Wednesday, July 04, 2007

When Did PC MC Begin? Third Case Study

Today’s essay deals with a third scholar I found from the dusty archives of academic history: Edward E. Salisbury (1814-1901), in the year of 1849 writing introductory editorial notes to a translation of an early history of the Arab conquest of Persia in approximately the mid-7th century A.D., written by an august Muslim chronicler, Al-Tabari (838-923 A.D.), translated from the Turkish by John P. Brown, Esq., Dragoman of the United States Legation at Constantinople, published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (Vol. 1, No. 4, 1849). (For some reason I do not know, Salisbury spells the name of the Muslim historian as Et-Tabary”.)

The previous two scholars I analyzed who seemed infected by “proto-PC MC” dated from 1963, and 1917.

Now, from what I have gathered, Edward E. Salisbury was not a minor figure in the rise of early Western Orientialism: according to one study, Salisbury, a Yale scholar, was credited with the “creation of secular oriental studies in America. . .”. He was “destined to become America’s first university professor of Arabic and Sanskrit.” And, after helping to found the journal noted above, he became president of the Society which governed the journal in 1863 and “was an active member for nearly sixty years.”

Let us get right to the PC MC meat, shall we? Here is Salisbury, in his introductory remarks about the translation of Al-Tabari’s text on the conquest of the Persian Empire by the Muslims—specifically with reference to the Islamic ruler, or Caliph, who reigned at the time of the invasion of Persia, the great Caliph Umar (518-644 A.D., ruler for the last ten years of his life), the second Caliph after Mohammed’s death in 632 A.D.:

It may be questioned, to whom islamism is most indebted for its conquests, whether to Mohammed who devised it, or to the Khalifeh ‘Omar [also spelled Caliph Umar] who, by his well-directed and triumphant arms, spread it over Syria, Persia, a part of Georgia and Egypt. For frugality of living, for humility of spirit, and greatness of mind, for profound reflection, discretion, and prudence, for sharpness of intellect, and for mature thought, the history of Et-Tabary shows that ‘Omar has had but few equals. One is also struck with the excellence of the policy which governed him through his whole reign, that most important period for the successors of the prophet, and with the great talents which he showed in directing the movements of his distant and numerous armies. It does not appear, from Et-Tabary’s narrative, that ‘Omar treated the vanquished with cruelty. They were never compelled to adopt his religion, if the case of Hormuzan is not an exception. Two conditions of peace were generally offered, namely, to become Muslims and be equals, or to retain their own faith and be tributary to the khalifate; and ‘Omar was at last assassinated by Firuz, a fire-worshipper from Persia, who, although a slave, enjoyed the free profession of his own religion in Mekkeh.

Aside from Salisbury’s indiscriminately gushing admiration for Caliph Umar as a person and ruler (which tends to gag the mouth of the reader), there is his description of the conditions forced upon the peoples whom the Muslims conquered. In Salisbury’s description, there were only two conditions imposed upon the vanquished (or upon those whom the Muslims expected to be vanquished soon): “Two conditions of peace were generally offered, namely, to become Muslims and be equals, or to retain their own faith and be tributary to the khalifate...”

But the very text itself of whose translation this great and learned Orientalist—who should know better—is serving as editor, vitiates his description.

First of all, let us note what Al-Tabari tells us about the framework for “conditions” to be imposed upon the Persians:

. . .the country [Persia] was in a feeble condition, and enemies surrounded it on all sides. The Khalifeh ‘Omar Ibn El-Khattab sent troops to Medain, and made open war against the [Persian] kingdom.

I.e., the Muslims under Caliph Umar saw that Persia was weak enough to be attacked with some chance of success, so they invaded Persia: it was an offensive attack with the aim to conquer Persia. This alone puts any “conditions” imposed upon the victims of the Muslim invasions in a morally bankrupt light.

The stage for such Islamic “conditions” is set by
Al-Tabari’s reproduction of Mohammed’s threatening letter he sent to the ruler of Persia in his time, Parwiz (also known as Chosroes, 591-628 A.D.):

In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate. From Mohammed, the prophet of Allah, to Parwiz son of Hormuz, etc. As for me, I render praise to Allah, beside whom there is no God, the Living, the Eternal, who has sent me with the truth, as a messenger of glad tidings and a bearer of warning to those who are overcome by madness and whose reason has been carried away. He whom Allah directs cannot be led astray, and he whom Allah leads astray has no one to direct him. Assuredly Allah sees His servants, He has not His like [i.e., there is nothing like Him], and He also hears as well as sees. So then, embrace the faith of islamism and thou shalt be saved from being punished by Allah.

I.e., the reason why Muslims attacked Persia was to spread Islam, and Mohammed “invited” the Persian Emperor to convert to Islam, or be attacked. There is nothing in Mohammed’s letter to the Persian Emperor corresponding accurately with Salisbury’s description—i.e., convert to Islam or to “retain their own faith and be tributary to the khalifate. . .” Or, we should say, Salisbury is outrageously finessing what the alternative was to those who refused to convert to Islam: Salisbury is ignoring the little business of waging offensive war, killing people and ravaging the countryside with booty-looting, destruction and disorder as the precondition for rejecters of Islam becoming a “tributary”.

The translator of
Al-Tabari, John P. Brown, comments:

“Et-Tabary adds, that Parwiz, on the receipt of [Mohammed’s] letter, enraged at the presumption of the writer. . . tore it to pieces, and ordered the governor of Yemen. . . to take troops and march in quest of the writer, and to send him to him a prisoner.” (445)

Robert Spencer, in an old
article, writes what that great Orientalist, Salisbury, should have added to his own commentary:

“After reading the letter of the Prophet of Islam, Chosroes [i.e., Persian Emperor Parwiz] contemptuously tore it to pieces. When news of this reached Muhammad, he called upon Allah to tear the Persian emperor and his followers to pieces (
Bukhari, 5.59.708).”

Parwiz died shortly thereafter, and seven more rulers (some with very short reigns) succeeded him, over a period of a few years, before Yezdejird III ascended the Persian throne—the Persian ruler fated to be overthrown by Caliph Umar and the Muslims who conquered Persia after many months of battles (643-644 A.D.)

Spencer also informs us that slightly before his letter to the Persian Emperor, Muhammad had written to Heraclius, the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople:

Now then, I invite you to Islam (i.e., surrender to Allah), embrace Islam and you will be safe; embrace Islam and Allah will bestow on you a double reward. But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants (i.e., your nation). [
Bukhari, 4.52.191].

Spencer remarks:

“Heraclius did not accept Islam, and soon the Byzantines would know well that the warriors of jihad indeed granted no safety to those who rejected their ‘invitation.’ ”

Mohammed told his followers that they would conquer both empires:

When Khosrau [Chosroes] perishes, there will be no (more) Khosrau after him, and when Caesar [i.e., the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium] perishes, there will be no more Caesar after him. By Him in Whose hands Muhammad’s life is, you will spend the treasures of both of them in Allah’s Cause. [
Bukhari 4.53.349].

With the above background, we are now ready to examine the key text from
Al-Tabari which we said definitively vitiates Salisbury’s whitewashed version of the traditional ultimatum which Muslim conquerors deliver to their prey. The immediate context is the military commander under Caliph Umar—the Muslim leader that Salisbury admired so much—Sa’ad Ibn Abu Wakkas, whom Caliph Umar elevated to Commander-in-Chief. Sa’ad and his Muslim army, poised to take the Persians, first sent an embassy to the Persian Emperor, Yezdejird. The spokesman for the Muslim embassy, Nu’man, said to Yezdejird:

We were a people in darkness, when the Most High sent us a prophet. . . who drew us out of the darkness of infidelity into the pure light of islamism. That prophet—on whom be the Divine benediction and peace!—has now left the world, and given us a testament in which he commands us, saying: make war with them who leave your religion, until they return to it, or pay you a capitation-tax as tributaries. Being now engaged in this work, we have come to you; if you receive our religion, we will retire; if not, then pay us that tax; but if you refuse both offers, then prepare for battle.

There are two details interesting about this ultimatum, but first things first. Caliph Umar’s delegate, Sa’ad, clearly gives the Persian Emperor three choices, not merely two—with the third choice being, in effect, “if you don’t choose either of the first two, then we will fight and kill you”. And that is the traditional Islamic ultimatum. And it is that third choice that puts to shame Salisbury’s saccharine admiration for Caliph Umar’s tolerance, and for how it “does not appear. . . that ‘Omar treated the vanquished with cruelty. They were never compelled to adopt his religion. . .”

Why would such an eminent scholar of Orientalism like Salisbury whitewash the clearly brazen—and unremarkably normative—Islamic imperialism of Caliph Umar? Perhaps even as far back as 1849, there were PC MC currents already beginning to take effect, and Salisbury was one of the few to have succumbed to it, at least in part. (It is noteworthy that in the same issue of the journal in which this article editorialized by Salisbury appeared, there is an article about present-day (i.e., in the middle of the 19th century) medicine in Islamic Syria, and that article is delightfully incorrect, with the author making no bones about how ignorant and superstitious the Muslims are with respect to medicine, and locating much of their backwardness in their religion—a kind of article that could not possibly appear in any scholarly journal in the West in our day.)

One possible clue to explain Salisbury’s proto-PC MC tendency might lie in the fact that he was deeply schooled in German Orientalism. Benjamin R. Foster (Professor of Assyriology, Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Yale), in a monograph entitled
Yale and the Study of Near Eastern Languages in America, 1770-1930, states that the difference between “American Orientalism and German Orientalism in the 19th century was that Americans were convinced of the superiority of their culture, morality, and way of life over all others, including those of Europe and the Near East, but this attitude had little impact on contemporaneous oriental philology, which tended, on the German model, to be universalist and secular in character.” By “universalist”, we can safely assume that Foster—himself infected by PC MC, perhaps—means “multiculturalist”: which is, naturally, superior to the idea, under which the “Americans” labored, of being convinced of one’s own culture, morality and way of life being superior to obviously regressive non-Western cultures.

And, on this point, it is perhaps not coincidental that the other proto-PC MC scholar I analyzed in my first case study, T.W. Arnold writing in 1917, wrote:

“But there is still a certain amount of literature on Islam in the English language that is vitiated by the influence of an active clerical intolerance. This is not the way in which a Dutch, a French, a German, or an Italian scholar writes, and we in this country [Great Britain] are singularly unfortunate in the meagre supply of good books on the subject of Muhammad and his faith, and the Muhammadan world generally; even in a great series like that of the Hibbert Lectures, avowedly devoted to the sympathetic exposition of the various religions of the world, Islam is the only one that receives intolerant and harsh treatment.”

Later, Arnold adds:

“. . .one of the many problems that will face us after the war [World War I] is over will be the relations of the powers of Europe to the Muhammadan world. Germany will certainly not neglect it, and she does not look to her clergy for enlightenment as to the spirit and meaning of Islam. Her scholars arouse interest in Islam and spread knowledge by a ceaseless stream of publications.”

So, who knows: it is possible that the 18th and 19th century German climate of intellectual thought began to lay the seeds or roots of the PC MC mindset with regard to non-Western cultures, which took a long time to percolate, grow, and finally to become dominant and mainstream in the middle of the 20th century throughout the West, as it remains to this day. Of course, we should not blame only the Germans for this: a good deal of the nonsense about the Noble Savage and the romanticization of non-Western cultures also seemed to have popped up here and there in 17th and 18th century France, and I have analyzed some of its apparent roots in the 16th century French thinker, Montaigne.
And, as Arnold implies, there seemed to be currents of it in 19th-century Dutch and Italian scholarship as well—for if the proto-PC MC Arnold approved of them, one can reasonably suspect them of reflecting his proto-PC MC inclinations. Perhaps proto-PC MC was a Continental phenomenon, beginning in the 17th century, with Great Britain and North America socioculturally resisting it for a long time until they too finally succumbed in the mid-20th century. But these are just conjectures, whose analytical amplification could be an excellent subject for some young Ph.D. candidate’s dissertation in the field of the history of ideas—assuming that he or she could find any professor in our thoroughly PC MC time receptive enough to serve as mentor and guide.

The other interesting thing about that Islamic ultimatum as quoted above was the premise, as understood by the Muslim military commander Sa’ad to be deriving straight from Mohammed, that Muslims are to wage war on Infidels because they have left Islam! I.e., Infidels are not seen as purely Infidels, but effectively as apostates from Islam—congenital apostates, so to speak—, since all peoples of the world, according to Islam, are born Muslims, and therefore all who do not grow up following Islam must be considered to have left it—and, ipso facto, should be conquered by Muslims and killed if they resist.

And this autonomous region—i.e., Persia—that the Muslims decided to conquer, while certainly not perfect, and while riddled with political and moral problems (as most ancient empires were, to one degree or another), had for the most part settled into an ecumenical equilibrium with neighboring empires and societies, as even the editorial notes of Salisbury imply:

“. . .during the supremacy of these princes [the Sasanid Dynasty], Persia sustained important relations to kingdoms westward, especially to the Empire of Constantinople, and to the principalities of Arabia before the time of Muhammed.”

I have yet to investigate E. E. Salisbury’s writings further, but one quote of his may be revealing:

“The countries of the West, including our own, have been largely indebted to the East for their various cultures; the time has come when this debt should be repaid.”

As is the fact that, according to the monograph by Foster linked above:

“In 1852 [Salisbury] established contact with the newly founded Syrian Academy of Sciences, at that time based in Beirut, with a view to enhancing educational opportunities in the Ottoman Empire and to improving American understanding of contemporary Syria.”

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