Europe from the Arab world

Article published on Nov. 6, 2009
community published
Article published on Nov. 6, 2009
Europe and the Arab world The complementarities Amr Mahmoud Moussa Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Former Egyptian foreign minister Between the shores of Europe and the Arab world lies the the Medi-terre-nean, i.e., the middle of the earth...
For years its waves carried ships of students and ships of soldiers; ships of fruit and ships of guns; those who sought knowledge and bread and those who sought war and gold. The output of this flow was a relationship of love and conflicts and a symbiosis of infinite colorful, creative and vivid elements. Located in the middle of this most used sea, the Arab world had always been a principal partner of Europe. The treaty signed between Charlemagne king of the Franks and Haroun al-Rachid is the best example for understanding this partnership. This treaty gave birth to diplomatic and trade agreements to the extent that by the end of the Middle Ages, trading towns had emerged such as Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Amalfi in Italy, or Marseilles and Barcelona in France and Spain; as well as a chain of prosperous ports like Alexandria, Beirut, Tunis, Tripoli and Istanbul. These towns served as centers of trade transit between Europe and the Orient and a final destination for the caravans coming from Africa and Asia. Trade was a bridging factor, but even more than its great impact on the mobility of people, the promotion of cultural exchange and influences on everyday life, it was accompanied by a better opening onto other cultures and was associated with technical, intellectual and scientific knowledge transfer. ”When science spoke Arabic” was a metaphor used until the Renaissance when great thinkers like Gerard of Cremona and Roger Bacon spoke Arabic and when the schools of medicine in Europe founded their curricula on the works of Avicenna. Science and the acquisition and transmission of the Enlightenment were the project of Arab institutions, whose respect was earned in Europe; cultivating universal values such as tolerance and justice which are today called human rights, as well as scientific thinking, the principles of trade, all of which were the subject of European admiration. It was no coincidence that centuries ago Hegel said that “science and knowledge came to the Occident from the Arabs”. Let us base our work of today on treaties like that of Charlemagne and Haroun al-Rachid. The genesis of this old Occidental view of Arab achievements and values should enhance our dialogue today. Arabs and Europeans are going through a historical moment of intercultural dialogue with the aim of restoring trust and creating a world of harmony and coexistence as a base for our common future.

The tree of civilization

His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal

Founder and trustee of the King Faisal Foundation Former ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States

Europe is the repository and incubating chamber of what emanates from the Middle East. It was, and is, the bank from which the Middle East drew and draws credits in ideas, technology and skills. The Greeks, the first European people of culture, drew on pharaonic, Phoenician, and Persian cultures, which they then conferred on the succeeding Roman culture, which, in turn, bequeathed it back to the peoples of the Middle East. They took their alphabet from Phoenicia; and Euclid and Archimedes, Socrates and Aristotle learned from the Egyptian Imhotep, and Hammurabi and Xerxes. From Anatolia to Syria to Nabatean Arabia to North Africa, Greco-Roman artifacts and architecture dot the landscape. When Muslim Arabs superseded the Byzantium and Persian empires, in the seventh and eighth centuries, they distilled Byzantium-Persian culture through translation and produced the building blocks of what became the European Renaissance from Andalusía, Sicily, the Balkans and Venice. Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn al-Haythem and al-Khwarazmi taught Europeans Socratic and Aristotelian logic, Hippocratic medicine and Euclidean geometry. They also introduced into Europe Arabic numerals, including the concept of “zero”, algebra and logarithms, as well as the dissection of cadavers, glass lenses, water clocks, astrolabes and the compass, paper and gunpowder, Chinese silks and porcelain, Damascus cloth and steel. Arab-Muslim architecture, irrigation, plants and herbology, medicines and pharmacology were all transferred into Europe through the Iberian peninsula, the Crusades, and Norman Sicily. The Ottomans introduced Europe to coffee and chocolates; the fez became the fashion in the seventeenth century in Vienna and Krakow. Pope Sylvester II, who introduced Arabic numerals into Europe, was called the Muslim pope. Thomas Aquinas, Bacon, Galileo, Copernicus and Descartes learned from Arab-Muslim scholars, and built on that knowledge. Today, the trend has been reversed. Arabs and Muslims migrate to Europe to find jobs and sustenance. Students from Arab and Muslim lands seek knowledge and skills in European universities. Science and finance, philosophy and religion, are exchanged unstoppably. Europe and the Arab-Muslim world are umbilically linked.

Europe: continent or goddess?

Ghida Fakhry-Khane

News anchor at the Al Jazeera television station

In schools the world over students are taught that “Europe” is one of the world’s continents and yet, Europe is probably the only one that is not a continent. It is an idea that evolved throughout history. Today maybe more than ever, it remains an idea – grand and potentially noble. Yet, this notion of Europa is an achievement in and of itself as Europa has had a rather fragmented and particularly bloody past. Looking at Europe’s unity today it is hard to imagine that at one point, Europe was composed of a myriad of tribes, divided by language, culture and ethnicity. Later, during the colonial wars, European powers continued to battle each other. Europa was the theatre of the Hundred Years’ War and the cauldron of World War I and II. It is thus unfathomable that Europa morphed into what it is today. The debate over EU expansion, however, objurgates that Europe is not exclusively a homegrown, indigenous achievement and outcome but the culmination of millennialong historical processes in which European emporiums looked outward to enlarge their power base, colonize peoples and enrich their coffers. The Greek empire looked eastward to reach the confines of Persia, India and Afghanistan. The Roman Empire looked to the south and subjugated North Africa. The Spanish and Portuguese empires went westward to colonize Central and South America and in the more recent past the French and British empires went to conquer North America, Africa and parts of Asia. And least we forget, the Islamic armies occupied Spain and half of France reaching the city of Poitiers in the eighth century, and almost taking Vienna in the seventeenth century. These imperial conquests and colonial ventures can be seen in some respects as what we call in today’s parlance the precursors of globalization. The introduction of faith as an EU accession criterion shocked many in Europe who grew accustomed to the separation of religion and state. The more cogent argument to oppose Turkey’s EU bid may have been that it is, in spite of its small European enclave, part of the Asian continent and not, therefore “European”. But then, how can its full participation since 1949 in the Council of Europe be explained? What does it mean for Kosovo, Albania or Bosnia and Herzegovina? And what would be said of EU members in which a majority of the population is or may become primarily atheist or agnostic? Would they really cease to be European? Europa should remain a goddess, truthful to its noble ideas of unity and progress rather than succumb to concepts alien to its founding documents. If it does, Europa can pride itself as the only continent that is a grand idea and not merely a tectonic plate.