The Cannon and the Crescent

Muslim Empires of the Near East – 1400 > 1700


           Remember how the Europeans all of a sudden decided they might want to try out their new boats and see if they could find a shortcut to the East?

            Refresh my memory – why did they do that again?  It wasn’t that Europeans finally learned how to sail or that they discovered some magical floating wood in a forest far, far away.  No.  The main reason the Atlantic countries of Portugal and Holland went exploring was because their access to all the fineries of Asia had been cut off.  They wanted the spices, the jewels, the fancy plates, the carpets, the silks and cottons of the East, and just when their thirst was being whetted, the Muslims started getting other ideas.

            You see, the West was late to the world of trade.  Sure, the Romans and Greeks had controlled the Mediterranean Sea for great portions of the world’s history, but when it comes to truly global trade, Europeans were the new kid on the block, and starting to be a bit annoying.  By 1492, the Muslims, the Mongols  But then the Europeans decided they might want to wake up from their self-induced technological slumber and start seeing what the world had to offer, and what they saw didn’t exactly assuage their inferiority complex. 

            Between China and Europe sat three empires – the Ottoman, the Safavid and the Mughal – who each alone possessed a technological advancement, a cultural refinement and a military dominance that made the Europeans reconsider their place in the world’s hierarchy.  These three Muslim empires, these Gunpowder Empires, controlled the lands from Austriain the west, to Meccain the south, to the far reaches of Indiain the east.  They worshipped at the most magnificent house of God in the world (the Hagia Sophia The Ottomans controlled what we today call the Middle East and the Mughals united the land today known as India. 

            Each of these empires took advantage of the power vacuum left behind when the Mongols receded into the steppe, and for over three centuries they held on to vast land empires that ensured global power politics would still have to go through the heart of Asia.  However, even though their weapons and their religious zeal created three of the most formidable empires of the last millennium, their decadence and their obsessive resistance to Western innovations meant that when they did meet face to face with European might in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were lagging far behind in most areas of economic, social and military achievement.

            But in 1400, you’d be hard-pressed to find any intellectual who would claim the Europeans were anything more than merely...