Category Archives: Guest post

The hostile response to the ADL’s report on antisemitism

Commenting on the reactions to a CNN report on the Anti-Defamation League’s newly published study on antisemitism [pdf], David Sigeti posted the following observations on his Facebook page, which I share here with his permission – because I felt that just clicking “Like” didn’t do his excellent post justice.


This article and the study that it describes are pointing to an appalling reality. The comments, almost 4000 of them, confirm the results of the study — almost all of the highly-rated top-level comments are hostile to the article and the study and often in clearly antisemitic ways. Ugh.

The sheer number of comments (in just five hours) is itself a symptom of what some call “Jew-centricity”, an excessive concern with the Jews. Although a fascination with Jews is not necessarily antisemitic, as it can be a positive attitude, the overall tendency to obsession with the Jews is certainly an important factor in the remarkable longevity, breadth, and depth of antisemitism.

Ever since the Enlightenment, Jews have hoped that modernity would break with the traditional antisemitism of Christian (and Muslim) society. Some put their faith in liberalism with its advocacy of equal rights, religious tolerance, and democracy. Others put their faith in various forms of socialism and communism. Many of the founders of Zionism thought that “regularizing” the status of the Jews with the foundation of a Jewish state would reduce antisemitism, which they took as a reaction to the anomalous situation of the Jews as a dispersed nation. This idea was often expressed in the slogan that the Jews should be “a nation like any other”.

Although all of these movements (with the exception of communism) have made contributions to opposing antisemitism, the sad fact is that it is still with us in spades. Indeed, the situation globally might be as bad as it has ever been, except for the existence of Israel as a refuge for persecuted Jews and for the fact that the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Arab world (and also, less completely, from the larger Muslim world) has left almost no Jews in the regions where antisemitism is strongest. And the situation is getting worse, as Holocaust denial, the blood libel, and the most extreme antisemitic conspiracy theories spread rapidly in the Muslim world, and as hostility to Israel in the Western countries becomes more and more extreme, irrational, and infused with the themes of traditional antisemitism.

The sages warned us long ago that, “Esau hates Jacob.” Rabban Shim’on bar Yochai even said that this is a “fixed principle” of Halacha. He had a point.


Note: I just saw that CNN closed the comments and apparently deleted several hundred, because when I first looked at the site about an hour ago, I remember a comment count of over 3800, while there are now “only” 3476 (or, by another count on the site, 35 14) left.

The fall of Assad and the end of the Cold War

Guest post by AKUS*

 In a quiet office overlooking the Potomac River we can imagine that an old man lifts a glass to his lips and toasts himself.

As he no doubt  grimly watches the carnage in Syria on Al Jazeera, Henry Kissinger is witnessing the culmination of the strategy he put in place 40 years ago to end Soviet and then Russian influence in the Middle East. Starting with his shuttle diplomacy in 1973 at the end of the Yom Kippur War, the Soviets have gradually lost every foothold they had in this geopolitically critical region. Now the Russians are about to be expelled from Syria with the imminent fall of Bashar al Assad.

Although the Soviet military had in large part left Egypt in 1972, possibly to mislead Israel regarding Sadat’s intention to start a war in 1973, a substantial number of Soviet advisors remained until the Yom Kippur War[1]. As part of the peace agreement with Israel engineered by Kissinger, the US agreed to provide Egypt with billions in aid and military equipment. While Egypt viewed US aid as a win gained by its partial success in the war, Kissinger saw it as leverage to successfully wean Anwar Sadat and the Egyptian military from remaining Soviet influence through the supply of superior Western weaponry and military training to replace the outdated Soviet equipment the Egyptians lost in the war. Responding to the combination of peace agreement and aid, Sadat is reported to have said: “Soviets can give you arms but only the United States can give you a solution.”

Egypt has been a key state in the Middle East since at least the end of WW II. Under Nasser, who came to power in a coup in 1952, Egypt steered away from “colonial influence”. After a variety of Western misadventures such as the 1956 Suez Campaign led by Britain and France, Egypt came ever deeper within the Soviet ambit in a “non-aligned” strategy intended to play off the USA and the USSR against each other to Egypt’s benefit.

Nasser’s apparent success led to uprisings against colonial powers in other Arab countries. Egypt became a political and ideological leader for Arab countries and Nasser’s pro-Soviet bias was viewed with concern by the USA. As his influence grew, Nasser attempted to create a vast Pan-Arab federation with the abortive United Arab Republic (UAR), combining Egypt and Syria into the UAR for the brief period between 1958 and 1961.

But even though the UAR proved short-lived, it was clear that the Arab world swung between Cairo and Damascus when it came to political leadership, and in both countries the Communist party made strong inroads until crushed by Nasser in Egypt and the Ba’ath in Syria (which led to a split among the Ba’athists and the rise of the Ba’ath in Iraq). Nevertheless, in Cairo and Damascus Soviet influence greatly exceeded that of the USA, and aid and weapons flowed from the USSR in unprecedented quantities to both countries. Leveraging Egypt away from Soviet influence would be an enormous setback to Soviet aspirations in the Middle East.

Looking around the region in the early ‘70s, Kissinger would have noted that another significant area of Soviet influence was Iraq. The Soviets had established close relations with Iraq after the murder of Faisal II, essentially a British puppet ruler, in 1958. The Iraqis saw the Soviets as an effective counter to their former colonial rulers. Increasing ties with the USSR demonstrated that they were shedding their colonial past and dependence on their former rulers. In a similar manner, Gaddafi’s Libya welcomed the Soviets who were expelled from Egypt in 1972. Soviet influence extended from Baghdad to Tripoli. Western countries stopped arms sales to Libya, which only increased Soviet influence following a large arms deal in 1975. This influence continued to a greater or lesser degree until Gaddafi was finally toppled last year.

From the point of view of an American strategist desiring more influence in the Middle East, the geopolitical situation was made worse after the decisive defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. With the USA clearly supporting Israel, the Soviets were able to expand their influence even further by replenishing the destroyed weapons of Egypt and Syria. The British continued to supply Jordan, the third major opponent of Israel in the war and the remnant of Churchill’s Palestinian strategy, but the Iraqis, too, swung deeper into the Soviet camp. The USA was able to retain influence only through the Saudis and the Gulf petro-states (and for a time in Iran until the Shah was toppled in 1979).

Things began to swing in the USA’s favor when Kissinger and Nixon managed to move beyond containment of the USSR in the West through NATO to encirclement in the East via the opening to China. Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 while pretending to be ill during a visit to Pakistan. This could be viewed as the first real step to reducing the influence of the Soviet Union by providing China with a second super-power with which to do business, economically and politically.

Still, the Soviets continued pressing in the Middle East. Their ultimately disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to support a Marxist government against the mujahedeen indicated that they, in turn, were establishing an Islamic bulwark from Syria, through Iraq, and into Afghanistan against the USA that could also exert pressure on the Saudis and Gulf states. The role of the USA in equipping and supporting the Afghan fighters in order to oppose the Soviets is well known, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the invasion. The last Soviet troops were pulled out of Afghanistan by Gorbachev on February 15, 1989. The withdrawal of the Soviet Union had begun. The first step to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the retreat from Eastern Europe, long a goal of US policy, had been taken. The Middle East beckoned.

Kissinger was always at hand as various additional dominoes began falling in his favor. His shuttle diplomacy in 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War wrested Egypt from Soviet influence, for example. Still, not everything went his way or could be planned for – Syria and Iraq remained in the Soviet and then Russian sphere. Libya was a setback, and he could not have anticipated the role of Afghanistan in curbing Soviet and Russian ambitions. Nevertheless, the enormous influence of Egypt in the Arab world was sufficient to reduce the Soviet role in the area significantly and expand the arc of US influence from the Saudis to the border with Libya. The French kept Libya’s western border controlled through their influence in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

If his goal was to push the Soviets back into Russia, Kissinger was able to influence US policy in the Middle East even after he left office as unexpected opportunities presented themselves.

Iraq, despite all its complexities, had the advantage, from Kissinger’s point of view, of offering a new opportunity to push the post-Soviet Russians further out of the Middle East. The development of a strong group of senior advisors in Washington who envisaged the fall of Iraq post 9/11 as leading to a more democratic Middle East – that is, a more Western-leaning Middle East – added leverage to Kissinger’s attempts to complete the Middle East puzzle. Out of office, but wielding considerable influence as an advisor, Kissinger met regularly with G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as Bob Woodward later reported [2]. It is not difficult to imagine that neocons leading the charge on Iraq such as Richard Perle, Doug Stief, and Rumsfeld were influenced by this grandmaster of the global game in developing their ideas about the centrality of Iraq in the Middle East.

Kissinger continues to argue for the centrality of Iraq. As the debate over withdrawal raged in Washington, Kissinger argued for maintaining US influence in Iraq, highlighting its geopolitical importance in an article in the Washington Post on February 3, 2010 [3]:

“Yet while Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude on our consciousness. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will not alter the geostrategic importance of the country even as it alters that context.

Mesopotamia has been the strategic focal point of the region for millennia. Its resources affect countries far away. The dividing line between the Shiite and the Sunni worlds runs through its center — indeed, through its capital. Iraq’s Kurdish provinces rest uneasily between Turkey and Iran and indigenous adversaries within Iraq. It cannot be in the American interest to leave the region as a vacuum.”

Moreover, Kissinger identified radical Islam as a new and dangerous player that must be dealt with, and raised the question to what degree US success in Iraq will affect the war against radical Islam:

“Nor is it possible to separate Iraq from the conflict with revolutionary jihad. The outcome in Iraq will influence the psychological balance in the war against radical Islam, specifically whether the ongoing withdrawal from Iraq comes to be perceived as a retreat from the region or a more effective way to sustain it.”

Although the overall outcome of the war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan may not be all that Kissinger would have liked to see, from one perspective the USA achieved a greater aim – the USSR and then Russia was eliminated almost entirely from the Middle East. Except in one country – Syria.

With the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the last domino owned by the Russian inheritors of Soviet influence in the Middle East is being pushed over. It is clear that the Western powers are supporting the rebels directly or through proxies such as the Saudis, while Russia and China refuse to allow direct intervention.

The Russians are also past masters of the great game, and realize that they have nothing to lose by continuing their support for the Assad regime. If, through massive force of arms, Assad remains in power, they will retain their foothold in the only country in the Middle East where they still have influence. If, as appears increasingly likely, he falls, they will have lost nothing by supporting him since it is clear that they will be sent packing by the rebels whom they refused to support in the early going. (The Chinese expect to be able to come in as neutrals and reap their share of the gains whoever wins, simply by supporting neither side until a resolution is reached.  They after all, care nothing for either side and possibly score points with undesirable but powerful leaders around the world for demonstrating reluctance to engage in regime change).

If the Russians are pushed out of Syria, the old man in Washington will see the fulfillment of the grand design he set in motion 40 years ago. From Cairo to Beijing, Kabul to Baghdad, he has helped move the pieces on the board with one major goal in mind – the removal of the Soviets, and then Russia, from influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When Syria, the last domino, falls, his strategy will have been fulfilled.

His time is almost over, and it will need a new Kissinger to devise the strategy to win the emerging multi-player global game – the USA versus the Chinese thrust for Asian hegemony, and the world against radical Islam’s global ambitions.  We have already seen Leon Panetta touring South East Asia, and the increasing awareness of the threat of what Charles Krauthammer has termed the “Islamic Ascendency”, as opposed to the increasingly meaningless “Arab Awakening”.

Perhaps while Panetta was encouraging Kissinger’s old enemy, the Vietnamese, to join an American alliance, Kissinger also smiled grimly at the strange way in which his actions in the Vietnamese conflict and its resolution almost 40 years ago have played out. But that game, and dealing with Islamic radicals, is for others to take care of.

He can toast himself while thinking that his work has been done. With the fall of Syria and the eviction of the Russians, the Cold War will truly be over.

 * * *

* AKUS is an Israeli-American who gained so much notoriety as a critic of the Guardian’s Israel coverage that he was banned from the site and is now free to channel his energies into occasional contributions for CifWatch. This is his first post for The Warped Mirror – with many more to come, hopefully!

[1] In July 1972, a large number of the Soviet troops left Egypt. They, however, belonged to the regular forces who, by 1972, had already fulfilled their mission and were dismissed, while the Soviet military advisors resumed their service in Egypt and the flow of military supplies to Egypt not only did not cease, but was increased.

[2] In 2006, it was reported in the book State of Denial by Bob Woodward that Kissinger was meeting regularly with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to offer advice on the Iraq War. Kissinger confirmed in recorded interviews with Woodward that the advice was the same as he had given in an August 12, 2005 column in The Washington Post: “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.”

Valuation of values, Koran burning and murder

Guest post by Nathan West*

Not everyone values every value quite the same way.  Europeans, before WWI, typically ranked war as a noble endeavor.  Women were, until recently, thought in most of the Western world to be fit for the kitchen, or, as Kinky Friedman sang, “Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed.” Now, we have some information regarding the way that a great many Afghans valuate their values regarding life.

Recently, there were two incidents in Afghanistan, widely reported.

First, members of the US military burned some Korans that had been used by prisoners to send messages.  The incident, had it involved the burning of bibles by non-Christians, might not have made many headlines.  However, it has been widely reported that the burning of Korans led to widespread rioting in Afghanistan, with many deaths.

Now, a US soldier has evidently committed a massacre, killing sixteen Afghan villagers, many of whom were children.  Thus far, there have been no riots (although there was at least one protest by Afghan students).  While, no doubt there will be a response from the Taliban – whether or not used as an excuse being beside the point here – the absence of riots thus far is itself a story.

The New York Times has sought answers to these disparate results.  The Times article, In Reactions to Two Incidents, a U.S.-Afghan Disconnect, is well worth reading because it is one of the franker reports to appear in the paper about the Islamic world.  One way to understand people is to ask them what they think. This, unlike much that is written about Afghanistan, was tried in this report; hence, its value to someone interested in actually understanding what makes people tick.

According to the Times, we learn that Afghans view religion as more important than the life of an individual.  Here is how the Times tells it:

“The mullah was astounded and a little angered to be asked why the accidental burning of Korans last month could provoke violence nationwide, while an intentional mass murder that included nine children last Sunday did not.

‘How can you compare the dishonoring of the Holy Koran with the martyrdom of innocent civilians?’ said an incredulous Mullah Khaliq Dad, a member of the council of religious leaders who investigated the Koran burnings. ‘The whole goal of our life is religion.'”

Of course, that is not the be all and end all to how these events are understood by Afghans but, if we go by this report, it is not a small part either.  And, quite a bit of what is revealed in the NYT report appears to follow from the set of values set forth by Mullah Dad.

“That many Americans are just as surprised that what appears to be the massacre of 16 people at the hands of an American soldier has not led to mass protests or revenge killings speaks volumes about a fundamental disconnect with their Afghan partners, one that has undermined a longstanding objective to win the hearts and minds of the population. After more than 10 years, many deaths and billions of dollars invested, Americans still fail to grasp the Afghans’ basic values. Faith is paramount and a death can be compensated with blood money.” [Emphasis added].

“To Muslims, and especially to Afghans, religion is much higher a concern than civilian or human casualties,” said Hafez Abdul Qayoom, a member of Afghanistan’s highest clerical body, the Ulema Council. “When something happens to their religion, they are much more sensitive and have much stronger reaction to it.”


“The Ulema Council, which is heavily influenced by the presidential palace, had immediately issued a passionate denunciation, saying of the Americans, ‘The human rights violators of the 21st century once more committed a wild, inhuman and shameful act and relentlessly martyred innocent children, women and men.’ But Mullah Qayoom said the quick reaction and prompt apology helped tamp down fury.

Afghan officials helped, too, by quickly paying compensation to the victims’ relatives, who are very poor and are part of a culture where ‘blood money’ is regularly paid for even accidental deaths. A high-level delegation brought the money on Tuesday to the village in Panjwai where the massacre happened, drawing an attack by Taliban insurgents.”

One has to ask whether this interpretation is unique to Afghan society or one that is common to most, if not all, of the Muslim regions. Given the rioting that has occurred all over the Islamic regions in response to perceived insults to Islam, I think that the Times may have stumbled upon a truth here, and one not limited to Afghanistan. It may be time for policy makers to read their Nietzsche (e.g. Twilight of the Idols, timeline “Turin, September 30, 1888, on the day when the first book of the Revaluation of All Values was completed”).

Of course, riots could still break out at any moment. But if they do, given the time involved since the event, we know that it will have been a deliberately instigated, not a spontaneous, incident. And, if tempers lead to violence, those tempers will have been pumped up, not based on outrage for committing a massacre – which, in the West, we would expect to be paramount to the Afghans –, but far more likely for attacking Islam.


*Nathan West is the pen name of an attorney who wishes to keep his identity private.

Linux Mint, Israel and me

Guest post by Nathan West*

 My friends all know that I am a Linux fan. My sons even call me Linux Man. Recently, I built a computer with one of my sons as part of a family project. When it came time to choose an operating system, we decided that the computer should “dual boot,” meaning that there would be more than one usable operating system on the computer.

Naturally, one operating system used is Linux; however, there are many Linux operating systems. We chose Linux Mint, which is the world’s third or fourth most popular operating system. Not to lose the story in Linux detail, after installing Mint, I became curious about the Mint organization.  That led me to the name Clement Lefebrve who is Mint’s “project leader.” So, I decided to Google his name. Google suggested, among other things, that I search “Clement Lefebrve Israel.”

To my surprise, I found that he holds extremely strong, negative views about Israel; really, really strong, negative views.  In fact, I discovered that Lefebrve wrote back in 2009, on the Mint website no less, that he does not “want any money or help coming from Israel or people who support the action of their current government.”  And, if you do not agree with his views, he states, and I emphasize: “I kindly ask you not to use Linux Mint and not to donate money to it.This is very important to me.

Lefebrve’s post is pretty strong medicine and it made me wonder whether I should simply uninstall Mint.  However, while installing an operating system is not difficult, many days of work are involved in moving files and programs from one computer to another. So, I wanted a rationalization which would permit me to retain Mint.

I found two. First, Mint is, in fact, a souped-up version of the Ubuntu operating system (which has an Israeli website, among others), which, in turn, is borrowed in substantial part from the Debian operating system (which has more than one Israeli website). According to one source: “While I may be oversimplifying my view of Linux Mint, it doesn’t add a whole lot to the original Ubuntu release aside from a very customized desktop.” So, why remove an operating system when Mr. Lefebrve is author of only a small number of Mint programs and, even then, as part of a team of people, of whom, no doubt, there are likely many who disagree with Lefebrve?

Moreover, Lefebrve removed his statement from the Mint website and substituted an apology. He also responded to questions about the affair from Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R., telling him:

“Yes. I know this was confusing because of the wording I used in my initial post and that was a mistake. I have no issue with people disagreeing with me. My real aversion is to see horrible things happening and to think that I can be working in harmony or doing business with people directly involved in them. If you disagree with me that’s fair enough, everybody have their own opinions. Now of course if you’re directly involved in cruel actions and terrorism (either on one side or another), you do what you want but I’m not sure I want to receive your money, your help or anything of the sort. That’s only fair and the difference here is that I don’t only see terrorism on the Palestinian side, I see it used by the Israeli army as well.”

There was also a stir on the Mint user forums, in connection with which Lefebrve wrote: “I’m proud of my opinions and I apologized for posting them on the wrong blog.” So, perhaps what he told Brother Fikes was just a bit disingenuous but, as always, I want to believe because I really do not want to remove Mint from my computer.

In the end, I decided upon a compromise: I would continue to use Mint but would do my very best – just as Mr. Lefebrve prefers – not to contribute any money to Lefebrve or Mint. Obviously, I was not going to write a check to Mint. But, I learned that Mint receives money when I use the default search engine on Mint, DuckDuckGo, and if I download music through the Banshee MP3 store that is part of the Banshee Music player, which is the built-in music player on Mint.  I do not download music from Banshee, so that there is no concern there and it is easy to substitute Google for DuckDuckGo as the built-in search engine for Firefox.

So, here are my before and after pictures of the desktop for my new computer, with Firefox displaying DuckDuckGo first and then with Google in place of DuckDuckGo. Nothing to it, you see, and you can then use Linux Mint without contributing to Mr. Lefebrve and remain true to your conscience.

Of course, Mr. Lefebrve is entitled to his opinions. He has the right to side with the Arabs in their war against Israel. He has the right to single out Israel, from all of the world’s disputes, exaggerate its sins and ignore those closer to home – he was born in France but lives in Ireland. And, whether or not his statements make him an antisemite is between him and his conscience. I shall never know – although I do suspect that lurking in the hearts of most Europeans who are obsessed with Israel’s sins is a hatred of Jews. Either way, he is not going to get my money; and he does not have the right to my money, even if I use Linux Mint.

* * *

*Nathan West is the pen name of an attorney who wishes to keep his identity private.

Niall Ferguson’s ‘Civilization’

Guest post by Nathan West*

Civilization: the West and the rest, by Niall Ferguson is a fascinating book, which I wholeheartedly recommend because it offers an original take on the West’s rise to global dominance and an interesting view about what constitutes the biggest threat to Western civilization.

As Professor Ferguson sees things, it was not at all obvious some five hundred years ago that the West – meaning, roughly, the European countries (and now the US and Canada) – would dominate the planet. In fact, China and the Muslim Ottoman Empire were, for a considerable time, both more advanced and more prosperous than Europe. With that in mind, Ferguson sets out to explain how it is that the West came to dominate the world and, having done so, he examines the question whether it can maintain its dominance.

To illustrate China’s impressive achievements, Ferguson discusses, among other factors, Chinese exploration. We learn that in the early 15th century, China built a massive treasure ship, nearly 5 times the size of Columbus’ ship, the Santa María. It was part of a fleet “of more than 300 huge ocean-going junks […which] were far larger than anything being built in fifteenth-century Europe,” with 28,000 man combined crew, thus making China’s navy the largest in the world until the time of World War I. (p. 54). The fleet sailed far and wide “to Thailand, Sumatra, Java and the once-great port of Calicut (today’s Kozhikode in Kerala); to Temasek (later Singapore), Malacca and Ceylon; to Cuttack in Orissa; to Hormuz, Aden and up the Red Sea to Jeddah.” However, when Emperor Yongle died, the voyages were suspended and exploration effectively came to an end. “From 1500, anyone in China found building a ship with more than two masts was liable to the death penalty; in 1551 it became a crime even to go to sea in such a ship.” (p. 54).

China’s technological prowess was not limited to sea exploration. China brought the world printing, among many other useful inventions:

It was the Chinese who first revolutionized textile production with innovations like the spinning wheel and the silk reeling frame, imported to Italy in the thirteenth century. […] Other Chinese innovations include chemical insecticide, the fishing reel, matches, the magnetic compass, playing cards, the toothbrush and the wheelbarrow. […] Jiao Yu and Liu Ji’s book Huolongjing, published in the late fourteenth century, describes land and sea mines, rockets and hollow cannonballs filled with explosives. Even as late as 1788,  British iron-production levels were still lower than those achieved in China in 1078. (p. 52).

Notwithstanding these impressive achievements, China lacked the qualities which, according to Ferguson, allowed the West to eventually dominate China. Since the book is about Europe and the West, China and the Muslim Empires serve mainly as the foil for showing what allowed the West to gain its advantage.

Ferguson’s explanation of the decline of China and the Ottoman Empire highlights the fact that in both countries, society turned inward. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, the clerical class came to dominate, and, in the name of religion, precluded even the use of such inventions as the printing press. By the time the Ottoman Empire came to understand its looming demise, it was too late to salvage the Empire, which collapsed after the Ottoman defeat in WWI.

The role that religion played in the demise of the Ottoman Empire can also be seen in the fact that, while Muslims were not permitted to use the printing press, non-Muslims were permitted to do so – a point Ferguson does not mention. In fact, non-Muslims had been using the printing press from early on, as noted by Bernard Lewis in his brilliant study The Muslim Discovery Of Europe. This innovation was denied to Muslims because the sacred language of Islam, Arabic, used the same characters as the language spoken by Muslims including those we now call Turks. It is also to be noted that the printing press did not spread to the Arab regions – at least for its Muslim population – until the 19th century. For the Arabs, Arabic was the written language and it was the religion’s sacred language. Hence, it was not to be desecrated by the printed page.

To the extent that Ferguson appears to place the bulk of the blame for the decline of the Ottoman Empire (and, to some extent, China) on religion, I think he is surely mistaken, although religion’s impact ought not be underestimated either. As Professor Lewis notes with reference to Islamic civilization, curiosity about the unknown has not been a trait of very many societies throughout history; rather, inward directed societies are the norm in history. Thus, investigation of the unknown is one thing that sets European societies apart from other societies. It is therefore the “normal” lack of curiosity in the Muslim regions, not Islam, that should be regarded as a major reason for the failure of the Islamic world to keep up with the West.

Ferguson, in pointing to internal causes, hopes to undercut the argument that imperialism was the dominant cause for the West’s rise. Obviously, the Ottoman Empire was also an imperial power, as Lewis rightly notes.  Ottoman policy brought their empire to the outskirts of Vienna as late as the 1680s only to be turned back, once and for good, in 1683. After that, it was one humiliating defeat after the next. Importantly, however, the decline of both China and the Ottoman Empire preceded imperial dominance by the West.

Most of Civilization focuses on answering Ferguson’s central question why the West came to dominate the world, and on pages 308 – 309, he presents a short summary of his answers:

Why did the West dominate the Rest and not vice versa? I have argued that it was because the West developed six killer applications that the Rest lacked. These were:

1. Competition, in that Europe itself was politically fragmented and that within each monarchy or republic there were multiple competing corporate entities

2. The Scientific Revolution, in that all the major seventeenth-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology happened in Western Europe

3. The rule of law and representative government, in that an optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private property rights and the representation of property-owners in elected legislatures

4. Modern medicine, in that nearly all the major nineteenth- and twentieth-century breakthroughs in healthcare, including the control of tropical diseases, were made by Western Europeans and North Americans

5. The consumer society, in that the Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments

6. The work ethic, in that Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labour with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation. Continue reading