QotD: July 10th, 2007

From Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines:

“In the Muqaddimah or ‘Universal History’, of Ibn Khaldun, a philosopher who surveyed the human condition from a nomadic viewpoint, we read: The Desert People are closer to being good than settled peoples because they are closer to the First State and are more removed from all the evil habits that have infected the hearts of settlers. By ‘desert people’, Ibn Khaldun means the Bedouin such as those he once recruited, as mercenaries from the heart of the Sahara, in the days of his warlike youth. Years later, when he had gazed into the slanting eyes of Tamerlane and witnessed the piles of skulls and smouldering cities, he, too, like the Old Testament prophets, felt the fearful anxiety of civilization, and looked back with longing to life in the tents. Ibn Khaldun based his system on the intuition that men decline, morally and physically, as they drift towards cities. The rigours of the desert, he suggested, had preceded the softness of cities. The desert was thus a reservoir of civilization, and desert peoples had the advantage over settlers because they were more abstemious, freer, braver, healthier, less bloated, less craven, less liable to submit to rotten laws, and altogether easier to cure.”


  1. come on now. We all know Ibn Kaldun was retarded. Is the author (or you) actually agreeing with him? The nomadic tribes of Arabia were absolutely barbaric. A never-ending cycle of lex talonis, blood debts, of raids and murders and retaliations, on and on and on. One of Prophet Muhammad’s great hopes for Islam was that it would unite all Arabs under the ‘tribe’ of Islam and end the centuries of tribal warfare, especially as more people were moving towards the city and as people massed in one place, it became even more crucial to live together in peace. Of course, Islam failed in that respect.

  2. Hmm, good point. I’ve not read Ibn Kaldun. The author (Chatwin) devotes whole chapters of his book to quotations he’s collected over the years supporting his findings in the Outback, that living in bare nature strips you of excess — basically it’s asceticism. I wrote down some other quotes that I liked too so I will post those eventually.

    But I see your point about Muhammad. Pan-Arabism, which might represent settlements, has always been the ideal though, and not reality…as you point out! Are the moderates pushing that line of reasoning?

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