Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism

Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism

by Charles Hill

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Charles Hill analyzes the refusal of the ideologues of pan-Islam to accept the boundaries and responsibilities of the order of states. He offers a historical perspective on the war of Islamism against the nation-state system, looking at changes in world order from the Thirty Years' War of the seventeenth century to Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979 to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817913243
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press
Publication date: 05/01/2011
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 166
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Charles Hill, a career minister in the U.S. Foreign Service, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Hill was executive aide to former U.S. secretary of state George P. Shultz (1985–89) and served as special consultant on policy to the secretary-general of the United Nations from 1992 to 1996. He is also the Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy and Senior Lecturer in International Studies and in Humanities at Yale University.

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Two World Orders

World order has been a matter for the modern age, taken up seriously in the time and context of the seventeenth-century intersection of the European and Islamic crosscurrents. Before this, empires might believe themselves cosmic in scale and divine in significance while actually ruling over only a portion of the globe, unaware of the whole.

In 1887, in a low brick room at Tel al-Amarna, a peasant woman stumbled upon an archive of documents relating to the foreign affairs of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), revealing intensive diplomatic contacts among the great powers of that time. A mixed language that scholars called "Amarnaic" served as an agreed diplomatic means of communication among Egypt, Babylonia, the Hittites, the Canaanites, Mittani (Syria), and other states, the torso of an international system for the Late Bronze Age, the first of its kind. The system was made up of state-like polities of different cultures and languages, unequal in power yet accepting common practices, operating through diplomacy, alliances and treaties, trading for mutual advantage, keeping records and establishing precedents, and maintaining their independence while aiming to avoid war within an understood framework.

Pre-modern China produced its own versions. The Spring and Autumn Period, 770–476 B.C., displayed a political-economic-military system among the several Han kingdoms of north-central China. Much later, with the rise of dynasties whose reach extended well beyond China proper — the T'ang, Sung, Yuan, Ming, and Ch'ing — a tribute system, with the Imperial Court as the world center, regulated international relations.

As the Roman Empire slowly succumbed to waves of barbarian assault, Christianity presented itself as a universalist system, shaping itself from the founding of Constantinople in 330 A.D. in the East to the coronation of Otto I as Holy Roman Emperor in 962 in the West as Christendom. Christianity defined its project as building a world order to overcome paganism. Thus the rise of Islam came as a profound shock.

The Islamic world produced its own idea of an international system, the caliphate. No earlier institution undergirded it. With the death of the Prophet in 632 A.D., follow-on leadership was a practical necessity. No one at the beginning of the seventh century, Arab or not, could have anticipated the vast extent, the immense wealth and power, which would be under the control of the successor of the Prophet when he ruled at Damascus or Baghdad.

Christendom and Caliphate

So in the early Middle Ages two substantive world systems, Christendom and Islam, each focused on and guided by a divine conviction, faced each other largely ignorant and entirely unappreciative of one another's ideals. As the historian of late antiquity Peter Brown put it, "For the first time, half the known world took on an alien face." When Pope Innocent III declared that the Lord had entrusted to Peter not only the Universal Church, but the government of the whole world, the Holy Roman Empire took as its aim a world-state in which the emperor would be the universal sovereign. Similarly, Islam, a universal faith, expected the submission of all men and women, who must either accept the message of the Prophet or pay tribute as subject peoples, all under the Prophet's successor, the caliphate.

The two world-systems were fundamentally different. The Holy Roman Empire was a conscious revival of the pre-Christian Roman Empire transposed into a Christian dominium linking the City of God to the City of Man; Charlemagne was a reader of St. Augustine's magnum opus. But, critically important, side-by-side with the emperor was the pope, who possessed spiritual authorities denied to the emperor. Dante would elaborate on this in his De Monarchia, one of the most consequential works of political theory in history. Dante made the separation of church and state a God-decreed imperative — his key argument being that in order for Christ to die for men's sins, He had to be legally condemned by a governing authority for all the world; that was the Roman Empire. Thus a legitimate non-religious ruler was an indispensible part of God's plan, meant to rule apart from and not under God's church. The pope would be the vicar of God on earth, representing the City of God and guiding men's souls thither; the emperor would maintain order over men's bodies so that the greater work of God might proceed with as little disruption as possible in what was, after all, a fallen world. Throughout the centuries during which the Holy Roman Empire was a force in Europe, the distinction between spiritual and temporal authority was never lost sight of.

The caliphate emerged wholly otherwise. The theory of the office was not invented until after the Arab empire had become an accomplished reality; it was extracted from the Hadith, the collected sayings of the Prophet and his companions, oral traditions which eventually became a second source of authority with the Quran. The practical theory located there implied that all earthly authority is by divine appointment. Whether the ruler is just or unjust, the duty of subjects is to obey, because responsibility rests with God. The Hadith declared, "When God wishes good for a people, He sets over them the forbearing and wise, and places their goods in the hands of generous rulers; but when God wishes evil for a people, He sets over them the witless and base and extracts their goods to avaricious rulers." The power of the caliph was limited in only one respect: he, like every Muslim, must submit to sharia, the law grounded in the will of God — so there was no room for the distinction that arose in Christendom between canon law and the law of the state.

Duality or Unity?

"There are two kinds of people," the old saying goes, "those who say there are two kinds of people and those who don't." Beneath this sardonic comment lies a profound difference between cultures or civilizations. F. Scott Fitzgerald, presuming that he was speaking for the entire human condition, declared that "the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in the mind at the same time and still function is a test of civilization."

Not so for Islamists. The Catholic intellectual Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote that, in jihadi eyes, "The most fundamental error of Western liberalism is the distinction, even division, of sacred and profane," resulting in what the influential Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb termed "hideous schizophrenia." Thus Islamists vehemently reject dualities while the West is foundationally defined by them. Judaic thought was marked by binary classifications; the philosophers of classical Athens and the theologians of Christian Rome explained duality as humanity's essential nature. Plato's work proceeds by way of Socratic dialogue. Aristotle's Politics explains the achievement of civilization through the dualities of theory and practice, ends and means, and culminates in what the philosopher terms as Dorian and Phrygian "modes": male and female principles which need to be kept in balance.

Plato and Aristotle themselves became a duo, as depicted in Raphael's monumental painting, "The School of Athens," in which the two walk side by side, Plato pointing up toward the metaphysical "forms" as Aristotle gestures downward toward the things of this world, all of which require intellectual investigation.

Augustine institutes dualities all through his massive City of God with its earthly counterpart to the City of Man: body and soul, fate and free will, the two kinds of morality — individual and societal, reason and revelation, and so on.

Thomas Aquinas would synthesize Plato and Aristotle, and Augustine as well, in his comprehensive Summa Theologicae: this world and the next were dualistic but linked. The study of earthly reality will reveal reflections of God's reality. Thomas opened the way for science to seek progress in a way compatible, not adversarial, to God's realm. Western civilization would lead the world, or much of it, into modernity, as the Muslim world, once the leader, would subside in proportion to its antagonism toward the dual and insistence on the uniate.

Thus has Islam defined itself by its purist monotheism and relentless rejection of duality, triplicity, pluralism, and multifariousness. Yet this uniate focus did not impair the remarkable record of Muslim flourishing in virtually all of the arts and sciences during the early centuries of the faith's rise to world power. As Fernand Braudel noted, "Paradoxical as it may seem, Islamic civilization as a whole, between 813 and 1198 (i.e., from the Caliphate of al-Mamun to the death of Averroes) was both one and many, universal and regionally diverse." Islamic philosophy began to integrate the thought of Aristotle. The results were astonishing achievements in science, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, optics, and recognition of the circulation of the blood — three centuries before William Harvey demonstrated it at Oxford.

What then happened to cause the decline from which Islamic culture still has not recovered? Explanations vary. Was it the loss of territorial control to Christian, Mongol, and Turkish forces? Or the increasing decadence among the elite akin to that which corrupted Rome as depicted by Tacitus? Often cited were "the powerful, desperate blows to free thought" in the eleventh century by one of the most influential figures in all intellectual history, Abu Hamid Muhammed al-Ghazali (1058–1111). He was a thinker of the ulema known as the Proof of Islam (hujja alislam) whose work supposedly refuted Aristotelian reason to the extent of leading Muslim minds to turn away from scientific studies. (Yet, so brilliantly did al-Ghazali describe Aristotelianism that European scholars began to adopt his interpretation of the philosopher's thought). Algazel, as he was known in the West, was depicted as a kind of anti-Aquinas, determined not to reconcile reason and revelation, but to crown revelation over all, and to return the faith to its earliest, simplest dogmatic precepts. Whether al-Ghazali was a cause or a symptom, or neither, of the downward turn, in the twelfth century Muslim civilization suddenly stalled.

Yet the decline of the Arab-Islamic empire was also the time when systematic study of the caliphate's role was undertaken. Evidence in the Hadith that the caliph should be a member of the Prophet's tribe, the Quraysh, was joined by scholars' rulings that the office was elective — which fit the reality that almost every caliph had nominated his successor. To be eligible for election, one must both be a Qurayshi and possess the qualities needed to defend and extend the faith.

The record indicates that Islam's unswerving devotion to monotheism did not, during its early centuries, block great achievements in arts and sciences dependent on free thought. But once turned in on itself, the Muslim mind closed for centuries.

Christian fear and hatred of Islam during the Middle Ages was nourished by the tall tales of pilgrims and the fiery words of crusading preachers. Some Europeans assumed Muslims worshipped Muhammad as a god, but mainly he was thought a heretic. The Western attitude toward the Prophet was captured by Dante in Inferno XXVIII when the poet and Virgil are touring the Eighth Circle of Hell, where the Sowers of Schism perpetually circled, each wounded by a demon who, as the wound healed, maimed the heretic again:

See now how maimed Mohammad is! And he who walks and weeps before me is Ali, whose face is opened wide from chin to forelock. And all the others here whom you can see were, when alive, the sowers of dissension and scandal, and for this they now are split.

Dante is aware of Ali, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, as the loser in the conflict over the caliphate. Dante may be saying here that if Mohammad is a heretic to Christianity, Ali is a heretic to "Mohammadism."

In 1219, Francis of Assisi and a few fellow friars went to the Islamic world, seeking to call on the Sultan in Egypt and to livequietly among Muslims as "lesser brothers." With the Fifth Crusade under way, it was a remarkable gesture, and perhaps a dangerous one. Francis found Muslims to be filled with God's spirit and admired their five daily prayers and reverence for the Quran. The Franciscans apparently made no lasting impact on their hosts; influence may have gone the other way. Some claim Francis brought back to Christendom the idea of the rosary based on Muslim prayer beads, or that the thrice-daily Angelus soon to be adopted in Europe was a version of Muslim prayer. G. K. Chesterton, in his biography of St. Francis, calls it a moment when the course of the world might have been changed, but wasn't. More likely, Francis's expedition simply showed the limitations of good will humbly expressed.

From the Muslim side, contrary to widespread modern belief, Muslim and non-Muslim, the Crusades were not regarded at the time as the monumentally alienating episode they are assumed to be today. Far more important and alarming for Islam were the disastrous Mongol invasions, with the horde of Hulagu capturing Baghdad in 1258 and putting the Abbasid caliph to death.

"The Turk" and "Oriental Despotism"

Of great concern to the Muslim and Christian worlds alike was the sudden resurgence and re-expansion of Islam after 1300 as the Turks, Islamicized steppe-warriors, plunged into Muslim, Christian, and Hindu lands alike. In Anatolia — Asia Minor — the Turkish leader Osman founded a state which became the core of the future Ottoman Empire. By the end of the century they were masters of the European Balkans. The caliphate was claimed by Osman's grandson Murad I (1326–1389), who forced Byzantium to pay tribute and led his army to victory on the famous Field of the Blackbirds in 1389, bringing Serbia under Turkish rule.

These newly powerful Turks, wrote the historian Steven Runciman, "were barbarous and destructive. They had become Muslims and acquired a thin veneer of Persian culture, but that was all." Runciman's classic work on the fall of Constantinople to the Turks opens with a vivid scene:

On Christmas Day in the year 1400 King Henry IV of England gave a banquet in his palace of Eltham. His purpose was not only to celebrate the holy festival. He wished also to do honour to a distinguished guest. This was Manuel II Palaeologus, Emperor of the Greeks, as most Westerners called him, though some remembered that he was the true Emperor of the Romans. He had travelled through Italy and had paused at Paris, where King Charles VI of France had redecorated a wing of the Louvre to house him and where the professors at the Sorbonne had been delighted to meet a monarch who could argue with them with as much learning and subtlety as they themselves commanded. In England everyone was impressed by the dignity of his demeanor and by the spotless white robes that he and his courtiers wore. But, for all his high titles, his hosts were moved to pity for him; for he had come as a beggar, in a desperate search for help against the infidel who encompassed his empire. To the lawyer Adam of Usk, who was working at King Henry's court, it was tragic to see him there. "I reflected," Adam wrote, "how grievous it was that this great Christian prince should be driven by the Saracens from the furthest East to these furthest Western islands to seek aid against them ... O God," he added, "what dost thou now, ancient glory of Rome?"

The end came in 1453 after a hopeless but heroic defense of seven weeks. Within a few years following, the Ottoman Turks had destroyed the concept of a Roman-Christian-Greek empire and had established the reality of Ottoman dominance across Asia Minor and the entire eastern Mediterranean. The news that Constantinople had fallen to the Turks was received in the West with horror and foreboding. The victorious Sultan Mehmed II was cited as declaring, "Our empire is the home of Islam; from father to son the lamp of our empire is kept burning with oil from the hearts of the infidels."

Perhaps Byzantium had been fated to fall because history's proper direction had been violated. Since the fall of Troy and Aeneas's mission to found Rome, the course of empire was supposed to move from east to west; the decision to shift Christianity's center of power to Constantinople had gone against the translatio imperii et studii, tempting fate. Now a Turkish advance on Rome was expected.

So from the later fourteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, Europeans tended to identify Islam with the Ottoman Empire. Hostility to "The Turk" was almost an article of faith. In 1480 a Dominican Friar sent a tract to Pope Sixtus IV and the major monarchs of Christian Europe proposing that the Prophet Muhammad was the Anti-Christ. While most Christian prophecies foretold the ultimate doom of the Turks, from the reign of Sultan Murad II in 1421 the Ottomans had been ever-victorious: they crushed the Persians in 1514 and proceeded to overrun Kurdistan in 1515, Syria and Palestine in 1516, and Egypt in 1517. When Selim I captured Cairo, the last tattered claim of the Abbasids to the caliphate ended; none were left to question the full rights of the Ottomans to the title. With the caliphate entirely in Turkish hands there were no more scholarly assertions that the office must be held by a member of the Prophet's lineage, the Quraysh. The caliphate had been taken by the sword and justified as the will of Allah. The Ottoman advance had been stopped at Belgrade; but at Otranto, on the tip of Italy's heel, the Turks had established a beachhead for an assault on Rome. The Order of the World was at stake.


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Table of Contents

Foreword Fouad Ajami ix

Prologue 3

On a Ship to Oman 3

On the Train to the Army-Navy Game 6

Chapter 1 Two World Orders 9

Christendom and Caliphate 11

Duality or Unity? 13

"The Turk" and "Oriental Despotism" 17

Three World-Historical Events 25

Chapter 2 The Modern Ordering Takes Shape 29

1648 30

The Enlightenment Views the Prophet 32

The Sick Man of Europe 38

Chapter 3 The Wars on World Order 49

The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars 49

The Taiping Rebellion, 1851-1866 52

The American Civil War and the Utah War 55

The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871 59

The Great War 63

World War II: Imperial Japan and the Third Reich 69

The Cold War 76

The Indian Mutiny and the International System 83

Chapter 4 An Islamic Challenge Takes Shape 89

1979: Iran 89

1979: Saudi Arabia 91

1979: Pakistan 92

1979: Afghanistan 93

1979: Egypt 93

1979: Saddam's Iraq—Bonfire of the Pathologies 94

The Lost Decade of the 1990s 99

The Islamist War on World Order, Well Underway 103

Saddam Overthrown 106

Saddam's Strategy 109

Chapter 5 The Shock of Recognition 115

Centers of Gravity 121

Legal 123

Military 123

The State 126

Women 131

Democracy 134

Nuclear Weapons 138

Values 140

Chapter 6 In the Matter of Grand Strategy 145

Religion in World Order Revisited 153

Epilogue: On the Road to Oxiana 162

Bibliography 165

About the Author 171

About the Hoover Institution's Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order 173

Index 175

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