Over the years, this blog has covered many things, and one of those, historical blogging, has accounted for a lot of my best stuff, like my essay on Zheng He and the Chinese Age of Discovery, my six-part series “Are We Rome?” (examining the Roman invasions of what’s-now-called Iraq) and most recently, my in-depth exploration of the Know-Nothing party of the 1850s… so, in my history blogger hat, I want to mention that the Syrian civil war has recently partially destroyed one of the most famous mosques of the Islamic Golden Age, the Great Mosque of Aleppo, a cultural and artistic treasure built in the 8th century. The war that has been destroying Syrian society, has now taken a World Heritage site (and rare extant example of Malmuk architecture) down with it.
The Great Mosque’s famous minaret, rebuilt to a towering height in the 11th century following damaging Mongol invasions, is lost completely.
The work of the Islamic Golden Age getting torn down by infighting and fratricidal war… seems more than a little symbolic.
This portion of Crash Course World History #14 covers the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age really well. The intellectual achievements of the Abassids included basically inventing modern medicine and mathematics, and their preservation of the texts of the greatest Greek, Roman, and Indian thinkers and reintroduction of these to Mediterranean Europe… would trigger the Renaissance.
It’s ironic that the Muslim thinkers that praise the Islamic Golden Age the most, touting its superiority over Europeans of the same period (middle ages) and calling for a return to the Caliphate and so forth, writers like Sayyid Qutb¹, are the same guys spurring the jihadists and the radicalization that is literally bombing Golden Age monuments to dust. The newest, most extremist branches of Salafi Islam have been notorious for destroying great cultural treasures, like the Buddhas of Bamiyan, or more recently destroying some of the sacred sites of Timbuktu, taking apart certain Islamic Golden Age shrines and masoleums with axes and shovels.
I have a lot of old content commenting on the Middle East in historical context, click the Middle East tag to access it.
There will be more new history content here—in-depth explorations of U.S. political history—with the Real Policy Differences video series. Here’s a sneak peek of some of the cartooning I’ve done for the series.
1. Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-winning book The Looming Tower covers the roots of the modern jihadist movement and al-Qaeda, with a detailed chapter on Sayyid Qutb, the founding father of the Egyptian jihadist movement. Wright chronicles Qutb’s time in the United States, where he became radicalized observing decadent 1950s New York City, and the women of Colorado.