There was no gateway between east and west; only innumerable conduits

A long article on the influence of Islamic thought on European minds throughout the early middle ages. It includes an interesting discussion about Dante’s Divine Comedy being a dialogue-response to Islam.

As early as the Ninth century, Andalusia had become one of the wonders of the world. The Arabs, who arrived on Spanish shores in 711, set to the task, in the following century, of building an urban-based society, modelled on the example of Baghdad, the “city of peace,” which, built from scratch in 762, was to become a thriving center of industry, agriculture, trade, science, and the arts, whose influence radiated out to the East as far as India and China…Using the same technologies and applying the same fiscal and credit policies which had been introduced by the Baghdad caliphate in Iraq, Andalusia built up an advanced agricultural sector. Islamic legislation did not recognize primogeniture, but favored family farming, facilitating the distribution of land to all offspring. Farmers who took advantage of irrigation techniques, financed through taxation, paid only 5% rather than 10% of their yield in taxes. Dams, irrigation canals, and pumps contributed to productivity levels which far outstripped those in Northern Europe for centuries to come. The textile industry, which employed 13,000 persons out of the 130,000 households in Cordoba, produced cotton, linen, wool, and silk. State as well as private textile mills were equipped with spindles and horizontal looms.

In the Ninth century, Andalusia’s cities were the marvel of chroniclers: “One sings praises to the golden threaded silk of Almeria, Malaga, and Murcia, whose faultless quality arouses the delight even of oriental observers. In Abadilla they produce those rugs that bring such high prices in the Orient. Granada delivers the especially gloriously colorful silk dresses, of the type known as ‘velvet shimmer.’ … Murcia produces wonderful inlaid bedsteads, marvelous fabrics, metal wares, like goldplated knives and scissors … which reach North Africa as frequent export articles. From Murcia, Almeria, and Malaga come costly glass and gold porcelain. Al-Andalus also knows the production of various kinds of mosaics.”

But the greatest wonder of Andalusia was the advancement of learning. None of its wealth in industry and trade would have been possible without a conscious state policy promoting science, as the driving force behind technological progress and overall economic growth…In the Ninth-Tenth centuries, the mosque schools evolved into universities, the first in Europe, which flourished in every city, drawing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars and students like magnets, from all over the world. Finally, there were the academies, separate from the mosques, the most famous of which were the House of Wisdom (Dur al-Hikmah) and the House of Science (Dur al-’Ilm), which were libraries, translation centers, and astronomical observatories. In the Tenth and Eleventh centuries, the madrasah, a state-sponsored educational institution, appeared in Persia and Baghdad, as well as in Andalusia…Al Hakem was himself a scholar, who had read many of the 400,000 books which filled his famous library, as indicated by his marginal notations. Books originally written in Persia and Syria, became known first in Andalusia. The city produced 60,000 books a year, facilitated by the use of paper, an invention the Arabs had taken from the Chinese, and developed in factories in every major city.

…Frederick II (1215-1250), who grew up with Arabic as his native language, called Baghdad scientists to his court, along with musicians and poets. He was so thoroughly Arabized (he was even buried in Arab dress), that Pope Innocent IV accused him of being a crypto-Muslim. Both Frederick and Roger II (1101-1154) came to be known as the “baptized sultans of Sicily.” His “crusade” to Jerusalem particularly outraged the Papacy, because, instead of waging war to regain territories, Frederick negotiated with the Muslims, and dedicated his time to philosophical discussions with their scholars. Later, Frederick addressed a series of questions regarding the nature of God to the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Sabin, whose answers were published as the “Sicilian Questions.” He founded the University of Naples in 1224, on the model of the Andalusian centers of study. Enjoying a royal charter, the university offered a program in oriental studies, one which Thomas Aquinas, among others, took advantage of. Significantly, Frederick II also continued the Muslim fiscal system, which the Normans before him had adopted. Frederick’s son Manfred, who was an accomplished geometer, continued his father’s policies. His liberal approach to Muslims who filled his court earned him and his brother Conrad a Papal condemnation.

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Heading for social unrest?

The Economist has a series of articles pondering whether the economic crisis will lead to instability across Europe. The answer, inevitably, is yes. It has been well reported that Greece has already been entropa_greverocked by riots. But did you know Iceland has been the site of large protests against the government, too? Perhaps the next place we should worry about is China. Already home to hundreds of protests against economic and political conditions every year, the Chinese economy has slowed below the target that the government believes is required for stability. In fact, some observers think that on a seasonally adjusted basis, there was no growth in the fourth quarter.

What may become difficult is disentangling which protests are fundamentally about economic conditions and which have other causes. Does a riot about overzealous police really have its root in economic factors? Do bad economic conditions lower the threshold required before a protest becomes appealing? Which of these would happen without the economy the way it is?

Update: Iceland loses.

Update the second: Eastern Europe losing.