An interview with David Levering Lewis about his book God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215
Q: Was Europe, in a sense, created by Islam as much as by Christianity?
A: Cautiously I would say yes, and that's what I wanted to emphasize. The Renaissance is profoundly indebted to what I call the conveyor belt of knowledge coming out of Toledo. We would all applaud that, the maintenance and enrichment of the knowledge of Plato and Aristotle, the science of the academy of Athens, the Hindu [mathematics]. In the negative sense, Islam also becomes the template against which Europe compares itself, fights, profits. Finally, the kind of theocracy that emerges in Europe is directly a consequence of Charles Martel's victory over Islam at the Battle of Poitiers in 732.
Q: What if that battle had gone differently?
A: I honestly am impartial about this, but I think the following argument is a fair one based on what happened elsewhere: That if the heartland of what becomes Europe had been incorporated in the Islamic empire, then it would have profited from the commercial, economic, technological, cultural levels of achievement of the Muslims. Europe would have been spared three or four centuries of its laborious, fratricidal, and economically retarded development. Muslim victory would have also meant that the historian Edward Gibbon would have been right when he wrote that "the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford." Well, so what? The wars of religion are right around the corner in Europe, so there you are.
Q: What do you think will most surprise the general reader here?
A: That's always dicey. I tried not to overdo the period of pluralistic collaboration, but it is real. . . . What may also surprise readers is the way in which Charlemagne transformed the Christian faith into a holy war, which, unlike the Muslim jihad, was totally intolerant. In the Islamic empire, much like the Roman empire, as long as you paid your taxes you were pretty much left alone. But with the Carolingians, the Europeans, the Franks, that is not an option. So otherness becomes embedded in European culture in a way that never obtained in Islam and perhaps only today is beginning to be characteristic of that faith.
Source: The Boston Globe (English)