One of the most fascinating essays I've ever read about Islam in all these many years since 9/11 (when I first started reading essays about islam) is in the essential book, The Legacy of Jihad, by Andrew G. Bostom.
It is by the French theologian Jacques Ellul and it is called "The Influence of Islam." The essay discusses the influence of Islam on Christianity -- namely, what was "imported into Europe" from Islam that took root in Christianity.
Among other things, Elllul links the elevation of canonical law, the entrenchment of the divine right of kings, and the emergence of "holy war" as evidence of what he notes was a one-way cultural exchange propelled by contact, competition and war with Islam. Islamic influence was an import into Christendom, but there was no reciprical export of Christian influence into Islam.
Another aspect of this influence that I remember being quite struck by when I first read the essay some years ago had to do with the emergence of Christian notions of "providence," which, as Ellul writes "is never a biblical word" or concept, but was helped into Christian doctrine by the Islamic concept of submission, particularly the Muslim formulation mektoub, "It was written." He writes:
From now on destiny and divine omniscience are conjoined. Believers can live in perfect peace because they know that everything was written in advance. The very formula "It was wriitten" could only come from a religion of the book. Yet the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels never use such a formula. Thanks to it, the idea of predestination that was already haunting philosophical and Christian thinking received confirmation, forcibly established itself, and came to include double predestination (in Calvin), which, whether we want it or not, transforms the biblical God into destiny, Anamke, etc. And this derives from Muslim thinking.
Pretty distressing, when you think about it. But that was as far as I got rereading the essay late last night when I decided lighter fare was in order, at least for the sake of pleasant dreams. Picking up "Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden" (soothing or what?) by Eleanor Perenyi, I began to read about tulips, only to discover they, too, were an Islamic import, brought to Holland in the 17th century by the Austrian ambassador to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent. Busman's holiday or not, I read on.
Turns out the name "tulip" itself "derives from the `vulgar Turk. pronounc. of Pers. dulban, "turban," which the expanded flower of the tulip was thought to resemble," or so says the OED, among other sources. Perenyi goes on to discuss Tulipmania, the speculative craze that seized Holland's financial markets of the day. What fueled the "tulip futures" frenzy that peaked in the years 1634-1637, she explains, was the prospect of a monochrome tulip producing what is known as a "break," a brand-new tulip of many colors. Broken tulips were the most prized. She writes:
They were also what turned tulip breeding into a game of chance. Anyone could buy a bulb, plant it, and gamble that he would get a new tulip that might bring him as much as $30,000, or the equivalent in wheat, oxen, a mortgage on a house.
The Dutch, of course, ended up turning this game of chance into a science, which continues to this day, producing fabulous new varieties. But, according to Perenyi, the literature indicates no "return of Europeanized tulips to Turkey..." Another one-way cultural "exchange." Plus ca change, it seems.
It was quite late by now, but all of this struck me as being tragically interconnected to another, more recent Islamic import into the West: Islamic law. Last week, Holland, which certainly has its Calvinist traditions, in effect, declared that the rule of Islamic law would become official across the land starting on January 20, 2010, when a Dutch judge brings a Dutch court to order to try Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders for an Islamic offense -- criticizing Islam.
It is written. Free speech out. Islamic law in. No amount of tulips, however beautiful, are worth this price.