Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Second Thoughts on Planetarium Visits

We were making a mild funny about planetariums yesterday, drawing this priceless response from correspondent John Ruberry at Marathon Pundit:

Political correctness at Chicago's Adler Planetarium

How low will the forces of political correctness stoop?

Well, all the way down to the basement of Chicago's Adler Planetarium, that's for certain.I took Litte Marathon Pundit there Tuesday afternoon. She's on spring break from school this week, and her third grade class is spending a lot of time discussing astronomy.

The planetarium underwent a major expansion in the 1990s, I hadn't been there since the project was completed. My daughter liked our day-trip a lot, and that was enough for me.


My probing eye picked up some frightening political-correctness in the astrolobe section of the planetarium. Astrolobes were devices commonly used, prior to the invention of the sextant, for navigation.

However, these instruments were also used to predict star positions, and in the Islamic world, they were utilized to find the precise direction of Mecca so a Muslim could pray in the right direction.

Hence the Muslim interest in astrolabes.

The text pictured appears above the Adler astrolabe collection, it reads:

In the Middle Ages, the Islamic from Seville (Spain) to Samarkand (Uzbekistan). The position of each astrolabe on this map shows where it was made.Non-Muslims, such as Jews and Christians, prospered under tolerant Islamic rule. (Emphasis mine.) Throughout this vast area, people studied the sky using tools created in the great Islamic cities.

Huh? What does the (alleged) Muslim toleration of Jews in Christians in the Medieval Muslim world have to do astrolabes?

In my opionion, absolutely nothing.According to numerous sources, including Robert Spencer's The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

The astrolabe was developed, if not perfected, long before Muhammad was born.

As for the Muslim tolerance of Jews and Christians that the Adler display referred to, it was not any type of tolerance that a multi-cultural society would recognize.
Jews, Christians and members of other faiths living in Muslim lands during the Middle Ages were forced to pay a jizya, a poll tax to the Muslim rulers. Conversion to Islam would get them out of that responsibility. Death or slavery could be the fate for those who didn't pay up--or convert.

Have you heard of the Janissaries? No? From Wikipedia:

The first Janissary units comprised war captives and slaves. After the 1380s Sultan Selim I filled their ranks with the results of taxation in human form called devshirmeh. The sultan’s men would conscript as a form of tax in-human-kind a number of non-Muslim, usually Christian, boys – at first at random, later, by strict selection – and take them to be trained. In later centuries they appear to have favored essentially Greeks and Albanians (who also supplied many gendarmes). Usually they would select about one in five boys of ages seven to fourteen but the numbers could be changed to correspond with the need for soldiers. Later they would extend the devshirmeh to other Balkan countries. Local residents could hardly be expected to appreciate the custom, although there is evidence that some Christians sought to have their children recruited as a way to gain social advancement. In some cases bribes were given and ages were lied about.

Then there are the Corsairs from what is now Algeria, as Bernard Lewis writes in What Went Wrong? : The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East:

...the Barbary Corsairs from North Africa were raiding the coasts of England and Ireland and even, in 1627, Iceland, bringing back human booty for sale in the slave-markets of Algiers.

St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Vincentian Order was perhaps the most famous slave captured by the Barbary pirates.

(Chicago's DePaul University, a subject much blogged about here, takes its name from him.)
Let me return to that statement above the Adler's astrolabe exhibit:
Non-Muslims, such as Jews and Christians, prospered under tolerant Islamic rule.

Simply put, that statement is a lie.

1 comment:

Marathon Pundit said...

Thanks for the link. I sent an e-mail to the Adler Planetarium folks later that day, several of them in fact...I'm sure I was written off as some right-wing nut by them.

Great blog of yours, by the way.