November 4th, 2010 20:01 EST
As Globalists We Should Shake Off The British Imperial View of East and West
Arab cities of the future
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, wrote the poet Rudyard Kipling. And that is the Victorian view widely held in America today. It suits our imperial prejudices. But the twain can meet and has met in the past, and our culture is the beneficiary of that meeting.
Throughout the Middle Ages the most sophisticated, technologically advanced and cleanest city in the Western world was the Arab city of Cordoba in what is now Spain and was then Al Andalus.
I am reminded of this because once again the Arabs are building the world`s most scientifically exciting city in the world, this time in the Abu Dhabi desert. Masdar will be the earth`s first zero-carbon city, just as Cordoba was the earth`s first modern city. I don`t expect Islamophobes to savor this, just as they didn`t in the Dark Ages, but I think it makes the case vigorously that issues reduced to black and white lead to violence as a solution.
Kipling knew or should have known that Cordoba in medieval Spain was an almost unimaginably futuristic city. It had street lights, a sewage system, gardens that were a hydrological miracle, and most of the services that we associate today with the world`s most evolved cities. Its surgeons were pioneering antisepsis. It had irrigation technology comparable only to the Incas`. Its leaders understood that flea-infested rats bore the plague decimating other Western cities.
Kipling also knew that Al Andalus was not in the East but in the West, in Europe. But to have acknowledged this would have spoiled his imperialist world view. His poem, the celebrated Ballad of East and West, paid homage to the courage and decency of warriors on both sides of the colonial divide. But it is, for all its Ã©lan, condescending at the core.
The West simply could not exist as it does today without the science, medicine, mathematics, and arts brought to it by Islam via Al Andalus. We attribute our ideas of modern poetry to the troubadours, but they acquired their poetics largely from the Arabs. The Arabs are as much part of Western history as the Vikings or the Visigoths. They still are. We cannot extricate ourselves from their influences, nor they from ours.
Nicolai Ouroussoff, writing in the September 25th New York Times, describes Masdar, to be built 20 miles from Abu Dhabi, as the world`s first sustainable city. His article is the first in a projected series about visionary city-building among the Arabs, a people with a long history of building fabled cities like Baghdad.
It is perhaps not surprising that a people originating in the desert, accustomed to subsistence, grand vistas, wind, scorching sunlight and the scarcity of fresh water should long for magnificent oases and should bring to bear the available technology to build them. This is an Arab tradition.
Masdar, foreshadowing our own ambitions, is projected to be oil-free in an oil-producing region. It will take advantage of prevailing wind patterns to aerate its streets and parks.
It is being designed by Foster+Partners, a British architectural firm, and will embody traditional Arab ideas of urban design.
So here in the midst of conflict-peddlers on both sides we have Westerners and Arabs cooperating to build a city that will pioneer ideas for the rest of the world, just as medieval Cordoba did. Will there be as much press for this heartening development as there will be for the next terrorist threat and predictable countermeasure? Will anyone dare to suggest that this chapter in human progress might be as important as the next call for a troop surge in Afghanistan?
All the reconquistadors in Iberia wanted to do was destroy Cordoba and expel its inhabitants, many of whom were Christians and Jews living peaceably under Muslim rule. Can this history be reexamined or will we keep on insisting that the reconquistadors were the good guys and the builders of a memorable civilization were the bad guys?
Abu Dhabi (Father of Deer), capital of the United Arab Emirates, and Foster+Partners are absorbed in a far more promising model than anything rabid extremists can hold out. Its redolence with Cordoba in the West, the Arab West, should not be overlooked.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com