Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Crusades, Again

President Obama, like many nowadays, think it’s fair to equate Islamist terrorism with the medieval Crusades. It’s not. From The Federalist:
Western scholars have often characterized this clash of cultures as an Islamic Golden Age versus a European Dark Age, but Stark demolishes this as a myth. He says the best of the Islamic culture was appropriated from the people Muslims conquered—the Greeks, Jews, Persians, Hindus, and even from heretical Christian sects such as the Copts and Nestorians. He quotes E.D. Hunt as writing, “the earliest scientific book in the language of Islam [was a] treatise on medicine by a Syrian Christian priest in Alexandria translated into Arabic by a Persian Jewish physician.” Stark writes that Muslim naval fleets were built by Egyptian shipwrights, manned by Christian crews, and often captained by Italians.  When Baghdad was built, the caliph “entrusted the design of the city to a Zoroastrian and a Jew.” Even the “Arabic” numbering system was Hindu in origin.
And, while it is true that the Arabs embraced the writings of Plato and Aristotle, Stark comments,
However, rather than treat these works as attempts by Greek scholars to answer various questions, Muslin intellectuals quickly read them in the same way they read the Qur’an – as settled truths to be understood without question or contradiction…. Attitudes such as these prevented Islam from taking up where the Greeks had left off in their pursuit of knowledge.
Meanwhile, back in Europe was an explosion of technology that made ordinary people far richer than any people had ever been. It began with the development of collars and harnesses that allowed horses to pull plows and wagons rather than oxen, doubling the speed at which people could till fields. Plows were improved, iron horseshoes invented, wagons given brakes and swivel axels, and larger draft horses were bred. All this along with the new idea of crop rotation led to a massive improvement in agricultural productivity that in turn led to a much healthier, larger, and stronger population.
Technology was also improving warfare with the invention of the crossbow and chain mail. Crossbows were far more accurate and deadly than conventional archery, and could be fired with very little training. Chain mail was almost impervious to the kind of arrows in use throughout the world. Mounted knights were fitted with high-back saddles and stirrups that enabled them to use more force in charging an opponent, and much larger horses were bred as chargers, giving the knights a height advantage over enemies. Better military tactics made European armies much more lethal. Stark writes:
It is axiomatic in military science that cavalry cannot succeed against well-armed and well-disciplined infantry formations unless they greatly outnumber them…. When determined infantry hold their ranks, standing shoulder to shoulder to present a wall of shields from which they project a thicket of long spears butted in the ground, cavalry charges are easily turned away; the horses often rear out of control and refuse to meet the spears.
(Read more.)

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