Offbeat 02 September 2016

Once upon a time Islam was great. It saved knowledge from Christianity. Here’s how it worked.
Round about the time of the Dark Ages, when the Earth was flat and witches were burned, knowledgeable people had to get out of Europe fast to avoid all sorts of horrible fates, knowledge being anathema to the Christianity of the time. The only place they could head to was the Mediterranean which was mostly Islamic.
Fortunately there was a loophole in Islam, which said that if people could show that they had encoded their beliefs in a book form, they would be allowed to exist. This came in handy for the alchemists, who experimented with all sorts of things like chemistry, healing and maths. They waved their copies of the Emerald Tablet around and so were allowed to pass, exist, and continue developing the basis for modern science.
In fact, Islam and the alchemists got along so well that the two were able to enrich one another in development of science. If you take a look at a place like the Alhambra for instance, you can see the sophistication that emerged.
That has changed, at least at one end of the spectrum.
In every large group, you will find a gamut of degrees of belief. At one end of the spectrum, there is always a small number of freaks who try to control. These are inevitably the most insecure. They control because any deviation from their own beliefs makes them intensely nervous and uncertain. They might also be described as relatively intellectually challenged because they cannot absorb and adapt to different types of thought.
That’s what’s happening in Islam, particularly in Africa. The repulsive thing is that a group like Boko Haram is destroying knowledge with massacres of students. Elsewhere, Sharia takes back rights that have become accepted as universal.
So, who will save Islam from that sort of fundamentalism?
The obvious thing to say is that Islam is tolerated in the West, assimilated as well. There’s hope there. Yet the fanaticism that is spreading is worrying. The new breed of African fanaticism has gone so far as to ban football in certain places.
I can understand and absorb cultural differences, but I can’t live with the idea of the savagery that is now emerging. The Dark Ages were supposed to be a Christian thing, stuck away in the past, not something to be revived like some ugly natured fashion from a previous decade.
The new Dark Age, the one that seems to be on its way, will not be the exclusive precinct of Islam. For every action there is an equal and an opposite reaction. You can see this in the new crusades that are emerging, the presence of various national armies entering the fray.
The fanatical variant of Islam that is emerging is giving power to the fundamentalist element of Christianity that opposes it. So, we see preachers who are so intent on going to war that they are willing to burn the Qur’an to enflame the sentiments of the fanatics and speed the conflict to more dismal levels. That is the extreme end once more, but the ideas filter through the crowd and begin to take root, same as the way they are doing in Islam.
Religious principles are all too easy to abandon in this. All the Abrahmic religions state the principle that the destruction of human life is wrong. If you can accept that on face value, without the loopholes, it becomes a matter of religion as a veneer for control of people and other resources.
There’s a clue in this item. During the fracas in Mali, books interpreting the Qur’an were among the targets.
Belief cannot be an object of veneration if its documents and interpretations are burned. Fortunately many of them were smuggled out and saved.
On a more explicit level, the easiest thing to believe is that as the population grows and the resources dwindle, the current winning strategy seems to be to control belief.
There is not much more to say other than noting these observations. I can’t foresee much reason ahead.

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