There are a string of right-wing politicans and activists leading mobs of people, giving speeches and making noise in various European parliaments about how Europe is being Islamized, and why that’s a bad thing.
They talk about European values: Christianity, Democracy, free speech, women’s rights, social benefits, progressiveness. They say that all of these are the opposite of Islam, and that Islam is a backward, barbarian, regressive force.
These views are gaining tract in Europe which is a worrying development, to say the least. A book about how Turkish immigrants breed more than Germans became a bestseller in Germany. Right-wing anti-immigration parties are winning parliament seats in the UK, Sweden, France and Italy. Italy even has vigilante groups which patrol its cities’ streets. Most are the equivalent of a Neighbourhood Watch organization, but some are very right wing and motivated by the idea that most crime comes from African and Arab immigrants and migrants.
The arguments are self-serving and don’t have a lot of historical basis. Indeed, cultural arguments can both be strong and weak. There are aspects of Islam which are currently running opposite to Western ones, most specifically women’s rights. There’s no denying that there’s work to be done in this area, but the examples of Morrocco, Malaysia and Indonesia are good examples of progress. Not perfect ones, but steps in the right direction.
About a thousand years ago, the situation was completely different. Europe was backward, superstitious, regressive, and barbaric. Knowledge rested within churches and monks, and the rest of society was in thrall. We call those times the Dark Ages. There were a few scientific developments, but probably the most useful was the stirrup.
The Arab world was a progressive center for trade, philosophy and scientific development. Arabs explored and traded as far as China, across Africa and to Europe. They developed Algebra, Alchemy, and various other mathematical disciplines. They inherited knowledge from the Greeks and Romans who had settled in their areas and expanded upon them. Their infrastructure in great cities like Baghdad supported vast numbers of people.
Europe was still Christian, and the Middle East was very much Muslim. What changed?
Cultural arguments in either favour must be able to explain both progressive and regressive periods of history of either culture.