By M.S.N. Menon
NOTHING reflects the impermanence of things as the desert. It is inconstant, treacherous, cruel and never the same.
The Arab is a creature of the desert. He is as rootless as the shifting sand dunes around him. No wonder, he was not in love with the life he led. He yearned for another life. Which is why the Arab heaven is made for pleasure and the earth remains a dreary place for endless namaaz and prayers.
The Arab had no past to think of. Or to be proud about. It was as empty as the desert in which he lived. It was, therefore, no matter to him if his history began from Adam or from Mohammed. In the event, he chose Mohammed, and expected the world to follow suit.
Dahilia, the city he built, was made entirely of sand. The Prophet of Islam hoped to re-build it to last. But would it really last, asks Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, a satire on Islam? He is not sure. He says: ?I, in my wickedness, sometimes imagine the coming of a great wave, a high wall of foaming water, roaring across the deserts, a liquid catastrophe… a tidal wave that would reduce these vain sand castles to the nothingness, to the grains, from which they came.?
Rushdie may well be seeing a mirage in the Arab desert, for I see no tidal wave yet in the Arab landscape. If anything, I see a continuing petro-dollar wave that threatens to engulf the world in terror by arming the illiterate billion of raw recruits with machetes, if not with the bomb. It is true, the petro-dollar wave is as impermanent as the sand dunes. It is a flash in the pan, as they say, for how long will the oil boom last in terms of the aeons of human life? One day the desert will claim the new palaces of the Sheikhs, and Dahilia will return to the howling desert it was before.
No less were his Simian traits responsible for destroying everything he did not understand. He did not understand the Greeks, the Egyptians or the Indians. And because he did not understand, he wanted to destroy all that they had built.
Which is why the Arab had a score to settle with the rest of humanity. God had been kind to all but the Arab. He gave him the desert. Why was God so partial? To test him, to make him an instrument of God, to prepare him for world conquest, to Islamise the world, says the Mullah. Did not God give him oil, the liquid gold?
The Arab is said to be the son of the desert. In fact, he is its father, for it is he who fathered it by his destructive ways of life (C.S. Jarvis). No less were his Simian traits responsible for destroying everything he did not understand. He did not understand the Greeks, the Egyptians or the Indians. And because he did not understand, he wanted to destroy all that they had built.
These are not the views of an anti-Arab polemicist, but of Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), the greatest Arab historian and the father of the science of historiography. Let us hear what he had to say. He says: ?Mark how all the countries of the world, which have been conquered and dominated by the Arabs, have had their civilisations ruined, their population dispersed and even the soil itself apparently transformed. Thus, Yemen is in ruins, except for a few districts. Iraq, which was flourishing under the Persians, is devastated. So is Syria at the present day. In North Africa and the Meghrib… ruin and devastation still prevail. Yet, before, all the countries lying between Sudan and the Mediterranean formed the centre of a flourishing civilisation as witnessed by the remains of buildings and statues and the ruins of towns and villages…? (An Arab Philosophy of History translated by Issawi, 1950, p. 57).
In all the territories the Arabs conquered, two processes were at work?Islamisation and Arabisation. The idea was to extinguish the memory.
Khaldun is not the only one to leave his curse on the Arabs. Firdausi, author of Shahnama (History of the Persian Empire) writes: ?It (Persia) was the home of the mighty warriors and the royal seat of great monarchs. Now it has become the scene of woe and want and the hunting ground of a blood-thirsty dragon? (the Arabs).
The Egyptians were never Arabs. Today they call themselves Arabs! But they are not reconciled to their new status.
It is true, little did the world know the extent of the damage done by the Arabs. Northecote Parkinson writes: ?In the 9th century, the merits of Islam were much in evidence and the long-term devastation had still perhaps to be fully realised,? which is why the fierce Mongol Khan, a Buddhist, gave up his faith and embraced Allah.
The people are known by their arts and thoughts. If so, the Arab had none of the two. The Quran was his first book. ?It might seem odd,? says Parkinson, ?that these nomads should invent anything.?
The Arab was notorious for his idleness. Naturally, his women had to do much of the labour. This is told on their looks. The Arab had a solution for it: he took to polygamy.
The Arab lived by raiding others. Robbery became a way of his life. The Ummayad poet, Al-Qutani says: ?Our business is to make raids on the enemy, on our neighbour and on our own brother in case we find none to raid but a brother.? What did they do? They sanctified their ways and made the raids into Jehad against the infidels. Robbing the infidel had the sanction of their religion.