What’s worth saving about “the West,” Adam Gopnik claims, is the moral achievements that have flowed from it:
The emancipation of women and their integration on equal terms in education, the granting of civil rights to homosexuals, the removal, at least formally, of racial discrimination — these are not a common feature of prosperous or declining empires but unique moral achievements of this one. There’s no pattern in history to compare us to, because nothing like us ever happened before.
Really? That passage immediately called to mind Sir John Glubb’s description of the Arab decline:
The works of the contemporary historians of Baghdad in the early tenth century are still available. They deeply deplored the degeneracy of the times in which they lived, emphasising particularly the indifference to religion, the increasing materialism and the laxity of sexual morals. They lamented also the corruption of the officials of the government and the fact that politicians always seemed to amass large fortunes while they were in office.
The historians commented bitterly on the extraordinary influence acquired by popular singers over young people, resulting in a decline in sexual morality. The ‘pop’ singers of Baghdad accompanied their erotic songs on the lute, an instrument resembling the modern guitar. In the second half of the tenth century, as a result, much obscene sexual language came increasingly into use, such as would not have been tolerated in an earlier age. Several khalifs issued orders banning ‘pop’ singers from the capital, but within a few years they always returned.
An increase in the influence of women in public life has often been associated with national decline. The later Romans complained that, although Rome ruled the world, women ruled Rome. In the tenth century, a similar tendency was observable in the Arab Empire, the women demanding admission to the professions hitherto monopolised by men. ‘What,’ wrote the contemporary historian, Ibn Bessam, ‘have the professions of clerk, tax-collector or preacher to do with women? These occupations have always been limited to men alone.’ Many women practised law, while others obtained posts as university professors. There was an agitation for the appointment of female judges, which, however, does not appear to have succeeded.
Soon after this period, government and public order collapsed, and foreign invaders overran the country. The resulting increase in confusion and violence made it unsafe for women to move unescorted in the streets, with the result that this feminist movement collapsed.