It is never mentioned but as far as the single market, borderless Europe, visa-free travel and common currency and common law are concerned, ideologically Europe owes a debt to the Ottoman Empire. With its successful governance of the multi-ethnic population that spanned over three continents, this United States of Islam is more deserving to be served as a pragmatic model for the United States of Europe than Greco-Roman Empires of classical antiquity, writes Tazeen Hasan
In his interesting article The European Union: an ancient Concept published in the Express Tribune of 27 June 2016 the learned writer, Aakar Patel has confidently claimed that the concept of the European Union is not a new idea and in support of his thesis he has attempted to review the European history.
I appreciate Mr. Patel for introducing such a novel idea but regardless of the validity of his arguments, the evidence presented does not support his thesis and his historical summary suffers from various inaccuracies. For instance, dark ages in Europe began in the Fifth Century but Patel conveniently puts the blame on Muslim’s conquest of Egypt which occurred 200 years later in the seventh Century.
Besides historical inaccuracies, Patel seems to be largely unaware of the carefully orchestrated multinational democratic process that gave birth to the European Union. Considering the very economic nature of European Union, neither the Greek nor the Roman invasion nor the belligerent ambitions of Napoleon and Hitler may be compared with EU formation.
Europe was never a focus of Greco-Roman imperialist powers. Even before marching eastward, the Greco-Roman empires’ initial dominion was the Mediterranean basin which touches African and Asian continents too besides Europe. The influences of Hellenistic civilization and the traces of Roman arts and architecture can be seen throughout their Asian and African territories.
Patel overlooks the intriguing facts that Napolean and Hitler’s military ambitions divided Europe rather than unifying it. Furthermore, the recent European integration which we simply refer to as the European Union is not merely a political rule or outcome of a forced armed invasion. It has deep roots in the economic survival of war-affected Europe. The writer also absolutely ignores the economic aspects which largely govern European integration such as the single market.
Ancient Greece looked towards the East rather than Europe. Deep influences of Greek arts can be seen in Gandhara arts and civilization in present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia
As the writer himself mentioned, Greek and Roman imperialism were not limited to the territories of Europe. They overtime emerged as international powers colonizing major parts of Asia and Africa. Homer tells us that the Greeks extended their influence to the Anatolian region in mainland Turkey much before Alexander. Later Alexander swept the vast Persian Empire and reached present-day Pakistan further extending the influences of Hellenistic civilization. Alexander himself lived a very short life but significant influences of Greek arts can be seen in the Gandhara ruins as far as present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. Alexander honored an Egyptian coastal region as his capital (Alexandria) rather than any Greek city. Alexandria later became the most prominent seat of Greek classical learning. Did the Greeks ever attempt to integrate Europe? The answer is a clear no even by Patel’s own evidence.
Romans not only ruled Middle East but developed Middle Eastern cities as their cultural and religious icons.The largest Roman temple complex is located in present-day Lebanese city of Baalbek and the most intact of their theaters is not found in Europe but in the city of Basora on the borders of Syria and Jordan.
No doubt, Romans invaded much of today’s western Europe but their focus was also Eastern world like Greeks. They not only conquered Eastern territories but also developed Middle Eastern cities as their cultural and religious icons. Their most exquisite examples of architecture can be found in the Middle East. The largest Roman temple complex is said to be located at Baalbek in present day Lebanon and the most intact of their theaters is not found in Europe but in the city of Basora at the borders of Syria and Jordan. Paradoxically, the tourism development brochures in Jordan claim that Jordan (actually referring to the historical ruins of the Middle-East) is a Rome away from Rome. Very few people know that Roman legions had a regular presence in present-day Saudi Arabia, in the first and second century AD, just 400 kilometers north of Medina at the site of Madain Saleh. While much of the western Europe today was controlled by the Roman Empire, Constantine founded Constantinople (modern Istanbul) as the joint Capital of his Western and Eastern Empires. He did not choose Rome or any other European city. Istanbul, by the way, is still a pariah for the powers that govern the European Union.
When Quran refers to Rome in Surah Rum, it is not the Rome in Italy but the Eastern Roman Empire in the near East and Anatolia with capital in Istanbul
Romans and Persians were the super power of the time when Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received the first revelation. Few of us know that Surah Rum in the Quran refers to the fierce battles between the Roman and the Persian empires. The Rome Quran refers to in the seventh Century did not lie in Europe but in Syria and Turkey as the Western Roman Empire had already declined in 5th Century BC.
According to Gibbon, the dark ages in Europe are a result of the Rise of Christianity and domination of the church rather than embargo on papyrus products by Muslims
To set the historical record straight, Papyrus was not a popular paper product at the time of Muslim conquest otherwise, early Islamic manuscripts would have used it. As mentioned earlier the beginning of the dark ages and the Muslims conquest of Egypt had a large gap of two centuries. I do not want to comment on the absurdity of the claim but the celebrated author of The Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon says that the rise of Christianity and the domination of the church pushed the Roman world into dark ages.
Almost 300 years before the Muslim conquest of Egypt, Greco-Roman scholars (mostly Pagans) were severely persecuted by Christians zealots. In Alexandria, the Christian mobs famously killed the female mathematician Hypatia, daughter of famous mathematician Theon of Alexandria in the beginning of the Fifth Century. Hypatia at the time was heading the Neo-Platonic School where she also taught philosophy and astronomy. She was not the only scholar who became the target of Christain Zealots. In fact, they destroyed all the marks and evidence of Greek Scholarship throughout Roman Empire.
Christian zealots persecuted the pagan scholar and destroyed traces of Greek scholarship pushing the Roman world into dark ages. The Greek manuscripts were later recovered by Muslim philosophers and scientist in their heyday
Here another historical inaccuracy needs attention, Julius Caesar, neither lead the Romans to the British Isles nor they were conquered during his rule. Britain’s annexation in the Roman Empire was a result of a series of Roman military assaults which began mush before Caesar. Despite the fact that Caesar was one of the commanders who had attacked British territories, Britain was conquered in 43 AD, almost 100 years after the murder of Caesar in the Roman Forum. And while it is true that Romans gave the name to the city of London, archaeological finds –a bronze age bridge, massive wooden structures and bronze age weaponry– suggest that London was substantially populated much earlier. So the story of Romans founding the city of London is no more than a myth.
Had Pompey would not have died earlier, Shakespear well would have written Pompey the Great or Pompey Caeser instead of Julius Caesar.
The writer’s mind seems to be colored by Shakespearean text when he considers Julius Caesar to be “the first individual to make significant progress in bringing Europe under one authority.” As a matter of fact, most of the Western European regions were annexed to Rome as a result of the military alliance of Caesar and his contemporary military commanders Pompey Magnus (also translated as Pompey the Great) and Marcus Cassius. Later Cassius died and Caesar and Pompey became rivals. And it was Pompey who marched towards the east and annexed Syria, Jerusalem, and many other eastern regions –barring Egypt that came under Roman dominion only after the death of Julius Caesar. History tells us that Pompey was a much competent commander and his military achievements were definitely more outstanding than Caesar’s. Had Pompey not died earlier, Shakespeare most probably would have written Pompey the Great or Pompey Caeser instead of Julius Caesar.
Now coming to the claim that Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) became the stimulus for integrating Europe. No doubt, the Muslim conquest united the European powers but this was indeed a defense and security arrangement rather than a political or economic integration. The writer himself admits that powerful Kingdoms emerged in Europe after the Muslim conquests which divided Europe rather than uniting it.
By any account, the Crusades were not failed wars. The Crusaders not only succeeded in invading Jerusalem in the heart of the Muslim world but also ruled it for the next century (88 years exactly) and constantly extended their territories and influence in the Levent which was surrounded by powerful Muslim Empires of the Abbasids, Fatmids, Seljuqs, and the Zengis
Patel also declares the Crusades as a failed war (actually a series of wars that continued for next 100 years). By the way, Crusaders not only succeeded in invading Jerusalem in the heart of the Muslim world but also ruled it for the next century (88 years exactly) and constantly extended their territories and influence in the Levent surrounded by powerful Muslim Empires of the Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuqs, and later the Zengis . The Crusader’s barbarism and inhuman treatment of Jews and Muslims (Cannibalism and bloodbath in the mosques and Synagogues in the First Crusade by Christian’s own contemporary accounts) may be argued but on no account, these comprised a failed war. If after successfully controlling the Jerusalem for 88 years, Crusades were failed (as Patel dictates short-sightedly), many modern colonization efforts may be pronounced failed including the British control over India from 1857 to 1947. Needless to say, the crusades had nothing to do with European integration. These could well be termed as a religiously motivated military alliance of European Powers which successfully invaded and later controlled the Holy Land.
Patel overlooks the obvious facts that the military ambitions of Hitler and Napoleon divided Europe rather than unifying it. Division was so pronounced that Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign failed because of the intervention of another European power, Great Britain.
When he think and talks of United Europe, Mr. Patel is inclined to view Europe under the dominance of a single power but he overlooks the intriguing facts that the military ambitions of both Napolean and Hitler divided Europe rather than unifying it. The writer mentions brief conquests of Napoleon in Europe but did they mean European integration? Even if we ignore the fact that Napolean’s mind too was obsessed with the conquest of East as he wanted to invade Egypt and Syria to march towards India, European integration was the last thing that could be thought of in Napoleonic times. It was a time when all European colonial powers were fiercely vying for their domination in the new world, Indian Ocean and elsewhere. Their endeavours were largely directed outside Europe. They were adversaries and rivals and by no stretch of imagination partners in their efforts of colonization. Ironically, Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign failed because of the intervention of another European power, Great Britain.
And by the way, the fate of Hitler was no different from his ambitious French predecessor, almost all the European powers united against his so-called intentions of “uniting” Europe save Italy governed by the fascist regime of Mussolini. In fact, these aggressive ambitions weakened Europe rather than strengthening it. Mr. Patel is comparing these forceful and pushy armed occupations with the present-day formation of the democratic European Union. I will request him again to revise his presumptions.
The idea of a United States of Europe emerged after the SecondWorld War and its inspirations were largely economic
Before arguing whether the European Union was an ancient or a fairly new idea, we will have to give close attention to the process of the formation of European Union. The idea of a United States of Europe emerged after the Second World War and its inspirations were largely economic. The fundamental institutions that govern the European Union were formed to improve the war-devastated European economy through cooperation ie The European Coal and Steel community ( to neutralise competition between European nations over fuel and energy), the European Atomic Energy Commission (developing nuclear energy for the member states while selling the surplus to non-member states), and the European Economic Community (for economic integration between member states).
Moreover, membership of the European Union and its predecessor organizations has never been enforced. There are procedures for joining, “partially joining” and leaving with consensus and unanimity as evident from the very recent case of Britain. The historical evidence of military annexations presented by Patel not only callously ignores this European democratic spirit that unifies the hearts and minds and is least fostered through territorial domination by imperialistic or fascist tactics.
BREXIT in 2016 is an outcome of Britain’s economic interests, compulsions, hopes and fears, the British have never ever expressed any intentions of leaving the NATO, which is predominantly a European security alliance
British relationship with the European Union (or its founding organisations) has recently become centre stage, but it has always been complex and rocky and the political debate has constantly been sandwiched between the Eurosceptics and the Europhiles. As the only power in Europe that remained unoccupied by the Nazi regime, Britain looked at their continental neighbours with contempt after the Second World War as BBC Journalist Sam Wilson points out, “it is Britain’s island mentality …. Britain is used to giving orders, not taking them.” Britain refused to join the European Economic Community in 1957 when it was formed and later applied in 1961 but Britain’s membership application was vetoed three times by France before it was given membership in 1973 only after Gen de Gaulle had finally left office as president of France. Nevertheless, it is important to note here that whereas BREXIT in 2016 is an outcome of Britain’s economic interests, compulsions, hopes, and fears, the British have never ever expressed any intentions of leaving the NATO, which is predominantly is a European security alliance.
In the end, I will say that although, it is never mentioned but as far as the single market, borderless Europe, visa-free travel common currency and common law are concerned, ideologically the European Union owes a debt to the Ottoman Empire. This now collapsed United States of Islam ruled vast borderless territories in three continents for about 500 years. With its successful governance of the multi-ethnic population that spanned over three continents, it is more deserving to be served as a model for the United States of Europe than Greco-Roman Empires of classical antiquity.
I again appreciate Mr. Patel for the idea but before hypothesizing such a claim, one needs to have a good grip over history. History is not everyone’s cup of tea as it is usually considered in this Wikipedia obsessed world. Furthermore as a basic critical writing skill, the evidence presented should support the thesis not oppose it. The same thesis could be proved valid or at least partially valid with relevant historical evidence.
Finally, Mr. Patel mentioned the etymology of the word France and England but overlooked the very name of Europe which is derived from Greek Mythology. And by the way, the goddess Europa was born in Asia, (Tyre, Lebanon) not in Europe. Perhaps those who gave the name to the continent in ancient times too looked towards East.