Greek ) science and technology.. sure... but my free ancestors thought otherwise... 1492 .. heres a boot for ya.... off u go to Africa.. i apologize.. :D

Mac Seafraidh
Friday, January 16th, 2004, 01:12 PM
In modern time, absolutely nothing. The only thing we have in common with these mongol parasites is the war against Israel.

Sigrun Christianson
Saturday, January 17th, 2004, 03:57 PM
They've killed some Jews. I appreciate that. I also like Syrian fabric quite a lot. :)