If the Muslims would have won

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)

See also: Bernard Lewis: Europe to blame for Muslim authoritarianism, Book Review: The Muslim Discovery of Europe


Anonymous said...

I guess this is cultural relativism at it's best, showing a total and absolute disregard for any objective values.

I really can not have any empathy with people like him. How is it possible that kind of people close their eyes for the obvious fact about the Islamic world? Don’t they see, the Islamic world is a stagnated static totalitarian mess?

To me it’s just mind boggling if people don’t think it a blessing that we are no part of that world.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with ferdy.

And this David Levering Lewis, is he friend/relative to the other Lewis, the old Bernard Lewis??

It looks like they're saying the same thing.
One was enough.

Esther said...

Hi Ferdy and Nordest,

In the period Lewis is looking at, minorities had it much easier in the Muslim world, and indeed Europe should probably be indebted to the 'conveyor belt of knowledge'. It saved the knowledge Europe lost in the dark ages.

I don't accept that 'otherness' is not endemic to Islam. It was so ingrained that Muslims had trouble differentiating between the different European states (which were all 'the other'). On the other hand, they did not differentiate between their own states (which were all 'Muslim').

It is an interesting point, what would have happened if Europe would have been conquered by Muslims at that early stage. Would the Americas even have been discovered in such a case? Maybe the big winners would have been the Native-Americans.

What stage would the whole world be in if there would have been no Western Enlightenment and Renaissance, on the one hand, and no imperial conquests, on the other?

VinceP1974 said...

This guy is deluded. What does he think. that Europe would have been Europe but just with a different book?

What a most shallow analysis by him.

Anonymous said...

If there had been an Islamic victory we would still be living in the middle ages. Society would not have progressed. There would have been no Renaissance because that was a rediscover of greek arts & literature which in islam would be the work of the kafir. There would have been no Reformation because the Koran is the literal word of god and that cannot be reformed.
We would still believe the earth is flat because that is what the koran says and that is what the supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdel-Aziz ibn Baaz said in 1993 when he issued a fatwa declaring that the world is flat

Anonymous said...


I see you’re still strugling with the Marxian doctrine that proclames imperialism the biggest Western sin. How else you can come up with a question like this:

“What stage would the whole world be in if there would have been no Western Enlightenment and Renaissance, on the one hand, and no imperial conquests, on the other”

As if imperialism is a typical Western sin. All civilizations have always strifed for expansion. What’s makes the West unique is that the West could conquer and keep more than half the world occupied with relativly small armies. The current globalization is ofcourse a better and more effective answer and has brought many Westerners the illusion they can do without the old fashioned means of war.

You asked the question: what if there was no enlightenment and renaissance? The question raises an other good question: is this the defining period in history what sets the West appart from the rest and Islamic world especialy? Were we before the renaissance a bunch of waring tribes just like the people in the Islamic world? If you believe that, then the obvious conclusion would have to be that without it, the whole world would still be like that: an barbaric tribal world. That would including the barbaric Indian tribes so well known for their genocides.

Also the idea that we are somehow indepted to the Muslim world because they ‘saved our heritage’ is placing history upside down. There have been verry few Muslim scolars and the few famous ones that are often cited in defence often did die of unatrual causes. Most Arabic translations were not the work of Muslims, but the work of (enslaved) Christians and Jews who lived in conquered Byzantium. They continued their work for their new Islamic rulers. Thus althoug the Muslim where no part in it, they can be thanked for not out right destroying our civilization. But in the long rund they wiped it all out, as can be seen in the current Islamic world. I think it’s thus more appropriate to thank the Christan slaves, working under occupations, instead of the barbaric masters who in the end destroyed it all.

Anonymous said...


I did read some book of Bernard Lewis and I did not read that kind of stuff in his books.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ferdy,

It wasn't in his books but in a recent speech/article that Bernard Lewis adopted a point of view similar to the one of this Levering Lewis, something like "blame it on the West".

He was talking about Islamic anti-semitism and saying that Islam inherited it from the West, and how tolerant Muslims were.
No anti-semitism in the Koran, according to him.
Probably he contradicted himself, also.

"fratricidal" "Europeans"

Just some more white guilt for us to enjoy.

Anonymous said...


Sorry Nordest, I don’t think he offers the same viewpoint. Bernard Lewis is not a relativist. Saying that the current middle east is heavily influenced by fascism and it’s anti Semitism is not the same as saying it’s all the fault of the West.

Although fascism has it’s origins in Western countries, it is basically an romantic anti-Western movement. That is if you don’t use the geographical definition but the ideological definition of individualism, freedom, capitalism and free markets. Thus Lewis uses The West here as a geographical definition not as what the West as an ideology is today.

And although I agree that the Koran is very intolerant against unbelievers and even more hateful about Jews, this can not be the only reason for the current rabbit anti-Semitism in the Middle East. Because it was not always as bad as it’s now. The book did not change in the mean time, thus there must be external causes as well.

Lewis his article, if I remember well, did attack the idea that the last 60 year the surge of anti Semitism is the result of influence of fascist ideologies from Germany, Vichy France and the Soviet Union. The idea, that the current fundamentalism is a static movement is wrong, it’s an progressive heavily influenced by fascism. Take for example the Baath parties in Irak en Syria, they are the purest manifestation of Hitlerism outside of Germany. It’s not for nothing that arm go up at jihad rallies in the middle east and that Mein Kampf is the best sold book in the region…

Esther said...

Hi Ferdy,

I don't believe that only the West is guilty of imperialism. The Chinese and Muslims have had empires of their own, enslaved other people etc. However, Western imperialism was coupled with exploration. Would Muslims have gone deep into Africa to find the sources of the Nile? Would they have stumbled on the Americas looking for a shorter route to East? They had the East, they didn't need to find ways to go around their own lands.

The problem with 'what if' is that it's easy to lock down on just one issue. In the case of Lewis, he thinks a Muslim conquest would have saved Europe a few centuries of in-fighting. I don't know if that's true or not, but the question is also what price Europe would have had to pay for it.

According to what Lewis himself says, the Muslim world was not one of science and discovery, but rather a 'conveyor belt'

Anonymous said...

Toledo is overstated. Europe had direct contacts to Byzantium. The guy from Cremona (Gerard of Cremona) who translated texts from arabic simply yelled luder than the monk in southern Italy who did the same from greek (Willem van Moerbeke).

Furthermore, the West absorbed these texts becaus the West had a scholarly tradition that was connected all over Europe - Internet 0.01, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

He Esther,

Come on, the idea that a Muslim occupation of Europe would have saved Europe from its religious infighting is just to ridiculous for words. It's seems to be based on the wrong presumption that when Islam has conquered all, there will be no more reason for war anymore (a.k.a. Islam = peace). But that obviously a wrong presumption. You only have to look at the middle east. Although they are all Moslem, they still constantly warring with each other. Living in the middle east is very unsafe, even if there is no war at all.

Unknown said...

David Levering Lewis is ignorant of so much I am wondering what he is an expert at. He refers to a conveyor belt of knowledge coming out of Toledo - wrong, the conveyor belt of knowledge came from the Byzantine world; theocracy? - Europe never had a totalistic theocracy compared to the Caliphate; commercial, economic, technological, cultural levels of achievement of the Muslims - wrong, Muslims created little themselves, and stole from everyone else; the Muslim jihad was not totally intolerant? - wrong, it killed without mercy; pay your taxes and your left alone - wrong, dhimmitude was a daily hell on earth; otherness never embedded in Islam - wrong, the other must be killed or converted. He is worse than ignorant - he is stupid.