ISLAM, THE WEST, AND THE FUTURE By Arnold J Toynbee


ISLAM, THE WEST, AND THE FUTURE

By Arnold J Toynbee

(This is a chapter of a book by Arnold J Toynbee, Civilization on Trial, published
by Oxford University Press 1948. Toynbee’s chapter is reproduced in its entirety
below. The introduction to the author, the headings and accentuation of some
text into bold letters has been added by Alislam-eGazette editor.)

The essence of Toynbee meta-history is that civilizations thrive and survive
on the basis of their ideas. As Muslims polish their ideas and their pens
and realize that they do not have a sword suitable to this day and age, they
will inherit the future, and unite mankind in a universal brotherhood.
Alislam-eGazette editor

INTRODUCTION TO ARNOLD TOYNBEE

Encyclopedia Britannica online has the following to say about Toynbee:
“Arnold J Toynbee was an English historian whose 12-volume A Study of History
(1934–61) put forward a philosophy of history based on an analysis of the
cyclical development and decline of civilizations that provoked much discussion.
Toynbee was a nephew of the 19th-century economist Arnold Toynbee. He was
educated at Balliol College, Oxford (classics, 1911), and studied briefly at the
British School at Athens, an experience that influenced the genesis of his
philosophy about the decline of civilizations. In 1912 he became a tutor and
fellow in ancient history at Balliol College, and in 1915 he began working for the
intelligence department of the British Foreign Office. After serving as a delegate
to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 he was appointed professor of Byzantine
and modern Greek studies at the University of London. From 1921 to 1922 he
was the Manchester Guardian correspondent during the Greco-Turkish War, an
experience that resulted in the publication of The Western Question in Greece
and Turkey (1922). In 1925 he became research professor of international history
at the London School of Economics and director of studies at the Royal Institute
of International Affairs in London.
Toynbee began his Study of History in 1922, inspired by seeing Bulgarian
peasants wearing fox-skin caps like those described by Herodotus as the
headgear of Xerxes’ troops. This incident reveals the characteristics that give his
work its special quality—his sense of the vast continuity of history and his eye for
its pattern, his immense erudition, and his acute observation.

In the Study Toynbee examined the rise and fall of 26 civilizations in the course
of human history, and he concluded that they rose by responding successfully to
challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders.
Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the
civilizations then sank owing to the sins of nationalism, militarism, and the
tyranny of a despotic minority. Unlike Spengler in his The Decline of the West,
Toynbee did not regard the death of a civilization as inevitable, for it may or may
not continue to respond to successive challenges. Unlike Karl Marx, he saw
history as shaped by spiritual, not economic forces.
While the writing of the Study was under way, Toynbee produced numerous
smaller works and served as director of foreign research of the Royal Institute of
International Affairs (1939–43) and director of the research department of the
Foreign Office (1943–46); he also retained his position at the London School of
Economics until his retirement in 1956. A prolific writer, he continued to produce
volumes on world religions, western civilization, classical history, and world travel
throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After World War II Toynbee shifted his
emphasis from civilization to the primacy of higher religions as historical
protagonists. His other works include Civilization on Trial (1948), East to West: A
Journey Round the World (1958), and Hellenism: The History of a Civilization
(1959).
Toynbee has been severely criticized by other historians. In general, the critique
has been leveled at his use of myths and metaphors as being of comparable
value to factual data and at the soundness of his general argument about the rise
and fall of civilizations, which relies too much on a view of religion as a
regenerative force. Many critics complained that the conclusions he reached
were those of a Christian moralist rather than of a historian. His work, however,
has been praised as a stimulating answer to the specializing tendency of modern
historical research.”
1
According to Wikipedia:
“Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH (April 14, 1889 – October 22, 1975) was a British
historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A
Study of History, 1934-1961, was a synthesis of world history, a meta-history
based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined
history from a global perspective.
…..
Toynbee’s ideas and approach to history may be said to fall into the discipline of
Comparative history. While they may be compared to those used by Oswald
Spengler in The Decline of the West, he rejected Spengler’s deterministic view
that civilizations rise and fall according to a natural and inevitable cycle. For
Toynbee, a civilization might or might not continue to thrive, depending on the
challenges it faced and its responses to them.

Toynbee presented history as the rise and fall of civilizations, rather than the
history of nation-states or of ethnic groups. He identified his civilizations
according to cultural or religious rather than national criteria. Thus, the “Western
Civilization”, comprising all the nations that have existed in Western Europe since
the collapse of the Roman Empire, was treated as a whole, and distinguished
from both the “Orthodox” civilization of Russia and the Balkans, and from the
Greco-Roman civilization that preceded it.
With the civilizations as units identified, he presented the history of each in terms
of challenge-and-response. Civilizations arose in response to some set of
challenges of extreme difficulty, when “creative minorities” devised solutions that
reoriented their entire society. Challenges and responses were physical, as when
the Sumerians exploited the intractable swamps of southern Iraq by organizing
the Neolithic inhabitants into a society capable of carrying out large-scale
irrigation projects; or social, as when the Catholic Church resolved the chaos of
post-Roman Europe by enrolling the new Germanic kingdoms in a single
religious community. When a civilization responds to challenges, it grows.
Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the
civilizations then sank owing to nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a
despotic minority (see mimesis). Toynbee argued that “Civilizations die from
suicide, not by murder.” For Toynbee, civilizations were not intangible or
unalterable machines but a network of social relationships within the border and
therefore subject to both wise and unwise decisions they made.
He expressed great admiration for Ibn Khaldun and in particular the
Muqaddimah, the preface to Ibn Khaldun’s own universal history, which notes
many systemic biases that intrude on historical analysis via the evidence.”
ZEALOTISM
In the past, Islam and our Western society have acted and reacted upon one
another several times in succession, in different situations and in alternating
roles.
The first encounter between them occurred when the Western society was in its
infancy and when Islam was the distinctive religion of the Arabs in their heroic
age. The Arabs had just conquered and reunited the domains of the ancient
civilizations of the Middle East and they were attempting to enlarge this empire
into a world state. In that first encounter, the Muslims overran nearly half the
original domain of the Western society and only just failed to make themselves
masters of the whole. As it was, they took and held North-West Africa, the Iberian
Peninsula, and Gallic ‘Gothia’ (the coast of Languedoc between the Pyrenees
and the mouth of the Rhone); and a century and a half later, when our nascent
Western civilization suffered a relapse after the breakdown of the Carolingian
Empire, the Muslims took the offensive again from an African base of operations
and this time only just failed to make themselves masters of Italy. Thereafter,
when the Western civilization had surmounted the danger of premature extinction

and had entered upon a vigorous growth, while the would-be Islamic world state
was declining towards its fall, the tables were turned. The Westerners took the
offensive along a front which extended from end to end of the Mediterranean,
from the Iberian Peninsula through Sicily to the Syrian ‘Terre d’Outre Mer’; and
Islam, attacked simultaneously by the Crusaders on one side and by the Central
Asian Nomads on the other, was driven to bay, as Christendom had been driven
some centuries earlier when it had been compelled to face simultaneous attacks
on two fronts from the North European barbarians and from the Arabs.
In that life-and-death struggle, Islam, like Christendom before it,
triumphantly survived. The Central Asian invaders were converted; the
Frankish invaders were expelled; and in territorial terms, the only enduring result
of the Crusades was the incorporation in the Western world of the two outlying
Islamic territories of Sicily and Andalusia. Of course, the enduring economic and
cultural results of the Crusaders’ temporary political acquisitions from Islam were
far more important. Economically and culturally, conquered Islam took her
savage conquerors captive and introduced the arts of civilization into the rustic
life of Latin Christendom. In certain fields of activity, such as architecture, this
Islamic influence pervaded the entire Western world in its so-called ‘mediaeval’
age; and in the two permanently conquered territories of Sicily and Andalusia the
Islamic influence upon the local Western ‘successor-states’ of the Arab Empire
was naturally still more wide and deep. Yet this was not the last act in the play;
for the attempt made by the mediaeval West to exterminate Islam failed as
signally as the Arab empire-builders’ at tempt to capture the cradle of a nascent
Western civilization had failed before; and, once more, a counter-attack was
provoked by the unsuccessful offensive.
This time Islam was represented by the Ottoman descendants of the converted
Central Asian Nomads, who conquered and reunited the domain of Orthodox
Christendom and then attempted to extend this empire into a world state on the
Arab and Roman pattern. After the final failure of the Crusades, Western
Christendom stood on the defensive against this Ottoman attack during the late
mediaeval and early modern ages of Western history-and this not only on the old
maritime front in the Mediterranean but on a new continental front in the Danube
Basin. These defensive tactics, however, were not so much a confession of
weakness as a masterly piece of half-unconscious strategy on the grand scale;
for the Westerners managed to bring the Ottoman offensive to a halt without
employing more than a small part of their energies; and, while half the energies
of Islam were being absorbed in this local border warfare, the Westerners were
putting forth their strength to make themselves masters of the ocean and thereby
potential masters of the world. Thus they not only anticipated the Muslims in the
discovery and occupation of America; they also entered into the Muslims’
prospective heritage in Indonesia, India, and tropical Africa; and finally, having
encircled the Islamic world and cast their net about it, they proceeded to attack
their old adversary in his native lair.

and had entered upon a vigorous growth, while the would-be Islamic world state
was declining towards its fall, the tables were turned. The Westerners took the
offensive along a front which extended from end to end of the Mediterranean,
from the Iberian Peninsula through Sicily to the Syrian ‘Terre d’Outre Mer’; and
Islam, attacked simultaneously by the Crusaders on one side and by the Central
Asian Nomads on the other, was driven to bay, as Christendom had been driven
some centuries earlier when it had been compelled to face simultaneous attacks
on two fronts from the North European barbarians and from the Arabs.
In that life-and-death struggle, Islam, like Christendom before it,
triumphantly survived. The Central Asian invaders were converted; the
Frankish invaders were expelled; and in territorial terms, the only enduring result
of the Crusades was the incorporation in the Western world of the two outlying
Islamic territories of Sicily and Andalusia. Of course, the enduring economic and
cultural results of the Crusaders’ temporary political acquisitions from Islam were
far more important. Economically and culturally, conquered Islam took her
savage conquerors captive and introduced the arts of civilization into the rustic
life of Latin Christendom. In certain fields of activity, such as architecture, this
Islamic influence pervaded the entire Western world in its so-called ‘mediaeval’
age; and in the two permanently conquered territories of Sicily and Andalusia the
Islamic influence upon the local Western ‘successor-states’ of the Arab Empire
was naturally still more wide and deep. Yet this was not the last act in the play;
for the attempt made by the mediaeval West to exterminate Islam failed as
signally as the Arab empire-builders’ at tempt to capture the cradle of a nascent
Western civilization had failed before; and, once more, a counter-attack was
provoked by the unsuccessful offensive.
This time Islam was represented by the Ottoman descendants of the converted
Central Asian Nomads, who conquered and reunited the domain of Orthodox
Christendom and then attempted to extend this empire into a world state on the
Arab and Roman pattern. After the final failure of the Crusades, Western
Christendom stood on the defensive against this Ottoman attack during the late
mediaeval and early modern ages of Western history-and this not only on the old
maritime front in the Mediterranean but on a new continental 

front in the Danube
Basin. These defensive tactics, however, were not so much a confession of
weakness as a masterly piece of half-unconscious strategy on the grand scale;
for the Westerners managed to bring the Ottoman offensive to a halt without
employing more than a small part of their energies; and, while half the energies
of Islam were being absorbed in this local border warfare, the Westerners were
putting forth their strength to make themselves masters of the ocean and thereby
potential masters of the world. Thus they not only anticipated the Muslims in the
discovery and occupation of America; they also entered into the Muslims’
prospective heritage in Indonesia, India, and tropical Africa; and finally, having
encircled the Islamic world and cast their net about it, they proceeded to attack
their old adversary in his native lair.

This concentric attack of the modern West upon the Islamic world has
inaugurated the present encounter between the two civilizations. It will be
seen that this is part of a still larger and more ambitious movement, in
which the Western civilization is aiming at nothing less than the
incorporation of all mankind in a single great society, and the control of
everything in the earth, air, and sea which mankind can turn to account by
means of modern Western technique. What the West is doing now to Islam,
it is doing simultaneously to the other surviving civilizations -the Orthodox
Christian, the Hindu, and the Far Eastern world-and to the surviving
primitive societies, which are now at bay even in their last strongholds in
tropical Africa. Thus the contemporary encounter between Islam and the West
is not only more active and intimate than any phase of their contact in the past; it
is also distinctive in being an incident in an attempt by Western man to
‘Westernize’ the world-an enterprise which will possibly rank as the most
momentous, and almost certainly as the most interesting, feature in the history
even of a generation that has lived through two world wars.
Thus Islam is once more facing the West with her back to the wall; but this time
the odds are more heavily against her than they were even at the most critical
moment of the Crusades, for the modern West is superior to her not only in arms
but also in the technique of economic life, on which military science ultimately
depends, and above all in spiritual culture-the inward force which alone creates
and sustains the outward manifestations of what is called civilization.
Whenever one civilized society finds itself in this dangerous situation vis-à-vis
another, there are two alternative ways open to it of responding to the challenge;
and we can see obvious examples of both these types of response in the
reaction of Islam to Western pressure today. It is legitimate as well as convenient
to apply to the present situation certain terms which were coined when a similar
situation once arose in the encounter between the ancient civilizations of Greece
and Syria. Under the impact of Hellenism during the centuries immediately before
and after the beginning of the Christian era, the Jews (and, we might add, the
Iranians and the Egyptians) split into two parties. Some became ‘Zealots’ and
others ‘Herodians.’
The ‘Zealot’ is the man who takes refuge from 

the unknown in the familiar; and
when he joins battle with a stranger who practises superior tactics and employs
formidable newfangled weapons, and finds himself getting the worst of the
encounter, he responds by practising his own traditional art of war with
abnormally scrupulous exactitude. ‘Zealotism,’ in fact, may be described as
archaism evoked by foreign pressure; and its most conspicuous representatives
in the contemporary Islamic world are ‘puritans’ like the North African Sanusis
and the Central Arabian Wahhabis.
The first point to notice about these Islamic ‘Zealots’ is that their strongholds lie in
sterile and sparsely populated regions which are remote from the main 

international thoroughfares of the modern world and which have been unattractive to Western enterprise until the recent dawn of the oil age. The
exception which proves the rule up to date is the Mahdist Movement which
dominated the Eastern Sudan from 1883 to 1898. The Sudanese Mahdi,
Muhammad Ahmad, established himself astride the waterway of the Upper Nile
after Western enterprise had taken ‘the opening up of Africa’ in hand. In this
awkward geographical position the Sudanese Mahdi’s Khalifah collided with a
Western power and-pitting archaic weapons against modern ones-was utterly
overthrown. We may compare the Mahdi’s career with the ephemeral triumph of
the Maccabees during the brief relaxation of pressure from Hellenism which the
Jews enjoyed after the Romans had overthrown the Seleucid power and before
they had taken its place; and we may infer that, as the Romans overthrew the
Jewish ‘Zealots’ in the first and second centuries of the Christian era, so some
great power of the Western world of today–Iet us say, the United States–could
overthrow the Wahhabis now any time it chose if the Wahhabis’ ‘Zealotism’
became a sufficient nuisance to make the trouble of suppressing it seem worth
while. Suppose, for instance, that the Sa’udi Arabian government, under
pressure from its fanatical henchmen, were to demand exorbitant terms for oil
concessions, or were to prohibit altogether the exploitation of its oil resources.
The recent discovery of this hidden wealth beneath her arid soil is decidedly a
menace to the independence of Arabia; for the West has now learnt how to
conquer the desert by bringing into play its own technical inventions-railroads
and armoured cars, tractors that can crawl like centipedes over sand-dunes, and
aeroplanes that can skim above them like vultures. Indeed, in the Moroccan Rif
and Atlas and on the north-west frontier of India during the inter-war years, the
West demonstrated its ability to subdue a type of Islamic ‘Zealot’ who is much
more formidable to deal with than the denizen of the desert. In these mountain
fastnesses the French and British have encountered and defeated a highlander
who has obtained possession of modern Western small arms and has learnt to a
nicety how to use them on his own ground to the best advantage.
But of course the ‘Zealot’ armed with a smokeless quick firing rifle is no longer
the ‘Zealot’ pure and undefiled, for, in as much as he has adopted the
Westerner’s weapon, he has set foot upon unhallowed ground. No doubt if ever
he thinks about it-and that is perhaps seldom, for the ‘Zealot’s’ behaviour is
essentially irrational and instinctive he says in his heart that he will go thus far
and no farther; that, having adopted just enough of the Westerner’s military
technique to keep any aggressive Western power at arm’s length, he will
consecrate the liberty thus preserved to the ‘keeping of the law’ in every other
respect and will thereby continue to win God’s blessing for himself and for his
offspring.
This state of mind may be illustrated by a conversation which took place in the
nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of San’a and a British envoy
whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the
British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-

1918 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his
Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become
apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to
give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly
appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in
good part, he went on:
‘And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?’
‘I think not,’ said the Imam with a smile.
‘Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?’
‘Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,’ said the Imam.
‘Indeed? And what institutions, for example?’
‘Well, there are parliaments,’ said the Imam. ‘I like to be the Government myself.
I might find a parliament tiresome.
‘Why, as for that,’ said the Englishman, ‘I can assure you that responsible
parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the
apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is
one of the great Western powers.’
‘Well, then there is alcohol,’ said the Imam, ‘I don’t want to see that introduced
into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.’
‘Very natural,’ said the Englishman; ‘but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that
alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at
America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.’
‘Well, anyhow,’ said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that
the conversation was at an end, ‘I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind
of thing.’

SEE THIS LINK FOR THE ENTIRE ARTICLE OF TOYNBEE (1948): http://www.alislam.org/egazette/articles/Islam-the-West-and-the-Future-200911.pdf

 

 

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About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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