Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Peter BetBasoo, co-founder and director of the Assyrian International News Agency (www.aina.org). He was born in Baghdad in 1963 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1974. He obtained a B.S. in Geology at the University of Illinois Chicago (1980-1985) and a minor in Philosophy. In 2002, he worked in the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, in the Water, Agriculture and Environment group. In 2007, he authored the report, Incipient Genocide: The Ethnic Cleansing of the Assyrians of Iraq.
FP: Peter BetBasoo, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
BetBasoo: Thank you very much, Jamie, I am honored to be here.
FP: Tell us your thoughts on Muslim claims of accomplishments, revisionism and the expropriation of cultures and ideas.
BetBasoo: Let me preface my remarks by saying that I do not claim that Muslims have made no accomplishments. Individual Muslims have been successful in the full range of the human scientific and artistic endeavor. But a closer examination of these successes reveals that they came about because these individuals stepped outside of the Muslim realm. For example, today Muslim scientists and scholars are trained in the West. I claim that Islam is not conducive to the pursuit of rational inquiry, and when Islam asserts itself, it borrows, co-opts and ultimately, when time has passed and memory forgotten, claims that these borrowed and co-opted things were originated by Muslims, not by the native cultures that preceded the Muslims.
If something cannot be so expropriated, it is often destroyed. The most recent example was the Taliban's destruction of the 2500 year-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan . In Iran , the UNESCO world heritage sites, Pasargadae and Persepolis , are threatened by the construction of the Sivand dam, and the Mullahs simply don't care, though they claim the water line will be below these cities, which date back to 560 B.C..
In Iraq , history text books teach that the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians were in fact Arabs -- never mind that these civilizationsexisted a good 5600 years before Arabs/Muslims came into Mesopotamia .
In the Middle East it is nearly impossible to separate Islam from Arabs, they are two sides of the same coin. Hence, if you are an Arab, you must surely be a Muslim, and your accomplishments as well. If you are not a Muslim, then you need to be.
In India , over 3500 Hindu temples have been occupied and converted to Mosques, the most famous being the Taj Mahal. In Kosovo, under the auspices of the UN "peace" keeping force, over 600 Serbian churches and monasteries have been occupied or destroyed by the Muslim Kosovars. Kosovo is the most important religious center for the Serbians.
FP: So how about Muslim claims of accomplishment that aren’t real?
BetBasoo: Muslims claim many, many accomplishments we know they had nothing to do with. Arabic numerals? From India . The concept of zero? From Babylonia . Parabolic arches? From Assyria . The much ballyhooed claim of translating the Greek corpus of knowledge into Arabic? It was the Christian Assyrians, who first translated to Syriac, then to Arabic. The first University? Not Al-Azhar in Cairo (988 A.D.), but the School of Nisibis of the Church of the East (350 A.D.), which had three departments: Theology, Philosophy and Medicine. Al-Azhar only teaches Theology.
Speaking of medicine, Muslims will claim that medicine during the Golden Age of Islam, the Abbasid period, was the most advanced in the world. That is correct. But what they don't say is that the medical practitioners were exclusively Christians. The most famous medical family, the Bakhtishu family, Assyrians of the Church of the East, produced seven generations of doctors, who were the official physicians to the Caliphs of Baghdad for nearly 200 years.
There are many more examples, but I think these are enough to make the point.
FP: Why, in your view, does Islam fail in producing scholars and thinkers?
BetBasoo: It is a bold assertion to say that Islam fails in producing thinkers. Yet one is lead to this conclusion by a historical examination of Islamic civilizations. The putative "Golden Age of Islam", the Abbasid period, has been shown to be not the product of Muslims, but of their Christian subjects. In his book How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs, O'Leary's lists 22 scholars and translators during the Golden Age of Islam; 20 were Christians, 1 was a Persian, and 1 was a Muslim. This covers about a 250 year period. This "Golden Age", incidentally, came to an end after the Caliphs had forcefully converted enough Christians to Muslims (through the Jizya) that the Christian numbers fell below the critical threshold needed for sustaining the intellectual enterprise.
Given that this intellectual enterprise during the Abbasid period was the product of Christians, we ask the question: has there ever been an Islamic golden age? There was none during the rule of the Mamluks, who overthrew the Abbasids. Can we say the Ottomans, who followed the Mamluks, ever had a golden age?
In his book Religion of Peace, Robert Spencer has offered a penetrating and incisive analysis of why Islam fails to produce thinkers. His explanation is theological and theoretical. I will summarize it now and then give my own complimentary explanation, which is practical.
According to Robert Spencer, the Muslim god, Allah, is capricious. He is not subject to any laws and can, in fact, change laws arbitrarily without restraint. Quoting the Pope, Spencer says:
“for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”
"the Pope was not so much saying that in the Islamic view Allah would command his people to do evil, but that he might change the content of the concepts of good and evil. In other words, Allah would always enjoin “justice and kindness,” but what constitutes “justice and kindness,” just as what constitutes “innocent blood,” might change."
"He [Allah] was thus not bound to govern the universe according to consistent and observable laws. 'He cannot be questioned concerning what He does'" (Qur’an 21:23 ).
"Accordingly, there was no point to observing the workings of the physical world; there was no reason to expect that any pattern to its workings would be consistent, or even discernable. If Allah could not be counted on to be consistent, why waste time observing the order of things? It could change tomorrow. Stanley Jaki, a Catholic priest and physicist, explains that it was al-Ghazali, the philosopher that the authors of the Open Letter recommend to the Pope, who 'denounced natural laws, the very objective of science, as a blasphemous constraint upon the free will of Allah.' He adds that 'Muslim mystics decried the notion of scientific law (as formulated by Aristotle) as blasphemous and irrational, depriving as it does the Creator of his freedom.' Social scientist Rodney Stark adds that 'it would seem that Islam has a conception of God appropriate to underwrite the rise of science. Not so. Allah is not presented as a lawful creator but is conceived of as an extremely active God who intrudes in the world as he deems it appropriate. This prompted the formation of a major theological bloc within Islam that condemns all efforts to formulate natural laws as blasphemy in that they deny Allah’s freedom to act.'"
Thus there is no incentive for Muslims to pursue rational inquiry, since any results obtained can be invalidated by Allah at his whim.
FP: And Christianity?
BetBasoo: In contrast, Christianity derives from the Bible the notion that God works and is subject to natural and predictable laws, which a rational inquiry into would be a fruitful undertaking. This notion is the fundamental basis of the scientific method, which is a Christian invention.
That is the theological/theoretical explanation of Islam's failure to produce thinkers. There is a practical one as well. Allow me to illustrate it by contrast.
There are two aspects of Christianity that every Christian must contend with. The first is the Trinity, the second is the literary style of the Bible.
In the Trinity there is a Mystery that must be understood. Just exactly who is the Father? Who is the Son? What is the Holy Spirit? How do these relate? How does the Holy Spirit interact with the corporeal? Where does it reside? In the heart? the liver? the brain? Does it exist separate from the human nature in the body (hence the Diophysites -- Roman Catholics, Protestants, Assyrian Church of the East) or is it inseparably fused and intertwined with the human nature in the body (hence the Monophysites -- the Eastern Orthodox Churches)?
The New Testament is written in parables. Seldom is the point of the story expressed directly. The reader is asked to read a parable and figure out what it means. Reading the New Testament requires analysis, it engages the critical thought processes of interpretation and deduction.
The effort at understanding the Mystery of the Trinity and of unraveling the meaning of parables exercises the mind and engages the Christian not only on a spiritual level, but an intellectual level as well. To wit, it teaches a Christian to think.
In contrast, the Koran is written in a prescriptive style. There are no parables. The Muslim is summarily told what to do, most of the time without explanation. The Muslim needs to read just enough to get the prescription. It's like the directions on your drug prescription: take two pills every eight hours. Period. No further explanation.
Thus on a practical level, the act of exercising these religions produces two different thought processes. Christianity asks the believer to think and analyze, to interpret and deduce. Islam asks the believer to obey blindly and without question. Indeed, the Koran says "...follow not that of which you have not the knowledge" (Children of Israel, 17.36).
FP: Peter BetBasoo, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
BetBasoo: Thank you for having me.