Friday, April 1, 2011

On Libya and "Western" Civilization

Frankly, when it comes to Libya, I think we are doing the best we can with a bad situation. Unlike the Iraqis, the Libyan people asked for help. Unlike Iraq, the US is not the sole driving force of international intervention. And unlike the Iraq war, most of the world, including many Arab nations, support military intervention in this conflict.

I want to say that the political movements sweeping the Middle East are an opportunity for Western culture to take hold in that region, but I have a problem with the term "Western" culture. Here in the West, we have this notion that our culture was born in Ancient Greece, and from there it followed a straight path to Rome, then to Europe, then to America.

The problem with this notion is that it overlooks an important time in European history following the collapse of Rome. Do the "Dark Ages" ring a bell for anyone? You know, those hundreds of years after the fall of Rome when people forgot all about reading and math and science and the Earth being round?

People are forgetful; that's why we keep doing the same stupid things over and over. But it just so happens that after the fall of Rome, there was a group of people who didn't forget about math and science and reading... anyone out there know who I'm talking about, because it's another one of those things that our culture seems to have completely forgotten...

The correct answer is: the Muslims!

That's right, during our "Dark Ages" while Europeans had lost essential knowledge like the importance of washing hands and purifying drinking water, the Muslims flourished in places like Spain. They practiced the arts and sciences handed down from Roman culture, and even improved on it by inventing things like the number 0 (seriously, they were the first ones to think of 0, which is the basis of our modern numerical system, also known as the "Arabic" system).

It was only through our conflicts with Muslim nations that we were able to recover all that lost knowledge; and it was that recovery, and the education that followed, that eventually led to our culture's Renaissance.

So as we yearn for the prospect of "Western" culture taking hold in the Arab nations, I think it would be more appropriate and productive to view this process, not as us giving them something which is uniquely ours, but as us helping them find something they lost. We are not so much doing them a favor as we are returning a favor owed.

And may we all move forward together, hand in hand.

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