I am a newly registered user here. I am also a newly registered user at MyDD (although I have read myDD for over 5 years now). Yesterday, I posted a diary there in response to a diary by user “Canadian Gal”. In the comments, user “spacemanspiff” suggested that I cross post the diary here. I am greatful to “spacemanspiff” for introducing me to this blog… and please be gentle (I am relatively new to this blogging thing)
And so, I am copying that diary below the fold.
There is an excellent diary by Canadian Girl on the girls of Afghanistan who were recently attacked by the Taliban, while they were on the way to school.
This diary is noteworthy (I liked it, and so I recommended it), but it also became somewhat controversial in the comments. In the comments, it was argued that any criticism of human rights violation in the Muslim world is akin to furthering Zionist propaganda.
While reading the comments, I had a feeling that I was reading not the comments themselves, but a deeper underlying problem. And that underlying problem is that the Muslim world is today seen as (correctly, in my opinion) being somewhat antiquated, with nary a trace of modernity in their thinking. This impression is then extrapolated to (incorrectly, in my opinion) that the Muslim world is incapable of modern thinking, and that they (the Muslim world) will consequently always be a mess.
We all know that Islam has had a great history, and that it ushered in modern thinking. Where did all that go ? Why did all that transcend into the modern day mess that we now have.
I would like to visit that question by visiting the age of reason. In our history, there have been many examples of civilizations that have been so far advanced that they would put the most “modern” society of our present era to shame. And yet these civilizations have declined, and been replaced by barbarism. The transition from modernity to barbarism, and back to modernity offers clues to the predicament faced by the modern Muslim world.
And so, today, I would like to visit a pre-Islamic society founded on lands inhabited by Muslims today. The land is Central Asia…the mountainous region where the Hindu Kush mountains and the Himalayas converge. The empire was built around a dynasty of Kings called the Kushans. You may recognize it as modern day Afghanistan, along with other “Stans” (Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan). Their capital was Bagram (in Afghanistan, where the US now has an Air Force base), Taxila (sometimes known as Purushpura, which is modern day Peshawar) and Mathura (in India).
The Kushans were quite unique… they would have been very advanced (and very unique) even for the modern era, but they ruled about 300 years before Islam (or 300 years after Christ…depending on your viewpoint).
And what made them unique ?
They were an actively tolerant, actively pluralistic society.
They did not practice the philosophy of keeping “church” and “state” separate. Rather, the “state” actively embraced the “church”… all churches, all religions, all languages, and all cultures.
The great Kushan rulers were devout Buddhists (you may have heard of the famous Bamiyan Buddhas… that was the work of the Kushans). But they actively embraced all other religions as well. It is not uncommon to find Kushan coins with Hellenistic Gods on one side, and Hindu gods on the other. They also had Iranian and Zoarastrian gods. They had inscriptions in Greek, and in Pali, and Kharoshti scripts.
It seems that there was not an idea in the world that the Kushans did not actively embrace.
The thinking appears to have been Why take a chance and piss off the Hellenistic Gods… they might be more powerful than the Zoarastrian Gods . (The early Kushan rulers were Zoarastrian, the Greatest Kushan rulers were Buddhist, and the later Kushan rulers were Hindus).
And yet, today, the descendants of this advanced society actively closes it’s minds to all new ideas.
So what happened to the Kushans ?
The answer to that question might offer some clues as to what happened to the great Islamic civilization.
The Kushans had originated in Central Asia, but as their empire expanded and included northern India, they gradually shifted their capital (from Bagram to Peshawar in Pakistan and on to Mathura, in Northern India). And yet, they Kushan rulers did not forget their ancestral homeland… they yearned for it, even though it was over the Hindu Kush mountains.
They yearned for it, and continually strived to include Central Asia in their domain. They strived for it, even though controlling Central Asia from Mathura required regular expeditions over the Khyber pass to Afghanistan. The result was a fairly regular series of “foreign wars” that drained the treasury at a very rapid rate. I recall reading somewhere that the Kushan coins went from having a lot of gold to having almost no gold at all in less than 20 years.
The Kushans were very advanced for their age, but they were consumed by one idea (that of controlling their ancestral homeland) that they could not get beyond.
One bad idea is all it takes to destroy the age of reason!!
It seems that our capacity for clear and rational thought can be easily corrupted by one bad emotion. I recall that George Lucas explored this theme very well with his concept of Darth Vader.
And therein lies the lesson for multiple modern civilizations. Like the Kushans, the Jews yearn for their promised land… even as that yearning destroys the Jews from within. The Muslims (and the Indians too) remember their past glory, and cannot get beyond that to embrace modernity.
And the Americans could well be on the way to being consumed by costly foreign expeditions in search of grandeur.