Fiorina and Islam

It’s interesting to see the attacks on Carly Fiorina. Fiorina does indeed have some genuine weaknesses, but those are generally ignored by the attackers, who focus on two topics: Her speech that included remarks about Islam, two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and her corporate leadership of Hewlett-Packard, where she was brought in just before the entire tech industry collapsed in its largest recession ever. They don’t blame the recession on Carly Fiorina, they simply fail to mention it, as if HP’s troubles were simply the effect of Fiorina’s leadership. But here I’d like to focus on her Islam speech in the aftermath of 9/11:First, understanding the timeframes involved is important.

Carly Fiorina was speaking days after the 9/11 attacks, when everyone was trying to be conciliatory, and we were expecting more attacks any day. That timeframe contains many complaints about jihadists, but almost no attacks on Islam in general, which is what Fiorina was speaking about.

But while Islam is the “what,” you also need to recall the “when” of the Islam she was describing. She was NOT talking about the violent jihadism that has become so resurgent since the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood a century ago. Nor was she talking about the massive and bloody conquests in the century after Muhammad. She was pointing out some good aspects of Islam in between — and there were good aspects.

It is true, for example, that Islamic colleges preserved valuable works from Aristotle, Galen and others that would otherwise have been lost to the West. Thomas Aquinas was one of those who was “re-discovering” Aristotle after those manuscripts were imported back from the Middle East. Islam held the world’s largest libraries during the time Fiorina was describing, and preserved the work of many Western scholars from being lost entirely, while they were lost to the West for about five centuries (until around 1100AD). But Islam’s library advantage collapsed later: Islamic scholars decided that any science that conflicts with the Qur’an is forbidden, and the West moved past them in technology.

The library advantage was eliminated completely after the invention of the Gutenberg movable-type press, and book printing became common. That didn’t happen in Muslim regions, because of two oddities: (1) Muslim writers invoked Allah in their writing constantly, and (2) the press plates were cleaned with a pig-bristle brush. Muslims could not tolerate cleaning the name of Allah with the product of a pig. So, the first known use of a printing press in Muslim lands was delayed for three centuries: A press was brought in by Napoleon when he conquered Cairo, so that he could rapidly print propaganda.

Another subtlety on the Fiorina 2001 speech: While Carly Fiorina correctly described a time during which Islam was the least primitive among primitive cultures, it was in the form of a subtle lament and in unspoken contrast to the Islam of today. As she said, the time she described ended hundreds of years earlier.

You will find nowhere that Carly Fiorina has suggested that jihadists are justified, or are anything other than despicable enemies of all civilization. And no one is stronger than her against Obama’s perfidy with Iran, though many others are equally strong.

There are misleading posts by disingenuous people who would cast Fiorina as some sort of jihadist sympathizer. Without evidence, unlike the abundant evidence of our current president’s support for jihadists from Palestinian terrorists to Muslim Brotherhood thugs visiting the White House.  And these remarks by Carly Fiorina noting the loss of “leadership” (the speech’s focus) of an Islam of times gone by are not in conflict at all. Her focus was on leadership and its crucial role, and the speech fourteen years ago is not bad at all on that topic.

Was she overselling the glories of Islam? Yes, that’s fair. She made the leap several times from an Islamic accomplishment to the technology of today, not mentioning everything else that had to occur to make it possible. But the attacks on this piece are not very compelling — the detailed ones point out other inventors, frequently Jewish ones, but they don’t say that the Islamic inventions did not happen.

The reality is that for a period in the middle of Islam’s rise, some of them did prize knowledge about nature and how the world works. Then there were official edicts stating that if it wasn’t in the Qur’an, it wasn’t worth knowing. That’s about they way they phrased it. Since then, the West has been the repository of technical knowledge while Islam has slid backwards, reversing the arrangement of centuries before.

Asia, in the meantime, had its own early technology lead that put them out in front of the West long before Christianity (or even Judaism) existed. But various isolationist rulers in China and later Japan had a similar stifling effect on their advancement, something that they’ve been shaking loose of only in the past century or so.

The upshot is that Carly Fiorina’s bit on Islam was overly romanticized and oversold, but this was very common among speakers at the time. She had thousands of employees in Middle Eastern countries, and I can appreciate the soft-pedaling. But at no point did she express sympathy for the jihadists or their cause, and was as horrified by the attacks as most Americans. Meanwhile, the media reporting upon her criticized her for not “admitting” that it was really America’s fault that we got attacked.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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