Islamic Achievements in the Shadow of Eurocentrism: How Islam Paved Europe’s Future and Europe Forgot

The essay below was written as a mid-term assignment for a class I’m doing at MIT. I thought it was worth sharing, so here it is below:

More often than not, it may seem to many as if the world, historically, evolved under the leadership of Europe. As Europe went ‘dormant’ in the Dark Ages, many believe that, with it, History stood still. Certainly this can be witnessed in science and technology as well, where the history of knowledge, invention, and innovation almost consistently begins in Europe with Newton and his local contemporaries. Moving further into the past, one would mainly come across the Ancient Greeks, who, widely, are alone recognized as the “intellectual precursors” to the more recent European intellectuals.

In fact, however, such approach to world history neglects invaluable contributions of the rest of the world in shaping itself. Far East, African, and Islamicate Civilizations all advanced knowledge, culture, and politics, paving the way for the Renaissance, Industrialization, and Global Development.

Consequently, an approach where non European contributions and achievements are downplayed is known as a Eurocentric approach. Eurocentrism stems from ethnocentrism, a perhaps-widespread belief in past eras, where one possessed the belief of preeminence of one’s own culture and civilization over that of the ‘insignificant other’. Eurocentrism, as a prominent and unified belief, started as a response to Europe’s achievements during the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment (Goody, 1995, p. 2), which began in the fifteenth century, and lasted well into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Ethnocentrism in Europe in general, however, saw various significant peaks well before the fifteenth century. The prominent form of Eurocentrism referenced above indeed stems from such beliefs, common in Europe centuries ago. The Church’s doctrine constructed a hierarchy of peoples, where those of Europe would “dwell in the tents of” Asians, while Africans were designated as “servant[s] of servants” (Lockman, 2004, p. 18). Such belief was designated by the Church to be the Word of God, a long-lasting attitude used both to espouse and stimulate conquest of other nations (Lockman, 2004, p. 19), but also invigorating a “culture of dominance” in Europe that persisted until modern colonization periods.

The arrival of Islam to Europe was the first major threat to the established doctrine of The Church, and, as such, was eventually portrayed as a blasphemous religion practiced by infidels. Indeed, Pope Urban II said, in his famous speech that fueled the First Crusades in the eleventh century, that Muslims were an “accursed race […] utterly alienated from God”, and designated them “[God’s] enemies” (Munro, 1895). Such descriptions indicate the beginnings of the development of a distorted view of understanding the Middle East and Islam; such misunderstandings are formed as direct implications of a Eurocentric approach. Accordingly, primary European historical accounts often viewed the Middle East as an inferior region with a backwards and stagnating culture and values. It is a common misunderstanding of Middle East history to deem Europe as the savior of the Middle East and Arabia, exporting values, ideals, and systems, such as capitalism and bureaucracy and ‘modernizing’ the region.

Reality, however, is contrary to such views; the Islamic Civilization realized ground-breaking achievements that, not only shaped World History, but also explains the subsequent Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe. Islamic achievements in thought, philosophy, the scientific method, natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering exported to Europe through trade and conquests constitute the direct foundations of the European intellectual movement. Certainly the Islamic Civilization has contributed heavily to the development of the world, and must be taken into account to understand the global propagation of Human Knowledge historically, and the subsequent evolution of civilization and society. Throughout the rest of this paper, the role of Islam in shaping both the history of Europe and the World’s will be discussed.

Continue reading “Islamic Achievements in the Shadow of Eurocentrism: How Islam Paved Europe’s Future and Europe Forgot”

The Goldstone Report: a Defining Moment in U.S. Foreign Policy?

I’ve been enthusiastic about Barrack Obama since the U.S. elections, and I have always had a good feeling about the type of change we might witness in the rest of the world. Such enthusiasm was rewarded during Obama’s speech to the Muslim world, where it became evident that – according to U.S. claims – the United States intends to become more fair, balanced, and open in their foreign policy. My enthusiasm was rewarded further during Obama’s United Nations speech, and most recently, the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Suddenly, enthusiasm and hope evolved into an expectation of the inevitable: sometime soon, the U.S. will take a big step that changes the dynamics of International Relations within the International Community; I felt it was inevitable that – soon – the U.S. will transform to a “cooperator” in international relations after decades of being a “barrier” that waves that veto banner every time something of substance was about to happen.

Such expectation has come under test in the final few days with the Goldstone Report. Richard Goldstone, a South African Constitutional Court judge, has been appointed to head the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, to investigate the issue of war crimes in the 2008-2009 Gaza War, in particular the issue of War Crimes by Israel against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. You can see my opinion on the Gaza War here.

The Fact Finding Mission concluded that both Israel and Hamas are guilty of war crimes, but with Israel getting the majority of the criticism. According to Goldstone, the report is completely objective and challenged all critics to point out what exactly about the report makes it biased, and to date, no critic responded with a specific complaint about bias.

For me, criticizing the report, (like what Israel has been doing), is similar to having Neo-Nazis say modern accounts of holocaust history are biased because the majority of the crimes they mention are by Nazis; of course they are – because factually, they were responsible for the most crimes! The same applies to Israel in this case: of course Israel is criticized the most in the report for war crimes; they killed 1,417 Palestinians, including 925 civilians, while Hamas was only responsible for killing 13 Israelis, of which 3 are civilians. Who is the offender? Who should be punished more? Jee, I don’t know.

Anyways, also quick to criticize the Goldstone Report, was the U.S., whom criticized the mission for reasons similar in baselessness and content to Israel’s own. The U.S. says the report is harsh towards Israel but provides no evidence on any instance in which the report was factually biased or omitted.

So here’s the deal, the U.S. veto superpower and its close ally Israel are the only two nations who oppose the report. By induction from observations from throughout the last decade, one might expect that it is inevitable that the U.S. will veto any decision regarding holding Israel accountable to the war crimes it has committed (according the UN mission report). Such expectation is reinforced by Israel’s own claimed, who say Hillary Clinton “promised Israel” to veto any decision against Israel that can occur as a consequence of the mission’s findings.

If that is true, then I’ll be disgusted and disappointed. Vetoing a decision that has been adopted by every single other country in the world because shows that the U.S. has not changed its thinking. In other words, a veto against a decision that holds Israel accountable to crimes it committed means that Obama is not serious in caring about “Palestinian children growing up in peace”. It also means that the little girl in Gaza who died on the hands of Israel’s war crimes isn’t worth a change. Most importantly, a veto by the U.S. would mean Israeli war crimes can repeat themselves; it is an unpunishable offense that is acceptable.

Israeli children will grow up in peace, as they always have. Their largest fear will be some image they saw on TV which they have no personal experience with. Israel will continue to grow, and socioeconomic life will be fine as always. If that’s all that the U.S. cares about, then I understand the sentiment behind possibly vetoing holding Israel accountable.

If however, I am correct in my enthusiasm… If the U.S. is really serious about the change… If Barrack Obama’s words about wishing for Palestinian and Israeli children to grow up in peace alike are truly serious… then, they must acknowledge that passing such decision will put an end to social injustice, and Palestinian children will finally begin to have security.

How wonderful a world would it be if all children growing up, across all continents and countries alike, would realize that if any entity is to offend or oppress them, justice will be served eventually.

If the new Administration agrees with such sentiments, then I needn’t worry; justice will be served, the offender will be held accountable.

Netanyahu, Tear Down this Wall!

Israel cannot rely on a right of self‑defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall.  The Court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall and its associated régime are contrary to international law.

International Court of Justice [1]

Why is it so that a structure proclaimed illegal (or in breach of international treaties) by the General Assembly, the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israeli human rights groups continue construction for nearly a decade?

The “Israeli West Bank Barrier” (also known as the “security fence” by the Israelis, and the “segregation wall” by Arabs), has been in existence since the Oslo Accords in 1993. However, such barrier only transformed to be a threat to the very existence of Palestinians after the al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000.image

According to the Israeli story, the logic behind the barrier is obvious: security. The wall is aimed at reducing “Palestinian violence” and protecting citizens of the Israeli states.

That’s all fine and dandy, until we get to one stipulation: the path and structure of the wall is simply irrelevant to security. Instead of having the wall be built on the 1949 Armistice Lines (more commonly known as the Green Line), you will find the wall divergent in multiple areas, continuously annexing land from the Palestinian West Bank, essentially rendering it Israeli de facto.

Continue reading “Netanyahu, Tear Down this Wall!”

More thoughts on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

I have initially wrote when I was applying to universities as a response to one of the questions. I recently went through it and felt it was relevant to share here. Once the actual website is complete, I’ll probably have a copy of this in my ‘writings’ section. For now, here is it:

The Arab-Israeli conflict is a regional issue that has plagued over sixty years of Middle East history; nearly a hundred thousand on both sides died of direct military clashes, more died as a result of occupation and living conditions, hundreds of thousands have been injured, and millions have been deprived of their most basic rights due to this conflict. Living conditions have been deteriorating so rapidly that light and running water have become luxuries.

As an Arab Middle Easterner, it is very easy to get carried away amidst such conflict, to get carried in the current of hate, bigotry, and intolerance. How can I not take sides? How can I – when the status quo has bred such pain and agony to my people?

To be honest, I must take sides, and I do. But what I must not do is lose perspective.

When millions are suffering on both sides, it is my human compassion that wakes me up to remind me that human anguish and distress on either side is unacceptable; this is the perspective that I strive to maintain: no matter how strong my political dedication to one side is, it should never reward, justify, or even belittle the ugliness of human pain on either side of the conflict.

The problem we are currently faced with is that most people have lost that perspective; most people have lost respect to, or even acknowledgement of, the other side’s humanity. Sadly, the sixty years of conflict shaped a generation unwilling to compromise.

Continue reading “More thoughts on the Arab-Israeli Conflict”

Yazan Al Rousan in Autostrad

imageRising Jordanian singer Yazan al Rousan along with a few others have recently launched a new project: a band called Autostrad that aims to somehow ‘revolutionize’ current-day Arab music by incorporating various elements of Rock, Jazz, and even a hint of electronic music in the predominantly “mono-styled” Arab music world.

While I’m a fan of conventional Arab music, I think we should see some more variety in there. I mean, when looking at English (English language) music, we’d see classical, gospel, rock, jazz, blues, rap, hip-hop, etc. but for Arab music there’s just a single genre. Granted, it has some innovative variation within the “Arab genre”, I have not seen any notable Arab musician that represents an actual departure from that Arab genre.

Anyways, with Yazan al Rousan and the newly-formed Autostrad, I think we’ll have a chance to see some of that.

The album is unconventional to say the least, and probably ‘weird to hear’ for many. It’ll confuse you at times and shock you at others, but listen to the whole thing with an open mind and ear, and you’ll be impressed.

Refreshing is all I can say.

Here is some relevant information:

And here’s the track list (along with a short commentary):

  1. Safer (سافر), probably my favorite song in the album. Adopting a highly melodious and enjoyable rhythm, and sung with a traditional bedoin accent, Safer succeeds in portraying a melancholic voice and perhaps imposing a similar mood on the listener.
  2. Mirsal (مرسال), This is a remake of a song of the same name. While I still must say I prefer the original, this again is an excellent track.
  3. Kil Shi Jutabel (كل شي جوتابل) is a typical example of the band’s “interesting” music style. Nothing exceptional in the song as a musical composition, but why did I find myself listening to it 4 times in a row trying to extract some meaning out of it? Such hard-to-understand yet seemingly enlightening lyrics style seems to spread across the album.
  4. Fikrak (فكرك)
  5. Asmar (أسمر)
  6. Habseh w Lamseh (حبسة ولمسة) perhaps one of the most energetic and enjoyable songs by Autostrad. Excuse the ‘references’ throughout the song though!
  7. Kanabaye (كنباي), an indeed humorous song recorded live to capture the response of the audience (who, at times, laughed their a**es off). Seemingly nonsensical and comic, I’m told the song has some meaning… I’m yet to find any though!
  8. Mafi Ishi Nsawi (مافي إشي نساوي)
  9. Alf Tahiyyeh (ألف تحية), the only thing I can say for this song is that it’s heart warming!
  10. Ya Salam (يا سلام), Yazan al Rousan (and now Autostrad)’s perhaps more popular song. Very active, high spirited, and unusually happy, the song presents the idea that one must live his/her life regardless of whatever else they might face. I like.

If you’re a Jordanian, you can go grab the Album. Some information should appear on the Facebook page linked above.

For others, you can check samples from their debut album as well as other songs on that very same facebook page.

And for anyone who doesn’t believe in Facebook… there you go <_< .

Conflict in Gaza

As if an anti-humanitarian siege wasn’t enough, our peaceful neighbors have done it again, this time with a full-fledged war against the (people?) of the Gaza strip.

Israel – as any sovereign entity – has the right to exist, granted. Israel – as any other nation – has the right to defend itself, again: granted. But these two statements cannot justify an entire military operation with the magnitude of what is going on now, because they are irrelevant.

Is Hamas’s decision to fire al-Qassam rockets at southern Israel wrong? Sure it is. Does Israel have the right to defend itself from ‘attacks’? Yes it does. But: how can THIS be seen as a self-defense act?

From the ‘hundreds’ of Qassam rockets fired at Israel, only 3 Israeli civilians died. My deepest condolences to their families, really. But how can the death of 3 prompt a massacre being launched against Gaza? How can the death of 3 citizens justify the death of 915 from Gaza? Why is Palestinian blood being considered that cheap? Its normal for a government to value the lives of its citizens, but when 3 civilian lives are valued more than nine-hundred-something (and still rising) lives on the other side, something is unjust.

Israel isn’t attacking Hamas, its attacking the people of Gaza. Maybe it doesn’t mean to attack them – but the bottom line is: the people of Gaza are the ones suffering, so what is the point really?

Israel is breaking the Fourth Geneva Convention, which it ratified, because its military actions and hostilities are collective measures that fail to distinguish between civilians and militias (the “hostile entities”).

The head of the UNRWA in Gaza made an emotional televised appeal yesterday, I recommend you search for it.

And here’s a nice statistic: for every Israeli that dies (that is, including members of the Army), 71 Palestinians are killed by the Israeli forces in the Gaza conflict. When taking the entire Arab-Israeli conflict into consideration, Ehud Olmert states that – in 2008 – for every Israeli killed by Palestinians, 25 Palestinians were killed by Israel. TAKE THAT, Human Rights!

So who am I really?

Before I can start blogging heavily (which I plan to), I think I need to talk a bit about myself, to sort-of formally introduce myself to everyone.

My name is Eyas Sharaiha and I’m a Jordanian Year 12 IB student, software and web developer, online magazine editor, and tech enthusiast. I’m interested in technology, software development, politics (especially affairs of the region), physics, standup comedy, and music.

During the past several years or so, I’ve had a wide range of intended careers and perceived futures, ranging between a lawyer, educator, inventor, king, physicist, president (yes I can), and finally the most recent: Computer Engineer!

2008 was my nerve-wrecking college application year, and 2009 is my even-more-nerve-wrecking college decisions year.. so, I might have chosen a rather critical time to start (actively) blogging, but I believe this will make things more interesting 🙂 .

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be going into most of my interests, in an effort to introduce myself in a more complete manner and share my opinions on some recent events.

Adieu for now, you’ll be seeing me soon!