A European Europe?

With the frenzy in Europe and parts of the United States, after the Pegida demonstrations and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it is worth pausing to consider what a de-Islamized Europe or America would look like. It is worth remembering some history and some science.

It is quite easy to debunk the purity or the “Europeanness” of one’s daily life in the West. Imagine your life without the “European” comforts of sugar, syrup, cotton, coffee, marzipan or jars and mattresses. These and dozens more are Arabic words that mark the gifts of Islamic “states” of North Africa, Spain, Sicily or Turkey via the contacts, exchanges, conquests, and mixes that occurred over the centuries of Muslims living in Europe BEFORE the renaissance, BEFORE the industrial revolution.

But those are trivial compared to just a few of the hundreds of scientific discoveries or refinements that Muslims (and Arabic-speaking Jewish thinkers and inventors!) brought to Spain, Sicily, and Italy. Papermaking was indeed an art in China probably before anywhere else, but its industrialization occurred in Baghdad in the 8th century. In the 11th century, Muslims in Valencia, Spain, ran the first paper-mill in Europe.

Now imagine a Europe without paper, or with paper a few centuries delayed. Without it and the subsequent printing press, the “vulgarization” of the Bible would perhaps never have happened so soon. Without cheap copies of the Bible for believers to read and interpret, the Protestant reformation would likely not have occurred when it did. Without cheap, abundant paper, Shakespeare may not have produced his works, or they may never have become known to the world.

Now imagine Europe without Algebra, the decimal system or Arabic numerals. Is it possible to imagine modern science without Algebra? Try to simply multiply two numbers using Roman numerals. If you could overcome that challenge, now try to solve–even write–an equation without Arabic numerals and Algebra. Can you imagine computer science without algorithms (another Muslim legacy in Europe)? Without these simple gifts there many never have been a computer. There may never have been a World Wide Web. Maybe Angela Merkel was thinking of this when she said that “Islam is German.”

But the Internet, ingenious as it is, has still not caught up to History’s most fertile medium of communication, the Mediterranean Sea. At any rate, it will be some decades longer before it does. To imagine the Mediterranean without the boats of refugees and asylum seekers is to imagine it without the ships carrying those gifts over the centuries.

To imagine a “European Europe” de-Islamized is to imagine something entirely alien, a Europe without Shakespeare, without Martin Luther, without the scientific revolution, without the industrial revolution, and probably without capitalism. To imagine a European Europe is to imagine a Europe that modern Europeans would not want to live in.