The Great Cities of the Muslim World, and Their Decline

March 3 2021

In Islamic Empires: Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization, Justin Marozzi describes some of the great urban centers of the Middle East at their respective zeniths, reminding us of a time when they were larger, wealthier, and more sophisticated than anything Europe had to offer. Barnaby Crowcroft writes in his review:

If the book has an overriding argument, it is that great cities can be built and administered only by civilizations that have mastered ideas of good governance, which necessarily includes commitments to tolerance, cultural and economic openness, and cosmopolitanism.

This formula was as much about economic necessity as about ideological preference. For a large stretch of Marozzi’s story, Muslim rulers headed large multiethnic empires which stood at the center of global networks of trade. Too much sectarian strife would have destroyed their prosperity. Thus caliphs, sultans, and emirs from North Africa to Central Asia can be found undertaking what, even today, seem like remarkable acts of broadmindedness, such as subsidizing the construction of churches or synagogues in their capitals or making high-skilled minority communities feel at home.

Still, the caliphs of Baghdad’s 9th-century “golden age” remain in a league of their own. Marozzi’s portraits of the Abbasid rulers include an amateur scholar of Hebrew and Jewish law and another so dedicated to the recovery of Greek and Roman learning that he personally oversaw experiments designed to test classical scientific theories. These figures present a sorry contrast with the fate of Baghdad and its aspiring caliphs in the present day. [Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph], Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, . . . was as a grim personification of the kind of cultural suicide that has engulfed large, historic parts of the modern Middle East.

What strikes Marozzi is not just that once-great cities have declined, but that so many of them today actively repudiate the same qualities he holds responsible for their past greatness. Self-confident engagement with the world has been replaced with suspicion and populist hostility. . . . You can travel all over the region without finding an unexpunged edition of the great Persian poets Rumi and Hafez; yet a few years ago, one could find Henry Ford’s The International Jew in an airport bookstore in one of its major international hubs.

Several of the cities Marozzi describes—including Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba—were also once flourishing centers of Jewish civilization, with prosperous communities that produced enduring works of scholarship.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at City Journal

More about: Baghdad, ISIS, Jewish-Muslim Relations, Middle East, Tolerance

 

The Significance of Mahmoud Abbas’s Holocaust Denial

Aug. 19 2022

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, during an official visit to Berlin, gave a joint press conference with the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, where he was asked by a journalist if he would apologize for the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (The relationship between the group that carried out the massacre and Abbas’s Fatah party remains murky.) Abbas instead responded by ranting about the “50 Holocausts” perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Stephen Pollard comments:

Scholz’s response to that? He shook Abbas’s hand and ended the press conference.

Reading yet another column pointing out that Scholz is a dunderhead isn’t, I grant you, the most useful of ways to spend an August afternoon, so let’s leave the German chancellor there, save to say that he eventually issued a statement hours later, after an eruption of fury from his fellow countrymen, saying that “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For us Germans in particular, any trivialization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.” Which only goes to show that late is actually no better than never.

The real issue, in Pollard’s view, is the West’s willful blindness about Abbas, who wrote a doctoral thesis at a Soviet university blaming “Zionists” for the Holocaust and claiming that a mere million Jews were killed by the Nazis—notions he has reiterated publicly as recently as 2013.

On Wednesday, [Abbas] “clarified” his remarks in Berlin, saying that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.” Credulous fools have again ignored what Abbas actually means by that.

It’s time we stopped projecting what we want Abbas to be and focused on what he actually is, using his own words. In a speech in 2018 he informed us that Israel is a “colonialist project that had nothing to do with Judaism”—to such an extent that European Jews chose to stay in their homes and be murdered rather than live in Palestine. Do I have to point out the moral degeneracy of such a proposition? It would seem so, given the persistent refusal of so many to take Abbas for what he actually is.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Anti-Semitism, Germany, Holocaust denial, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority