KISSINGER ON THE RISE OF ISLAM

Henry Kissinger is arguably one of America’s most prominent diplomats. His career has seen him serve as National Security Adviser and as Secretary of State (Time magazine had him on their cover as “The Super Secretary”), as well as controversially receiving the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending the Vietnam war.

The outspoken Kissinger is widely quoted, especially in our internet age, with quotes such as “A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security”, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”, and probably his most famous quip “The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

Despite winning the Peace Prize there are many who loathe him, most notably the late Christopher Hitchens, who documents his multitude of reasons in his provocative book The Trial Of Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger Hitchens

So deep was Hitchens disdain for Kissinger that, in an article for Slate, he said that: “Henry Kissinger should have the door shut in his face by every decent person and should be shamed, ostracized, and excluded. No more dinners in his honor; no more respectful audiences for his absurdly overpriced public appearances; no more smirking photographs with hostesses and celebrities; no more soliciting of his worthless opinions by sycophantic editors and producers.”

Harsh words indeed. Another disdainer is the cartoonist Ward Sutton, whose comic below was drawn shortly after 9/11, and it paints way more than it’s allotted a thousand words:

Kissinger

Also, the satirist Tom Lehrer has commented that: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Anyways, I am not here to paint Kissinger in colours that are favourable nor otherwise. Instead I want to focus on a recent book of his, World Order, released in 2014. The Guardian review of this book said: “Kissinger was a key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter century or more until our own post-cold war era. This urgently written book is a fine account of world order in the longue duree, and also a memorandum to future generations of policymakers that the next half-century will be no easier to manage than the most recent one.”

In other words, it’s an interesting book, and below is a noteworthy quote from it, focusing on the beginnings of Islam. Enjoy!


Few events in world history equal the drama of the early spread of Islam. The Muslim tradition relates that Muhammad, born in Mecca in the year 570, received at the age of forty a revelation that continued for approximately twenty-three years and, when written down, became known as the Quran. As the Byzantine and Persian empires disabled each other, Muhammad and his community of believers organized a polity, unified the Arabian Peninsula, and set out to replace the prevailing faiths of the region—primarily Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism—with the religion of his received vision.

An unprecedented wave of expansion turned the rise of Islam into one of the most consequential events in history. In the century following the death of Muhammad in 632, Arab armies brought the new religion as far as the Atlantic coast of Africa, to most of Spain, into central France, and as far east as northern India. Stretches of Central Asia and Russia, parts of China, and most of the East Indies followed over the subsequent centuries, where Islam, carried alternately by merchants and conquerors, established itself as the dominant religious presence.

That a small group of Arab confederates could inspire a movement that would lay low the great empires that had dominated the region for centuries would have seemed inconceivable a few decades earlier. How was it possible for so much imperial thrust and such omnidirectional, all-engulfing fervor to be assembled so unnoticed? The records of neighboring societies had not, until then, regarded the Arabian Peninsula as an imperial force. For centuries, the Arabs had lived a tribal, pastoral, semi nomadic existence in the desert and its fertile fringes. Until this point, though they had made a handful of evanescent challenges to Roman rule, they had founded no great states or empires. Their historical memory was encapsulated in an oral tradition of epic poetry. They figured into the consciousness of the Greeks, Romans, and Persians mainly as occasional raiders of trade routes and settled populations. To the extent they had been brought into these cultures’ visions of world order, it was through ad hoc arrangements to purchase the loyalty of a tribe and charge it with enforcing security along the imperial frontiers.

In a century of remarkable exertions, this world was overturned. Expansionist and in some respects radically egalitarian, Islam was unlike any other society in history. Its requirement of frequent daily prayers made faith a way of life; its emphasis on the identity of religious and political power transformed the expansion of Islam from an imperial enterprise into a sacred obligation. Each of the peoples the advancing Muslims encountered was offered the same choice: conversion, adoption of protectorate status, or conquest. As an Arab Muslim envoy, sent to negotiate with the besieged Persian Empire, declared on the eve of a climactic seventh-century battle, “If you embrace Islam, we will leave you alone, if you agree to pay the poll tax, we will protect you if you need our protection. Otherwise it is war.” Arab cavalry, combining religious conviction, military skill, and a disdain for the luxuries they encountered in conquered lands, backed up the threat. Observing the dynamism and achievements of the Islamic enterprise and threatened with extinction, societies chose to adopt the new religion and its vision.

Islam’s rapid advance across three continents provided proof to the faithful of its divine mission. Impelled by the conviction that its spread would unite and bring peace to all humanity, Islam was at once a religion, a multi ethnic super state, and a new world order.

 – from the book World Order by Henry Kissinger, Chapter 3 – Islamism And The Middle East: A World In Disorder

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