Why Civilizations Rise and Fall?
August 27, 2011
Persian Homa Column top (Achaemenid Persian Empire Era)
“Why Civilizations Rise and Fall” is the subject of an essay written by Timur Kuran in the January/February 2011 issue of “Foreign Affairs” magazine.
It is an interesting essay and Mr. Kuran has discussed this issue in general terms, mostly in term of West vs. the East.
That essay has inspired me to express my opinion regarding the most disastrous fall of the Persian Empire in the 7th century A.D.
Iran has experienced several rises and falls, however the last fall was due to the Islamic invasion of the 7th century. Iran has not recovered since.
Mr. Kuran writes; “In the Middle Ages, The Middle East was at the forefront of optics, metallurgy, and mathematics. Its largest cities, libraries, and marketplaces dwarfed those in Europe. Subsequently, over the next half millennium, The Middle East slipped behind Europe in many realms, including science and medicine, finance and business, and literacy and living standards.
In my opinion the reason behind the inability of the East to recover from the last fall and why Europe could rise is because, beginning in the 14th century A.D, religious fundamentalism started subsiding in Europe.
As a result Europe started catching up to the East in the 17th century, and eventually surpassing the Eastern World by the early 18th century and the gap is continuing to widen in perpetuity.
In The Middle East, prior to the emergence of Islam, even though all societies believed in various religions, secularism was a lot more prevalent.
Most religions, such as Zoroastrianism, did not interfere in people’s day to day personal and business lives. Religions intended for moral guidance rather than unchangeable, eternal laws, where “one set of laws fits for all regions of the Islamic world and for eternal time.”
For example, in pre Islam Zoroastrian societies, there was freedom of decision making. People were able to make business and personal decisions without religious interference or restrictions.
When relying on one’s own knowledge, decision making induces thinking. Freedom of thought in turn will result in the flow of innovation, invention and ultimately social advancement.
The emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East with its principal of “submission” to religious laws and ideologies, applied a “chokehold” on science, innovation, and freedom of commerce, due to its restrictive business laws.
Most significantly, like in Christianity, the suppression of human curiosity of the natural world has suppressed the power of thinking of the faithful which in turn prevented the exploration and understanding of the natural world that we live in.
The related motto in Islamic teaching is; “Everything that a human needs to know is written in the Koran”.
Both, in Islam and Christianity, knowledge is kept strictly for god and humans must rely on god’s knowledge and obey (or submit in Islam).
While the Middle East fell into the black-hole of Islamic fundamentalism in the 7th century, Europe likewise fell into the black-hole of the fundamentalist Catholic Church. This Catholic fundamentalism was instituted by the Eastern Roman emperor Constantine, who was a successor to the fallen Western Roman Empire.
Consequently, Europe suffered the same disadvantages that the Middle East was suffering from. As a result, in both Eastern and Western societies, scientific and technological advancement came to a halt to the point that the Golden and Bronze Ages of the B.C. millennia were replaced by a Dark-Age in the second half of the first millennium A.D. and most of the second millennium.
Since Islam was forced upon the people of the Middle East via the edge of the sword, and held its power for more than 1,300 years, and which still exists in Iran and elsewhere, it was and remains difficult for its subjects to crawl out of the resulting black-hole.
By contrast, in 14th century Europe, a cultural transformation known as the Renaissance began in Italy, rising against the strict religious practices of the powerful Catholic Church, through literature and arts.
Severe poverty in the 13th through 16th centuries in Europe, along with the insensitivity and lavish spending of the Catholic Church, caused the emergence of Martin Luther in the early 16th century. His emergence created the religious revolution of Protestantism which severely weakened the power of the Catholic Church and commenced the third phase of an even more rigorous Renaissance, which consequently promoted secularism throughout Europe.
Beginning in the 13th century, artists and intellectuals revolted against religious fundamentalism through arts and literature. This paved the way for the religious revolution of the16th century and scientific advancements in the 17th century, which resulted in the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.
As a result of the aforementioned evolution, starting in the mid-18th century, the West leapt forward, left the East behind and has not looked back since.
Along with the scientific and industrial revolutions, the West created a new form of government based on checks and balance with a fair judicial system that protects the rights of individuals and businesses. These changes created a foundation for the building of a new type of economic infrastructure and a modern system of business management in the 19th and 20th centuries.
While European countries, beginning in 16th century, were able to gradually but steadily pull themselves out of the black-hole of religious fanaticism, the East, including India and China, continued struggling with their religious fanaticism.
During the late Han dynasty in 2nd century A.D. Buddhism was exported from India into China. By the sixth century Buddhism became a major religion in China.
During the reign of Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) China fell into Buddhist fanaticism. After Kublai Khan conquered all of China in the late 13th century, he adapted Buddhism and awarded absolute freedom and power to Buddhist lamas.
Within a few decades the lamas started abusing their newly acquired power to the point where they would invade people’s homes, raping the women, and looting the house. If the husband or the victim would resist, they would both be killed.
Rene Grousset, an early 20th Century professor of history in France, in the book “The Empire of the Steppes and History of Central Asia”, writes: “after a few decades the situation in China got so bad that when villagers would detect monks approaching, before fleeing from their house, the villagers would put all of their belongings in the middle of the room in a visible spot so the lamas would not destroy their house out of anger.”
Professor Grousset believes that the abuse of power by the lamas, if not the main cause of the downfall of the Mongols in China, was a contributing factor to their end.
As it can be seen, all religions can be abusive and brutal when they acquire power. This is in addition to its built-in animosity toward science and technology.
Russia fell behind as well until the Bolshevik revolution of the early 20th century and the emergence of Communism, which abolished religious freedom in the Soviet Union all together. Even though the Communist form of government has proven itself to be unsustainable, its policy of neutralizing the influence of religion proved to be a correct one that resulted in much progress.
Paul Kennedy, a professor of Economics and History at major universities in England and North America, including Yale, writes in his book “The Rise and Fall of The Great Powers”:
“In around 1,500 A.D. it was by no means obvious to the inhabitants of Europe that their continent was poised to dominate much of the rest of the earth. Placed alongside these other great centers of cultural and economic activities (China and India), Europe’s relative weaknesses were more apparent than its strengths.
In one example, the table bellow shows
The relative share of world manufacturing output;
1750 1800 1830 1860 1880 1900
- Europe as a whole: 23.20 28.10 34.20 53.20 61.30 62.00
- Third world countries: 73.0 67.70 60.50 36.60 20.90 11.00
“For a start, Europe was neither the most fertile nor populous area in the world; India and China took pride of place in each respect. “True that Chinese civilization had been subject to severe disruption from the Mongol hordes, and domination after the invasions of Kublai Khan, but China had a habit of changing its conquerors much more it was changed by them”.
With respect to the disruptions the Chinese civilization suffered through multiple invasions, a parallel comparison can be made in the case of Iran.
Iran was invaded by the barbaric Arabs in 634 A.D., which left the country without any security forces. That in turn invited multiple invasions by different tribes of nomadic Turks, Mongols, and Turkmens.
Like with China, Iran, with its rich culture, melted the culturally inferior invaders into its society. These invaders learned the Persian language, appreciated Iranian art and poetry and assumed Persian names. A few of those who become kings, pride themselves with the title of “Shah”.
Timur Lang, a nomadic Turk, on one hand used to massacre Iranians, sometimes for no reason at all (even the infants), yet on the other hand he learned Persian, pretended that he enjoyed Persian poetry, and named his son “Shahrokh”.
Timur massacred innocent people by the thousands and ordered the creation of towers made from the heads of his victims. He did this not because he was prejudice against Iranians, but to satisfy his barbaric nature and acquire the reputation of being more brutal than Genghis Khan, whom he idolized as his hero.
Can one fathom that today there are numerous Iranians who named their children Genghis, Timur or have the last names of Timury, Changizy, Escandary, Shaybany, etc. (Shayban was the grandson of Genghis via his eldest son Chuchi).
All historians put these murderers in line with Hitler. Does anyone know if even one single Jew has named his son Hitler? Even non-Jewish Germans avoid that name. What is wrong with us, the Iranians?!
Is it the keeping of these names, which our parents gave us, due to stubbornness or is it due to ignorance? Perhaps it is for the same reason that a great majority of us remained Muslim without doing any research.
I can relate to, but will never understand, the people of Iran choosing Arabic names. Those who are educated may claim that they have accepted Islam based on their own research not because they inherited the beliefs from their parents.
For the last few decades Islam has shown its true face and its backwards and inhumane ideologies through the Islamic regime of Iran, and even more clearly through the Taliban of Afghanistan and the Arab movement of Alghaedeh (Al Qaeda).
In my opinion, Muslim Iranians stay Muslim not because Islam is good, but for reasons such as; indifference, laziness with regard to research, stubbornness, following the parent’s footsteps, etc. But by doing so, they must consider what an awkward position they are putting their children in.
In conclusion; in my opinion all religions hold progress back. In Europe, when Rome adopted Christianity in the 4th century A.D. and the Catholic Church came to power, it was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire’s glorious days and the beginning of Europe’s Dark-Age.
In the East, when barbaric tribes of Arabs forced Islam upon the advanced nations of Iran, India and others in the early 7th century A.D., the cradle of human civilization met its end.
Most religious leaders argue that religion brought morality and values to humanity. I strongly disagree with that notion.
As far as morality is concerned; as I demonstrated above, even the Buddhists, whose principal belief is disinterest in the material world, were committing rape and murder when they had the power to do so.
The brutal and misbehaving Islamic regime of Mullahs in Iran, the barbaric acts being committed by the Taliban of Afghanistan, the sexual misbehavior of Catholic priests all over the world, and the subsequent cover-up by the highest authority of the Catholic Church, have all shown a complete lack of morality in all religions. In other word, none of these religions could keep even their own leaders moral, never mind the general population.
As far as values are concerned; values have evolved by human culture through good and bad experiences in day to day life.
Religious leaders did not originate the concept of values but, during different periods in history they capitalized on already existing values and subsequently tried to promote the concept, unsuccessfully, due to their inferior policy of “reward and punishment”.
The reward and punishment principle, which exists in all Abrahamic religions, does not produce true goodness in people. It only purchases good behaviors and sets fines for bad behaviors.
If a person of religion does something good for others, it is not indicative of being a good person, but he is simply a salesman of “good deed” who is expecting a reward, either in this world or in the “next” world that they made him to believe it exists.
A good person is one who renders goodness to others because it is the right thing to do and not expecting any reward for it. This is the real and genuine goodness that religion cannot and does not deliver.
In short, religions have failed in their claims that they can create a better society for humanity.
For example, America is the most religious country in the industrialized world, with elaborate, expensive churches, and great wealth and resources yet it has the most violent citizens with the largest per capita population of prisoners, who are Christian by majority.
Also, America has the highest number of homeless people who are not allowed to get even close to these elaborate church buildings. In my opinion, this is a travesty of morality and values.
All religions, besides being major obstacles to progress, have been the source of divisiveness among humans. Countless numbers of religious wars, with countless numbers of human losses and displacement in human history, have brought nothing but tragedy and misery.
Religion is easy to sell to naïve and weak-minded people because it promises eternal life and provides a shoulder to cry on. Intelligent and strong-minded people do not need religion to be good.
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