August 18, 2007


For the glory of Allah: The early followers of the Prophet owed their astounding success in spreading the faith to intelligence and restraint as well as to zeal : a review of The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In
By Hugh Kennedy (The Economist, July 5th, 2007)

AN AGGRESSIVE Bedouin horde, drunk on religion, sweeps out of the Arabian peninsula—on the way burning the great library of Alexandria—and, through wholesale massacre and forced conversion, imposes Islam on a vast area stretching from Spain to the fringes of China. If this is your mental picture of the rise of Islam, dimly remembered from some long-ago history lesson, take note: it is in almost every respect wrong.

Hugh Kennedy sets out to explain an historical puzzle. How could Arab forces, relatively small in number and with no particular superiority in weaponry, have pulled off such an apparently impossible feat? In the century that followed the death of the Prophet in 632, they challenged two established empires (the Byzantine and Sasanian). They conquered Syria in eight years, Iraq in seven, Egypt in a mere two and Spain and Portugal in five. At the same time, they pushed deep into Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. How did they do it? Why did they not meet stronger and more sustained resistance? And, no less of a mystery, how did the empire they created endure?

By painstakingly reconstructing the series of Arab conquests, Mr Kennedy paints a picture strikingly at odds with the popular clichés. “The Muslim conquests”, he writes, “were far from being the outpouring of an unruly horde of nomads.” The Bedouin of Arabia were tough and highly mobile, fired by tribal honour and love of booty as well as by zeal for Islam. They were led by intelligent men from the Meccan elite who knew they had to channel the “frenetic military energies of the Bedouin” outwards, or else face a real risk of implosion.

These leaders also seem to have grasped that to have based their conquests on mass killings and conversion by the sword would have been a fatal mistake.

They were also confident then that their faith would win people over. Today's extremist violence is a function of too little faith, not too much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 18, 2007 6:39 AM

"They were led by intelligent men from the Meccan elite who knew they had to channel the “frenetic military energies of the Bedouin” outwards, or else face a real risk of implosion."

So what has changed?

Posted by: Genecis at August 18, 2007 10:12 AM

So what you're saying is that Islam is like a giant ponzi scheme that constantly needs new blood to keep the top layers stable.

Posted by: erp at August 18, 2007 1:02 PM

How do you think we got to 300 million Americans?

Posted by: oj at August 18, 2007 4:12 PM

From, hopefully, your favorite Islamophobe, why is revisionist history of the West condemned, and, really revisionist, history of Islam condoned?
Islam's historic message has always been, by force of arms, convert/die/or be enslaved.

Posted by: Mike at August 18, 2007 8:59 PM

Because your revision is ahistorical.

Posted by: oj at August 19, 2007 6:14 AM

That ". . .today's extremist violence is a function of too little faith. . .," is a very good point.

Terrorism is testimony of the consciousness of civilizational failure. To plan your grand strategy in reliance upon your adversary's continued forbearance is what failed fanatics do.

We saw the same fantasy from the Confederates, Nazis, and Nippioists, joining a fight they could not win in the fool's hope that we will lack the will to give them the total war they are asking for.

We may differ on the history of the spiritual jailhouse: I would hold that it was a Joseph Smith/Jim Jones operation from its onset; we are in strong accord, however, on the meaning of its death throes.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 19, 2007 10:23 AM