Ionuț Bălan: The Most Scary In Muslims Is AlgebraReading Time: 3 minute
Europeans often lump together all Arabs and label them as terrorists. But 800 years ago, Fibonacci viewed them differently: to him, Arabs were well-educated, not religious extremists prone to violence. After studying maths with Arab professors and becoming acquainted with Al-Khwarizmi’s algebra, the Italian introduced the Arabic numerals to Europe.
by Ionuț Bălan
Back then, the Arabs were still occupying a big part of the Iberian Peninsula, namely Granada. Note that as long as the Arabs lived peacefully, their autarchic, feudal society had a class that developed – way ahead of Europeans – the algebra, trigonometry and chemistry. Great progress in engineering, agriculture and medicine are also their merit; even the world’s first university.
But about when Arabs turned to architecture, which required sound knowledge of mathematics, physics and engineering, war occurred. And then the Arab society’s segregation was revealed. The crowds went to war, not the elite that generated technological advance. Even if the mass accepted what they got from the elite – like building Moorish style houses – they had no contribution.
So when resistance against Arabs got organized and the Spanish Reconquista began, the great problem of the Arabic society proved to be social segregation. Organization in very different castes based on trade. Education was not uniformly pervasive within the society, because the organization was feudal. Those sent to combat were not the physicians, professors, engineers or architects, but those at the bottom, where education did not reach. There is also where the leaders came from.
Despite the fact that Europeans contemporary to Fibonacci or to El Cid were trailing in science and culture, they came up with better organizational principles, which ended up in modern democracies, while the Arabic system was an obvious handicap in war time. The only thing that kept the Arabs together, despite their different interests and occupations, was religion. This bond evolved over hundreds of years into an exacerbated form that stirred revolts against those who tried to took advantage of the weak social organization of the Arabs. Unfortunately, I repeat, the Arab leaders did not come up from the cultural elites, but from the bottom of society, and to dominate it, they posed as religious leaders.
To summarize, the Arabs developed the science and culture, and proof of that is the worldwide use of the figures from 1 to 9. Sadly, these merits are insufficiently acknowledged, which generates frustration, also associated with the Arab people being difficult to rule. Take notice that these problems occurred in a context of holding on to caste privileges. Had education been general for the mass, the religious sense would not have been exacerbated and Arabs would not be presently labeled as terrorists and extremists. So the blame is somewhat shared; on one hand, they did not organize better socially, they preserved their castes and failed to generalize education; on the other hand, they were always under the pressure of not being acknowledged for their merits in the development of mathematics, physics, architecture, philosophy, medicine and culture in times when Europe was dominated by those whom Romans called barbarians.
It’s hard to say, indeed, whether the lack of appetite for social reforms and for general education was a deliberate choice of Arab leaders who intentionally preserved the visceral features, or a decision meant to defend material privileges. Anyhow, acknowledging the merits of Arab elites is an important step towards a deescalation of the present situation. The acknowledgment should come both from those who bar the people from education and direct it to religious fundamentalism, and from Westerners. But meanwhile, the secular dictatorships who tried to democratize the education – Saddam, Mubarak, Gaddafi – have been undermined by the masterminds of the Arab Spring.